Ronnie Scott’s: it’s not the first venue you associate with performances by American comedy legends, but Sandra Bernhard’s not your average American comedy legend and this was far from the average twenty-first century stand-up gig. The style and structure of the performance harked back to the jazz and cabaret clubs where music and comedy took equal billing across the night and often across individual performances; the band stayed on stage throughout the comedian’s set and often helped out with improvisations. This was how Lenny Bruce delivered his routines.

The stage line-up for “Sandemonium” is Sandra plus piano, drums and guitar; her act has developed over the decades from purely stand-up to a combination of songs, observations of everyday New York behaviour, politics (almost inevitably), showbiz stories, family stories and some stream of consciousness, Lenny Bruce-style riffing and spritzing. And that’s before you get to the impressions, which are seamlessly stitched in to the tapestry of the performance, not as stand-alone routines but as a way of smoothly moving the narrative along. Here’s an example.

The show opened with the usual introductions, Sandra talking about the greats who performed on the Ronnie Scott’s stage, segued effortlessly into a Nina Simone in Paris story that evoked the subject perfectly. And another; a routine about talking the subway to work on her “Sandyland” radio show led into a powerful interpretation of Tom Waits’ “Downtown Train”. The framework of the set was tightly constructed but gave the impression of total spontaneity; that’s the work of an artist with a genuine gift and a commitment to hard work. The songs, you ask? Well, it was an eclectic mix that included “Little Red Corvette” and a Pachelbel’s Canon mash-up featuring “Let it Be” and “Take on Me” among others.

This particular show was the third over two nights as part of a short visit combining the gigs and a hectic promotional schedule. Even starting at 11:15, Sandra Bernhard gave her adoring audience a full-on, inspirational performance and was willing to spend time after the gig with every fan who wanted an autograph, a selfie or just to say hello. I’m converted.

Meanwhile“Meanwhile” -- Part Time Heroes

Whilst this is completely new to me and probably the best album I’ve heard in 2014, it actually got released back in 2008 but pretty much passed everyone by. I first heard the track “Shadowlands” on Jamie Cullum’s Jazz show that airs on Radio 2; my ears pricked up immediately and I instantly sought out the album, which is a gem, not a duff track on it. They use various vocalists and it certainly has a contemporary jazzy feel to it but I also hear echoes of Terry Callier and lots of other stuff going on. It’s destined to be one of those lost classics, certainly worth investigating for sure.

Carleen_AndersonCarleen Anderson at Ronnie Scott’s

I didn’t get to as many gigs as I would have liked to this year due to Stone Foundation’s hectic schedule throughout 2014. The one that really stood out head & shoulders above everything else I saw this year was Carleen Anderson’s performance at Ronnie Scott’s at the start of the year. She is (still) such an underrated talent with an exceptional vocal range, obviously we (Stone foundation) were very fortunate to have Carleen grace our last album where she contributed an amazing vocal to one of our songs called “When You’re in My World“. She is an amazing songwriter and arranger too; her new material is just outstanding, as good as anything she has ever written and I really hope it sees the light of day sometime soon. It was an inspiring evening and one that will stay with me.

Eminent Hipsters“Eminent Hipsters” -- Donald Fagen

I’ve been reading a lot this year, much more so than usual, I have no idea why, perhaps I have been looking for inspiration to kick start my own scribblings again; I’m 12 chapters in to my first book but kind of stalled once again really due to other commitments but I hope to pick up the trail again come the new year and get it finished. This book by Steely Dan main man Donald Fagen was a real treat, his words danced from the pages. It covers all the cool hipster characters that influenced his own inevitable style, it also covers his late college years in New York where he first met Walter Becker his co-founder and musical partner in Steely Dan. It’s a very funny book too, especially in the latter chapters when documenting his time on tour recently with Boz Scaggs & Michael Mcdonald. It brings to life the up’s and down of the anxieties and indignities of life on the road in the most brilliantly humorous way.

Ana_MatronicRadio DJs

This year I rediscovered the joys of the radio. A couple of programmes in particular really inspired me. Ana Matronic’s Disco show that aired on Friday nights for six weeks on Radio 2 was a real winner; she didn’t so much play obvious disco musak in the sense of the naff, cliched sound you would imagine but focussed on the real grooves of that period such as the influential Salsoul sound and some of the orchestral arrangements that people like Barry White popularized with Love Unlimited and also the wonderful world of Gamble & Huff and that whole Philly thing. It introduced me to a lot of new stuff that I hadn’t heard previously like Francine McGee’s “Delirium”; I also ended up buying the whole works, a box set of Philly stuff. Don Letts’ show on 6 Music has also turned me on to a lot of new music too; only last night I heard something by Jaga Jazzist called “Made for Radio” that had my attention from the off. I think it’s great to know that there is still some really thoughtful radio still being aired and made; long may it continue. It’s how I first got inspired, by listening to Peel on a transistor in my bedroom when I should have been doing my homework; I guess in many ways I was………

No Deal“Space is the Place” -- Yusef Lateef / Melanie De Biasio “No Deal”

I’ve been gravitating towards a more jazzy sound over the past couple of years. I’ve kind of not lost interest but put Guitar / Rock music on the back burner for a while; it’s not what I want to inform me when it comes to my own writing at the moment. I’m more pre occupied with space in arrangements; this Yusef Lateef track kind of personifies that mind set. I’ve heard a lot of great new music too this year but mainly in a pop vein like the Jessie Ware album & that Jungle single “Busy Earnin'” which I really liked. Also one of my favourite new albums and discoveries of this year has been the Melanie De Biasio album “No Deal…”; she is a classically trained flautist from Belgium who has a tremendous voice too. It’s a great record and one that also exemplifies my love of space in the music. It’s not in a hurry to impress; it creeps up on you. In saying all of this I must admit that I was impressed with Ryan Adams’ spectacular return to form on his last (self-titled) LP; the production and sound of it is incredible. It sounds like “Rumours” which is a tough task to pull off.