Chaunteuse Rates More Respect

by John McBeath

26th December 2005

After her performances at the Wangaratta Jazz Festival in November, singer Anita Wardell was back in Adelaide for Christmas from her London base. An early graduate in jazz studies at the University of Adelaide, Wardell moved to London in 1989 and has since become better known overseas than in Australia.

She has performed at most of the top jazz spots in Britain, appeared on BBC television, and toured Europe often. Unfortunately for local audiences she has had to abandon plans for an Australian tour to return to London for a recording session. With just two local musicians, Deanna Djuric (piano) and Sam Riley (bass), Wardell opened with several jazz standards, interpreting them expressively but mostly staying close to the original melody lines. There was a beautifully moving version, laced with feeling, of the ballad You Go to My Head. By about her fourth piece, It Could Happen to You, she began to move into improvisation, delivering a scat chorus and four-bar exchanges with the piano. Then came a lift-off version of Don’t Get Scared by Stan Getz, featuring up-tempo bop phraseology and a display of her advanced capabilities using more complex material.

Spotting an old acquaintance in the audience, Wardell soon had trumpeter Fred Payne – leader of Adelaide group Payne & Perseverance – joining her on stage. Payne contributed some swinging trumpet solos, then sang an amazing high-speed vocal duet with Wardell on the Charlie Parker bop classic, Billie’s Bounce. The second set opened with a superb rendition in vocalese (lyrics written for famous jazz solos) of In a Mellow Tone. Here Wardell injected two vocalised saxophone solos — originally by Johnny Hodges and Ben Webster — into the Duke Ellington song, and Djuric played probably her best piano solo of the evening, expertly building on the harmonic structure.

Wardell’s style is an amalgam of the best aspects from the Holiday-Fitzgerald- Vaughan tradition of jazz singers, into which she mixes her own interpretations. The environment was not perfect thanks to noise from raucous, end-of-year revellers. “We’re almost background music,” Wardell said. Maybe, and that could be due to the time of year, but international talent of this quality deserves a larger share of the foreground.

© The Australian