American jazz with a Scottish accent? Well, why not? Go sample this strange but still palatable cultural fusion in the basement of the Valvona and Crolla café. In this pleasant blend of storytelling and live music, Edinburgh local Mike Maran relates the life and death of legendary jazz trumpeter Chet Baker from the perspective of Maran’s ‘constant companion’. While the show is far longer than necessary and Maran’s delivery leaves something to be desired, the music is lovely and the writing takes an interesting look at the artistic urge to self-destruct.
The music keeps the piece afloat. Jazz standards, including ‘My Funny Valentine’ and a wonderful rendition of the Louis Prima classic ‘Sing Sing Sing’, are ably provided by Colin Steele, (trumpet) and Dave Milligan (piano). Their excellent playing underscores a long monologue by Maran on the ups and downs of Baker’s career and heroin addiction. Maran has a commanding stage presence in his white suit and loud tie, but he has an unfortunate addiction to long, dramatic pauses. His drawn-out delivery put me in mind of the Warner Brothers’ cartoon rooster Foghorn T. Leghorn, only more Scottish and less Texan. Without these vast unpopulated wastelands in the middle of Maran’s sentences, the show would have all the heat and snap of a great jazz number.
Things start to drag after the big reveal: we learn just who this mysterious man in the white suit is - not Alec Guinness, but don’t you wish he was? Baker was clearly a compelling individual with a sad and captivating life, but the narrative devotes too much time to listing places he drove to and hotels where he stayed. There isn’t all that much insight into why such a brilliant man started using heroin, though. Perhaps there isn’t any way to understand.
Despite being a trifle too long, A Funny Valentine has excellent music and is a must for any jazz fans. Like a soft trumpet solo, it’s sweet, sad, and slow--although it wouldn’t hurt to pick up the pace.