High on Fats… and Other Stuff: Judy Carmichael at The Crazy Coqs

High on Fats… and Other Stuff
A cabaret with music & lyrics by Spencer Williams, Jack Palmer, Walter Donaldson, George Gershwin, Cole Porter, ‘Fats’ Waller, Andy Razaf, Benny Goodman, Ed Kirkeby, Irving Mills, Edgar Sampson, Rudy Vallee, Stanley Kahan, and Eddie Snyder

Judy Carmichael (singer & piano) with Colin Oxley (guitar) and Steve Brown (drums)

Reviewed by: Tom Vallance

Reviewed: 11 June, 2013
Venue: The Crazy Coqs, Brasserie Zédel, Piccadilly Circus, London

Judy Carmichael at The Crazy CoqsJudy Carmichael is a dynamic entertainer who plays infectiously rhythmic stride piano and who is also a fine jazz vocalist, doing proudly by half a dozen of the great standards she includes in her show. Accompanied by the renowned Colin Oxley and the excellent Steve Brown, she delivers a foot-tapping set of sparkling entertainment. For those unaware of what stride piano is (born in Harlem as a sequel to ragtime, its most celebrated exponent was the irrepressible ‘Fats’ Waller), Carmichael reveals that it requires the left hand to ‘stride’ the lower notes providing a rhythmically pounding bass. She indicates the comparative unfamiliarity of the phrase by relating that she was once approached by an admirer who told her, “You’re Judy Carmichael, aren’t you, the strident pianist.”

Her programme gets off to a persuasive start with a sprightly vamp leading to the driving beat of ‘I found a new baby’ followed by an equally joyous ‘You’re driving me crazy’. She prefaces her first vocal performance by telling us she did not originally sing in her act, and that she had problems with keys and tempos. She then gives a gorgeous rendition of Cole Porter’s ‘Why can’t you behave?’ prompting the thought that there are vocalists who would benefit from her purity of tone and accuracy of pitch. Her material remains choice as she tears into Gershwin’s ‘I got rhythm’, with Oxley and Brown providing, as they do throughout, superb backing, including solos of melodic invention, imagination and wit. ‘Honeysuckle rose’ was one of Waller’s trademark numbers; he would surely have relished Carmichael and company’s way with it, the audience finger-snapping along with the catchy melody. Waller’s name figures a lot in Carmichael’s repartee. She enlisted the help of Steve Ross to find for her a little-known Waller composition. He came up with a grand number written with Ed Kirkeby, ‘Come and get it’, which the trio obviously enjoy performing, Carmichael relishing such lyrics as “If you’re gonna love me and be my tutti frutti, / Don’t just turtle dove me, / I gotta get myself some booty.”

The legendary names evoked by Carmichael’s material are boundless – she has great fun with Benny Goodman’s ‘All the cats join in’, and another of her vocals is Billie Holiday’s ‘If dreams come true’. She returns to Gershwin for a terrific, swinging version of one of his greatest melodies, ‘Lady be good’, and resurrects a forgotten tune originally made popular by Rudy Vallee, ‘Talk to me.’ Carmichael excels not only as a musician and singer, but she is also a marvellously warm and witty raconteur, and has here fashioned a real treat.

  • Judy Carmichael is at The Crazy Coqs at Brasserie Zédel, 20 Sherwood Street, Piccadilly Circus, London W1 until Saturday 15 June 2013
  • Bookings 020 7734 4888
  • www.crazycoqs.com

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