Melissa Western is not just “good.” Together with her jazz band—Tnee Dyer (music director/piano), Helen Svoboda (double bass), and Lachlan Hawkins (Drums)—Melissa Western is really quite fabulous.
The lights dimmed, the music started, and suddenly the room was filled with a beautiful voice, as Western walked round the audience and along the main aisle into the room, with a very tactile performance of (Romance) in the Dark. The audience was hooked.
During the 75 minute show (just incredible value for money at only $30 a ticket), Weston held the attention of everyone in the room. She introduced stories and information about many of the inspirational leading ladies of jazz and blues, illustrated with some great selections of black and white images and fascinating nuggets of information. Or, in her own words, performed “my love letter to the great chanteuses of the twentieth century.” Describing Ella Fitzgerald as perhaps her “biggest inspiration,” Western’s second song of the evening was an unsurprising choice; the George and Ira Gershwin’s Oh Lady Be Good (a 1947 hit for Fitzgerald). Western would have delighted her heroine with the performance on Friday night, which included an epic scat ‘trumpet’ solo voiced by our chanteuse.
And then we were on to Marilyn Monroe, and of course it had to be delectable performances of I Wanna Be Loved by You, and Diamonds are a girl’s best friend. And a fascinating anecdote about the support Monroe gave to Fitzgerald, ensuring that a career-changing booking was made for Fitzgerald at the previously all-white Mocambo nightclub.
But we didn't have too much time to ponder these insights, as Western was quickly on to talking about Billie Holiday, and performing two wonderful classics (God Bless the Child, and Love for Sale). Holliday’s performance of her hit song God Bless the Child (written together with Arthur Herzog, Jr) is a difficult one to beat. But Western made the song her own, again with great scat singing.
There were just so many highlights from an evening that also included Carmen Miranda’s I like you very much, Eartha Kitt’s C’est Si Bon, Aretha Franklin’s (You Make Me Feel Like a) Natural Woman. Beyonce and Bieber weren’t around when Nina Simonne recorded My Baby Just Cares for Me. But if they had been, we were all convinced Simonne would also have worked them into her song.
Not all of the stories were uplifting, sexy or fun. Bessie Smith’s story was one of many sad tales during the evening, but selecting two of Smith’s songs gave Western an opportunity to add some humour into the mix, with the highly entertaining Just Give me a Man. And then the tempo slowed, as Western talked about Edith Piaf; and you could have heard a pin drop during a mellifluous performance of La vie en rose.
The band were excellent—playing together as only the best jazz performers can. I loved Svoboda’s solos, in particular in Western’s version of Peggy Lee’s Fever, and was thrilled by Dyer’s solo in Irving Berlin’s Blue Skies (a la Fitzgerald), and each of the spotlight performances by all three members of the band were so very memorable in both Route 66 and Caravan.
Favourite song of the evening? Possibly Etta James’ Cry me a river (performed in honour of Chris and Susan Osborne). It was great to hear the compliments about the venue, and hosts, from Western and her fellow musicians. An invitation to perform at Australian Modern has to be on the ‘bucket list’ of any musician. Chris and Susan Osborne are wonderful and generous hosts—turning their home into a fantastic location for intimate music events, and throwing what have to be among the best parties in Brisbane. For 4 of the 7 Brisbane Anywhere Festivals, Chris and Susan have transformed their lounge and kitchen into an exceptional performance space. Welcoming guests on 12th May, Chris modestly described this hospitality as being due to their shared vision, and that they simply “love to support the arts and the artists.” And support them they do. With style. Where else can you experience live music up close and personal, and do so with a glass in your hand? And having a chance to step inside the Osborne’s Carina home is the icing on that particular cake (check out the website to learn a little more about Australian Modern).
Sadly Melissa Western’s shows at Australian Modern ended on 13th May. Look out for her at Brisbane Jazz Club and other great venues far and wide. And my advice for future Anywhere Festivals? If it’s on at Australian Modern, then book it. You’ll have a fabulous evening.
The reviewer attended the 12th May 2017 (7:30pm) performance.
Tickets $30 https://anywheretheatre.com/listings/lady/. 75 minutes. The show had only 2 sell out performances during the Anywhere Festival (12th & 13th May).