Ella Celebrating 100 Years
What a terrific little venue Burdall’s Yard is. With a vault-like sense of being underground (you’re not) it is cosy, rustic and yet stylish in its simple décor. Perfectly intimate for this event, an affectionate tribute to the great jazz singer Ella Fitzgerald who would have been 100 years old this year. A sparse stage, however, with no hint of the glamour one would associate with the jazz age. Backed by her band (more of a duo, really) comprising piano and double bass, Annette Gregory performs an abridged version of her regular act featuring all the favourites one would naturally associate with Ms. Fitzgerald. Perhaps a fuller programme with some of her lesser-known pieces would have made for a more complete experience but time was of the essence and you have to give the people what they want.
Ms. Gregory has a wonderfully warm and rounded contralto voice with plenty of rumble but also some sweetness and gentility for balance preventing it from being too brash or abrasive. A few tuning issues incongruous with the quality of her voice the rest of the time. She hints towards some considerable power at times but resists the temptation to which so many seem to succumb these days to rely too heavily on this and simply belt from beginning to end for the sole purpose of being ‘impressive’. A tad colloquial in her between song chat, however, Ms. Gregory does possess a warmth and invitingness that matches her voice. Her affection for the music is obvious and this is what draws the audience in as much as the music itself. Some interesting background titbits of Ella’s early life and career help to paint the picture and create a story in the minds of the audience.
A couple of songs into the hour-long set and Ms. Gregory loosens up and begins to engage with the music much more successfully, acting them rather than simply ‘performing’. Highlights included ‘Bewitched’ which benefitted visually from the introduction of a vintage-style microphone helping to create a much for authentic jazz image. This is a tribute, not an imitation, still, this was a nice touch. A delightful surprise came in ‘When a Woman Loves a Man’ with the bassist swapping his finger-picking style in favour of his bow introducing an entirely new sound which hit the ear with a slightly classical timbre while maintaining the all-important jazz style. Less engaging was the pianist who exhibited a few mistakes and less aptitude for the jazz style with little attitude and virtually no ‘swing’ in the actual music.
This gig was sadly undersold with a very small audience (apparently not familiar with jazz customs such as applauding solos mid song) which can account largely for the slight lack of energy and atmosphere. Overall, it could be described as very good amateur but not quite up to a thoroughly professional standard. However, an affectionate tribute to the great singer despite some lack of polish and style.
***- 3 Stars