Doing that jazz singing thing is not a career for the young to take lightly – there are a lot of giants looming from the past to make your efforts seem modest by comparison.
And the same can be said for budding piano players.
But we are fortunate that some rush in where wise men might fear to tread, and the result is some very strong young singer pianists.
One of them is Joe Stilgoe, who is appearing at the Lichfield Garrick Theatre on Friday as part of the Lichfield Festival.
“Like, say, Harry Connick, Stilgoe is a skilled pianist (not only in the sizzling, boppish mode he uses to embellish his own material, but also – as he demonstrated by inserting a stride-piano passage into Just One of Those Things – in other modes of the jazz-piano tradition, too) as well as a versatile and intelligent interpreter of standards; unlike many of his contemporaries, though, Stilgoe is also capable of writing smart, witty songs of his own…” (so writes Chris Parker of a Joe Stilgoe performance at the Vortex Jazz Club in London)
Joe is, we are told, a serious musician having fun. And it certainly seems that way. His singing, piano playing and sense of humour have made him a favourite at the UK’s top jazz clubs, where he regularly plays with his dynamic young trio.
His formidable piano technique (described by singer Ian Shaw as “a cross between Oscar Peterson, Bill Evans and Les Dawson”) and vocal range (described as “wonderful” by New York cabaret legend Steve Ross) stem from classical training starting when he was five.
His parents, both professional musicians, spotted his talent and encouraged him. Through his father, songwriter Richard Stilgoe, he began to learn and love the songs that made Frank Sinatra, Nat King Cole and Mel Torme (all strong influences) famous. From his mother, opera singer Annabel Hunt, he learnt the discipline and understanding needed to tackle a career in music.
Following university, a year playing on cruise ships ensured that Joe learnt every song in every key. Back on shore, he played with anyone who’d take him, from backing a drag artist in Bournemouth to playing Christmas carols for lawyers. He has written two orchestral pieces performed at the Festival Hall, run a funk band, played drums in a pantomime, arranged and transcribed music books for Diana Krall and Jamie Cullum, and worked as a session singer and pianist. He played a couple of very successful supper-club gigs earlier this year at the Cheltenham Jazz Festival, so is clearly a man on the rise.
The Joe Stilgoe Trio plays the Lichfield Garrick Theatre on Friday at 8pm.
And if jazz mixed in with a bit of klezmer and Middle Eastern rhythms, all concocted by a Scottish band, then try Moishe’s Bagel a the same venue on Saturday.
Tickets for both from 01543 412121 or lichfieldfestival.org
Peter Bacon (Peter’s blog is at thejazzbreakfast.wordpress.com)