'For All We Know' album review, September 2022
Don't do what I did which was to sigh and say, "Not another chick singing standards that every wannabe from time immemorial has done and that's without mentioning the Ellas Peggys and Billies".
That was before I actually got around to listening to what is actually a very fine album.
Stevenson has one of those gentle voices, the kind that creeps up on you rather than one that hits you in the face. Peggy Lee and Blossom Dearie had that quality - Daryl Sherman still does and Fleur is close to that league.
Billington provides the perfect, sympathetic accompaniment whether on piano, guitar, bass or, I kid you not, viola on Stella - surely a first!
I know you've heard most of the songs before - that's the beauty of the GASbook you can hear a hundred versions and, given the singer, each one can come out differently. Stevenson's interpretations are distinctly individual and are well worth checking out.
And, and this is most important, she doesn't sing Summertime which, in my eyes, immediately gives her contender status. One minor point, I would have liked some more up tempo stuff although the odd snatches of scat did break things up a little. Nevertheless, that small quibble won't stop me putting it on repeat on the car stereo.
The album is launched at The Pheasantry, Pizza Express, Chelsea on Oct. 26. Lance
A Time For Love; When Sunny Gets Blue; Small Day Tomorrow; I've Got You Under my Skin; For All we Know; I've Grown Accustomed to His Face; Everything Must Change; Stella by Starlight; I Fall in Love Too Easily; My Buddy.
Lance Liddle, Bebop Spoken Here
''.... Vocalist Fleur Stevenson is someone who greatly impressed me with her debut album, Follow Me. She has previously released an EP Introducing Fleur Stevenson that served as a bit of a teaser and left you wanting more. The album then delivered exactly what was required and with real style.
Fleur has a great voice and sense of timing, and her ability to scat is quite phenomenal. The song choice is fantastic, and she really knows how to present them. Added to this, it appears she has also found her ideal accompanist and musical partner in pianist Peter Billington. The level of empathy between the two musicians is palpable and brings a real joy to the performances. Fleur and Peter were in the studio before the Covid-19 outbreak recording tracks for a new duet album. This unfortunately is now on hold until the lockdown is lifted and they can get back into the studio to finish mixing the album. Something I for one will be looking forward to hearing.''
Nick Lea interview with London Jazz News, 27 April 2020
"Fleur Stevenson is a wonderful singer with a great musical ear and natural jazz feel."
Claire Martin OBE
“Stevenson is in possession of a voice which has power - yet she has the control to drop down to a caress in a heart-beat. And she can scat; boy, can she scat!”
“Fleur Stevenson is a relaxed jazz vocalist with a bright voice, good phrasing and the ability to swing at any tempo.”
“Fleur Stevenson has a soft and pure velvety tone that make her performances swing effortlessly.”
"Fleur Stevenson - a beguiling jazz vocalist with a beauty of nature, tone and delivery coupled with an innate musicianship and artistry, definitely one to watch."
X Factor - judges expert coach and jazz vocalist
"Fleur Stevenson is a classy jazz singer backed by excellent musicians performing classic jazz tunes as well as original material, if she is performing at a venue near you then make sure you go along, you won’t be disappointed."
Graham Steel Music Company
'Follow Me' album launch at Pizza Express Jazz Club Soho, 2 July 2019 - audience feedback:
''Fleur Stevenson has it all, great style, great voice, good audience connection and a terrific band too!'' Anthony L. Steinberg, London.
''Absolutely fabulous evening watching Fleur. Always a pleasure to see her sing. Loved the atmosphere, will definitely be coming back to Pizza Express Jazz Club.''
''An excellent evening, music was first class. Fleur is an amazing talent that the whole world should hear. Can't wait for the next gig!! Brilliant.''
''Excellent performance! Made my night!!'' Brianne and Frank Schwariz
''Brilliant as always. Great night.'' Chris Hollebone
''Beautiful evening of talented musicians. Kept us all tapping toes!'' Well done all. Neil Durno.
