Frank Sinatra and Ella Fitzgerald get the big band tribute treatment at Portsmouth Guildhall

Jazz singer Claire Martin will be appearing with the BBC Big Band at Portsmouth Guildhall. Picture by Lisa Wormsley
Jazz singer Claire Martin will be appearing with the BBC Big Band at Portsmouth Guildhall. Picture by Lisa Wormsley
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Ella Fitzgerald and Frank Sinatra were giants of music whose huge influence continues long after they died in the 1990s.

The internationally renowned BBC Big Band is joined by award-winning vocalist and BBC radio presenter, Claire Martin, and the acclaimed singer, Jeff Hooper, for a celebration of these two titans of twentieth century music.

Claire tells The Guide why she admires Ella and her music.

‘All good jazz singers should immerse themselves with hours and hours and hours of Ella Fitzgerald – she’s the go-to person for everything you need to know about trying to do music in this genre. For a start she’s got the most amazing sound, she’s got a wonderful intelligent approach to phrasing and harmony, and her dexterity – she was quite gymnastic with all that scat-singing - she was a wonderful musician.

‘Everything you want to be, or should aspire to is wrapped up in that incredible person.

‘And she was in the right place at the right time, in that respect, for this kind of music – it was big band music’s heyday. She really epitomises everything that’s great about jazz singers.’

‘For the last 30 years of being a professional jazz singer, I’m always turning to her to learn, to be inspired by, to be just wowed by, to go and learn a song from, to get ideas from.

She’s just the font of everything I could ever dip into and would wish to digest, and copy and be like. As you can hear, she’s one of my number ones,’ she laughs. ‘She’s the guv’nor.’

Sadly Claire says she never got to see either of them perform in the flesh.

‘My mum and dad saw both of them, so I’ve heard first hand accounts of how brilliant they both were, and lots of my friends were in the band of Frank Sinatra, so I’ve been close to people who were close to them, in a roundabout way.

‘They’re two of the most sublime voices ever – they’re iconic in many ways. They really are icons.’

And Claire’s looking forward to reuniting with Jeff on stage.

‘I’ve admired Jeff for years. We worked together a couple of Christmas ago, so this will be our second outing with the BBC Big Band. Jeff’s very underrated – he should be much better known. He’ll obviously be doing the Frank stuff, and then we’ll overlap on a few things.’

Claire didn’t want to give too much away about the setlist but she promises: ‘I’ll definitely be doing some real classic Ella stuff, lots of Gershwin, Irving Berlin – that great American standard repertoire. Over 60 years, she basically sang everything, so there’s almost too much to choose from.

‘We will both be celebrating both these wonderful artists who not only had all of these these songs at their disposal with writers begging them to sing their songs, what they also had and what we also hope we’ll be able to bring to Portsmouth, is the arrangements - some of them will be arranged by the conductor of the BBC Big Band, but others will be take downs of the actual arrangements. We’ll be doing quite a bit where people will recognise the arrangement within the first eight bars.

‘We’re celebrating the songs, the singers, the arrangements, the players and everything really.’

Talking about the band she adds: ‘They’re this juggernaut of sound – they’re the best of the best in as far as big band players go, led by a fantastic guy called Barry Forgie, he’s a real national treasure. He’s a wonderful MD, he’s the real deal. It’s good to have him on-board.

‘I wish there were more one women in the band, so it’s a bit odd with the gender division, but it’s a joy and privilege to play with them because they’re all amazing, when you’ve got that big band sound behind you it propels you, it really is very exciting.

‘This is a particular art-form – big band music, and big band singing. It’s difficult to get a big band on the road because it’s expensive, so I’m not blasé about things like this – it’s a chance for people to hear things they don’t hear all the time.

‘When you do get something like this it is very special for many reasons.’


Portsmouth Guildhall

Sunday, February 24