Nice work if you can get it or are we all going too niche?

Shep Fields and His Rippling Rhythm Orchestra no less introduced the Gershwins' classic 'Nice Work If You Can Get It' done as a foxtrot in a dance band version in 1937 a tad bizarre to our ears these days it must be said. Not so 20 years later …

Published: 8 Nov 2021. Updated: 25 days.

Shep Fields and His Rippling Rhythm Orchestra no less introduced the Gershwins' classic 'Nice Work If You Can Get It' done as a foxtrot in a dance band version in 1937 a tad bizarre to our ears these days it must be said. Not so 20 years later dating far better is Carmen McRae's treatment on After Glow, one of many great versions of the classic.

So much for a trip to a time before many of us were born. But standards are still significant when you go out and hear jazz and the Gershwins' contribution as a working harmonic and lyrical resource is still massively important. And yet jazz can beyond all this be far too niche, playing just to an insider jazz code even if, and it is, hip to know loads of stuff to get that bit closer. So a jazz audience well-attuned to hearing the music live, knows about contrafacts (using chord changes of existing songs with new melodies on top), the right places to applaud, when someone is trading fours, entering into call and response and can tell what a freak-out is and know what isn't. They know their Beresfordian plinky-plonk from their Les Dawson bitonal. The great pianist James Pearson (Ronnie Scott's musical director) does a wonderful Dawson homage by the way.

They can spot the improvisation sometimes when it seems to move away from the notated although cannot know if the routine has been memorised or not. They might know about honking, bar-walking and other tricks of the trade, what funkiness is and isn't, what the groove is and how it's different from the beat. They will spot Coltrane changes a mile off and know their Gershwin-derived rhythm changes too.

The list goes on and on. The lingua franca and not forgetting the ''real book'' type repertoire is important as are the rites and rituals of the bandstand whether conventional blowing sessions or customised ensemble interplay that borrows more from the classical avant-garde or hip-hop and indie-rock and that then influences new structures.

But you can't blank out the wider audience, although it's a gift to comedians if jazzers end up doing this. If it's too niche it's too much! The main thing is to make newcomers welcome. We were all new to this great music once and it's still a brand new day as the music evolves. No one, do we, wants to make the whole thing a clique within a niche?

Tags: Opinion

What's the title track of Cécile McLorin Salvant's Ghost Song like? New album set for 2022 has originals plus a cover of Kate Bush's Wuthering Heights

There's a substantial lead time to the release of Ghost Song which is to be singer Cécile McLorin Salvant's next album. Switching from long-time label Mack Avenue the March 2022 release will be on the Warner owned Nonesuch label. However, the title …

Published: 8 Nov 2021. Updated: 25 days.

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There's a substantial lead time to the release of Ghost Song which is to be singer Cécile McLorin Salvant's next album. Switching from long-time label Mack Avenue the March 2022 release will be on the Warner owned Nonesuch label. However, the title track of the heartbreaker Ghost Song is streaming.

The song finds the singer backed by Sullivan Fortner on Rhodes, piano, and backing vocals, Marvin Sewell familiar for his extensive work with Cassandra Wilson on guitar, Alexa Tarantino providing backing vocals, Keita Ogawa drums and the Brooklyn Youth Chorus providing an extraordinary additional element that injects both a feeling of hope and timelessness.

Beginning a cappella McLorin Salvant is achey and torn. Then there is a contrasting groove with Sewell arpeggiating the singer backed firmly by Ogawa. The vocal line involves the protaganist using her shield of duplicitous pride as some kind of support as she journeys dancing, carrying and eventually dying with ''the ghost of our long lost love'' where the backing vocals further warm the effect. The impact of the song is found ultimately in the 'I'll die with the ghost of our long lost love'' line.

Less than four minutes in length the children's voices in the latter choral part of the song add an ethereal quality that is quite moving and just speaks of the eternal. Not at all gloomy it's quite a statement of intent overall and certainly a fine piece of writing.

Three years since The Window the singer's last album this latest is full of originals and opens with a cover of Kate Bush's 'Wuthering Heights'. The singer has experienced a lot of loss in recent years with the loss of her grandmother and her charismatic drummer Lawrence 'Lo' Leathers who was killed in a 2019 homicide. Recently drummer Johnathan Blake paid homage to him on 'LLL' on his new Blue Note album Homeward Bound.

Cécile McLorin Salvant plays Cadogan Hall during the EFG London Jazz Festival on 16 November. Photo: via the Bandcamp Nonesuch page