Kitty La Roar with Nick Shankland + Benet McLean, Oct. 8, 2015: Shows I’ll Never Forget

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Scarfe’s Bar, Rosewood Hotel in London: Kitty La Roar and Nick Shankland are making quite a name for themselves. They play regularly here, as well as other London clubs. They have also joined the Orient Express as the resident jazz band, and have played in Singapore, New York and festivals in the U.K., as well. I have seen them live three times before, and this was the first gig I had been to for about a year.

How things have changed. Even a year back, Kitty’s voice was melodious, strong and a wonderful instrument but now she has an even greater depth, a unique style and makes even familiar standards her own. Her upper range is beautiful, too. There is a new daring way to how she sings. Put this together with the very talented Nick Shankland on piano and bass box, and you have the makings of a relaxed, fun evening of jazz entertainment. Add to this mix a musician whose piano playing has been likened to that of Art Tatum, and it was always going to be special.

However, this evening Benet McLean was playing not piano but the instrument on which he began – the violin. After the gig, Benet told me he had always loved the violin but was nervous about playing it in concerts. Benet McLean is classically trained but whilst training, he became interested as jazz, bebop and Hip-hop. He has played with Yehudi Menuhin, Jean Toussant, Philip Bent, Orphy Robinson, Loose Tubes and Don Lusher to name just a very few but still, he was worried about playing jazz with Kitty La Roar and Nick Shankland.

He need not have worried. Together, this trio gave the audience something very special, indeed. Cole Porter’s “C’est Magnifique” was treated with respect and delivered with beautiful singing over which the violin added soft trills and sweeps, introducing texture and patterns to the music. There was a great scat section from Kitty, and a very sexy French lilt. The song evolved into a swinging section with all three musicians adding their parts – great fun and the violin interspersed gorgeous, sonorous echoes of the melody over the top.

Next up was “Nemo,” an original song penned by Shankland having its live premiere. It is fun, infectious and was delivered with devilish delight by the players, yet slows down for a soft central section of quieter piano and ascending violin riffs. Exquisite. Yves Montand’s “Autumn Leaves,” covered by so many singers was again delivered in a style all their own, followed by “With Plenty of Money and You” and Jules Styne’s “Diamonds Are A Girl’s Best Friend” sung with appropriate flirty, husky tones by Kitty La Roar, supported by the ever rhythmic piano and soaring violin. Kitty, in her own inimitable style, simply owned that song.

The combination was almost perfect. La Roar’s voice is sumptuous, sultry and clear, Shankland’s piano playing verges at times on the manic but is always pitched just right for the song – and the choice of McLean on violin was genius. The communication between the musicians was palpable, and it was extraordinary how each seemed to take a line and extend it, one after the other, though no rehearsal had apparently taken place. Nick Shankland’s hands move so fast and the notes entwine, it is easy to forget his left hand is often out of sight, working the bass box so most of his work is right handed.

The performance had a depth, textures and colours which engaged the ears and the grins, delivery and sheer delight with which each song is delivered, engages the other senses. Kitty La Roar’s voice gets better every time I hear it, and Shankland is superb when supporting on piano, and can also deliver a stomping solo at times. Meanwhile, the violin was so in tune with what was needed, it filled the gaps and extended the melodies in just the right way.

A great gig, three great musicians in a great setting and just simply, great jazz music.

Sammy Stein

Sammy Stein

The Something Else! webzine, an accredited Google News affiliate, has been featured in The New York Times and's A Blog Supreme, while our writers have also been published by USA Today, and, among others. Contact Something Else! at
Sammy Stein

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