Cadogan Hall London
When Lionel Hamptons’s all-American big band stormed into flag waving numbers like ‘Flying Home’ and ‘Airmail Special’ it sent crowds wild with excitement. Never more so, than when the vibraphone king performed at the Apollo Theatre, Harlem in 1962 alongside an all star cast of legendary performers. Could such magical moments ever be repeated? Yes, they could and by a great British band to boot, at Sloane Square, London in 2022.
There was nothing ‘square’ about the cast of singers and musicians who gathered at Cadogan Hall, on a Sunday, September 25th to recreate a typical Apollo concert. The audience may not have Jived in the aisles but certainly Twisted in their seats. The 17 piece orchestra conducted by musical director Pete Long was impressive in its ability to create excitement and embrace a wide variety of styles from big band swing to blues, soul and rock’n’roll.
It was just the kind of fare Apollo crowds enjoyed back in 1962 at the Harlem Apollo on 125th Street New York City when it hosted the Hampton band alongside the Count Basie orchestra, Dinah Washington, Sam Cooke and Chuck Berry. What a night! How could you possible re-enact such an event? Well the Jazz Repertory Company that presented the show achieved miracles and we’re sure Hamp himself would have been stunned by the results.
The show began with ‘Hamp’s Boogie Woogie’ an ideal number to get feet stomping, the pace set by Trevor Brown’s piano played in the style of Milt Buckner, Hamp’s old partner and master of lock hands boogie. With Anthony Kerr on vibraphone adopting the four mallet technique and Richard Pite’s driving drums, the full band roared into action with exultant brass fanfares. The effect was so powerful it whisked me back to seeing Lionel Hampton’s band at the Lewisham Gaumont in 1956. But on that occasion Teddy Boy riots at previous concerts led to the theatre management urging Hamp to cool down and play mostly ballads.
No such disappointments in 2022. With the band and audience now warmed up we were treated to songs from Sam Cooke introduced by jovial compere Shenton Dixon. Actually it was Wayne Hernandez who took the role of Sam to sing ‘Cupid’ and ‘What a Wonderful World’ a wonderful tribute to the man who first sent us ‘Twistin’ The Night Away.’
Hampton favourite ‘Red Top’ gave the man with the mallets a chance to solo while the drummer set up a solid beat not heard since Fred Radcliffe hammered out ‘Loose Wig’ at Carnegie Hall in 1945. (I missed that show, due to being confined to an Anderson air raid shelter at the time).
MAD ABOUT DINAH
Applause greeted the arrival on stage of Vimala Rowe as Dinah Washington clad in a glamorous black and gold dress that wowed the gentlemen in the audience and impressed the ladies too. She sure was a ‘Slick Chick’ with terrific stage presence. She sang ‘Mad About The Boy’ with power and passion, holding on long notes while retaining her depth of tone. ‘Sam’ and ‘Dinah’ even joined forces for a rockin’ duet on ‘Baby, You’ve Got What It Takes.’
Thence came ‘Flying Home,’ the addictive theme first recorded by guitarist Charlie Christian and Lionel Hampton with the Benny Goodman Sextet in 1939. Dancers Joseph and Charlotte jived exuberantly in front of Pete Long’s superb band as it took off and flew into action, one more time.
Confession. A high note trumpet finale featuring George Hogg and Craig Wild was so perfect – brought a tear to my eye. Never thought I’d heard ‘Flying Home’ played again with such zeal.
Now was the time for Chuck Berry (nee Earl Jackson) to stride on stage clutching a flashy gold plated guitar and wearing an even flashier shiny red suit and a big hat. He sure looked like Mr. Berry! Mr. Pite effortlessly switched from swing to rhythm & blues as he backed Chuck on ‘Sweet Little Sixteen’ and ‘Rock’n’Roll Music’ all delivered with humour and infectious enthusiasm. Another highlight of the R&B set was a sultry tenor sax solo from Amy Roberts.
AIRMAIL VERY SPECIAL
Part Two kicked off with ‘Soul Bossa Nova’ with the reed section switching to piccolos. All good fun but it was ‘Airmail Special’ with double bass player Jerome Davies underpinning the pounding rhythm that created maximum excitement.
Glittering vibes, honking tenor saxes and lip busting trumpet solos led towards the famous key change into a higher gear. Then the ensemble roared towards its final delivery climaxed by a no-holds barred Richard Pite drum solo.
Phew. Now, it was time to relax with Dinah back in a RED and gold dress (gasps from the stalls) welcomed by a few bars of ‘C Jam Blues’ and ready to sing ‘All Of Me’ as it’s never been sung before. Her passionate treatment of the ballad inspired Anthony Kerr to vibe up one of his best solos of the night.
‘What A Difference A Day Makes’ taken at a breathlessly slow tempo with metronomic brushes on the snare drum was yet another Washingtonian delight. There was much more to enjoy such as ‘A Rockin’ Good Way’ and ‘Rock House’ with dancers and singers taking centre stage.
But we reserved our final bursts of cheers and applause for the return of Mr. Chuck Berry, ladeez and gen’lemen, as he ripped up Cadogan Hall, rolling over ‘Beethoven’ and finally declaring ‘All Right OK You Win.’ CHRIS WELCH