31 Oct 2020
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  • Jan Preston - Gig Review: Jan Preston @ Auckland Blues & Jazz Club, Auckland - 06/10/2020

Jan Preston - Gig Review: Jan Preston @ Auckland Blues & Jazz Club, Auckland - 06/10/2020

07 Oct 2020 // A review by Kev Rowland

I must confess that until this week I had never heard of the Auckland Jazz and Blues Club, but somehow, I do not think this will be the last time I attend. Situated at the rear of the Pt Chevalier RSA, I walked into a warm welcome, and was given a copy of the latest newsletter which detailed the acts they have coming in October. Finding a table at the rear I was able to sip my medicinal Guinness, read the newsletter and gathered my first impressions. At the front there was stage featuring a grand piano, drums, and double bass, as well as a small screen on one side. There was a good-sized audience already there, sat at tables with red covers and a candle in a glass, many of them enjoying their drinks and a meal purchased from the restaurant. Before the gig started an announcement was made detailing the restrictions still in place, and that there was a strict 100 people limit tonight (Auckland still being under Level 2) and that the doors would be closed if that number were reached and no-one else allowed in: they must have been pretty close. I have long become used to be the oldest person at the metal gigs I attend, but last night I was one of the youngest which made a pleasant, if somewhat unusual change!

Tonight, was the first gig of the tour, the launch night for Jan Preston’s new album Piano Boogie Woman, and also the first time for the double bass player, Aaron Coddell. He did well with his sheet music and seemed to gel well, although his sound could have been higher in the mix, but drummer Mike Pullman knew what he was doing in this environment as he is Jan’s husband. What I found interesting is that Mike only had a single snare drum and one cymbal, and he played with brushes all night, but by using the sides of the snare as well as the top, and using all parts of the brushes including the handles, he was able to bring out many different sounds and it was far more interesting than I expected.

At the heart of everything is of course Jan, who lives for the style of music known as boogie woogie, which means keep that left hand pumping and then providing the melody with the right. On top of that she has a voice with just the right amount of edge to give it cut through. She very quickly had the audience on her side, and it was interesting from my vantage point to realise that virtually no-one was talking, everyone was totally focused on the stage, giving total attention to the music. Before she played Honky Tonk Song, Jan said she used to live near the railway tracks in Greymouth and wondered if that was why she had to play the boogie. There were lots of these little vignettes tonight, and while some worked very well, some seemed a little long to me as I wanted to hear more music, but from the crowd reaction I would say I was in the minority.

Numbers such as I Was Young Once, which was slower with a far more blues style, went over very well indeed and although most of the songs had a boogie woogie feel there was a great deal of variety on offer. The reason for the screen was demonstrated during the set as at time a high placed camera would be turned on so that the audience could see Jan’s hands on the keyboards, which was simple but effective in an environment where all the players and audience (apart from the bass player) were seated, and it allowed for some energy and dynamics to be displayed. We were treated to some film music, with Home By Christmas working very well indeed. This was performed totally solo and was very emotional, even though apparently it was originally written for horns and harpsichord. Towards the end of the first set we had a singalong of Down By The Riverside and it ended with Nutcracker Boogie based on Tchaikovsky’s The Nutcracker Suite.

It then got a little strange I must confess as Jan asked the audience during the break to write down two lines which could be used as the beginning of a blues song which they would perform in the second set. They then took a break, and the raffle began. It was announced there would be 3 sets, which apparently is normal at the club, but it was obvious to me that the timing was off as the first set was way too long. That was also true for the break, which felt quite a bit longer than it needed to be and approximately a third of the audience took their leave at this point, but there were still plenty hanging around for the rest of the night.

It appeared that the band realised there may be some time issues as the next set had less talking and more music, feeling far more direct. Pullman wore a washboard at one point and changed the percussive attack by using that instead of the drum. It did slow down somewhat with the reading of all the entries for the blues lyrics, and my attention started to wander, but when Jan performed solo a song about her father, which was far more delicate and emotional, that really grabbed me as it was the highlight of the night.

It would have been better all-round if there had only been two sets, as the next break allowed some more people to leave, but there were still plenty left and there was a group dancing by the end of the night. This was the first date of the tour, the first time the trio had played in public, and there was no doubt there were issues with having 3 sets, but everything will tighten up as they keep playing together. Jan ended with a beck and call, and Mike Walker joined her at the piano to provide some solos while Jan kept the rhythm going, and he had real cut through energy which was a delight.

Here was a gig in an L2 environment, and everyone who was there had a great time. There was no doubt that Jan knew what the audience wanted, and the result was something which at times was almost cabaret as she gave her stories and background, but others was full on music. Although it was pointed out a few times that the new CD (and others) was available tonight, I didn’t hear Jan at any point announce what songs came from the new album, and looking at it now I am somewhat surprised to see so few titles I recognise, but that just shows she has a large catalogue and has been doing this for some time.

Boogie woogie in Pt Chev, who would have thought it?

 

About Jan Preston

Jan was born in Greymouth on the remote West Coast of the South Island of NZ. Her family had little resources or opportunity, but she grew up in an era where people would gather around the piano and sing together. From when she was very young she played piano while everybody sang along or played tea chest basses, eggbeaters, combs, violins, even an old saxophone.

Jan says "I had an Auntie who played honky tonk style, and heard Winifred Atwell along with early rock n roll on our old Columbus Radio in the kitchen."

"Playing piano from the moment I could reach the keys, and being spurred on by my older sister and brother who both played, I studied classical very seriously, becoming a star student, passing all my grades with distinction and gaining a very prestigious place (one of 4 students from the whole of NZ) to study a 5 year classical piano degree at Auckland University."

Visit the muzic.net.nz Profile for Jan Preston

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