The Duke and Frank’s Excellent Adventure

Echoes Of Ellington and Robert Habermann at London's 100 Club on 29 December 1998.

When Echoes Of Ellington plays The 100 Club it’s always an occasion. When they are joined by prime exponent of the Sinatra repertoire Robert Habermann, it gets a bit special. So it was when the two joined forces to perform a selection from the Sinatra songbook when The Voice was at his peak with during his Capitol years with The Nelson Riddle Orchestra.

The evening opened with a regular Echoes set, featuring chanteuse extraordinaire Patti Revell. No Ray Gelato this time, but his boots were more than adequately filled by Ben Castle on tenor sax. All the regulars were there: Mike Lovatt on trumpet, Don Innes at the piano, Gary Baldwin on Hammond organ and Scotland’s voice of sex Colin Skinner on sax. The trombone section featured Winston Rollins, Bob ‘looks like a bear, growls like a Tiger’ Hunt and The Enigma, a rarely-seen Phil Judge. All of course under the strict instructions of Pete Long.

The Brass section The braggin' brass section

A packed and expectant audience were treated to a manic Rockin’ In Rhythm, featuring Bob Hunt and Don Innes, before mellowing out as Mike Lovatt led a smooth Morning Glory. The trumpet of Captain James T Craig led the ensemble through Frustration, before the chord of A6 announced the arrival from the west of La Chanteuse in what Pete Long referred to as ‘a rising trot’. It was the Billy Strayhorn theme tune Take The ‘A’ Train, and it was too hot to handle. Ben Castle produced a solo of staggering technique, length and variety that drew well-merited and sustained applause from the audience. 

Mrs. Revell returned for Tell Me It’s The Truth, before handing the stage to The Enigma, the master of the written part, who executed a well-Judged solo for Blue Cellophane, a lesser known work from the Duke’s repertoire, but a swinging little number nonetheless. Colin Skinner’s The Star Crossed Lovers preceded a rocking blues by the name of Such Sweet Thunder, with lightning trumpet work from Gavin Mallett. 

The bouncy swing of Bli-Blip (from the Ellington musical Jump For Joy) once again brought Mrs. Revell to the microphone, and the set ended with that famous two-note tune, C Jam Blues, with solos from everyone. Particular stand-outs were Mr. Baldwin’s organ (oo ‘er missus) and the incandescent clarinetting of he’s-cool-he’s-round-he-makes-a-lovely-sound Peter Long.

And so it was that Robert Habermann took the stage under the baton of his musical director Trevor Brown for the Sinatra set. Opening with I’ve Got You Under My Skin, he recreated The Voice of the century for almost an hour. To hear classics such as You Make Me Feel So Young, My Shining Hour and Come Rain Or Come Shine is always a joy, but to hear then made real in a concert setting was a rare treat. 

One of the gems unearthed for performance was One For The Road, which started life as a Fred Astaire song in The Sky’s The Limit, and ended up as the last number recorded by Sinatra, in a duet with Bono. No quasi-rock crooning to ruin this version though, as Echoes played their part of orchestral Riddlers to perfection.

Strong though the set was, it would have been good to hear some of the repertoire that Sinatra covered during his time with The Tommy Dorsey Orchestra. He later commented that he had found his breathing technique by watching trombonist Dorsey, and a version of Marie would have been welcome. However, there was variation from the Riddle sound when the Sy Oliver arrangement of Without A Song was aired, followed by two songs that were specifically arranged by Billy May for Sinatra and the Ellington Orchestra.

The size of the audience spoke volumes for the success of the venture, and the whole evening proved to be a late Christmas present for all concerned.

Ó 1999 Andrew Winton.