''Fleur is indeed a wonderful singer and her scatting is a joy. She has a huge vocal range and focusses completely on each song. A pure voice which has the audience enthralled. Tonight is a memorable one, with a terrific band, simply the best.'' Anne
Fleur Stevenson and Hugh Turner show at the Angel, Woolhampton on Saturday 8th June 2019:
Sitting perched on high stools Fleur Stevenson and Hugh Turner looked and sounded relaxed all evening. It isn't the easiest gig to pull off successfully, a singer and a guitar player entertaining a room full of enthusiasts for a couple of hours but these two managed it very well. Fleur Stevenson is a jazz singer who knows how to use her voice to good advantage over a programme of well worn but ever popular standard songs. Hugh Turner is an accomplished guitar player who can provide a sparse or intricate backing, depending entirely on the song and the singer's requirements. On this occasion the two of them sat chatting to the audience and to themselves between selections establishing a good rapport with the audience that lasted throughout. Ms Stevenson can glide through a song with a refreshing personal interpretation that never strays far from the melody but she manages to improvise inventively on everything she sings. She can be intimate, as and when the song demands or warm yet husky when interpreting a piece like Angel Eyes, a firm favourite with most jazz singers. Beautiful Love is a different animal altogether and here she showed skill in handling an up tempo piece and adding a scat chorus to the mix. Blue Skies is another favourite with jazz people and here we had the bonus of a well structured and intricate guitar solo from Hugh Turner. Quiet Nights floated along peacefully and smoothly with Fleur crooning gently this time and the guitar support minimal.
After the interval these two seemed to grow even more relaxed as they continued with songs such as I Thought About You and, particularly, I've Grown Accustomed To His Face where Fleur's delivery was spot on and she sang the song as though living through the experience. In this regard Lover Man suited her well too; it is the sort of atmospheric torch song that sorts out the women from the little girls and on this reading Fleur was all woman giving the composition a warm interpretation but in a dramatic style. Georgia was a good choice of ballad that obviously suited both performers. She could swing hard too on songs like It's Alright With Me. On this showing it was alright with everybody, audience, bar staff at the Angel and yours truly.
Newbury Jazz Festival, 14 July 2019:
''...we heard Fleur Stevenson who doubled the size of her band heard recently at the Angel Woolhampton by adding bassist Ralph Mizraki's bass to Hugh Turner's guitar. Fleur was on good form, her voice bright and swinging nicely as she covered some standards and also played Watermelon Man. With a bit of luck, Herbie, it's coming back into fashion! She gave personal readings to Lover Man, Teach Me Tonight and Beautiful Love with sterling support from bass and guitar. Hugh Turner's solos were exercises in improvised jazz at its best. The bright weather was acknowledged in Fleur's sparkling version of Summertime.''
Fleur Stevenson with Remix Jazz Orchestra at Reading Minster, 23 July 2019:
The Remix Jazz Orchestra under the direction of Stuart Henderson and with special guests Simon Allen tenor saxophone and Fleur Stevenson vocals: David Cunningham, James Lowe, Chris Preddy, Stuart Henderson trumpets; Peter Phillips, Cliff Luke, Brian Haddock trombones; Steve Waters bass trombone; Brian Marrett clarinet and alto saxophone; Rod Kirton alto saxophone; Mike Booker tenor saxophone; Jim Philip baritone saxophone & bass clarinet; Adrian Sharon piano; Adrian Thoms guitar; John Deemer bass guitar & tuba; Dave Lambert drums.
The opening bars of Count Basie’s ‘All Of Me’ simply enveloped the two-hundred plus audience who gathered in Reading Minster on Tuesday 23 July, with the warm glow of its immaculate presentation and relaxed, effortless swing. The perfect opening shot in an evening dedicated to ‘The Evolution of the Big Band’ as told in music by the 17-piece Remix Jazz Orchestra and the illuminating narrative of its Musical Director, Stuart Henderson – for big band jazz is a story not just of the music itself, but of colourful locations, intriguing plot-lines and larger than life characters.
None more so than Paul Whiteman, the self-styled ‘King of Jazz’ Paul Whiteman. ‘Whispering’ a loving recreation of a massive hit for Whiteman in 1920, featuring the ‘oom-pah’ tuba of John Deemer (playing in the lofty heights of the pulpit) and the swanee whistle of Stuart Henderson, evoked Whiteman’s determination to rub the rough edges off the then new-fangled craze of ‘jass’ and transform the music into a ‘respectable lady’.
Whiteman remained popular throughout the next two decades, but anyone searching for the ‘real thing’ needed to travel no further than New York’s Roseland Ballroom where African-American pianist Fletcher Henderson had assembled a ‘powerhouse rhythm machine’ band whose instrumentation wouldn’t have looked too different to that of the Remix Orchestra. Fletcher set the mould for all future big bands; top flight musicianship, written arrangements and scorching hot improvised solos! ‘King Porter Stomp’ was one of his most successful arrangements and with the brilliant Brian Marrett on clarinet, the Remix interpretation captured all the excitement of those pioneering days.
