Daryl Sherman performed at Ronnie Scott’s Jazz Club, London.
American jazz singer and pianist Daryl Sherman has been a longtime favourite at New York’s most famous cabaret haunts – the Algonquin, the Waldorf-Astoria, Feinstein’s at the Regency etc – and she has previously been in London at the now-defunct Pizza On the Park. Now, after a short UK tour of Southport, Treorchy and Swansea, she has made her Ronnie Scott’s debut in a Sunday lunchtime gig with a programme devoted to the songs of Johnny Mercer and Cole Porter.
With her double-whammy talents on vocals and piano she often recalls the work and style of her beloved Blossom Dearie, but I would also put her in line as a direct vocal descendant of the likes of Anita O’Day and Annie Ross. The voice is unlike any other in the way that Dearie’s was soft, smooth and quiet and yet Sherman can also be upbeat, raucous and shot through with tongue-in-cheek humour. Her way with a song is to draw out the essence of the lyric, sentimental or sad, comic or cool, and her choice of programme, reflecting some of the albums she has recorded, demonstrated her talents to a T.
The first half was devoted to Mercer, lyricist and sometimes composer too, of some 1,500 songs. Influenced by the songs of the Deep South (he was born in Savannah, Georgia), he collected the records by the likes of Ma Rainey, Bessie Smith and Louis Armstrong and was influenced by the jazz styles of the 1920s and 30s. His songs have an earthiness that is natural, organic and real. A selection of titles illustrates that: ‘Lazy Bones’, ‘Goody Goody’, I’m an Old Cowhand (from the Rio Grande)’ and ‘Something’s Gotta Give’.
Sherman opened her set with ‘Too Marvelous for Words’ (1937) with music by Richard Whiting, a great song in its simple expression of love which she evoked beautifully. Similarly ‘I Thought About You’ (1939) to music by Jimmy Van Heusen, has such a natural turn of phrase that it was almost impossible not to be swept up in its emotion. Sherman handled it beautifully. Often accompanying herself on the piano, she demonstrated what a great jazz pianist she is, and this being Ronnie Scott’s the emphasis was on jazz arrangements. In this respect she had the perfect band behind her, namely the superb Alan Barnes on saxophone, Andy Cleyndert on bass and Steve Brown on drums. Together they produced some real magic in songs such as ‘I’m Shadowing You’ which Mercer wrote with Blossom Dearie, ‘Twilight World’, written with that ace piano player Marian McPartland and ‘I’m Old Fashioned’, a favourite Jerome Kern melody.
Being an experienced cabaret performer, Sherman has the knack of drawing her audience in by telling them of the history behind some of the songs. Did you know that Mercer wrote ‘Jeepers Creepers’ for Louis Armstrong to sing to a horse in a film? Or that Mercer heard the Lionel Hampton/Sonny Burke music to ‘Midnight Sun’ on the radio, then immediately phoned the station and wrote a lyric for it there and then?
Sherman ended her first half with her most requested Mercer number, ‘Moon River’, written with Henry Mancini for Audrey Hepburn in the film Breakfast at Tiffany’s. I can’t recall, outside of hearing Mercer himself singing it, having heard a better version than the one she performed.
The Cole Porter songbook is something else entirely but Sherman is no less successful with the sophisticated world of a songwriter who is the complete opposite of Mercer’s organic approach to songwriting. The dapper and delightful Porter was always amazed that for many writers, (Rodgers and Hart and Hammerstein, Kern and Hammerstein, Dorothy Fields and Jimmy Van Heusen etc) it took two people to write a song.
Porter wrote both words and music and Sherman got to the heart of both, vocally and pianistically. And what a choice of songs! Stick a pin in any list of Porter’s output and you would come up with gold, as indeed she did with ‘Let’s Do It, Let’s Fall in Love’, ‘Get Out of Town’ (from Leave It To Me), ‘Too Darn Hot’ from Kiss Me, Kate), ‘Use Your Imagination’ (from Out of This World), ‘I Concentrate On You’ (from Broadway Melody of 1940), and ‘C’est Magnifique’ (from Can-Can). I Love You (from Mexican Hayride) was a particularly fine performance with Barnes blowing up a storm in his saxophone solo.
The afternoon ended with a return to Mercer and ‘I Remember You’, a song, Sherman reminds us, that Mercer wrote with Victor Schertzinger for Judy Garland, with whom he was infatuated, just after she married David Rose. It was used in the 1942 film The Fleet’s In, sung by Dorothy Lamour, although 20 years later it became a chart hit in a yodelling version by Frank Ifield. Sherman didn’t yodel but she left us with another brilliant saxophone performance by Barnes at the end of an afternoon of sheer pleasure.