Hastings & St. Leonards on-line community newspaper

S’Wonderful: the great Elaine Delmar at Jazz Hastings

Victoria Kingham records her appreciation of Elaine Delmar’s performance at Jazz Hastings’s May gig.

“I’m not really a jazz singer,” remarks Elaine Delmar during the interval at Jazz Hastings. She has performed everywhere, including in BBC proms in the Albert Hall.

Delmar began in musical theatre and acting, so she perhaps still feels that her jazz singing is incidental, an offshoot of her performance training. Watching her this seems, honestly, nonsense. It’s given only to a few people to deliver songs the way she does, to make them meaningful, relevant, new.

Perhaps she doesn’t have quite the vocal dexterity that she used to. But whatever she has done to adapt to the change (“you learn to adjust, to use different techniques” she said) is certainly marvellously effective and, more to the point, the result is undoubtedly jazz. She delivers a song as only a few can, with consistent attention to every word, a feeling for nuance, modulation. The audience was, justifiably, spellbound.

Delmar (born in Harpenden, and living there now) has been a mainstay of the jazz scene and the stage musical in Britain for at least fifty years. Her appearances at Ronnie Scott’s were headlined on the street ‘Miss Elaine Delmar’.  (I wondered then, and wonder now, why the ‘Miss’ was felt necessary. I mean they didn’t headline ‘Mr William Evans’ or ‘Mr Sonny Rollins’ or even ‘Mr Jim Mullen’ – but I digress).

All the numbers were standards, exquisitely chosen, the arrangements slick, fast, practised, the quartet (with the redoubtable Mullen on electric guitar) professional, and simultaneously inventive. The presentation was seamless: ten songs, break, another ten songs. In each she demonstrated the range, timbre and careful expression that has made her name.

Full tribute

One point of her accomplished performance is that in her introductions she pays full tribute to both the song and its writer. It’s perhaps an old-fashioned idea in this age of endless samples and cutouts and electronica, but these numbers are part of the vocabulary of popular music, and particularly part of the continuing vocabulary of jazz performance.

Some of the arrangements were interesting – I Got Rhythm in an unexpected 3/4, for example, and an upbeat, unsentimental It’s All Right With Me with a splendid guitar break by Mullen, that had just a little bit of Mozart casually interwoven. I love the way that Delmar literally ‘hands over’ with a gesture to her accompanists, and they are all, clearly, excellent and responsive musicians. Send In the Clowns always makes me cry anyway, and I Loves You Porgy, and even the beautiful, but infinitely over-performed, Summertime sent little ribbons of mascara down my faded cheeks. Gershwin, Cole Porter, Jerome Kern, Sondheim, such class and eternity.

Some of these tunes are almost a hundred years old (S’Wonderful was written for Funny Face in 1927) but the pleasure of hearing them, for both audience and musician, never fades. Such is the appeal of the jazz standard. Such is the appeal of Elaine Delmar.

Elaine Delmar perfomed at Jazz Hastings, at the EHSAA venue, on Tuesday 7 May 2024. The instrumentalists were

Bobby Worth – drums
Simon Thorpe – bass
John Pierce – piano
Jim Mullen – guitar


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Posted 11:26 Sunday, May 12, 2024 In: Music & Sound

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