Lucy Dixon is not an artist to stand still – neither artistically nor physically. Her work has moved from performing in musical theatre to French gypsy jazz, tap dancing, improvised percussion and much else.
Having trained from childhood as a dancer in several styles, including ballet, tap, contemporary dance, she also had a love of music, inspired in no small part by her mother, who is herself a very good singer and sings in a choir to this day.
These interests led to the 19 year old Dixon to move to Paris to work as a showgirl for a year with the renowned Lido. Here she experienced the independence, glamour and special energy of Paris, which still excites her, but realised she also wanted to return to the UK to work in the West End musicals scene. She was fortunate enough to be cast in Follies, Cats and Cabaret, amongst others, and in time joined the international tour of Stomp.
She describes Stomp as “a great school of rhythm and all about percussion”. The lengthy and demanding tour did eventually begin to pall after 5 years, and when they were in Paris decided she wanted to stay.
She was by now writing her own heartfelt jazz compositions in the dressing room, and was able to meet some extraordinary musicians, one of whom was Sébastian Gastine with his far-ranging tastes and interests including gypsy jazz, swing, electric bass and funk. She still works with him, his brother David and fellow guitarist Vincent Simonelli.
As a result, her own music has developed into much more of a swing jazz, with a strong influence of manouche (gypsy) style, resonating with its historical connection to Paris.
I asked her what inspired her to include tap dancing in her show.
“Manouche jazz does not have drums, only guitarists. Having experienced a surfeit of drumming in Stomp, I find it liberating to produce the percussion by other means, and manouche gives me the space to do that. Also, I find dancing helps me connect with the other musicians in an exchange of ideas, rather than just waiting for their solos to finish. I am a singer who is very physically inspired, and don’t like to stand still for too long. I like to express myself physically as well.”
Her latest album and show Lulu’s Back in Town pays homage to the inspirational artists of the 30’s and 40’s.
“I am a great Fred Astaire fan, who was also a great drummer by the way, and love that whole 30’s era – the style, art-deco, the clothes – and the songs were so beautifully written. It was a real craft back then, a proper job”.
Forming what she describes as ‘a musical collage’ with modern influences of R &B and hip-hop, she channels all these elements into the show ensuring it is not an imitation of the era, but a continual extemporization on the theme, as she thinks of a hip-hop way of phrasing or moving a classic songbook song.
She loves to improvise and never fixes her tap dancing or any aspect of her performance. “I love that danger on stage”, she says. “It’s what jazz musicians do”
Lucy Dixon will appear in Crazy Coqs at Live at Zedel on Thursday 24th August at 9:15 pm.
I have seen countless shows at Crazy Coqs since it opened in 2012, and although this one is very different from anything else I have seen there, it is entirely appropriate for the venue.
Jeremy King’s vision for the place was that it should feature American Songbook, but should also resonate with old-style Parisian cabaret, and the wonderful clock above the bar featuring the two cockerels inspired the name for the venue, Crazy Coqs, in honour of the Parisian club Crazy Horse.
Lucy Dixon’s cocktail of classic jazz songs from the golden era of American songbook, coupled with the excellent French manouche band, comprising of Sebastien Gastine on double base and David Gastine and Julien Cattiaux on guitar, fuses the two worlds perfectly.
An added point of serendipity is that her leading architect father Jeremy Dixon designed the interior of the Brasserie Zédel building! It was particularly satisfying to see him in the audience supporting his daughter in the space he had such a hand in creating.
Opening with Shall We Dance?, Lucy showed us her intentions for the show, including of course her tap-dancing, from the start, and the audience responded with warmth immediately.
There is a good balance of upbeat and calmer, more introspective material, and although Lucy is not one for much banter or direct audience address, she does tell a story through song, most particularly in the more reflective numbers.
She keeps the surprises coming with spontaneous ‘drumming’ with brushes on the famous red and white curtains behind her and on the metal Crazy Coqs sign in Bye Bye Blackbird. I particularly loved her graceful and expressive hand and arm gestures in this number. She also produces from her hatbox unexpected instruments to create rhythm, ranging from a metal teapot to a plastic carrier bag.
Of the many standout numbers, my particular favourites were her solo accapella rendition of Gypsy in my Soul leading into an exciting Get Happy with the band joining in, a beautiful use of breathy vocal tones in C’est le Printemps, the show’s title song Lulu’s Back in Town and her rousing closing number Undecided.
It is hoped that Lucy and her gypsy jazz band will henceforth appear in the UK more frequently, including possibly on my own show Fiona-Jane and West End Friends. Let’s hope that works out – you would be in for a treat!