Karen has made tremendous progress since I first heard her play in December 2002 in the days when an annual Tingle Factor night gave members the chance to introduce one of their favourite, recorded tracks and have it played to the audience. Dedicated jazz fan and musician Tony Dudley’s choice was, you’ve guessed it, Karen Sharp – in fact ‘In the Wee Small Hours of the Morning’, a duo track from Karen’s first album, Till There Was You. I loved Karen and pianist Richard Busiakiewicz’s playing but, more importantly so did the rest of the audience. I bought the album and heard the band play live. Karen was now high on my ’must book’ list.
By the time I started talking to Karen in June 2004 about a gig at CJC she had just joined Humphrey Lyttleton’s Band This made it a little difficult to pin down a date, but at last we made it.
Some of the highlights of a fine evening were:
• Three of Karen’s own compositions from her latest album: So Far So Good, the title track, featuring drummer Sam Brown; Mr Gas Man; and Small World, a delightful, gentle tune. Undoubtedly Karen’s varied writing is one of the band’s many strengths.
• Jimmy Van Heusen seems to have been featured in many of our recent gigs and his lovely But Beautiful was given a fine treatment by the band, with a long intro by Karen and Richard. The understanding between Karen and Richard is, for me, one of the outstanding features of the band.
• Richard’s witty use of quotes was a sheer delight throughout the whole gig and often clearly surprised Karen and the others.
• The infectious Jitterbug Waltz by Fats Waller was mainly a vehicle for the more forceful side of Karen’s playing but everyone else also made good use of their solo opportunity.
• In the poetic and passionate Lush Life by Billy Strayhorn the band performed in its most emotional vein.
• The most unexpected choice of music was left until late in the evening: Weird Blues by Miles Davis. Karen and the band handled this number very effectively, notably Karen’s husband John Day on bass, and made me wish they had played one or two more numbers at the modern end of the range.
But let’s not quibble. Karen and her band were well appreciated and received rapturous final applause from our largest audience so far this season.
I seem to write regularly in these reviews how much I’m looking forward to the band’s return. That certainly applies to Karen Sharp but I hope that next time she will bring a quintet and also double up on baritone saxophone, an instrument she now plays regularly with Humph.