BWW Reviews: ADELAIDE CABARET FESTIVAL 2014: THE BOSWELL PROJECT Raises the Profile of an Often Overlooked Trio of Singers
Reviewed Monday 9th June 2014
Kylie Ferreira, Louise Messenger, and Valeska Laity take us back to the 1930s to introduce us to The Boswell Sisters, who were raised in New Orleans, the three girls who created the style that was later adopted by the much more famous, Andrews Sisters. In The Boswell Project, the trio attempt to right this wrong and bring the sisters greater recognition. Martha, Connee (originally spelled Connie), and Helvetia "Vet" Boswell created not so much a style as a whole new genre.
They were classically trained as children, Martha on piano, Connee on cello, and Vet on violin and, in fact, they were still only teenagers when they began performing in public. They sang in close harmony, but they were also inventive and complex jazz harmonies. They also liked to play around with tempo changes
Louise Messenger, as Martha, Kylie Ferreira, as Connee, and Valeska Laity, as Vet, take on the very challenging task of recreating those complex harmonies and rhythmic variety. All of their hard work was worth it, as their magnificent performances drew enormous applause after every number. The production was a real eye opener for those who had never heard of this group, and this is the only trio in Australia recreating live performances, so nobody here would have heard anything other than recordings.
The Boswell Sisters moved to New York in 1930 and made records for Victor, and they also worked with some of the biggest names in jazz, including Cab Calloway, Joe Venuti, Eddie Lang, and Bunny Berrigan, as well as the Dorsey Brothers and Bing Crosby. Ella Fitzgerald cited Connee as being a major influence on her own style. In 1936 Martha and Vet retired and the Andrews Sisters, who were copying the Boswell's, were given the last few of their touring dates. Film, television, coast to coast radio networks, and their overseas performances for the troops during WWII, all contributed to the Andrews Sisters' greater exposure and fame than the Boswell Sisters ever attained. The Andrews Sisters simplified their harmonies and adopted consistent tempos, losing the complexity and interest of the Boswell Sisters.
The performance opened with Roll On Mississippi, Roll On, recorded in 1931, a rousing swing number that became a slow blues, before returning to the fast swing, demonstrating nicely what the Boswell sound was all about. That's Why Rhythm Was Born, Shout Sister Shout, Hand Me Down My Walking Cane, and a whole string of great numbers showed how these three talented sisters would take an existing tune, pull it to pieces and reassemble it again into something entirely new.
The backing arrangements were also highly effective and very well played by David McEvoy, piano, Sam Riley, bass, Ben Riley, drums, Julian Ferrera, violin and guitar, and Tom Pulford clarinet. The inclusion in the band of violin and clarinet, and occasional use of washboard instead of drums, added a lot of timbre variations.
Kylie Ferreira, Louise Messenger, and Valeska Laity have done a superb job of bringing the sounds of the Boswell Sisters to life again, and they have done a great deal of research in order to create the interesting and often humorous story that runs throughout the show.
These three excellent singers have recently been asked to New Orleans to perform and are running a Pozible campaign to try to raise the money so that they can accept the invitation. If you'd like to read more about this invitation, listen to these three ladies and, perhaps, make a contribution, you will find their Pozible campaign here.