Woody's crew fail old grey whistle test

First Night Woody Allen and his New Orleans jazzband Royal Festival Hall, London
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The Independent Online
Let's be honest. The 3,000 capacity audience was secretly hoping for some new jazz improvisations: Psychotherapy in E; a sunny day in the custody court; the manic depressive, acute paranoia, happy are you kidding me blues.

What otherwise was the point of paying pounds 25 to see a self-acknowledged "amateur" play clarinet alongside a solid New York professional jazz combo, who despite their pedigree would not have filled the RFH without their balding bespectacled clarinetist.

Woody Allen and the band famously play every Monday night in Michael's Pub in New York, and this was the first time the septet has visited England.

They came on stage, and four sat in a row on the front of the stage and three sat directly behind. One felt that Allen, world famous film director, might have choreographed the grouping a little more imaginatively, but no matter.

There was thunderous applause when he appeared in his familiar old green jumper, slacks and bewildered expression. Whether this was thunderous applause for Allen, amateur clarinet player, or Allen cinematic chronicler of mid-life neurosis, was unclear. Or perhaps it was very clear.

The band, or orchestra as he inflatedly introduced it, played a non-stop series of standards such as "I Shall Not Be Moved" and "Easter Parade" very competently but with no great verve or surprise.

A lengthy duet between Allen on clarinet and Eddie Davis on banjo and possessor of an interestingly touching vocal, fared better. Sadly, Allen's promise at the start to speak to us from time to time turned out to be only an excuse to introduce members of the band.

All in all one couldn't help but wonder what this band and a 3,000-strong audience was doing at Britain's premier concert venue? Apart from closing our eyes and imagining we were at Michael's Pub in New York spying a famous film director at play, there was no real answer. The pulling power of fame remains strong, even when it is fame in an altogether different art- form.

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