DUNCAN Lamont is to jazz what Charles Aznavour is to singing. A legend who at nearly 87 refuses to put down his tenor saxophone or stop writing music. Long may this may be the case.
Although Lamont, slowed down by a stroke a couple of years ago, now sits down to play his saxophone, he is still able to draw a wonderful sound from it. As for his song writing, it remains prolific.
This was very much in evidence at PizzaExpress Jazz Club Soho where Lamont teamed up with singers Esther Bennett and Daniela Clynes to deliver a hatful of tunes from his vast songbook. Hot off the press was a song he had only written a week previously: Lovely Lotus Blossom. Expertly delivered by Clynes. More will follow we were reassured. Lamont’s creative juices flow as rapidly as the Niagara Falls.
Lamont has had a long, varied and successful career, working for many of the ‘greats’ including Henry Mancini, Sammy Davis Junior and Paul McCartney. He also arranged for and conducted the BBC Big Band for many years and wrote the theme tune – and all the incidental music – for 1970s children’s programme Mr Benn. Financial security followed.
He has heroes galore and they often feature in the songs he has written. Delights such as Bird (a tribute to Charlie Parker, with Peter Rubie guesting on jazz guitar), Edward E and William B (Duke Ellington and Count Basie) and Billie Holliday (where Lamont’s sax purred like a kitten). ‘She’s seen it all, she knew it all, she lived it all, she smiled her smile.’
He is also not frightened to be self-deprecating, reminding the audience that Manhattan In The Rain – a song he wrote in one night – was described by his wife as the ‘worst’ he had ever written. It was subsequently recorded – successfully – by Norma Winstone, Liane Carroll and Tina May.
There are songs about those who fall out of love and end up hating each other (Pretty People), tunes to cheer (A Little Samba) and those where Lamont’s sax triumphs (I Did It All For You, There Ain’t Nothing Like The Blues and I Told You So, made famous by Natalie Cole). Songs that embrace a rich lifetime of memories and making music.
Bennett holds everything together, quietly chiding Lamont when he introduces the wrong song (on more than one occasion) while never showing him anything but the utmost of respect. It is Bennett who is determined more than anyone else that Lamont’s Great (and vast) Songbook should be heard by as many people as possible. She also demonstrates her singing prowess (all sultry, sexy, smoky and witty with it), especially on early numbers A Great Day In Haarlem and Back Through The Looking Glass. She even employs a pepper pot to musical effect when needs must. Improvisation par Bennett.
The afternoon’s proceedings were brought to an end with Scat Singing and the rather grand pronouncement that if everybody scat sang there would be no wars in the world. Paul Pace (The Spice of Life and Ronnie Scott’s) even jumped on stage to lend his support. With John Crawford (piano), Andy Hamil (double bass) and Steve Taylor (drums) lending great support throughout, there is no doubt that Duncan Lamont still packs a mighty punch.
With Aznavour still singing at the youthful age of 93, Lamont has a lot of time left to write more music and lyrics – and demonstrate that he remains one of this country’s most under-stated but master jazz musicians.
An ever expanding songbook from a talented but humble individual.