Review: Marlene VerPlanck at Ronnie's

Marlene VerPlanck, her trio and guest Mark Nightingale leave the sold-out audience at Ronnie Scott's yelling for more, says Leon Nock

This, of course, is the time of year when retired generals and brigadiers in the shires duke it out in the letters page of The Times for the title of Auditor Of The First Cuckoo Of Spring. Over at Ronnie Scott’s they’re happy to let The Times claim the glory, secure as they are in the knowledge that smack in the heart of Soho they play annual host to not only the first but also the finest canary in captivity when regular as clockwork (cuckoo-clockwork if you will) Marlene VerPlanck flies in for her regular SRO gig each March.

It was ever thus and Sunday 5 March was no exception with Marlene (pictured right) and her standout trio (the best in the business) - John Pearce, piano, Paul Morgan, bass, Bobby Worth, drums - augmented by the solid trombone of Mark Nightingale. A five-star (in both senses of the word) parlay that contrived to leave us yelling for more.

Although Mark (subject of a My Instruments feature in this month's Jazz Journal) was one of two guest artists on Marlene’s latest CD The Mood I’m In she featured the album only sparingly, preferring instead to draw liberally on her vast repertoire and offering ballads and bouncers in perfect balance. For many the high point was her tour de force rendition of the Jerome Kern/Oscar Hammerstein Nobody Else But Me, written for the first film version of Showboat in 1936, in which she opens with a whole chorus of scat, follows up by singing another whole chorus a capella with the band coming in right on the button and backing her for a third chorus before cutting loose with an instrumental chorus before all five finally bring it home. I was there when she put this great chart by (late husband) Billy into the book back in the late 90s in Manhattan and the years have added lustre to a standout reading.

This being a VerPlanck gig there were more highlights than in Dolly Parton’s hair, ranging from the gorgeous Harry Warren/Mack Gordon ballad I Wish I Knew which no one does anymore to Rodgers' and Hart's I Didn’t Know What Time It Was to Irving Berlin’s The Best Thing For You to the Gershwin frères But Not For Me to Cole Porter’s In The Still Of The Night. (Again I was there some three or four years ago - oh, I get around - when Marlene watched the Dick Haymes/Betty Grable 1945 musical Billy Rose’s Diamond Horseshoe at the home of a friend and immediately stated her intention to record the I Wish I Knew, which she did to a fare-thee-well on her album Ballads … Mostly.)

In short, something for everyone and if you think she only plays with titans she encored with Francesca Blumenthal’s The Lies Of Handsome Men, which is rapidly becoming #1 on the wish list of her fan base. As an example of performer, musos and audience all on the top of their game it was, like the man said, unmissable and I wish you could have been there. I really do. Here’s to next year.

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