It was an unusually wet and misty Edinburgh Saturday afternoon today (the earlier days had been nice sunshine) when I went down to the Tron Kirk to catch Cindy Douglas debuting her new show tribute to the music of Billie Holiday and Lester Young called "Lady Day and The Prez". I have to admit that I had no idea what to expect here as I have never heard Cindy Douglas perform before and only knew the really big name Billie Holiday songs, but little of their history. I need not have worried as Cindy took the time to give everyone in the room a little background to the music and the songs that she was singing.
Cindy was joined on stage today by Konrad Wiszniewski (sax tenor), Iain Matheson (piano), Peter Lowitt (bass) and Bill Kemp (drums). Sadly the Festival Jazz programme did not list any of the musicians playing with Cindy today so a few people maybe missed out on hearing some great playing by Konrad Wiszniewski and the other guys. Where they would have gone though is a question, as the venue was pretty full for this afternoon set.
I have to admit here that, as much as I like listening to Jazz, I do not have the technical musical skills to write a critical review of anyone's ability to play an instrument. To me, Jazz as a listener is about letting great musicians and singers take you on a journey with the music and the emotions that that music can produce in you.
From the very beginning it is obvious that Cindy Douglas does not just sing the music here. Cindy Douglas loves what she is singing and jazz is in her soul. I only managed to catch the first one hour set of this show from Cindy today as, for some reason, the Jazz Festival had split her sets into two one-hour performances with two tickets required. I thought that I was only going to a one hour performance and had only left that amount of time in my afternoon to review this show, so sorry Cindy for only a first half review.
The first half was a great set that included many of the classic songs such as All of Me, Body and Soul, I Can’t Give You Anything But Love and Don’t Explain. The song, however, on this first set that was probably closest to her heart today was a very brave and clever re-working of Strange Fruit. On this one Cindy was joined by Karen Marshalsay on Celtic harp. Taking a song that I always find very powerful (and often disturbing) about the race lynchings of Billie Holiday's time and using it to highlight the appalling abuse of women and girls in parts of India and Indian society at the moment was a brave move and again highlights just how well jazz music can be endlessly re-worked and re-interpreted.
Everyone played a great set today, but special note (apart from Cindy obviously) must go to Konrad Wiszniewski (sax tenor) as this is the sound that allowed Billie Holiday to wrap her voice and emotions around originally.
Jazz is an amazing music form. It allows musicians endless scope to play it straight as written, improvise or re-interpret and all of that was done today.
For those of you not familiar with The Tron Kirk, it is a 17th century former church building that is basically a renovated exterior shell in the historic Royal Mile of Edinburgh. It is not a full time music venue and has no luxuries like toilets or dressing rooms. The Tron Kirk is a pretty cold and foreboding building that does not easily lend itself to the atmosphere needed to make an intimate set like this work at its best. It is a tribute to the skills, passion and presence of Cindy and her band that this type of set works in this sort of building. It would be great to catch this set in full if it ever returns to Edinburgh in more of an intimate "club" setting.
If you want to find more out about Cindy Douglas go directly to her website at http://cindydouglas.co.uk/
Review by Tom King