It must feel pretty good to stand on a stage under a spotlight in front of an audience and open a show by saying, “I’m a jazz singer”.
Vince Jones says it as a simple statement of fact, and goes on to explain just what that means.
“A soul singer uses a diatonic scale and might interpret a phrase like this”, and his voice is liquid and gospel and calling and falling.
“A blues singer works with that blues scale and might sound like this”, and his voice is aching and frustrated and bending and keening.
“But a jazz singer … well, he can do anything he likes”, and it’s the same phrase but his voice is dancing and looping and pulling and encircling.
And that’s how the show starts.
That I went to this show was only because Hazel gave me Christmas tickets to John Waters’ tribute show to John Lennon, Glass Onion – which was superb and deserves its own review which may come but not right now. What matters here is that there was a sign advertising Vince Jones and his band performing in this theatre in a few weeks.
I’ve listened to Vince Jones’ music for over 25 years. I can remember when he described himself as a trumpeter because he didn’t think he was a very good singer. Now he “also plays trumpet”, which in itself is a serious understatement. I had only seen him live once, at a noisy benefit in Balmain where he played with The Necks (I think). A theatre show would be a treat.
So we bought tickets. Since you ask, yes it was Hazel who actually ordered the tickets. And obtained middle seats, front row.
Also at Glass Onion was my friend Vince the jeweller, like me from Corrimal, who said that Vince Jones would sometimes pop his head into Vince the jeweller’s shop to say hello. I think I actually gasped. Apparently, Vince Jones grew up in Corrimal.
On the night, Vince the jazz singer did indeed mention that he attended Corrimal High School. He referred not only to the fun he and his brother had in and around Wollongong, but to his good fortune in having grown up in such a place, and his sense of loss at how some things have changed.
In fact, Vince had a quite a bit to say. He quietly exhorted us to care more for the environment, for the oppressed, for the dispossessed, to stand up to the corporate culture, to maintain our values.
This was all in small bites, wrapped in the introductions to the songs. And such songs. As always, his own alongside the jazz standards. In fact, it was a real treat as the list included two co-written with Doug de Vries.
But they all become his own, of course. Well, his and the band’s, because this band is not just tight, not just an efficient backing unit – this band is an integral part of the Vince Jones performance. They are all individuals, with idiosyncracies and no less a willingness to take the limelight than the vocalist, who complains, “We rehearse and rehearse, and then they just do what they want”.
Matt McMahon on piano, Simon Barker on drums, James Muller on guitar and Ben Waples on bass all worked together seamlessly and all took time to shine as soloists. That they each managed to emerge as distinct characters even as the singer in the purple shirt held the audience in his sway says much about their personal style.
It was also apparent that while all these musicians are consummate professionals, in command of their instruments to a level of technical proficiency that is breath-taking, songs and arrangements were selected for broad appeal and audience accessibility. It made for a wonderful evening’s entertainment.
Songs included Two Sleepy People, Our Town, Can’t Afford to Die, We Let Them Do It, Rainbow Cake, The Parting Glass, Winter in America (the Gil Scott-Heron one) and more I can’t remember.
On top of all that, Vince squeezed some notes out of that trumpet that fair near made me cry. I’m a sucker for the atmospheric, almost vocal, Miles Davis style of playing and Vince Jones is the finest proponent I’ve ever heard live.
And I know it doesn’t seem fair, but the man can actually hold a note singing even more steadily than with his horn.
Did I mention he’s a Corrimal boy?