Various ‘local difficulties’ did not augur well for Tina May’s
debut at CJC but to my relief her voice and commanding presence – code for her split skirt – soon swept my doubts away. Having heard her several times before, in venues as diverse as Ronnie Scott’s and Sinah Warren on Hayling Island, this was undoubtedly Tina at her warmest, most composed, and most humorous.
I must confess that I was so bowled over by Tina that I forgot to make a note of some of the numbers in her beautifully varied programme but here are some of my highlights:
Her Chansons Francaises are songs that have both English and French lyrics and Tina sings these mostly in French. This is clearly no affectation since she sings French with impeccable accuracy and works regularly with French musicians. My favourites were Autumn Leaves, with a verse by poet Jacques Prevert, and September In The Rain.
Nikki Iles’s glorious arrangement of In The Bleak Midwinter.
Kurt Weil and Ogden Nash’s composition, Speak Low.
A song from Tina’s trio repertoire, George Gershwin’s My Man’s Gone Now, recorded with ‘the legendary Tony Coe’ –Tina understates for once.
Lazy Afternoon, a delightful slow rendition of Barbara Streisand’s composition.
The Ellingtonian Finale. First, an acappella (not Acapulco, as a friend of Tina’s says!) version of Come Sunday, was the finest moment of my evening and in truth perhaps the right moment to finish the performance. However, truly professional, Tina ended with Take The A Train, another fine Nikki Iles arrangement, that gave the musicians one last chance.
Talking of musicians:
Phil Donkin was on bass, having recently taken over from Alec Dankworth. As Tina said, ‘Bass players are getting younger. They’ll be calling me Auntie Tina soon’. Being over fifteen years younger than his predecessor, Phil has a way to go before playing comparable solos – one or two were great - but he drove the band along in fine fashion all evening.
Tristan Mailliot, a colleague of Phil’s in Christian Brewer’s bands, was a solid, effective, and unobtrusive drummer.
Nikki Iles, like Tina, rose to new heights for her visit to CJC, playing with extra warmth and drive. Her playing was once described to me as ‘not too many notes’ and she certainly always seems to strike just the right balance. Her arrangements are also a cornerstone of the quartet’s repertoire. Nikki will be warmly welcomed back to CJC on July 15, 2005, with the Geoff Simkins Quartet
So, how did Tina May do? Opinions vary more about singers than any other aspect of jazz but for me Tina confirmed her position among the top rank of British singers, only close behind Claire Martin, Liane Carrol, and Ian Shaw.
I look forward to inviting Tina back to CJC.