Jazz Professional               

Marlene VerPlanck

with the

Roy Babbington Trio

Marlene and Billy
With the Roy Babbington Trio
At Ronnie Scott's

England seems to be a wonderful place for us and we go every year for a about a month and sing with one of the world's greatest trios.  Roy Babbington, bass and leader, Geoff Eales, piano, Mark Fletcher, drums.

October 1993.
Marlene VerPlanck with the Roy Babbington Trio at the Clarendon Suites, Birmingham

The Birmingham Branch of The Frank Sinatra Music Society celebrated its 38th Anniversary Convention by engaging the wonderful Marlene VerPlanck to perform a two–hour concert. In the event, this was a decision of divine inspiration, since her appearance presented a sustained, totally revelatory display of brilliant, breathtaking artistry. The spacious concert room was packed to the doors, and at the end of her programme—two and a half hours long, as it turned out (and, seemingly, gone in a wink), such was the captivating performance that her dazzled audience was most reluctant to let her go—a standing ovation which thundered on and on.

She performed twenty–nine songs, a feat of endurance of consistent, impeccable standard and a demonstration of memory which beggars comprehension. I say memory because besides all those lyrics and tunes, all her routines had been orchestrated for the line–up on hand—yes, beautifully arranged by Marlene’s husband and musical director Billy (a one–time member of the trombone section in Tommy Dorsey’s band). So that instead of the more usual fare of jazz trio improvising its accompaniments, however brilliantly this can be accomplished, Roy Babbington’s threesome (Roy on bass, Andy Vinter on piano and Mark Fletcher—doing a miraculous sight–reading job, it turned out—on drums) interpreted the parts, assimilated every mood, the while creating so fine jazz.

Yes, this meticulous preparation is indeed a refinement of distinction. And by thus respecting the disciplines laid down, every nuance, modulation, key change, shock beat or dramatic pause was firmly and confidently in place, dovetailing with Marlene’s soaring, virtuoso phrasing—creating ensemble effects, exactly when and where called for, of either incredible power, or velvety, sotto voce subtlety—sheer professionalism from tip to toe. A package of charm, beauty and positive impact. Marlene Verplanck is a musician through and through: pitch–pipe intonation; the ability, from cold, to hit any note plumb on the nose without any prompting from piano or whatever; a three–octave comfortable range, exhibiting wonderful control and tonal beauty every inch of the span; diction as clear as a mountain stream; absolute command of jazz inflexions and the rubato demands of blues rhetoric; swinging torridly on the up–tempo numbers; caressing the ballads with gossamer touch.

In fact, the total performer; what a consummate, caring artiste.

Her repertoire, without exception, consists of songs of summit quality - lyrics of sheer poetry, tunes af melodic charm and innate craftsmanship. Well, with composers like Cole Porter, Hoagy Carmichael, Richard Rodgers, Jimmy Van Heusen, Burton Lane, Jerome Kern, Irving Berlin, Cy Coleman, Kurt Weill and Duke Ellington represented; with lyricists such as Lorenz Hart, Johnny Mercer and Ira Gershwin on hand, how can you go wrong! The material is superfine, the choice and presentation of it a measure of the professionalism, sensitivity and experience combined in this splendid Verplanck partnership.

Marlene and the Babbington Trio performed as one—a wonderfully integrated sound that swept all before it, with pace, ease, style and sympathy, adding up to a listening experience never likely to be erased from the memory; as I said, the time simply twinkled by and the atmosphere in the Clarendon Suites was electric. I had the opportunity to spend some time with the Verplancks, a charming couple indeed, with a humility and humanity to be greatly admired. So professional, and I make no excuse for stressing that quality once more in my text, so concerned to do what is best for the songs—all heart, all soul.

I suppose that, over the years, I’ve attended surely thousands of concerts and sessions as a listener, but rarely have I come away from one with such a happy feeling, such a complete renewal of faith in the jazz art than when this tremendous concert just had to face its final curtain.

Thank you, Marlene, Billy, Roy, Andy and Mark for a great concert . . .

Some of those songs: Dream Dancing, Skylark, Speak Low, Lover, Day In, Day Out, Incurably Romantic, That Old Devil Moon, Body and Soul, So In Love, Surest Thing, Quiet Hour (by Billy Verplanck, a peach of a song, too), not forgetting medleys by Irving Berlin and Duke Ellington. . . .

Ken Rattenbury 

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