by Isabelle Gapp…
A fantastic year of shows concluded with “And All That Jazz…” at The St James Theatre on the 18 November. Part of the EFG London Jazz Festival, the performance brought to life extracts from letters, poems, essays, stories and anecdotes all of which evoked the overwhelming presence of Jazz on both sides of the Atlantic over the past century. Accompanying these performances was James Pearson, of Ronnie Scott’s, whose improvised piano score provided an evocative context for the readings.
Among the stellar performances that evening was Lucy Cohu’s reading of Anne Shaw Faulkner’s “Does Jazz Put the Sin in Syncopation?”, an article which highlighted the supposed “evil influence” associated with Jazz. Whereas Miles Jupp brought us right into the 21st century with an anecdote from Jamie Cullum, who recalls first listening to Thelonious Monk, describing his music as “if Picasso’s work was musical, it would sound like Monk.” The persistent presence of Jazz in our lives became more and more noticeable.
The performances brought together the many facets of the Jazz world. In the powerful reading of Maya Angelou’s “The Reunion” given by Ginny Holder, Okezie Morro, and Polly Gibbons, the racial stigmatism that permeated Jazz and society in general is revealed to the audience. Whereas a sense of competitive joviality came forth in Jack Shepherd’s retelling of an occasion when a teenage Billy Taylor saw Jelly Roll Morton perform in 1937, and after being singled out as young wannabes, Jelly turned to them and said “you punks can’t play this!”, to which Billy and his friends agreed.
The show concluded with Joseph Marcell’s extraordinary reading of a letter written by Louis Armstrong in response to a piece of fan mail from a Marine stationed in Vietnam. The telling of this letter of 1967 was both heartwarming and hilarious, but most of all captivating. The packed audience of the St James Theatre were utterly enthralled. Marcell channelled Armstrong right to last line, where he had written “And now I’ll do you, just like the farmer did the potato – I’ll plant you now and dig you later.”