Jazz Lifetime Achievement Award – Elaine Delmar

l-r The Master, Simon Thorpe, Elaine Delmar

The sun shone on 6 June. The streets of Soho were full of people taking advantage of socially-distanced al fresco dining. The Master and I however were in the cool dark space that is Ronnie Scott’s jazz club. We marvelled on the fact that this was our first live music event for many months. Ronnie’s was full – which meant that every available seat was taken but that patrons were well spread out. The occasion was a gig by the Company’s 2020 Jazz Lifetime Achievement Award winner, Elaine Delmar.

A live event provided us with an ideal opportunity to make the presentation of the Company’s silver medal to Elaine. She is, remarkably, 82 but is not just a vastly experienced singer but also an exceptional artist. Each song she makes her own, often with surprising results. We all expect Tea for Two to be an upbeat number. Not with Elaine. She makes it into an intimate conversation. Very familiar standards are transformed in ways that were completely unexpected.

In her two sets she was supported by an outstanding quartet, the scoring, the choice of colours, determined by Elaine’s affection for and understanding of each song’s special nature. So, frequently, it was the guitar of veteran Jim Mullen that created the appropriate atmosphere. At other times, pianist Barry Green took the lead, providing sensitive support for the voice and creating distinctive solos. Bass player Simon Thorpe and drummer Bobby Worth had their moments in the spotlight for a couple of numbers but their role was essentially providing that cast-iron foundation over which Elaine could weave her magic.

Donning his Master’s badge, John Nichols joined Elaine on stage before the start of her second set. He described the Company and the reason for the award since this was an audience that might not have any idea why we were there! He mentioned previous vocalist winners – Cleo Laine, Norma Winstone, Frank Holder – and announced that Elaine was the 2020 winner at which the majority of the audience stood and applauded. Obviously her fan club was there in force. The Master outlined her career, starting out as a singer when only 16 with her father, Leslie ‘Jiver’ Hutchinson and his band.Later, she made her first stage appearance in Liverpool in the late 1950s and developed an acting career alongside her singing, even appearing in the film Mahler, directed by Ken Russell.

Elaine was clearly elated by the award. She joins a pantheon of distinguished jazz musicians, stretching back to John Dankworth in 1993 and Ronnie Scott himself in 1994, who have received our medal. Altogether this was a splendid occasion and very good for the Company’s profile in the jazz world. Thanks must go to Paul Pace at Ronnie’s and Liveryman John Levett for managing the liaison so efficiently.

By: Pastmaster LESLIE EAST OBE