Winner of the Parliamentary Jazz Award for Best Media, 2019


Victoria Klewin

Victoria Klewin Sings Blossom Dearie, Black Mountain Jazz, Melville Centre, Abergavenny, 29/09/2019.

Photography: Photograph by Haddon Sullivan

by Ian Mann

September 30, 2019


Pure class. Klewin’s singing was superb throughout, embracing a variety of moods and musical styles, playful and vivacious on the livelier numbers and genuinely moving on ballads.

Victoria Klewin Sings Blossom Dearie, Black Mountain Jazz, Melville Centre, Abergavenny, 29/09/2019.

Victoria Klewin – vocals, Denny Ilett – guitar, Dan Moore –keyboard, Pasquale Votino – double bass, Matt Brown - drums

Bristol based Victoria Klewin is a highly versatile vocalist capable of singing in a variety of musical styles including jazz, pop, soul, blues, folk and their various sub genres, and even classical and opera.

Her regular engagements include touring as a backing vocalist with the internationally known soul act Hannah Williams and The Affirmations. An accomplished session vocalist she has also worked in musical theatre and advertising. She is also an acclaimed musical educator and vocal coach.

However her first love is jazz and she works regularly with leading figures on the Bristol jazz scene as well as performing solo shows as a pianist and vocalist. In 2016 she released the solo album “Dance Me To Heaven”, a recording that featured her own songs alongside rarely heard items from the ‘Great American Songbook’.

She has also performed standards sets with Swansea based pianist Dave Cottle and his trio and it was good reports about a set by this combination at nearby Brecon Jazz Club that had whetted my appetite for tonight’s performance.

Klewin was born in Buckinghamshire but brought up in Corsham, Wiltshire. She studied music at Dartington College in Devon before re-locating to Bristol, the city she now calls home.

As a jazz vocalist Klewin’s singing has invited comparisons with Ella Fitzgerald, Sarah Vaughan and Peggy Lee with other influences including Betty Carter, Nancy Wilson, Melody Gardot, Ray Charles, Frank Sinatra and Nat King Cole.

However her ultimate jazz heroine is the New York born singer and pianist Blossom Dearie (1924-2009). Klewin has toured widely with her “Sings Blossom Dearie” show, which features Dearie’s own compositions alongside material associated with her written by the likes of Cole Porter, Cy Coleman and Johnny Mercer. Klewin’s homage to Dearie follows in the wake of similarly successful projects paying tribute to Ella Fitzgerald and Hoagy Carmichael.

Klewin’s Dearie show has been realised with the help of a group of Bristol’s finest musicians featuring Denny Ilett (guitar), Dan Moore (piano), Riaan Vosloo (double bass) and Matt Brown (drums). Vosloo was replaced for tonight’s performance by Naples born, Bristol based Pasquale Votino, who slotted in seamlessly alongside Brown and the others. The arrangements for the “Sings Blossom Dearie” show are written by Ilett, a musician already popular with Abergavenny audiences thanks to his involvement with regular BMJ visitors Moscow Drug Club.

Ilett was part of a sharp dressed ensemble with Klewin choosing to perform seated. By her own admission a reluctant dancer this helped to put the focus very much on the singing and the songs, but with vocalist still representing a charismatic stage presence.

The quintet commenced with the song “Let Me Love You”, written by Bart Howard and recorded by Dearie. Ilett’s arrangement introduced Klewin’s assured, well enunciated vocals and his own crisp, clean, classic jazz guitar sound. Also featuring as a soloist was Moore,  who deployed an acoustic piano setting on his keyboard throughout the evening. We also heard from bassist Votino, who immediately impressed with his first solo of the evening. Brown, using brushes, provided lightly swinging support throughout.

The Bob Haymes song “You For Me” was sourced from Dearie’s eponymous album from 1957 and featured a playful vocal from Klewin alongside instrumental solos from Ilett and Moore. Both soloists have previously worked in bands led by saxophonists Andy Sheppard, arguably Bristol’s most famous jazz export, and James Morton. In these groups Moore has revealed himself to be an exceptional organ soloist, but tonight it was a pleasure to hear him demonstrate his considerable abilities as a pianist.

Following a relatively lively start Klewin and the quintet varied the pace with a beautiful reading of the ballad “Try Your Wings”, with Klewin’s emotive but elegant vocals complemented by the cool eloquence of Ilett’s guitar solo as Brown provided delicately brushed, highly sympathetic support.

Brown’s drums introduced a joyous romp through Jerome Kern’s “I Won’t Dance” as he and Votino set up a gently propulsive groove that fuelled Klewin’s breezy vocals and instrumental solos from the bassist and from Ilett. According to her press release Klewin can sing in several different languages, but by her own admission she still shied away from the French lyrics at the end of the song.

