Like us on Facebook

Saturday, 24 March 2012

Ronnie Scott's Loses a Host

For four years now, charismatic entertainer Michael Mwenso has been charged with leading “open stage” sessions at Ronnie’s.  Starting in the upstairs bar as a weekly jam session – but soon graduating downstairs to exploit Ronnie Scott’s late licence, turning Monday-Thursday nights into the sophisticated “Late Show” – Mwenso has scatted, charmed and uproariously swung his way through night after night of inexorable jazz.

Ronnie’s is losing a host to Jazz at Lincoln Centre in New York, a move propagated by the great Wynton Marsalis.  Mwenso will fulfil a role there to introduce and encourage a new demographic amongst audiences and performers, as well as programming for the centre – which will involve scouting for talent throughout the city (what a great job!) – and being involved in teaching and educating related to the Lincoln Centre’s “Essentially Ellington” competition and education program.

Last night – the final night of Mwenso’s residency at Ronnie’s – was buzzing with press, musicians and jazz fans alike, all turning out in force to bid farewell to this compelling character who has made the Late Show his own.  The house band of Steve Brown, Adam King, Leon Greening and Mwenso himself, tore through classics such as FireflyThe Party’s Over, and Old Folks

In the crowd and awaiting an invitation to play during the second set were a plethora of London jazzers, young and old, including Matt Home, James Pearson, Jonathan Gee, and Allison Neale.

As well as the faultless bop scatting and outstanding presentation skills, what always has impressed me about Mwenso has been his vast knowledge (who knew that Walter Booker shared military duties with Elvis Presley?!) and his unrelenting love and enthusiasm for jazz.

All of this serves to remind us why we won’t be forgetting Mwenso in a hurry.

The late show will continue four nights a week, led alternately by saxophonists Alex Garnett, Brandon Allen and Zhenya Strigalev.

Monday, 5 March 2012

February Round-up

My February started with a trip up to Blackpool to play at the new Sands Venue.  My journey was not without problems... a cancelled train service to Manchester resulted in my traversing the country on 5 different trains to make it to Blackpool for the sound check.  Thanks to a reliable East Coast service, I made it, and was even in time to take these pictures:
The glitz and glamour of the Sands Venue
And the view behind - Blackpool pier and the North Sea
The gig was great - The Sands Swing band lead by trumpeter Neil Shatliff, playing a typical selection of jazz standards from the repertoire of Ella Fitzgerald, Frank Sinatra and Matt Monroe.  I was sharing the stage with world-class singer Matthew Ford and it was a pleasure to meet him and also to play with some musicians that I hadn't played with since I used to live at this end of the country.

Something else about the north - and something I miss so much that I make a special concession each time I travel up this way - is the cuisine.  Here I am eating my favourite snack for the road...

Chips, cheese and gravy!

Later this month I'll be at the Sands again, this time with vocalist Mark Porter.

February continued with a lovely relaxed evening at Sam's Brasserie (if you haven't checked out this sophisticated Chiswick Sunday night jazz haunt, then do so), and an incredibly up-market set or two at The Savoy, a few games of netball, a jam session without a mic (I sang loud and high for about 2 minutes before leaving the stage!) and a session at Belgravia's Boisdale with Jools Holland himself at the bar.

And my album was launched!

My quartet and I had a fantastically successful gig at the 2011 Parliamentary Jazz Venue of the Year, Hideaway.  Read a review of the gig here.  It was during half term, and I had not had to teach that day, so as a special treat I decided to get my hair died and curled at a Salon.  The hairdresser dutifully put my curlers in which was a great idea until I had to get on a bus home and was the subject of much pointing and muttering from every single child that saw me!  And it didn't stop there... when I got to the venue - with 5 bags on my back, and hair still in curlers - the manager saw me at the door and turned to her companion, muttering, "Uh oh, look at that crazy lady.  I hope she's not trying to get in here!"  She was quite apologetic when she realised it was me turning up for my soundcheck!
Photo by Mark Channer
Music photographer Mark Channer took some super shots (his website is here), and there are still copies of the album available on my website: