Curtis Stigers in the Big Top
Last evening, a packed Big Top at the Cheltenham Jazz Festival was entertained by the BBC Concert Orchestra, The Guy Barker Big Band, Liane Carroll, Curtis Stigers and Kurt Elling – and what entertainment it was. Hosted by Jeremy Vine it was all themed around Prohibition, Al Capone, the ‘halcyon days’ of New York and Chicago’s speakeasies, the famous Cotton Club and a time when swing was the thing, torch songs and the singers with the big bands were not just jazz, they was pop!
Broadcast live on the BBC’s Friday Night Is Music Night the evening opened with Sing, Sing, Sing, Louis Prima’s classic made famous by Benny Goodman’s Orchestra with Gene Krupa. It was a scintillating way to start with the horns, the full sized string section and some powerhouse drumming on Guy Barker’s arrangement made this the perfect opener. Appropriately the evening closed with a medley of Louis Prima classics including Jump, Jive & Wail…by which time The Joint is Jumpin‘ – the Fats Waller song had been performed with stylish, effortless panache half way through the concert by Curtis, Kurt and Liane.
Many in the audience had probably never seen Kurt Elling perform live and when he finished his opening number, Blue Skies there was a momentary pause before some thunderous applause from an audience that was in shock at the dexterity of his vocals. he went on to sing I Can’t Give You Anything But Love, I Like The Sunrise, an awesome version of Cab Calloway’s Minnie The Moocher (it felt like we were all back in the Cotton Club in ’31) with some help from the audience on vocals and his closing solo number was Ellington’s Tootie For Cootie to which Elling had put words to trumpet player Cootie Williams’s solos – it was quiet simply astonishing – and wonderful. Kurtis Stigers, who has played the festival before is a more traditional jazz singer than Elling but he was a huge hit, giving us, Someday You’ll be sorry ( a rarity, a Louis Armstrong composition), the fabulous, I Found a Million Dollar Baby in a 5 & 10 Cents Store and a quiet, understated but simply beautiful version of Blame It On My Youth. Curtis Stigers is a singer who is way more substance than he is flash, making him one of the best modern-day interpreters of the Great American Songbook.
And then there was Liane. She opened with a stunning version of Ethel Waters, Stormy Weather, another staple of the Cotton Club. Later there was Midnight Sun, a sassy Love For Sale and Lover Man (Oh Where Can You Be). These were all brilliant but the showstopper was The Man I Love – who can forget Billie Holiday with Lester Young absolutely killing this number in 1939? While No one could forget Lady Day, let me tell you Liane managed to redefine this song in a way that made it all her own last night.
After the concert we went back to the Hotel Du Vin where, after midnight, both Kurt and Liane jammed in that way that jazz musicians who love their craft do. Giving freely of themselves, their talent and their time. Some people who had dined there earlier and stayed on when the music started were initially unaware of what they were in for. What they got was world class singers giving of their best.