The muted trumpets and flawless saxophones of ‘Stompin’ at the Savoy’ celebrated the diminutive drummer Chick Webb whose band held court to the Lindy-Hopping dancers of Harlem’s Savoy Ballroom. He regularly ‘cut’ visiting bands, like those of Fletcher Henderson, in thrilling battles of the bands. Chick also introduced a shy teenage singer to the bandstand in 1934 … a certain Miss Ella Fitzgerald!
In the same year, clarinet virtuoso Benny Goodman, modelled his new band on that of Fletcher Henderson and employed Fletcher as an arranger. Over the next four years he scored a string of hit records, set the nation dancing to his radio broadcasts and national tours, and earned the accolade ‘King of Swing’. The band was driven along by the drums of Gene Krupa, most famously at the historic Carnegie Hall concert of 1938, a mantle now taken up by Dave Lambert as he snapped the flag-waving ‘Don’t’ Be That Way’ into life, a feature for the full brassy tones of Peter Phillips on trombone.
Billie Holiday – ‘Lady Day’ – possessed the alchemist’s gift of being able to transform lyrical dross into solid gold, by turns, expressing the joy of the human spirit and its vulnerability in equal measure. Guest vocalist, Fleur Stevenson captured those qualities perfectly with a beautiful interpretation of ‘That Old Devil Called Love’, supported by the lush, string-like background of the Remix Orchestra.
‘Hawaiian War Chant’ , on the other hand, a hit for Tommy Dorsey in 1941 and a feature in the movie ‘Ship Ahoy’, showcased the razzle-dazzle-showmanship beloved of swing fans – thundering tom-toms, a hand-clapping, head-swaying band, the trumpet section waving their derby mutes in swinging unison, a fiery tenor solo and to top it all, a mock dual between Dave Lambert and Stuart Henderson. Great fun!
Arguments raged throughout the ‘swing era’ as to whether Benny Goodman or Artie Shaw was the greatest clarinettist. Brian Marrett made his own claim to the title with an expressive and beautifully polished interpretation of ‘Begin the Beguine’. Artie Shaw’s classic hit of 1938 led us neatly into the instantly recognisable introduction to Glenn Miller’s ‘In The Mood’, an anthem for the wartime years that never fails to set toes tapping, raise a smile, or even prompt a wistful tear to the eye. This fine version featured special guest Simon Allen and his fellow protagonist Mike Booker on tenor saxophones.
Chris Preddy, the youngest member of the Remix Orchestra, took the spotlight to evoke the sound and spirit of trumpet legend Harry James with a magnificent performance of the tear-jerking ‘You Made Me Love You’.
While Harry James made a name for himself with his Hollywood-movie-star good looks and the extravagance of his playing, William ‘Count ‘Basie could sit almost unnoticed at his piano, and with one note teased from the keyboard, set his band alight. Taste and economy were his signature words, as Adrian Sharon demonstrated to perfect effect in his introduction to ‘Satin Doll’, more than ably supported by the superb rhythm section of Adrian Thoms, John Deemer and Dave Lambert.
Charlie Barnet’s swinging ‘Skyliner’ brought a huge smile of delight to a nonagenarian gentleman in the audience. Not only did he buy the record when it was first released in 1944, but he saw the Barnet orchestra live in New York as a young trainee RAF pilot on a brief stop-over en route to a training base in the mid-west of America.
And to bring the first set to a close? What else but Stan Kenton’s atmospheric ‘Intermission Riff’.
The insistent call of Dave Lambert’s drums summoned the ‘congregation’ for the second half of the concert. Excitement mounted as his solo grew in volume and momentum. When he reached a crescendo of sound, he released the tension, hit a familiar groove and launched the band into spectacular flight with ‘Sing, Sing, Sing’, the thrilling climax to Benny Goodman’s Carnegie Hall concert, and no less exciting in this performance!
The next number brought a change in temperature and the distinctly ‘cool’ unison sound of four saxophonists – Brian Marrett, Simon Allen, Mike Booker and Jim Philip – playing ‘as one’, in a marvellous arrangement of ‘Four Brothers’, Jimmy Giuffre’s tightly swinging composition for Woody Herman’s band of 1947; known inevitably for ever after as the ‘Four Brothers’ Band.
