Getting it right!
In what looks becoming an annual event, impresario and drummer Tony Yoko presented another swinging ‘Christmas and all that jazz’ concert at Daphne Kuhn’s Theatre on the Square in December last year. Aided and abetted by singer Cat Simone, pianist John Fresk – who has the ability to sound perfectly at ease in big band, small group and solo settings – bassist Graeme Currie, saxophonist Justin Holcroft and ‘the old drummer boy’ himself, the concert provided both Xmas fare and suitable standards from The Great American Songbook in a variety of formats.
Starting with a trio version of the old warhorse ‘Sleigh ride’, Cat then joined the party with the perennial ‘Most wonderful time of the year’, Justin got into the act with ‘Too darn hot’ (which it was in Johannesburg the whole of December), and Cat lent just the right amount of sass to ‘Whatever Lola wants Lola gets’. Mel Torme’s classic ‘Xmas Song’ was given a new slant with a bossa nova treatment, Judy Garland, Frank Sinatra and Ertha Kitt were remembered with ‘The Trolley Song’, ‘The best is yet to come’ and ‘Santa baby’ and the first half closed with a tongue-in-cheek ‘Jingle Bells Rock’.
After the break, Tony got the show on the road with his own inventive version of ‘The little drummer boy’, and Cat weighed in with ‘From a distance’ with Bette Midler’s lyrics, ‘I’m dreaming of a white Christmas’ with a nod to Bing Crosby, and Cole Porter’s evergreen ‘You’re the top’, first sung by Ethel Merman in the 1934 musical ‘Anything goes’. Dizzy Gillepsie’s ‘Oop shooby dooby oop’ brought us more up to date with a suitably boppish solo by Justin, and Cat’s ‘Orange coloured sky’ brought back memories of Nat ‘King’ Cole.
John’s trio version of Oscar Petersen’s ‘Night train’ produced a lovely extended piano solo, and Cat followed with her tribute to Ella Fitzgerald’s ‘A tisket a tasket’ followed by a heartfelt version of ‘Have yourself a merry little Xmas’ made famous by Judy Garland in the film ‘Meet me in St Louis’. The concert was brought to a rousing close with a further tribute to Ella by Cat in the form of ‘Mack the Knife’ from a Berlin concert where she improvises in place of forgotten words, and to bring us back to Xmas, ‘Santa Claus is coming to town’ by ‘le toute ensemble’ with solos all round.
So much for the programme – what makes these concerts different and so enjoyable? Firstly, despite their laid-back attitude, it is obvious that all the musicians are professionals and that a lot of work goes into preparing the content of the programme and the arrangements, however low-key. Secondly the overall high standard of musicianship makes for easy listening and was appreciated by a crowd that ranged across all ages, with the 50+s in the majority – no egotistical solos and exhibitionism, just good straight-ahead music in the mainstream idiom without anybody needing to prove anything.
This, to these ears, is truly ‘The joy of jazz’ and in not being too ‘purist’, it reaches a wider audience who will hopefully return to share in Tony’s ‘Jazz and Blues Weekend’, which will take place over three days starting on 29th January. And look out for a one-off concert by a great American pianist Lenore Raphael in May – not to be missed.