It's been a long path since her debut appearance opposite Roland Kirk at Ronnie Scott's in 1966. Fifty years later, the pride of the British jazz, Norma Winstone, celebrates her 75th birthday in a gala concert at the Cadogan Hall for a two-part show featuring key compositions and arrangements plucked from her career.
The first set sees her ECM European Trio, with Italian Glauco Venier (grand-piano) and the German Klaus Gesing (soprano saxophone/bass clarinet), perform intimate compositions plucked from her past recordings for Manfred Eicher's esteemed imprint. After the exotic and dreamy notes of the Moroccan 'High Places', the Trio dedicates a special tribute to one of Norma's most influential and dear musicians/composers (and ex-husband), the late John Taylor. The selected piece, a composition from Taylor's final album 2081, was produced in collaboration with his and Norma's two sons in 2015. Appropriatly, Leo, on the drums, and baritone vocalalsit Alex are on hand to help the Trio in conducting this soulful and circular song based on one of Kurt Vonegut's short stories. The Trio close with an unexpected arrangement of John Coltrane's 'Giant Steps', Norma referencing the spiritual and mystic aspects of Coltrane's persona.
After the interval, the full Royal Academy of Music Symphony Orchestra and Big Band, conducted by Nick Smart, join Norma onstage for a feast of swing and ringing woodwinds, especially on Cole Porter's 'So in Love'. The set, which included compositions arranged by Winstone's musical guru Steve Gray, provided a stunningly emotional performance of 'Wait Till You See Her (Him)', while Vince Mendoza's 'House of Reflection' (specifically commissioned for this event) perfectly suited Norma's measured vocals. It all ended with a haunting take on Jimmy Rowles' 'The Peacocks', which left the audience nursing a feeling of nostalgia and a sense of witnessing something very special.
– Alessandro Albano
– Photos by Roger Thomas