For glamour and romance the singing of Ella Fitzgerald, Sarah Vaughan, Carmen McRae and Anita O’Day, the songs of the great Tin Pan Alley tunesmiths and lyricists, and the timeless orchestral settings from the middle of the last century take some beating. With a pared down “orchestra” this country’s pre-eminent jazz singer Claire Martin recreates all this glamour and romance with her project Hollywood Romance. She is currently taking it to arts festivals around the land and the red carpet is being rolled out, the champagne uncorked and the glad rags shaken all about at the Lichfield Festival next Friday 8 July. Claire kindly answered a few questions:
Q Hollywood Romance looks back to something of a golden age of jazz singing. What do you think made it such a magical time, and the singing of Ella, Sarah, etc, so enduring?
A The Hollywood Romance project definitely celebrates a style of jazz, but I like to think that jazz singing still enjoys a “golden age” as it continues to develop through the decades. It certainly must have felt like a magical time to be singing these amazing songs as they were being written at that very time by writers who were in the their absolute prime. The singing of the true greats like Ella, Sarah and Carmen McRae is enduring as it’s never been done better and these women were masters of their craft. Truly groundbreaking and inspirational musicians who interpreted the Great American Songbook repertoire with individual style and incredible talent. The BEST!!!
Q Shirley Horn has always been a favourite of yours – I remember well your perfect pun “Slowly but Shirley” – but is less known outside dedicated jazz singing circles. Why do you hold her in such affection? And what part will her legacy be playing in the evening?
A Shirley Horn is often referred to as ‘the singer’s singer’. She is the epitome of cool. A great pianist and singer who was the favourite of Miles Davis. Her trademark is singing very slow, heartbreaking ballads, but she also swings hard and leads her trio with style and panache. I love her sound and brilliant story-telling ability. Her attention to the lyric of a song is spell-binding. We will be paying tribute to Shirley Horn at the festival by celebrating her Here’s To Life album which has become a vocal classic with its rich arrangements by Johnny Mandel which we have reduced exactly as on the record. It’s a dream come true for me to be singing these songs.
Q You will be singing with a jazz quintet and a classical string quartet – what does that line-up give you in terms of scope and flexibilty?
A I think that would be more of a question to the arrangers who work on this project, but sonically working with the addition of a harpist and the wonderful Tippett string is a marvellous change for me and really adds warmth and depth to the songs. We are a mini orchestra!
Q This will be your third visit to the Lichfield Festival, if my memory serves me right… Previously you visited with Richard Rodney Bennett. I am guessing he might have passed on insights into the classic jazz standards repertoire. What do you most miss about him, and what, if anything, did you learn from him?
A I miss everything about Richard Rodney Bennett and he is never far from my thoughts. He taught me nearly everything I know and I am very much indebted to him. He championed me from our first meeting and introduced me to songs, singers, producers, arrangers, the importance of rehearsal and constantly helped me with my overall musicianship. He wore his genius very lightly and was a true friend and mentor. We also drank a lot of vodka.
Q Finally, how would you “sell” this concert to those you might not yet have bought tickets – in just a few words?
A Hollywood Romance is such a wonderful project to work on as the players are all world-class and the songs are brilliantly arranged by members of the group or the very talented young arranger Tommy Laurence. I hope people will be swept away by the lushness of it all – I certainly am!
- Claire Martin with the James Pearson Quintet and the Tippett String Quartet will be in Lichfield Cathedral at 7.30pm on Friday 8 July. More information and booking is HERE.