Cool, Daddy-O: Dizzy Gillespie's Bid for the US Presidency Gets Jazzed Up
Portillo, Michael, New Statesman (1996)
Vote Dizzy! An evening with His Royal Hipness Lord Buckley
Soho Theatre, London W1
"Four big hits and seven licks ago,/our before-daddies swung forth upon this sweet groovy land/a jumpin', wailin', stompin', swingin' new nation,/hip to the cool sweet groove of liberty/and solid sent upon the Ace lick dat all cats and kiddies,/red, white, or blue, is created level in front."
Thus begins Lincoln's Gettysburg Address as reinterpreted by Lord Buckley, alias Richard Myrle Buckley. He had nothing whatsoever to do with the British aristocracy, having been born to a poor family in the tiny Sierra town of Tuolumne, in gold-mining country in California. What he lacked in birth, he made up for in style, adopting a regal air and living out his invented persona day and night, on and off stage. This former lumberjack-turned-English-toff might seem an unlikely candidate to transmute into a "Hip Messiah", adopting the street language of black America. And unlike that other white master of black patois, Ali G, he did not adopt the clothing, the bling or the movements of the black street. Standing 6ft 6ins tall, he would address his audience in white tie, or sometimes a pith helmet, twiddling his long waxed moustache.
His finest achievement, for which he is fondly remembered, was the creation of "Hip Semantic" translations of Bible stories, plays by Willie the Shake (from Stratford) and other familiar passages of poetry and prose. Vote Dizzy! provides an opportunity to hear some of the hilarious pieces that have made him a cult figure--the man Bob Dylan described as "the fuel to my success", and whom Frank Sinatra called "the most sensational comic of our time".
We must thank Jake Broder (whose most recent appearance in the West End was in a supporting role in When Harry Met Sally) for this entertaining 75-minute cabaret. He brings to life not only Abe's famous battlefield address, but also Lord Buckley's versions of Jonah and the Whale, Scrooge and the "Nazz".
If you are in doubt about that last one, some of the opening lines should help. "I'm gonna put a cat on you/was the coolest, grooviest, sweetest, wailinest,/strongest, swinginest cat that ever stomped on this jumpin' green sphere./And they call this hyar cat ... the Nazz." Yes, you guessed it: Jesus Christ.
Broder is a pretty cool daddy-o himself. He seems genuinely "pleased, flipped and grooved" to be with his audience. He tells "the hippest stories in storydom" with an infectious smile. Not only can he croon into the big chrome-headed 1950s microphone with the best of them, but also, when he sits down at the piano, he swings a mean finger over the ivories and tickles up some hip jazz lick. …