Review: Girls Only Jazz Orchestra at Swing Unlimited Jazz Club

I love the old red London Routemaster buses.  Many happy memories of times spend hopping on and off the open rear platform and sitting in snug upstairs seating, like a 50s railway carriage, on my way no doubt from Chelsea to Shaftesbury Avenue or beyond, to work and auditions in the West End.  Typical of today’s designs that the replacement, the new ‘Boris bus’, is a ‘Tonka Toy’ pastiche of the slim and elegant original, as is the new Mini to the tiny, space-efficient Issigonis design.

Big Band jazz.  Just like buses and men, you spend ages waiting and then two come along at the same time.  On Sunday it’s the Swing Unlimited All Stars Big Band with its Count Basie tribute at the Regent Centre.  I’m counting the days…

First this week, at Swing Unlimited Jazz Club last night was the ‘Girls Only Jazz Orchestra’.  Rather like the ’Calendar Girls’ of jazz.  Homely, talented but unsung heroines, carrying on regardless.  And playing a superb choice of songs, from Basie’s ’Straight Ahead’, through Glen Miller (of course, most suitable) ‘At Last’ through to Mancini (naturally, though an interesting – and exceptionally difficult – choice) ‘Meglio Stasera – It Had Better Be Tonight’ and including Bacharach & David, in Herb Albert’s arrangement of ‘Girl’s in Love With You’.

Along the way the well behaved audience were treated to some gorgeous renditions of many uptempo crowd-pleasing songs.  The ingredients are well mixed.  That means 4 trumpets, 3 trombones, no less than six saxophones ranging from alto, tenor to bari.  The band - if not the girls themselves – is brassy, tempered by Christa’s softly-spoken piano and Dave’s loud and literal drums.  While I could hear the bass, I couldn’t see it.  Turns out that Ali was doing a fine job of filling in the bass part on her little keyboard.  Leader Dave Andrews bops about and turns his hand to various shakers, triangles and cowbells along the way, whilst keeping the Girls Only sound very tight.

Highlights were any of the Sarah Bolter tenor saxophone solos, like in ‘How High the Moon’ (based on Benny Goodman’s arrangement for Ella Fitzgerald) or Nat King Cole’s ‘When I Fall in Love’ (Young/Heyman), the latter joined by a well-handled trombone solo from Dolly.  Bossa Novas are my particular favourites, so it was a treat to hear Antonio Carlos Joaquim’s beautiful swaying bossa ‘No More Blue’.

After a brief tribute paid to her brand new grandson, Zachary (born last night) Jo went on to steal the show with marvellous solos, including - ‘Get Happy’ (Billy May arrangment) on her alto saxophone - and playing an enchanting clarinet on the Artie Shaw version of Porter’s ‘Begin the Beguine’.  The whole band came into their own with the unusual, catchy National Youth Jazz Orchestra number ‘Big Girl Now’.  Starting off as a bossa nova, then bursting into an uptempo swing middle section, it was sung with conviction by singer Sarah.  It featured a terrific saxophones duet, Sarah on tenor and Jo on alto, swooping and winding around each other like Christmas ivy.

How lovely to hear Sting coming into big band arrangements, if not swing in strict 4/4.  GOJO’s ‘Fields of Gold’ was strangely affecting, featuring sweet mute trumpets.  Reminds me of the last Edinburgh fringe for ‘The Pink Sinatra’ and ‘The Pink Pack’.  We covered Sting’s ‘Englishman in New York’, getting the whole audience in on the chorus singing, “Be yourself, no matter what they say” – a stirring and original moment from the show.

Leaving the audience shouting for more with a nice ‘n’ noisy Benny Goodman style ‘Sing, Sing, Sing’ (Louis Prima), GOJO – the Rodean or Calendar Girls of Big Bands – packed up and left the audience at Swing Unlimited Jazz Club shouting for more.  Back home, or in some cases to meetings in Manchester, I can imagine each and every member of the band snugly holding a cup of Ovaltine.  Ah, lovely…!

So now to hop onto the second bus, Swing Unlimited All Stars Big Band at the Regent Centre on Sunday.  I wonder where that one’s going to?

Next week 1st of May at SUJC - fabulous female big band GOJO!

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