By Theodora Galanis
Australian singer-songwriter, composer, and trumpetist, Roscoe James Irwin presents a melancholy tribute to jazz icon, Chet Baker, in his show titled Lost in a Dream.
Irwin immediately jumps into the first song, accompanied by an all-Adelaide band with Dave Goodwin on piano, Tim Bowen on bass, Ben Riley on drums, and Julian Ferraretto leading the nine-piece string section.
Like Baker, Irwin’s voice is soft, understated, and feminine. The band’s depth of sound encompasses Irwin’s voice – and at times, dominates it.
However, Irwin reclaims his centre-stage presence when he plays the trumpet. Fluid and effortless, he expertly captures the essence of West Coast cool jazz.
As the audience applauds the first song, Irwin wastes little time setting the scene for his show. He asks that we imagine a sun-soaked 1950s Los Angeles: a dreamy town with a cool sound, far from the grimy hustle of the East Coast bebop rhythms.
I sit picturing hazy pastel colours and old-fashioned cars. Looking at Irwin on stage, he appears to fit right into the idyllic setting he has just created. Sporting a slick side part, he wears a tight short-sleeved printed shirt – there is an uncanny resemblance between Irwin and Baker.
In between songs, Irwin continues to narrate the life of Baker, making it clear that he does not want to glamourize or gloss over parts of the musician’s tragic life.
Irwin was first introduced to Baker by his uncle, a fellow trumpetist. From childhood, Irwin has always adored Baker’s unique sound, citing the ‘James Dean of Jazz’ as his musical inspiration. Irwin naturally connects to the softer style of performance in both his voice and trumpet playing, as compared to the gutsier sounds of Louis Armstrong or a young Miles Davis.
The cool jazz genre is one which suits meticulous composition as opposed to improvisation, making a perfect pairing to Irwin’s skill as an arranger. Irwin has composed the music for Lost in a Dream, offering a fresh take on Baker’s iconic repertoire. In this way, Irwin is able to showcase his flair and personality within the familiar melodies.
Julian Ferraretto impresses with some of the best violin jazz solos I have heard, adding intrigue and surprise to songs like “Always You”, “I Fall in love Too Easily” and “My Heart Stood Still”.
Guest vocalist, Jazmine Vanua, dazzles the audience with her soulful voice in Ella Fitzgerald’s “You’re Driving Me Crazy”. With power and grace, she belts the fast-paced tune and invigorates the band with a new energy. There is an audible gasp from the audience as Irwin announces that the local singer is only fifteen years old. In this track, Ben Riley shines on the drums, seamlessly transitioning through the complex rhythm changes.
Lost in a Dream is an elegant and nuanced tribute to the revered Chet Baker. Irwin honours Baker’s musical genius and respectfully sheds light on a tragic life of abuse and addiction. Fans of Baker will be thrilled with renditions of “My Funny Valentine” and “She Was Too Good to Me”, while fans of Irwin will be joyfully surprised by his cool jazz persona. If only there was an encore!
All opinions and thoughts expressed within reviews on Theatre Travels are those of the writer and not of the company at large.