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Langston with an exclusive interview with Radio 2’s Jazz Vocalist of
last year has been pretty good for Claire Martin – a
critically-acclaimed new album, the winner of jazz vocalist of the year
and involvement in BBC Four’s celebrations of the ‘Great American
Songbook’. So why is it that jazz seems to be the poor relation of the
UK’s music output when so many people still seem to enjoy it – as
witnessed by the continuing popularity of Frank Sinatra, Dean Martin,
Ella Fitzgerald and more recently Harry Connick Jr, Jamie Cullum and
Saturday 1st May 2010 and I’m sitting with a couple of
video cameras in the middle of Armstrong Hall in Thornbury near
hear her heels first and she walks purposefully towards me with a smile.
this going on YouTube? Do I
need some lipstick?”
looks absolutely fine in her jeans and black shirt but I’m wary about
entering into comment on cosmetics and luckily for me she decides for
herself. She’s back in a
couple of minutes, takes less than a split second to compose herself and
she’s ready to go.
website says that she grew up listening to Ella Fitzgerald’s songbooks
– widely regarded as the definitive recorded versions of the great
songs by Irving Berlin, Cole Porter and the like – classics such as
‘They can’t take that away from me’, ‘Summertime’ and ‘The
Lady is a Tramp’.
ask her why she wasn’t listening to Madonna and Wham and she explains
the impact of maternal taste on her formative years – it’s funny how
so many of us claim to hate what our parents like but are nevertheless
so deeply influenced by it. Claire’s enthusiasm for the music is
was the pop music of the day. Ella
produced a staggering amount of brilliant stuff and it was the prime of
her singing voice.”
pop music of the day. That’s exactly what it was – pop music – not
some kind of inaccessible pretentious nonsense.
It’s what the kids were listening to.
refers to this on her website – “jazz isn’t an inaccessible art
that’s too difficult to understand” – so I ask her, when did jazz
move from being pop music to inaccessible music.
in the 60s,” she says, “when there was no song or story to
follow.” She refers to the be-bop scene and 30 minute jazz solos.
“Some of it’s a hard listen but it’s also wonderful.”
She wonders if jazz reacted to The Beatles which meant that jazz
had to find its niche elsewhere.
think jazz is highbrow now but I think that’s wrong.” She
refers to the influence that jazz has had on the likes of Joni Mitchell,
Stevie Wonder and KD Lang but tellingly still refers to jazz as “the
ask her what jazz tracks she would recommend to a 16 year old for their
melodies, beautiful execution and phrasing go for Ella when she’s
swinging with Louis Armstrong,” and she enthusiastically lists a range
of performers from Sarah Vaughn through to the brilliant contemporary
vocals of Kurt Elling.
go for some quick-fire questions.
Fitzgerald or Judy Garland? “Both.”
Sinatra or Michael Buble? “Frank
Sinatra,” she says, looking at me as if I’m stupid.
major or F minor. “F
or trumpet? “Trumpet.”
or Wham? “Madonna.”
Martin or Clare Teal? She
laughs. “We both have our
with that Claire goes to prepare for what is to be a masterclass in jazz
singing. With her brilliant
trio of Gareth Williams (keyboards), Laurence Cottle (bass) and Chris
Dagley (drums) she moves through a range of classic and contemporary
jazz tunes, giving every phrase a meaning and pushing the melodies
around with complete control. You can hear the influence of the likes of
Ella on songs such as Johnny Mercer and Jimmy Van Heusen’s “I
thought about you” but Claire has clearly drawn on the wealth of jazz
greats to develop her own style and it is easy to see why she is held in
such a high regard.
is jazz an ‘inaccessible art form’? As Claire says, ‘it’s not
easy’ but then is anything worthwhile easy?
And given the amount of pleasure that jazz continues to give so
many people perhaps it is happy to stay out of the brash limelight and
remain as the cool, sharp-dressed cousin of other forms of music.