The reappearance of Fleur Stevenson prompted a huge round of applause as she took centre-stage to sing ‘When the Angels Sing’. Once a feature for Martha Tilton with the Benny Goodman band delivered the song to perfection, with a lovely sense of swing, crystal-clear diction and a vocal quality that filled the vast space of the Minster. However, ‘When the Angels Sing’ was never just a vocal feature. It’s composer, trumpeter Ziggy Elman, added a flamboyant ‘Fraulich’ chorus, emulated on this occasion by maestro Stuart Henderson over the rolling snare drumming of Dave Lambert. Sensational!
The enduring spirit of Duke Ellington looms large in the story of big band jazz. He led an orchestra for more than fifty years and composed over one-thousand pieces, many of which have become standard items in the big band repertoire. ‘Mood Indigo’, featuring the resonant low tones of Brian Marrett’s clarinet, presented Ellington at his most reflective; the imaginative lighting effects added greatly to the atmosphere. In contrast, the Remix Orchestra transformed ‘Caravan’ (forever associated with Ellington, but actually written by his band member Juan Tizol), originally conceived as an exotic camel ride across the gently undulating sand dunes of the desert, into a headlong flight into a desert storm, with Simon Allen’s ferocious tenor setting the pace.
Ted Heath was Britain’s foremost post-war bandleader, who also flew the flag with great success on his numerous tours of the States. He appeared in Reading on many occasions. On one such, at Reading Town Hall, a wild mob of female fans tried to pull star vocalist Denis Lotis off the stage. They took his bow tie, his handkerchief, socks and his shoes. They eventually threw back the shoes … but not the socks!
‘Hot Toddy’ was one of Ted’s biggest hits, played here with the smooth precision of the Heath band, anchored by the gloriously fruity baritone saxophone of Jim Philip.
Johnny Dankworth was also a frequent visitor to Reading in his pre-TV/film writing days. The theme to ‘Tomorrow’s World’ instantly conjured images of its enthusiastic presenters Raymond Baxter and James Burke introducing the next techno-wizardry that would ‘undoubtedly’ change the course of world history … and some of them probably did! Better still the Remix Orchestra played the entire tune, not just the 30 seconds worth that used to accompany the titles.
A sparkling version of ‘The Lady Is A Tramp’, with a witty scat chorus a la Ella Fitzgerald, rounded off Fleur Stevenson’s contribution to the evening and added her name to the illustrious list of vocalists who have performed the Rodgers and Hart classic.
Changing tastes in popular music, the advent of rock n’ roll and the arrival of the Beatles, almost sounded the death knell for big bands in the 1960s. But band leaders like Buddy Rich and Maynard Ferguson were not to be outdone. How could one resist the gospel-soaked funk of ‘Mercy, Mercy, Mercy’ or James Lowe’s tour de force performance of spectacular trumpet pyrotechnics on ‘MacArthur Park’. A high-voltage performance of Gordon Goodwin’s ‘Jazz Police’ brought the story bang up-to-date and declared emphatically that there is bags of life and plenty of new territory yet to be explored in the ever-evolving story of big band jazz.
Musical Director, Stuart Henderson, is to be congratulated on devising such an original and wide-ranging programme that mixed familiar warhorses with all manner of surprises – old and new, and for his informative and good-humoured commentary. Oh, that school music lessons could have been as much fun as this!
As for the Remix Orchestra? What can one say? Will ‘SUPERB’ suffice?
Thanks also to Reading Fringe Festival and Jazz in Reading for promoting the event; the Reading Fringe Festival ‘House’ Team for the excellent quality of the sound and lighting and for manning the bar; Reading Minster for allowing the event to take place in such beautiful surroundings; Sansome & George: Residential Sales & Lettings for their generous sponsorship and finally, but by no means least, all those wonderful people who supported the event and demonstrated that there is a healthy appetite for ‘LIVE’ big band jazz in Reading.
Purdy’s Pop-Up Jazz Club with Rebecca Poole and Fleur Stevenson
HAODS Studio, Henley on Thames, 3 February 2018
"Jazz club take on Bowie transmits all his wistfulness." Guest contributor Marc Edwards enjoys a party night featuring the contrasting styles of vocalists Rebecca Poole and Fleur Stevenson.
