Ella Fitzgerald Centenary Concert with Claire Martin & The BBC Big Band. St George’s Hall, Bristol.

One of the finest jazz singers being commemorated by a Big Band Orchestra at the best sounding venue in the City. Yes please.

I booked this ticket way back in the summer, thinking that giving myself something to look forward to in the dark winter months was a god idea. Which it was. And that a Big Band and a big voice would probably serve to lift winter blues. Which they sort of did.

I love St George’s, it has amazing acoustics and great volunteers. It’s not the most comfortable and the pricing can be a touch erratic but with great sound and atmosphere it is usually worth it.

I had been looking forward to this gig, as something to make me smile, for a while. Sadly I was feeling quite wonky going in. I gave thought to sitting this gig out altogether to be honest. Then I remembered why I’ve been to so many gigs. Because in music I have a place. And I fit. Not perfectly, but enough. Besides this was gig 50. A point so far ahead of original goal, significant enough a number, to merit dragging myself out.

I had booked a stalls seat, at the front but with restricted view. Makes no difference in St George’s where you sit, the sound is amazing throughout, although I did lose some of the ambience in not being able to see most of the band. There were a lot of them, mind, about 18 I think, plus conductor and guest singer.

They played a range of swing, big band standards and arrangements with and without Claire singing. Most of the band got to show off with a solo at some point, which is completely justified when you have a bunch of musicians this talented, would be a waste not to show them off. Highlights for me were Honeysuckle Rose and Sing, Sing, Sing, both of which were in the second half. I wasn’t fully engaged with a lot of this gig, and that’s me, rather than the band. Somehow it felt too slick, ever so slightly too polished. The track I really loved was the one described as “a bit wilder.” I guess I’ve gotten into, and seen, some pretty avant guard stuff this year, which made these standard tunes seem tame. Which, in their time, they were not. They just seem it to my ears now. And as much as Claire has an amazing, smoky, husky, jazz voice, I just didn’t feel it.

Jazz is black classical music. It is Nina. And Ella. And Duke. It isn’t polite, white middle class British people clapping gently in a former Church. Or maybe it is and I’m wrong about this too. All I know is I felt as out of place with this music, in this place, tonight, as I have with everything else around me lately.

The aim had been a winter warmer. It wasn’t. Maybe I’m too cold.

40+10 didn’t quite work but hey you can’t win them all.



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