My One and Only Love

Five of our finest jazz musicians perform John Coltrane and Johnny Hartman's classic album

My One and Only Love features five Northern Ireland-based jazz musicians recreating the timeless, iconic jazz ballad album of the same name recorded 50 years ago by the John Coltrane and Johnny Hartman.

A large crowd packed into the art deco surroundings of the Strand Arts Centre in east Belfast to enjoy live music performed with passion, panache and great delicacy by vocalist Ken Haddock, saxophonist Meilana Gillard, pianist Scott Flanigan, bassist Nicky Scott and drummer Steve Davis.

The concert is introduced fittingly by BBC broadcaster and jazz lover Walter Love, who has been championing jazz on the radio for five decades and is currently hosting The Jazz Club on Radio Ulster on Sunday nights.

A hush descends as the sharp-suited musicians enter stage left and launch into the opening track of the album, Irving Berlin’s ‘They Say It’s Wonderful’. Ken Haddock has been plying his trade in pubs and clubs for the past 20 years, but even he admits to being nervous stepping into the great Johnny Hartman’s shoes.

But he needn’t worry. His rich, honeyed baritone perfectly captures the deep romanticism of these great songs. Haddock's voice is warm and tender but has a vulnerability that that pulls on the heart strings, making this live performance a deeply memorable evening.

Meilana Gillard was born to play this type of lush music. She cites John Coltrane and Johnny Hartman as her favourite artists and My One and Only Love as her favourite album, and it shows. Her soaring, melodic sax playing invokes the ghosts of John Coltrane, Dexter Gordon, Coleman Hawkins and Ben Webster.

Scott Flanigan, meanwhile, has never been better, and it is wonderful to hear him playing a grand piano in an auditorium boasting such perfect acoustics. This band has been rehearsing tirelessly for the past few months, and their hard work really pays off. The rhythm section of Nicky Scott and Steve Davis perfectly compliments piano and sax.

The third song, ‘My One and Only Love’, begins with a flawless, heart-breaking solo by Gillard before Haddock sings those timeless lyrics with great poignancy and emotional depth. The audience are transported from a gloomy Belfast December night to a sophisticated club in late 1950s, early 1960s New York.

At just over 30 minutes, the album is short, and the band play all six tracks during the first half of the set, ending with the haunting ‘Autumn Serenade’. We wonder what might happen after the interval, and are reassured when Haddock promises music of a similar vein.

Sadly Coltrane and Hartman don't feature, and the second half of the show is a glimpse of what might have been as the band expertly perform a series of standards including ‘I Love Paris’, ‘Skylark, ‘Somewhere Over the Rainbow', ‘When I Fall in Love and Duke Ellington’s ‘Solitude’.

They up the tempo a little with the bebop classic, Dizzy Gillespie and Frank Paparelli’s ‘A Night in Tunisia’, with some fine scat singing by Haddock, before ending beautifully with a heart-rending version of ‘Everytime We Say Goodbye’.

It is a great way to escape for an hour or so from the grind of Christmas shopping and festive preparations, and as she leaves the Strand stage, one delighted audience member even tells Gillard that it was the best concert she had been to all year.

The band is now hoping to take the show on the road and play some cities in Europe in the New Year. It would be a testimony to the high standards of jazz being played in Northern Ireland at the moment that this great music could be heard further afield.

Visit the Strand Arts Centre website for information on forthcoming events.