The Jazz Singer

Ahead of his Saturday 29th appearance, acclaimed jazz singer Ian Shaw reveals his musical roots…

I’m pretty sure the first thing I heard as a kid growing up in the brass band- and male-voice choir-soaked Clwydian foothills was Cilla Black doing You’ve Lost That Loving Feelin’

An auspicious yet, for me, very affecting memory of the extreme singing that wasn’t the Ella, Frank, Doris, Nat, Sarah Vaughan sounds that sang out on a Sunday morning radio (my mother ironed to Two-Way Family Favourites for thirty years).

As a young teen, it was the records that my dad brought home that made me want to sing. Aretha’s Natural Woman, Ray Charles  doing Yesterday and definitely the late sixties Nancy Wilson records – all played and played. And mimicked. Hair brush, the lot.

Mikes Davis’ Bitches Brew snuck into the coffin on legs in the parlour and eventually, the LP storage end of the old Rediffusion Radiogram became all mine. I added early Earth, Wind and Fire (Fantasy, with its suspended chords and massive production, was a go-to). The Ella Songbooks on Verve were seminal. Ten Cents A Dance by Rogers and Hart I loved. In 1976, Tim Jones gave me Stevie’s Songs In The Key of Life – I couldn’t believe its beauty and  power. Dad got it for Christmas. I nicked it.

In 1979, my schoolmate, George – a troubled lad – handed me Joni’s The Hissing of Summer Lawns. Mind-altering arrangements and weird yet oddly not weird lyrics.

I was always the Bowie freak at school. The big boys were into Slade, Floyd or Springsteen, but Drive-In Saturday with its mysterious instrumentation and genreless tone mystified me. Still does. I began checking and cross-referencing the players on sleeve notes, especially the US sessioneers.

I came to London and pow! Jazz. It was everywhere. The clubs, pubs, record shops. And as my deeply dull university music undergraduate studies groaned on, I jumped in. Mole Jazz, Honest Johns, Ray’s… these were my treasure troves. I found Bill Evans, Coltrane, more Miles, Bird, the ECM scene (Jan Garbarek). And always the singers.

They were out there, gigging, inches away: Carol Grimes, Georgie Fame, Madeline Bell (who I met doing the piano bars in Spain). The ‘free’ crew: Phil Minton, Maggie Nichols. The poets: Patience Agbabi, Lemn Sissay, Jackie Kay, John Cooper Clarke, Ben Zephania. But most importantly, there was the life-changing meeting with the greatest jazz singer inever heard, Mark Murphy. Bliss.

I began to gig, firstly on the comedy and cabaret scenes, then a fluke booking at Ronnie Scott’s came in. Dave Illic called me a jazz singer – and my fate was sealed.


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