How does one categorise Earl Okin? It’s a hard task, perhaps impossible. He is a performer and entertainer, a singer and instrumentalist, a songwriter, a satirist, a philosopher, a political commentator, a comedian, a fount of knowledge, a raconteur and quipster, a thought-provoker and perhaps the last wearer of spats in the country.
After eighteen months away from the performing platform, because of the ban on live concerts, Earl Okin returned to the Rye Jazz and Blues Festival last Saturday, August 28 and delighted a packed Brewery Yard Club in Rye with a magical programme of songs linked by a commentary of dead-pan and self-deprecatory brilliance. He ensured that all of us had, for future use, an appropriate description of the A21 (the ‘Battle of Hastings’) and remade My Way for all pianists (“I want a Steinway”).
He altered our perceptions of “one for my baby and one more for the road” by singing it from the barman’s point of view and in the barman’s voice and he reminded us of the genius of Hoagy Carmichael and Duke Ellington and that of ragtime great Scott Joplin. Many of Earl Okin’s song performances are greatly enhanced by his skill with accents and especially by his ability to become a jazz trumpet of beguiling charm and sweetness.
As always, an Okin set not only entertains to the full but also informs to the utmost: who knew that bossa nova means ‘new twist’ or ‘new way’, or that the expression ‘stride’ piano came from the left hand of such as James P. Johnson ‘striding’ across the keyboard? Was anyone aware of the true subject of The Girl from Ipanema? I didn’t and wasn’t and I guess that, of the enthralled audience, very few were any more informed.
One of the features to me of Earl Okin’s performances is his sincerity; he truly loves the music he plays and thinks of music as one of the real joys of life, even when the music and songs are sad, perhaps especially then. It’s a hard task, perhaps impossible, to categorise Earl Okin but really there is no need because he is unique.
Image Credits: Nick Forman .