Prom 27: Ella and Dizzy: A Centenary Tribute review – virtuosic hat tip to jazz legends' greatest hits

Royal Albert Hall, London
Contralto Dianne Reeves and musical polymath James Morrison are lively guides through a classical tour of the jazz songbook

This Prom celebrates the centenaries of Ella Fitzgerald and Dizzy Gillespie, two legends who defined and transcended jazz. It is tricky to find anyone who can fill their boots, but the Proms have rustled up two suitably extrovert performers: singer Dianne Reeves and the Australian trumpeter James Morrison.

Reeves’s voice is closer to that of Dinah Washington or Sarah Vaughan than to Fitzgerald’s; her chesty contralto sounds more like a powerful trombone compared to the dainty clarinet that was Fitzgerald’s mezzo-soprano. But she certainly has the latter’s facility to tell a story as she improvises over a melody, each grace note and melismatic sweep animating the lyric.

Morrison is an astonishing multi-instrumentalist. He has recorded albums where he multi-tracks a 17-piece big band, playing each instrument to an astonishingly high standard. He’s also led bands in London and New York, and worked with dozens of legends, including Gillespie, but living on the other side of the world means he often gets ignored by the rest of the music scene. Tonight he proves that he can do all of Gillespie’s show-pony tricks, hitting the thrilling high notes on A Night in Tunisia and Cherokee, and holding on to trills for so long that you start to think he’s got a tank of air hidden under his suit. He can also carry a ballad such as Round Midnight, elegantly slurring through the melody as if sculpting molten metal.

Reeves with Australian trumpeter James Morrison at the Royal Albert Hall, London.
Straddling the jazz-classical divide … Reeves with Australian trumpeter James Morrison at the Royal Albert Hall, London. Photograph: Mark Allan

As with many jazz Proms, there’s a slight self-consciousness to the programme, as if cautiously introducing the genre to an audience who have never heard jazz before. This might explain the inclusion of pieces whose interest seems to be anthropological rather than aesthetic: a neutered arrangement of Duke Ellington’s Caravan and a 1930s piece called Jungle Drums by the Cuban composer Ernesto Lecuona were pointless pieces of exotica, while Ellington’s 1963 mini-symphony Harlem is far more interesting to discuss than actually listen to.

However, this desire to straddle the jazz-classical divide does mean that there’s an awful lot of George Gershwin, which is always a good thing, and Reeves’s versions of Gershwin tunes, arranged with Billy Childs, serve as the highlights. There is also a killer version of Fascinating Rhythm in 5/4 time (where Reeves and Morrison trade four-bar improvisations, as if in a Harlem cutting contest) and a deliciously lazy orchestral reading of Embraceable You (listen to how Reeves ekes seven syllables from the word “gypsy” in the lyric). This is music that comes to life when all caution is cast aside.

• On BBC iPlayer until 3 September. The Proms continue until 9 September. Box office: 020-7589 8212.

Contributor

John Lewis

The GuardianTramp

Related Content

Article image
Prom 53: Charles Mingus Revisited review – starry tribute to jazz revolutionary
Kandace Springs, Shabaka Hutchings and others joined Metropole Orkest for swinging, swaggering accounts of the musical luminary’s finest compositions

John Fordham

25, Aug, 2017 @12:00 PM

Article image
BBCSO/Weilerstein review – simpatico siblings power expressive Prom
The orchestra’s second Proms appearance this year saw Joshua and Alisa Weilerstein lead a smartly restrained recital of of Pascal Dusapin’s concerto

Andrew Clements

20, Jul, 2017 @11:00 AM

Article image
Aurora Orchestra; Ten Pieces Prom; Malcolm Sargent’s 500th Prom review – a pacy and polished musical education
The Aurora took Beethoven for a walk and talk; actor Rory Kinnear played Proms founder Henry Wood; and pianist Beatrice Rana shone with Schumann

Erica Jeal

25, Jul, 2017 @12:27 PM

Article image
Open Ear Prom review – exploring the concepts behind conceptual music
This late-night offering was full of ideas – including giving the building its own musical voice – and challenges

Erica Jeal

07, Sep, 2017 @1:44 PM

Article image
Prom 50: CBSO/Gražinytė-Tyla review – fierce solos and jagged riffs, superbly played
An unconventional programme of Beethoven and Stravinsky alongside a fresh, discomfiting work from Gerald Barry proves thrillingly dramatic

Andrew Clements

23, Aug, 2017 @2:19 PM

Article image
The top classical, world, folk and jazz of summer 2017
Comedy choirs, desert rock, a trip to the moon and a musical tour of Hull are the standout sounds of the season. Plus Django Bates jazzes up Sgt Pepper

Tim Ashley, Robin Denselow, John Fordham and Imogen Tilden

19, Jun, 2017 @5:00 AM

Article image
BBCNOW/Wigglesworth review – the best of British
A rewarding all-British programme included the Proms premiere of a 1939 choral work by Benjamin Britten and a new cello concerto by Brian Elias

Andrew Clements

10, Aug, 2017 @5:57 PM

Article image
Multi-Story Orchestra review – concrete commitment brings car park chorus of approval
A second Proms visit to Peckham allows the quality of the musicianship to be the focus, rather than the unusual venue, and saw the debut of a community youth choir

Flora Willson

27, Aug, 2017 @1:34 PM

Article image
Staatskapelle Berlin/Barenboim review – magnificent UK Birtwistle premiere
Daniel Barenboim led the peerless German orchestra through two Proms concerts, including a spectacular performance of Harrison Birtwistle’s new work Deep Time

Andrew Clements

17, Jul, 2017 @1:09 PM

Article image
Proms 2017 Oklahoma! review – all-dancing all-singing cowboys, a preposterous peddler and a convincing baddie
The John Wilson Orchestra on their annual Proms visit did not disappoint with an impeccable performance of every last quaver of the Rodgers and Hammerstein musical

George Hall

14, Aug, 2017 @12:48 PM