Blue notes

PUBLISHED : Sunday, 18 March, 2012, 12:00am
UPDATED : Sunday, 18 March, 2012, 12:00am


An increase in performances here by internationally known musicians could be one welcome consequence of the policy to position Hong Kong as a major cruise ship destination.

Artists from many genres - but particularly from the worlds of classical music and jazz on the more upmarket cruise liners - are engaged for performances on board. They are generally free to accept bookings ashore on nights off in port, and at their points of embarkation and disembarkation.

I have just returned from a trip between Singapore and Hong Kong on the Silversea cruise ship, Silver Whisper. Its guests included British blues, jazz and soul singer Lorraine Brown, Chinese pianist Jiang Tian and Australian flautist Jane Rutter.

Rutter - like Jiang a 'classical crossover' artist who also dabbles in other genres including jazz - conducted masterclasses at the Hong Kong Academy for Performing Arts and the Hong Kong International School, and gave a solo concert at the latter.

Rutter, 53, is probably best known in Australia and in her adopted second home, Paris, where she studied with French flautist Jean Pierre Rampal. She tours extensively, previously appearing here with the City Chamber Orchestra of Hong Kong.

Rampal is another classical musician with an interest in jazz, and his best-selling album Suite for Flute and Jazz Piano Trio is the first of his two collaborations with French jazz pianist and composer Claude Bolling.

Rutter performs Veloc?from that album on her latest recording for Australia's ABC Classics, An Australian in Paris, now out in CD and DVD form. It includes a wide range of pieces by composers associated with the city, and also recitations of French poetry translated into English.

There are several inclusions which pay tribute to the jazzier side of the city of lights, including George Gershwin's It Ain't Necessarily So, and Henry Mancini's Gay Paree. Rutter performed excerpts during her Silver Whisper engagements.

Asked whether jazz flautists such as Herbie Mann had been a strong influence on her in developing that side of her music, Rutter replied, surprisingly, that she had met him, but was more of a fan of Eric Dolphy, the avant-garde saxophonist, flautist and clarinettist.

'Rampal was happy to improvise, and I improvise, but I don't have all the jazz idioms down,' she says. 'Last time I was in Manhattan I performed at the Blue Note with The Manhattan Transfer, and [Manhattan Transfer singer] Janis Siegel and I have been talking for about 10 years about doing an album for jazz voice and flute. I've performed with James Morrison and Tommy Emmanuel, and that does throw me in the deep end.'

Siegel has said Rutter improvises with a 'classical accent' and she accepts that description, adding that she plays the flute with a 'French accent' anyway. She admires Australian saxophonist Don Burrows' sound on the flute, but finds the sound of many jazz flautists 'a bit too rough and ready - I want to hear a different kind of purity in the sound'.

Colin Aitchison, musical director at Ned Kelly's Last Stand in Kowloon, encourages cruise ship musicians with jazz chops - the resident sidemen as well as the visiting stars - to drop in and perform, and nights when a ship is in town are often particularly good ones to call past.

This Saturday British clarinettist Kenny Martyn, an exponent of the Benny Goodman sound, will be playing two sets from 10.30pm.

Martyn, who works on cruise ships including Cunard's Queen Mary and the Queen Elizabeth, will be arriving aboard the Amadea, and has used stopovers in Hong Kong as an opportunity to perform at Ned's before. Some of those occasions, along with other performances, can be seen on YouTube, and will give a fair idea of what to expect.

Take Three

One album each from Rampal, Rutter and Martyn.

Suite for Flute and Jazz Piano Trio (CBS Masterworks, 1975): one of the best-sellers among all classical jazz crossover projects, this comprises seven compositions by Claude Bolling for Rampal, who is accompanied by Bolling at the piano, Marcel Sabiani on drums and Max H?diguer on bass. The mood can best be summarised by the title of the first track: Baroque and Blue.

Embraceable You (ABC Classics, 2007): by Rutter's own account this is the album on which she improvises the most, although there are also jazz elements to her performances of Brazilian music with guitarist Slava Grigoryan. This is a collection of George Gershwin tunes recorded with the Adelaide Symphony Orchestra.

Swingin' Again (Kenny Martyn, 2007): Martyn plays Benny Goodman in a style faithful to the classic swing-era recordings, and also interprets Paul McCartney's Yesterday as Goodman might have played it.