Wednesday, 18 November 2009

The Birds and the Bees and the Flowers

Sheila Jordan is one of my alltime favourite singers. Jeff Clyne(dearly departed) was one of my alltime favourite bass players. Sheila has great singing craft and a unique blend of Bebop and Native American influences. But I love her most of all for the deep spiritual centre in her music and for her ability to draw in everything around her as she improvises. One night on tour she chose to extend the intro to Jimmy Webb's beautiful song 'The Moon is a Harsh Mistress' into a Native American chant with Jeff on double bass. As she did so, miraculously, the sound of a flock of birds entered the room and seemed to join in with the bass and voice, fluttering all round the melody until they found the key (Bb) where Jeff and Sheila were!

The tune is It Had To Be You in the key of G, and as usual Jeff Clyne is fluttering about up at the dusty end. The next chord is E7 and as Jeff begins his beautiful and effortless descent back down the G string, I know instinctively that he will land on a B. Thing is, a bee has also begun to take an interest in the bass and is now sitting exactly where Jeff's first finger is headed for, squarely on that B (bees have great intonation). I begin shouting at Jeff and waving towards the bass, "No, no, not the B, don't play the B!". Jeff finally looks back at his fingerboard, sees the bee and manages to make a diversion to the nearest E. He then shakes the bass,the insect flies off to safety, and we haven't dropped a beat! We laughed a lot together over that, in a slightly mystified way, and in the last few weeks of his life it became a musical mantra between us. "Don't play the B".

It was Sheila' s birthday today, and (Jennifer Jones tells me) during her celebration gig at the Bull's Head in Barnes, she movingly spoke about Jeff Clyne, and dedicated a huge bouquet of flowers to him. Then she sang to the flowers!


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