Thirty-one years ago, Brisbane-born singer Alison Jiear, who studied at the Queensland Conservatorium of Music, headed for London with The Fabulous Singlettes to perform in the West End. She has lived in London ever since, where her numerous credits include Jerry Springer: The Opera at the National Theatre (as well as the Sydney Opera House), and On the Town for English National Opera.
Alison Jiear and jazz quartet at the Sydney Cabaret Festival. Photograph © John McRae
Jiear is back in Australia to appear at the Sydney Cabaret Festival with A Centenary Celebration of Ella Fitzgerald, created in 2017; a beguiling show which proves that not only is Jiear a versatile musical theatre performer, she is a stunning jazz vocalist too.
Appearing with a jazz quartet led by Musical Director Kevin Hunt, Jiear began the evening with How High the Moon and Forget Your Troubles, showing from the get-go that she has what it takes to honour the “First Lady of Song”, revealing a similar mix of pure, shining, melodic tone, ineffable phrasing, an intimate connection with the lyric, and an ability to scat with the best.
From there she performed a wonderful mix of cherished standards associated with Ella Fitzgerald such as I Only Have Eyes For You, A Tisket a Tasket, Lady Be Good, That Ol’ Black Magic, and Misty (the latter performed with guitarist Mark Johns). A mellow medley of Embraceable You and Someone to Watch Over Me was a swoon-making highlight, which she followed with the more up-tempo Start All Over Again. And for those of us who didn’t know that Ella had sung a jazz version of Old MacDonald, the number was a fun surprise.
Alison Jiear. Photograph © John McRae
Along the way, Jiear tells us some of Fitzgerald’s background (from her tough upbringing to landmark moments of her career). She also pinpoints a few of the surprising connections between the two of them such as recording vocal tracks for commercials. Jiear’s patter flows as effortlessly as her vocals, and is laced with well-pitched, flirty humour.
She also includes a few “Ali” moments singing Sara Bareilles’s Gravity, and an impressive, ad hoc a capella version of audience requests that ranged from Jolene to You Don’t Own Me. She ends with an emotional declaration of love for her homeland, culminating in Peter Allen’s I Still Call Australia Home. Running 90 minutes, it’s a gorgeous show from top to toe.
Hats off too to Artistic Director Trevor Ashley and his team for their pimping of the décor at the Seymour Centre, where the purple carpets and curtains, and glinting chandeliers in the foyers and venues create the perfect cabaret festival vibe.
Alison Jiear has one more performance tonight at the Seymour Centre at 8.30pm