London Evening Standard
Jack Massarik, March 10, 2014
From the first brisk bars of I Found a New Baby, she had the crowded room in the palm of her remarkably deft hands
The best possible choice to launch this cabaret venue's new season of after-hours jazz was undoubtedly Judy Carmichael. A slim Californian with a bubbly blonde perm and dazzling smile, she is the undisputed queen of stride piano, a two-fisted art born at about the same time as this beautiful room.
Just off Piccadilly Circus and originally part of the Regent Palace Hotel, it’s a circular subterranean space inlaid with mirrors and stainless steel, an Art Deco ambience that recalls the days when Duke Ellington and Fats Waller steamed across the Atlantic to entertain London’s pre-war glitterati.
In those days jazz fans liked to recognise the tune the band was playing and happily Judy still does. From the first brisk bars of I Found a New Baby, she had the crowded room in the palm of her remarkably deft hands.
While the right handled the melody line and solos, the left played walking bass on beats one and three and chordal backbeats on two and four. A one-woman band, in other words, whose apparently effortless to-and-fro transit of the left forearm was poetry in motion.
Judy also sang a few numbers by Fats Waller, Benny Goodman and Cole Porter and could obviously work alone but guitarist Martin Wheatley added bite to I Got Rhythm, You’re Driving Me Crazy and Love is Just Around the Corner, songs almost exactly as old as his vintage 1936 Gibson acoustic.
“I can’t believe how warm it is here,” quipped Judy at the end of her second set.
“I’ll be in New York and Chicago next week and I’ll be telling them that I took a sunshine break in London.”