After a few years of the John Wilson Orchestra's evening with Seth MacFarlane, it was great to see not just one, but two big band orchestras at the BBC Proms. The big venue suited the big sound, which increased dynamically to a climactic ending in an informative evening on the history of Swing Music celebrating the 80th anniversary of Swing. British presenter and vocalist Clare Teal led the evening opened by the Guy Barker Big Band and the Winston Rollins Big Band mirroring each other's set up on stage, complete with two pianos and two drum kits. The idea behind having two bands was to create a powerful sound and recreate the excitement that would have been so vibrant at the original performances. This concept worked well, as people were dancing by the end of the evening and it was almost impossible to sit still without at least tapping a knee or foot.

Guy Barker conducts the Guy Barker Big Band and Winston Rollins Big Band © BBC | Chris Christodoulou
Guy Barker conducts the Guy Barker Big Band and Winston Rollins Big Band
© BBC | Chris Christodoulou

The music was a fusion of crooning ballads, tight-knit rhythms and fast-paced brass. The programme consisted of over 20 different tracks with stories taking us from piece to piece without a timescale but with a drum that swung between one rhythm to the next and kept on going between pieces. Guy Barker on the trumpet and Winston Rollins on the trombone took turns to play and conduct. Their bands mixed together, duelled, sang and even got up and danced. Throughout the evening almost every performer seemed to get a solo, all playing to the same impressively high standard. This demonstrated that the BBC Proms wanted not only to show off classical music, but also a high level of musicianship regardless of genre. The string section joined the bands after the interval to play some more sweeping and elegant numbers and showed that, as is important in this type of musical set up, the sections worked well internally, complementing the rest of the band. The best example of showstopping musicianship and spot-on timing was White Heat, easily the fastest piece of the night.

Sometimes the mere thought of audience participation can make people squirm, but this concert was very interactive and so shouting out the call and response for Minnie the Moocher came naturally to the thousands of people in the audience creating a great atmosphere. Clapping was unrestrained for the event and quite rightly so as the solos deserved to be strongly applauded. There were some outstanding solos of the evening, including a vibraphonist who played at lightning speed and Guy Barker who wailed over the top of one of the pieces to great effect.

The solo vocalists were masters of swing, understanding the ways to embellish and hold the notes, each with a very distinct vocal style. The first time that Jamie Davis walked on stage, the audience applauded his opening phrase of Billy Eckstine's Prisoner of Love. Davis had a velvety and deep voice with a husky edge to it that rose very naturally for the higher notes of the song. It wasn't as husky as Clarke Peters, also a debut Proms artist, who ended Minnie the Moocher with a big bass note that made the audience cheer. Whilst wondering where they had been hiding these incredible singers, a modern day Billie Holiday, Elaine Delmar, walked on stage to sing a tender rendition of Lover Man. Delmar's voice was so effortless and you could hear, in the way that she coloured phrases harmonically, that she had been born into the world of jazz and swing. 

The evening ended with a medley of famous pieces bringing all of the singers on stage for a final time together. The three main soloists sang the melody in unison accompanied by the glamorous Promunades chorus of singers who had accompanied some of the other songs in the evening. Dressed in sparkles, bow ties and white jackets, their voices were bright and soft as backing vocalists, somewhat more restrained from the power of the soloists. The encore was left on a high note with a recap of Sing, Sing, Sing that had the audience standing up and singing along.