Take 17 top-class musicians, add two superb vocalists, bring in some of the greatest songwriters of all time and add Frank Sinatra and Ella Fitzgerald and you have the ingredients for a great afternoon of music.
Such was the treat presented to near capacity audience in the Winter Garden last Sunday. Returning for a third year the Len Phillips Big Band, under leader Joe Pettitt, brilliantly conceived the idea of turning the spotlight on two of the greatest ever singers, Sinatra and Fitzgerald, rather than present a general programme of Big Band music.
With Clare Teal, one of the most successful jazz singers around at present, and Gary Williams who has sung with the band for a number of years in addition to other great orchestras, having also starred as Sinatra in the Rat Pack in the West End, there was no doubt this was to be a very special afternoon.
The Band started with three orchestral numbers, ‘What’s New?’, their signature tune, followed by Count Basie’s ‘Splanky’ and moved on to ‘All the Way’ which heralded Gary Williams in with two Sinatra vocals, ‘Come Fly with Me’ and ‘Mack the Knife’.
Clare summed up the weather with ‘Too Darned Hot’ and Ella classic ‘The Very Thought of You’ and the spotlight moved back to the band with their rendition of ‘Love for Sale’.
Two more Sinatra greats from Gary, ‘The Lady is a Tramp’ and ‘I’ve Got You Under My Skin’ and back to the Band with Stan Kenton’s ‘I’ve Never Been in Love Before’. Clare sang a lesser known Fitzgerald number ‘Shiny Stockings’ to be then joined by Gary to a rousing first half finale of ‘Who Wants to be a Millionaire?’
The audience couldn’t wait for the second half and the curtain went up to great applause in anticipation of what was to come - and they were not disappointed.
Following one of the Band’s favourite numbers, ‘Ol Man River’ with a great solo from Gemma Moore on tenor sax, Sounding more like Ella than Ella herself, Clare treated us to three more classics, ‘Can’t Buy Me Love’ (The Beatles), ‘That Old Black Magic’ (Harold Arlen and Johnny Mercer) and Gershwin’s ‘Cheek to Cheek’.
She then passed on some information most were not aware of, that many years ago Ella Fitzgerald appeared for a week in Eastbourne, but we do not know exactly ‘where or when’ to quote the Rogers and Hart number.
The band then featured veteran saxophonist, Roy Willocks on alto sax with ‘Harlem Nocturne’ followed by two more Sinatra favourites ‘Brazil’ and ‘Pennies from Heaven’.
After a trombone solo from Brian Walker in Tommy Dorsey’s ‘Getting Sentimental’ Gary gave a version of ‘My Kind of Town’ and together with Clare we had the Nancy and Frank Sinatra Duet, ‘Something Stupid’.
Another Fitzgerald favourite ‘Every Time We Say Goodbye’ appropriately brought us to the end but the audience wanted more and they got it with a duet version of ‘New York, New York’.
A superb afternoon of entertainment and if anything should encourage people to support Big Band music this was it.
There was a range of age groups in the audience but Joe Pettitt’s youngest fan was also there – Henry George Pettitt, born exactly two weeks ago. He was obviously very proud of his dad, and so he should be.