Reviewer: Maryam Philpott
For many years now alongside the famous American Hot pizza and doughballs, Pizza Express has been serving a side-order of jazz at many of its London restaurants. Celebrating 10 years since its relaunch, The Pheasantry on the King’s Road has curated four nights of cabaret with 12 of their favourite performers from across the years with the final evening dedicated to Nicky Haslam, Elaine Delmar and Earl Okin in a busy and varied collection of performances.
From the soulful blusey sounds of the 1930s and 1940s to the jauntier work of Cole Porter and Irving Berlin as well as music composed by the performers, this final concert for The Pheasantry 10th Anniversary is a tribute to the musicians and singers that have made these regular events such a success for the pizza chain, combining their talents with much-loved songs of the golden age of jazz composition. And while the event gets off to an uneven start, the intimacy of The Pheasantry stage soon draws the audience into the music.
Elaine Delmare is the show’s biggest draw, awarded the final slot of the mini-series, a testament not only to her skills as a singer with wonderful sliding scales that drip honey, but also to her own dedication to the pizza and jazz collaboration since its early days. Performing 11 songs in around 45-minutes, Delmare’s versions of Gershwin’s ‘Summertime’ and Sondheim’s ‘Send in the Clowns’ are particularly delightful, giving each personality and style so that it becomes distinctively her own interpretation. There is a lovely flowing quality to her silky almost smoky voice that swoops and soars with ease in ‘It Might as Well be Spring’ and an emotive ‘Bewitched, Bothered and Bewildered.’
Preceding Delmare on the stage, Earl Okin also specialises in the soft, husky styles of gentle jazz, drawing his influence from the bossa nova. With a little more time to engage with the audience and only five songs, Okin includes his own numbers at the start played on a guitar with a hint of 60s folk. Changing to the piano, Okin delivers a fabulous version of ‘Come Rain or Come Shine’ that is full of melancholic understatement, a slow almost sensuous tone that easily overcomes Okin’s debilitating sore throat through which he valiantly performs. A final version of ‘One for My Baby’ sung initially as written concludes with a comic version from the bar tender’s perspective in a cheeky end to an enjoyable set.
With the disadvantage of going first, Nicky Haslam’s eight songs seem to pale in comparison, his Rex Harrison-like semi-spoken delivery never finding quite the depth or emotional impact of his fellow performers. Haslam provides so gossipy anecdotes from Ethel Merman to accompany his opener ‘Gee, But it’s Good to be Here’ and Noel Coward who loved ‘The Still of the Night,’ which along with ‘Real Live Girl’ are Haslam’s best moments, yet a couple of duets with Cleo Rocos don’t quite find their grove.
The Pheasantry 10th Anniversary is an evening dedicated really to the music with almost 25 songs performed in 2 hours and 15 minutes, so the thematic shaping to the individual song selections isn’t clear or explained to the audience, but like a tasting menu this four day celebration is a chance to sample the breadth of jazz performance on offer and come back another day for the full dish.
Reviewed on 14 November 2019 | Image: Louis Burrows Photography