Out on the street the truck with the German number plates was opening up. The roadies were springing into action. “Is there a jam inside?” someone asked the young woman with the nose ring standing by the lorry’s steel doors.

It had been a different scene entirely in the basement club earlier. Pizza Express, founded by Peter Boizot in 1965, has been putting on a raft of special music events this year to celebrate the 50-year anniversary. On this latest occasion it was the turn of the glamorous US pop-jazz singer/songwriter Melody Gardot with her kicking band wrapping up a European concert tour. The main surprise here was the fact that Gardot was playing a club at all. In heels, dressed in black, sunnies even in the gloom of the darkness when the lights cut out at one atmospheric point, guitar strapped on as she and the band tore into ‘Same To You’ from fine new album Currency of Man followed by edgy streetwalker anthem ‘She Don’t Know’ to kick things off.

She was backed by the paddling glissy keys/organ of Devin Greenwood plus three horns swinging side to side as they signalled their presence: Irwin Hall on tenor saxophone, later doing a Roland Kirk and putting his alto sax in his mouth at the same time as the tenor; James Casey on baritone sax; and the diminutive figure of lively trumpeter Shareef Clayton picking up a cup mute for a more New Orleans trad-type passage; with, on bass guitar or alternating double bass, Edwin Livingston; and rounding out the band the resolute lead guitar of Mitchell Long scoring especially later on bottleneck and, finally, the riotous drums of Chuck Staab the co-writer with Gardot of ‘Preacherman’ on the new album, a song that also made it on to the set list.

The stage crew had earlier taken the house Steinway out and replaced the piano with a tuned down-low upright (432hz instead of concert pitch A440) from the innards of that slumbering truck parked up on Dean Street. Gardot began the sole set playing a red electric guitar but later would sit down to tinkle the keys of the brought-in piano, certainly living up to the introduction that Pizza music manager Ross Dines made complimenting the audience on their gaining a “golden ticket.” The place was packed, intrepid punters had stumped up £65 each. Even at that price they’d got lucky. Gardot called for vodka after a while (might as well join you, chatting to the audience, her thinking was out loud). Singing towards the end directly to a couple in love, gig-goers Karen and Gareth sitting in the front row, as she asked them their names, the place came alive with ‘Baby I’m a Fool’ a Gardot signature song that would melt the hardest heart, epic in its tenderness and intimacy.

Stephen Graham
Melody Gardot, top. Photo: Roger Thomas