An Evening of Duke Ellington

The Jazz Haus - An Evening of Duke EllingtonEric Ajaye’s jazz venue, The Jazz Haus, hosted a masterclass in classic jazz singing when three veteran female jazz singers presented a stylish evening of the songs by Duke Ellington and his associate, Billy Strayhorn.

Marie Wilson, Joy Yates and Sandie White have each sustained long singing careers both in Australia and overseas, and although their voices may have lost some of the bloom of their earlier years, their interpretations of their chosen repertoire, in this case, the music of Duke Ellington, glowed with the special artistry achieved from a lifetime spent perfecting their techniques.

Their presentations were notable for the respect with which they interpreted the songs, honouring the intent of the composers with impeccable phrasing in their interpretation of the lyrics. This respect was also extended to their audience, with concise, well thought-out introductions to the songs, and to the three consummate musicians who accompanied them, Dave McRae (Keyboards), Craig Scott (Double Bass) and Laurie Bennett (Drums).

The program commenced with a bouncy opening song to introduce the singers and musicians, after which, each of the singers presented two solo brackets, changing costume for each appearance.

Sandie White commenced her professional 60 year career singing at the Australia Hotel, and  has sung all over the world with such luminaries as Ray Ellington, Ike Isaacs and Lionel Hampton. She’s headlined at Ronnie Scott’s in London, and in Australia at the Don Burrows Supper Club, the Brisbane Jazz Club and the Basement on the Gold Coast. She’s a mistress of scat singing, which she demonstrated in her upbeat version of Drop Me Off In Harlem.

She followed this with a lovely rendition of It Shouldn’t Happen to a Dream and completed her set with Billy Strayhorn’s gentle Day Dream. Her second set commenced with an up-tempo rendition of I Let a Song Go Out of My Heart, followed by a pensive song introduced by Peggy Lee in 1935, All Too Soon and the cheeky I’m Checking Out, Goodbye.

Born in New Zealand, Joy Yates ,whose 50+ year career has also taken her all over the world sharing stages with the likes of Neil Sedaka, Cliff Richards, Cat Stevens, Chaka Khan, Gladys Knight, Cleo Lane and Art Blakey, just to name a few, lit up the stage with swinging rendition of In A Mellow Tone.

She followed with a beautifully phrased Prelude to a Kiss and an up-beat, Perdido – which highlighted the drum skills of Laurie Bennett. Her second set featured a stunning arrangement of Caravan, an impeccably phrased In a Sentimental Mood, a bouncy Jump For Joy and a soulful I’ve Got it Bad and That Ain’t Good.

Marie Wilson was born in Calcutta and migrated to Australia in the early 1960’s. She’s also toured internationally and in Australia soon established herself as a leading jazz performer appearing with such greats as Don Burrows, James Morrison, Kevin Hunt and Bob Barnard. She commenced her set with a swinging Satin Doll, followed by a sublime rendition of Sophisticated Lady, then an upbeat Do Nothing Till You Hear From Me.

Her second set commenced with I’m Beginning To See the Light, for which Craig Scott delighted by bowing some clever improvisations on his double bass. She poured her heart and soul into the lyrics of Billy Strayhorn’s Lush Life, for which Dave McRae and the trio provided an equally lush accompaniment, then finished with a superb reading of Ellington’s Come Sunday.

One got the impression that these musicians could have gone on all night, and indeed the audience were reluctant to let them go, but host, Eric Ajaye managed to wind up the performance with an elegant few words expressing the appreciation of all who were lucky enough to enjoy this memorable evening of superlative jazz.

An Evening of Duke Ellington
The Jazz Haus, 5 Mountevans Street, Mawson (Canberra)
Performance:Friday 5 April 2019

Image: Marie Wilson, Joy Yates and Sandie White with musicians Dave McRae, Craig Scott and Laurie Bennett (supplied)

Review: Bill Stephens OAM