Klewin presented tonight’s performance with wit and warmth, giving the audience just enough information on the story behind each song and its relationship to Dearie. The self penned “Blossom’s Blues” featured risqué lyrics and was also authentically bluesy, despite incorporating a scat vocal episode. Instrumental solos came from Ilett and Moore, the latter at one point soloing with double bass accompaniment only.

Another change of mood and pace on the ballad “How Will He Know?”, the first Dearie song that Klewin ever heard, despite it being relatively little known. A real ‘torch song’ this tale of unrequited love was performed in duo format by Klewin and Moore, the pianist providing sensitive and understated support to Klewin’s haunting vocal. The now outmoded lyrical reference to pipe smoking evoked a sense of nostalgia, and only added to the song’s appeal. This item was sourced from Dearie’s 1959 album “Sings Comden and Green”, a collection of songs featuring the lyrics of wordsmiths Betty Comden and Adolph Green, with music by a variety of well known composers, in this instance Jule Styne.

There were more references to the past on Cy Coleman’s “The Riviera” from Dearie’s 1958 album “Give Him the Ooh-La-La”. The introduction to the song saw Klewin and Moore continuing in duo mode before the rest of the band kicked in, their jaunty rhythms complementing Klewin’s breezy vocal performance of the clever and satirical lyrics.

The first set closed in the same vein with the quintet’s take on “I’m Hip”, written for Dearie by Bob Dorough and Dave Frishberg,  the song a satirical take on a 1950s New York Bohemian. Klewin’s flawless reading of the complex, vicious but witty lyrics was a vocal tour de force and she received excellent support from a band featuring the cream of Bristol’s music scene.

The second half saw the quintet hit the ground running with a swinging, bluesy version of “The Party’s Over”, introduced by Ilett on guitar as he shared the instrumental solos with Moore on piano. These two also featured on a lively “Deed I Do”,  a song also recorded by Ray Charles.

Following a brisk start the set’s first ballad was “Some Other Time”, “a song about love at the wrong time” explained Klewin, “it gets me every time I sing it”. Her moving rendition of the song was complemented by a tasteful arrangement featuring piano, bass and brushed drums.

The Cole Porter composed title track of Dearie’s 1958 album “Give Him the Ooh-La-La” found Klewin back in playful mood in a bossa style arrangement on one of Porter’s now less well known songs.

From the pen of another famous songwriter came “Down With Love”, composed by Harold Arlen with lyrics by E.Y. Harburg. A bluesy, swinging arrangement framed the cynical but witty lyrics with Klewin’s singing augmented by instrumental solos from Ilett and Moore.

Another song from Dearie’s “Ooh La-La” album revealed a gentler side of Cy Coleman’s writing on a compelling arrangement of the ballad “I Walk A Little Faster”, which featured an affecting vocal performance from Klewin and Moore at his most lyrical on the keyboard.

More Coleman with a vivacious performance of “When In Rome” with the lyrical reference to ‘Napoli’ (rhymed with ‘snappily’) triggering a bass solo from Naples born Votino alongside further instrumental features from Ilett and Moore.

There was more vocal and lyrical dexterity on Klewin’s performance of the song “My New Celebrity Is You”, written specifically for Dearie by Johnny Mercer and featuring references to then famous people ranging from band-leader Woody Herman to golfer Lee Trevino. Klewin’s brilliantly executed vocal performance was augmented by instrumental features for all the members of the band, including drummer Matt Brown, who clearly relished the opportunity to cut loose.

This represented the end of the scheduled set but a performance of this quality in front of a near capacity audience was never going to finish without an encore. After a brief discussion Ilett called an arrangement of “Teach Me Tonight” which incorporated an authentically sultry vocal performance from Klewin alongside final instrumental solos from Ilett and Moore. The audience loved it.

The quintet’s performance of this Dearie related material was pure class, a reflection of the quality of their chosen material and of the abilities of Dearie, a performer who seems to have been
‘re-discovered’ in the years following her death.

Klewin’s singing was superb throughout, like Dearie embracing a variety of moods and musical styles, playful and vivacious on the livelier numbers and genuinely moving on ballads. Technically flawless her enunciation was perfect as she navigated the twists and turns of the often complex lyrics, investing the words with just the right type of emotion at any given time.

Led by Ilett the instrumentalists were also at the top of their game, the solos concise and cogent, the accompaniment always tasteful and supportive, but bluesy and swinging too, as required. As the main soloists Ilett and Moore inevitably stood out, but the contributions of Brown and Votino shouldn’t be overlooked, with the latter slotting in well with an already very tight and well drilled ensemble.

‘Classy’ was the phrase used by many to sum up a hugely successful event that saw one of the best club night attendances of the year with band, organisers, and audience all genuinely happy with the way the evening had gone.

My thanks to Victoria and Denny for speaking with me afterwards. One suspects that these are musicians who will be invited back to BMJ in the future, something for Abergavenny audiences to look forward to.





blog comments powered by Disqus