Banquet Room, Sun Jun 8
The Boswell Sisters were a jazz singing group from New Orleans in the 1920s. The Boswell Project is their story. This story may be new to many, but you’ll probably recognise many of the songs they sing. And it’s a great story – remarkably so for the time – of three teenage girls who set off on their own journey to perform the music they loved, and put their own stamp on it. The narrative behind the music links the songs together and engages the audience on another level. Just like a good movie I wanted to keep watching (and listening) because I cared about what would happen next.
But, as it says in the program, it really ‘was all about the music’. Three female singers and a slick five piece band (piano, double bass, clarinet, violin/guitar, and percussion) entertained us with music from the likes of Louis Armstrong, Cab Calloway and Duke Ellington with tight vocal harmonies and great musical arrangements in near perfect balance. Though there were occasions when both singers and musicians took solo cameos, the overall emphasis was definitely on the group. There are times when vocal harmonies can be arranged to highlight the differences between voices; the harmonies here are so tightly woven that the three sisters appear to be almost singing as one – you stop noticing the differences in their voices in this perfect blend. And the balance with the band is such that you almost stop noticing them at times too. No one is going for the spotlight here. It’s a wonderful ensemble in action.
These sisters are just so disarmingly friendly. Yes, the classic girl(s) next door. Fresh faced with cute hairstyles – how could what they sing be the Devils music? But they did of course, with some of it ironically imported from gospel! And they added their own hallmarks to much of their music – varying the pace and timing of known tunes, sometimes singing in what they called ‘gibberish’ – a kind of personalised scat singing, playing the nose horn, and even adding their own lyrics. All of this was anathema at the time where known tunes had set arrangements and performers were expected to be faithful to them. This bending of the rules brought them much criticism, as well as acclaim.
They eventually earned the right to record their own hits – The Object Of My Attention was their first, and I think my favourite from this show, but I loved it all; so elegant and alluring, full of life and fun.
Sadly the Boswell story came to a sudden end in 1936. But to find out about that you’ll have to go and see this excellent show for yourself.
by Michael Coghlan
The Boswell Project continues at Banquet Room, Adelaide Festival Centre, until Mon Jun 9.