By Clive Davis
December 9, 2015
Some mistake, surely? The big, bearded bloke from MasterChef? Is he a jazz pianist too? Well, it’s true that no one would mistake Jay Rayner for Oscar Peterson, but that isn’t the point of this engagingly laid-back show.
The jazz world is awash with stamp collectors and train-spotters, those well-intentioned folk who know the catalogue number of every bebop record made since 1946. What it really needs is people who can engage with a public that is terrified of the j-word and assumes that listening to a Duke Ellington tune must somehow be the equivalent of sitting an A level.
Rayner, a restaurant critic and boulevardier, is the perfect communicator. Sidling up to his audience with a ragbag of jokes and family anecdotes, not to mention an imaginative repertoire, he conveys the sheer joy of playing and exploring the music he loves.
Sensibly enough, he keeps his solos short and brisk and has signed a couple of accomplished sidemen in the double-bass player Robert Rickenberg and the saxophonist Dave Lewis. Rayner’s wife, Pat Gordon Smith, takes care of the vocals. Even if she came slightly unstuck on a daring, bare-bones arrangement of Love and Affection — a Joan Armatrading ballad that would tax even the best vocalists — she was a throaty, bluesy presence elsewhere.
Peel Me a Grape, Dave Frishberg’s droll portrait of uptown ennui, sat alongside the vintage treat Save the Bones for Henry Jones. There were risqué tales, too, of Rayner’s mother, the late agony aunt Claire Rayner, whose daily postbag could give any teenage boy enough neuroses to last a couple of lifetimes.
Herbie Hancock’s hit Cantaloupe Island may have had only a tenuous connection with fine dining, but the band gave it a suitably funky treatment. Rayner is taking the show on the road in the new year.
©News UK Ltd. The original piece is on The Times website here. (Pay wall.)
As the impeccably tasteful Clive Davis says, we are on tour in 2016. You can find out more here.