With a hum of eager anticipation, in a pine-vaulted chalet, the packed house of party-goers sat around candle-lit tables, almost rubbing shoulders with the three-man band when it appeared on stage. A rousing welcome was offered up to hostess Rebecca Poole (aka Purdy), who immediately filled the room with her larger-than-life presence, completely the ‘Master’ of Ceremonies. She briskly delivered a couple of songs, the first ‘Put the Blue on Me’, the second a blue-grass ballad. Her famously low, bold and sassy voice is immediately striking, to those unused to hearing ‘Purdy’ live.
The zany tone was set for the ‘party night’, launching an avalanche of music, surreal antics and a plastic lobster, with wisecracks that had the audience raucously shouting their approval throughout the evening.
“Playlist? What playlist?” Rebecca told us of a prep meeting with special guest Fleur Stevenson, where the decision was to ‘wing it’!
Fleur was spotted in the kitchen by Rebecca; she arrived on stage like the English Rose to Rebecca’s Southern Belle. Purdy is well-known for her ‘so slinky, it shouldn’t be allowed’ vocal powers, with a wonderfully natural theatricality, while Fleur’s subtly expressive jazz and scat technique reveals not only her 12 years in this idiom, but also her early choral background, with a wealth of experience in the classical repertoire.
Contrasts in tone, style and presentation add richness and interest to any concert, and this was no exception. Both singers had the distinct ability to entertain and move their audiences, and it was engaging to see how each tackled the multiplicity of different moods across this stylistically varied, but principally retrospective programme.
Space hardly permits a full report of every song. So these observations will have to remain in my notebook, but a direct ‘lift’ of the words I scribbled down at my secret table would look like this:
“Manha da Carnaval” — ‘shaky eggs out’!
“A Day in the life of a Fool” – Raph Mizraki on melodica, bringing gypsy colours from behind the curtain…
Etta James – ‘At Last’: Fleur had not quite the ‘roar’ of the more typical Etta, the tonsil-bursting shouts of indignation, but had allowed a very different aspect of Etta’s turbulent life to emerge, leaving echoes of the ‘raw’ and outrageous Etta to the late, extra ‘edge’ from guitar, to remind us of who she was.
Fleur was keen to tell us where first influences had come from, some surprising: Doris Day singing “Secret Love”; “Wild is the Wind” - sung by David Bowie, then Shirley Horn; “Give Me Fever?”.
“Narcissist”, by Rebecca herself, with the words ‘Look into Your Mirror’; a short tale of love not intended, but experienced anyway .
‘How did you do That?’’ ‘Here Comes Love’, heard from Ella Fitzgerald, “Blame it on my Youth”, and a classic song ‘for the indecisive’ now sung by Fleur: ‘Perhaps, Perhaps, Perhaps’.
Mañana – Peggy Lee.
The David Bowie connection, ‘Wild is the Wind’ was perhaps Fleur’s most revealing performance of the evening, with beautiful lyrics such as ‘like a leaf clings to the tree, cling to me, wild is the wind’…in a perfect impression of real loneliness and wistfulness.
The minimal three-man band used all of nine different instruments plus a huge range of gorgeous pedal-board guitar sounds to punch well over its weight throughout the evening.
From heavy blues and rock to the most mellifluous, expressive and sensitive lyricism, music of high quality and engaging intricacy was made, whether as accompaniment to the two vocalists or drivers of the tempos of the big dance numbers.
Playing the only ‘horn’ in a band can be a lonely experience, but Stuart Henderson used every trick in the book to give the illusion that there were more trumpets than it appeared. Harmon mute, wah-wah hand-stopping, flutter tongue, growls, glissando falls, tone and dynamic changes combined with rapid-fire virtuosity, mingled with melodic sweetness.
The combination of formidably accomplished Raph Mizraki’s fluid, apparently effortless and propelling bass lines and guitarist Hugh Turner’s infinite variety of powerful, assured articulation and finger-work, backed by that effects pedal, produced a body of sound that thrilled, excited or simply melted into the textures.
This was truly impressive versatility from a band that spoke volumes in terms of sheer hard-graft, musicianship and years of high-level experience.
As the party came to its end, anarchic and noisy scenes, with plenty of laughter and Henley ‘hoorays’ filling the air, Purdy’s announcement of ‘Rule Britannia’ nearly split the band on party lines.
But a rumbustious rendition of ‘O When the Saints’, in which a double-B flat bass tuba was miraculously deployed, brought the house down and sent a happy — and clapping — crowd out into the night.