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




Ben Prestage is a very talented guitar player. During Tuesday night's performance we saw a demonstration of his virtuosity and mastery of different styles - everything from blues to ragtime, to slapping and tapping. He had talent in spades, played harmonica and sang, but he was hampered by a complete lack of a clear sound.

Because of his use of a thumbpick, his style in the main was firm and aggressive, the snap of the strings prevented the actual note from singing out, and he had a strange drum and hi-hat electronic accompaniment that overwhelmed his guitar.

The Tron is a small venue.  Given the energy of his playing he could have done the whole set without any sound system at all.  A great talent overcome by lack of thought of how he sounded in the audience.

Review by N.F.


Celebrating the Great American Songbook

Thursday 24th July 2014, 8pm

Festival Theatre, Edinburgh

Together with Todd Gordon and James Tormé

The first thing you notice about the Forth Valley Chorus is that it is a very large chorus (up to 100 members at times).  The second thing you notice is that it is an all female chorus (of a wide variety of ages).  Self confessed "close harmony geek" David Sangster has been the chorus director since 2005 and as he informed us, this is a competitive multi competition winning group of singers.  Some of the well known (and less well) known songs from the American songbook were given an airing tonight with special arrangements to suit such a large group of talented singers over the two sets that the chorus performed tonight.

Tonight's show was a bit of an old fashioned variety show as also on stage tonight was Edinburgh's own Todd Gordon accompanied by a trio of talented jazz musicians (piano, base and drums).  Todd's style can best be described as that easy laid-back swing style of Frank Sinatra perfected for that classic "Rat Pack" Las Vegas period. Todd took many of the standards from the American songbook and made them all look so easy to sing and perform.  The fact is that these songs are anything but easy to sing in a laid-back style and get away with it.  There are some very complex vocals, phrasing and timing at work here.  Todd performed a final rendition at the closing songs of the show with the chorus members on a fine rendition of "New York, New York".  Without sounding rude to Todd, I believe that many of these songs, if they are going to be sung in this style, need a singer of a certain age and experience of life to put the emotions of the lyrics over to an audience properly.  Todd is of this age and this type of set just does not seem to work that well with younger singers.

Also on stage tonight was American jazz singer James Torme.  I have to admit that I found his "full on" style a little difficult to adapt to after the easy going songs of Todd Gordon.  James is a first class Jazz singer and has a huge vocal range that allows him to play endlessly with song arrangements.  He is also a scat singer / improviser of huge talent.  I have to admit though that I have never been a huge scat fan.  By the time James returned in the second set (he also closed the show with the chorus) I had adapted to his very individual timing and phrasing a bit and found this set much more pleasing to listen to.

Overall, a great show with some great songs performed in a wide variety of styles.  Something here for everyone I hope.  For me though, Todd Gordon stole the show.  I could quite happily have seen a whole Todd Gordon evening tonight.


Review by Tom King



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