Neil McKim visits the Park Plaza Hotel where Natalie Cole performs its inaugural jazz concert
It’s not many performers who can introduce songs by talking about various aunts and uncles as being ‘Auntie Ella [Fitzgerald]’ or ‘Uncle Frank [Sinatra]’ but Natalie Cole, the daughter of Nat King Cole – who has famously performed and recorded her father’s classics, as well as having a successful career of her own – is able to reel-off countless celebrity childhood influences.
She was in the UK recently for a one-off concert on a worldwide tour, and to launch a jazz venue in the newly opened Park Plaza Westminster Bridge Hotel. Looking stunning in a shimmering dress, the 60-year-old singer delivered a set of jazz-vocal classics with her seven-piece band. ‘They tell me that we’re opening this room for the first time so we want to fill it with some of the greatest music of all time…’ she said, after a riveting version of Peggy Lee’s ‘Fever’ accompanied by double bass, performed in front of over 750 candlelit diners in the hotel’s colossal Westminster Ballroom.
Her pianist Josh Nelson bought some distinctly McCoy Tyner touches to ‘My Favourite Things’, and Cole showed she could scat-sing like the best of them in her father’s Trio classic ‘Route 66’. In fact, it’s fair to say that she pretty much made every syllable swing.
A highlight among her father’s many hits was 1954’s ‘Smile’ – ‘This song was given to my dad by the late, great Charlie Chaplin’ – and, of course ‘Unforgettable’ which she movingly performed in duet with her father’s recorded voice, while footage of him was projected on large screens.
Cole’s ’80s pop hits were understandably less prominent in the programme but her band lended itself perfectly to her own ’70s gospel-tinged classic ‘This Will Be (Everlasting Love)’. She had one of the longest off-stage encore gaps I’ve seen, which helped raise the anticipation and got everyone up on their feet – it was ‘nice to see’ Bruce Forsyth among them.
The Park Plaza Westminster Bridge Hotel has risen from the ashes of a former monstrosity, which many Londoners will remember as the concrete County Hall annexe on the roundabout just over Westminster Bridge – voted one of the ugliest buildings in the UK before it was demolished in 2006.
In contrast, the state-of-the art hotel built in its place and its lavish 1,200m-squared Westminster Ballroom is aiming to become a mark on the capital’s jazz calendar. It’s doing this with a series of events called 'LIVE from the Plaza' – which will include jazz-themed music programme and dining.
Neil McKim is production editor of BBC Music Magazine