I’m a huge fan of Chet Baker, and I’ve heard trumpeter Colin Steele play before so I was always going to have this show Remembering Chet on my radar, and it was definitely an hour well spent as he, Iain Ewing, vocals, and Euan Stevenson on piano captivated a packed early evening house at the Jazz Bar for their final Festival Fringe performance.
Everyone wanted to hear the tunes and not the story so Iain dispensed with everything apart from the briefest narrative, and it’s a brave and interesting combination to strip back the performance to just voice, piano and trumpet. To my knowledge there are very few recordings of Chet singing with just piano, and possibly only one, that made with Canadian pianist Paul Bley in 1985. Reputedly Chet wasn’t too hot at remembering the lyrics of You Go To My Head and girlfriend Diane Vavra had to write them out for him. No such lapses of memory with Iain.
And this minimalist line-up worked brilliantly. There was also no attempt to mimic the man – Iain sings in his own style which just happens to suit Chet’s register, and works like Chet’s vocal without the palfium-induced angst while still high on emotion. Like Chet, Iain kisses the high notes. And there are lots of ‘pretty notes’ too.
Neither does Colin’s trumpet attempt to imitate Chet’s solos playing his own lines throughout – much in the style of Chet, but from the head and heart, not from a memorized page or recording. Colin has that texture of delivery, like honey dripping from a spoon – smooth, seamless, a hint of breathiness with some tantalizing lines and runs, but equally holding back or playing in the lower register for greater effect.
Euan was the essential grounding for the whole performance, and as effectively percussion, bass, rhythm and soloist there was a huge role to fill. But he has a wonderful feel of doing just enough with ease – solid, strong and yet subtle, this was no sideman performance but that of a foil and an equal for the two men standing.
All the tunes were Chet classics, moving between the melancholic to more up-tempo. On the one hand, The Thrill is Gone and You Don’t Know What Love Is, on the other Time After Time, Let’s Get Lost, I Remember You, and a song that I find very hard to place emotionally, I Get Along Without You Very Well. My Funny Valentine was a masterpiece in every department.
Chet was a genius, but a junkie, a womanizer and a tragic hero. It’s his genius that should be remembered, and the quality of this show does that justice. On a lighter note, when my wife (who hates jazz) whispered to me after the first number “I really like his voice” it did take the pressure off a bit!
Wherever, whenever this show returns, remember Chet and go see it. You’ll not be disappointed.