Farewell to Wendy Street at Swing Unlimited Jazz Club

A farewell to Wendy Street, warmly supported by a packed house, was also a fond farewell to Swing Unlimited Jazz Club at Centre Stage after a three year residency.  Perhaps it was also a dual celebration.  Wendy Street, jazz singer of extraordinary character, is off to a Masters degree course in jazz singing at London’s prestigious Guildhall conservatoire.  Swing Unlimited Jazz Club takes over a new ‘home’ from next Wednesday at the Carrington House Hotel.  So it was a bitter sweet evening of superb music and friends and supporters of great jazz at Swing Unlimited Jazz Club.

Wendy’s audition piece for the Guildhall – Theolonius Monk’s ‘Round Midnight’ - was her opener, a magnificent choice showing her dark velvet tones to perfection.  Wendy’s band were the cream of Swing Unlimited Jazz Club’s regulars: John Belben playing as usual his sweetest guitar, the incredible drumming of young Luke Allen and Hilary Tratt on electric bass guitar adding to the rhythm with precision.  Wendy is a team player whose lack of ego is matched by her talent and generosity as a performer.

We were treated to multiple guests.  Pat Piero, the Chet Baker of Swing Unlimited, improvising his trumpet superbly in numbers like ‘Making Woopee’ (Kahn/Donaldson) and adding that lovely New York sound of his flugelhorn in ‘Round Midnight’.  Ian Ellis is a star player of saxophone and he swoops and winds around every melody.  A true treat was Pat and Ian improvising together in the gorgeous uptempo ‘All of Me’ (Marks/Simons).  A touching moment was Alan Melly, former teacher of Wendy, coming up to add his great tones as the whole band got swingin’ with Duke Ellington’s ‘It Don’t Mean a Thing’.

Thanks to Wendy for inviting me up to join her on one of my favourite tunes, Hoagy Carmichael’s ‘Stardust’ – Wendy on piano and me on vocals.  It was a moment of reverie indeed for me to be up there surrounded by great musicians swingin’ along with Wendy on ‘It Was Only a Paper Moon’ (Arlen) and Ellington’s ‘Mood Indigo’.  Pat came up too to add great trumpet flourishes.  After eight months of enjoying the company of Wendy, Pat, Luke and John in the audience and loving their work from the front, it was a special moment for me to be up there ‘on the green’ performing.

Wendy had planned her two sets to perfection.  This was an evening of the great jazz standards beautifully played and sung.  Wendy’s singing does credit to these songs and their originals, like Billie Holliday’s ‘Lover Man’ and ‘Fine and Mellow’ with John Belben giving us his funky guitar solo.  The mellow tones of Wendy Street are so exciting as she gives us her singular scatting on numbers like Charlie Parker’s ‘Billie’s Bounce’.  There was a Louis Armstrong moment for ‘uncle’ Crispen Street on flute for ‘The Way You Look Tonight’ (Jerome Kern) as his dropped music gave Wendy the opportunity to just throw in some impromtu scatting.  She was joined by Faith Bean on ‘Homeward Bound’ – a charming Simon and Garfunkel number.  Yet more guests followed, as Wendy’s choir came up to open the second set.  Who couldn’t love a choir swingin’ it with Cole Porter’s ‘Let’s Do It!’ and ‘Blue Moon’ (Rodgers and Hart).

Wendy knows how to add the beans to the Louisiana jazz gumbo.  Wendy’s ’Farewell’ was a rollicking treat, and she didn’t fail to stir it up and surprise and delight her raucous audience.  Now it’s a stunning new change of direction for Wendy Street, as she steps out ready to add the spice to her favourite standards for her lucky future audiences.

Wendy’s back… well thank goodness the after-show party at her flat wasn’t the very last sighting.  Wendy knows how to throw a ‘soiree’ as well off stage as on, it turns out.  I’m looking forward to catching up with Wendy before she swings up to London.  The Carrington House Hotel plays host to Swing Unlimited Jazz Club’s ‘Jazz at the Carrington’ on Wednesday 4 September with Tom White and his Septet.  Tom White is simply the best trombone player I’ve ever heard! – see you there.

© 2017 Scott Free – the Pink Sinatra. Built by 79nights.