Looking remarkably fresh after a flight from Rome the previous day and with little time to rehearse, Francesca’s initial concert at drummer and impresario Tony Yoko’s venue ‘Theatre-on-the-Hill’ once again proved to be ‘A Swingin’ Affair’ which sent the audience away happy with a variety of standards and having regard to the season, a few well-known Xmas songs for good measure.
Her musical cohorts – Justin Holcroft on tenor and soprano saxophones, Marc Duby on bass and ‘the old drummer boy’ himself – still recovering from surgery – all of whom had played with Francesca during her previous visit in 2018, quickly settled into a groove with a blues ‘For Sonny Rollins’ and ‘Teach me tonight’, with Francesca on vocals including some mean scatting. Two bossa novas followed, a blues rave-up with some double-time insertions driving it forward, and the first half ended with ‘The Sheik of Araby’, unlikely material but given a swinging treatment.
After the interval, moody ‘Night Train’ – with a bow to Oscar Peterson’s CD of the same name — preceded a spontaneous improvisation based on notes randomly selected by the audience, followed by a soulful ballad ‘Maybe you’ll be there’ (written in 1947 by Rube Bloom and Sammy Gallop and covered by many pop and jazz vocalists including Frank Sinatra and Diana Krall) and ‘Someday my Prince will come’ from ‘Cinderella’ — brought into the jazz mainstream by Miles Davis – with a great soprano solo by Justin.
An original by Francesca; ‘The Christmas Song’ (composed by Robert Wells and Mel Torme in 1945 which subsequently became a massive hit for Nat ‘King’ Cole), and ‘Santa Claus is Coming to Town’, brought the concert to an appropriate close, the final tune demonstrating that even trite material can be turned into good jazz in the right hands. Although Francesca’s piano playing and vocals were obviously the main feature of the evening, Marc’s sympathetic bass playing and inventive solos, Justin’s rousing solos and complete mastery of his instruments, plus Tony’s tasteful drumming, all added to the mix of great ‘Jazz for the Holidays’.
Francesca’s subsequent two sell-out concerts in Cape Town and The Theatre-on-the-Square showed once again that there is always an audience for good music, and whilst she is the first to acknowledge her influences – such as Bill Evans and Oscar Peterson – she remains very much her own person with that overall quality that defines what jazz is really all about – swing, with flawless technique to back it up.
So come back again soon, Francesca, and bring that great American tenor player Scott Hamilton with you – that would really be a blast!