AN empty microphone stand took centre stage, laryngitis having claimed vocalist Sarah Benbow. That left proceedings in the capable hands of the Keith Marshall Quartet, and it is unlikely that anyone felt short-changed.

With Marshall on keyboard, Chris Ryan on alto and tenor sax and clarinet, John Rodge on bass guitar and Dave James on drums, a programme of classics from the American Songbook saw the audience through a lively afternoon on May 14, along with the much appreciated Imperial Hotel lunch.

Kicking off with ‘Autumn Leaves’ was perhaps a comment on the day’s weather: Kurt Weill’s ‘September Song’ and Harry Warren’s ‘September in the Rain’ added to the mood. But the quartet of seasoned jazzers did their best to cheer things up with ‘Sunny’ and ‘On a Clear Day’, both titles a triumph of hope over what we could see through the windows.

The band really got into its stride with Bobby Timmons’ ‘Moanin’, first recorded in the late Fifties by Art Blakey and The Jazz Messengers and later a favourite of John Dankworth. Chris Ryan let rip on tenor sax, displaying a beautifully rich and sonorous tone, Dave James adding to the atmosphere with minimalist drum accompaniment.

Later in the set James was given a chance to put the drum kit through its paces more thoroughly, and John Rodge put in some inventive solos on bass guitar.

It was the second Jazz Lunch in succession to be robbed of its vocalist by illness, but organiser Chris Osborne is confident of having a singer on stage when the Jennifer Jones Quartet plays the Imperial on July 9. 

Before then, on June 11, five young players who met at the Royal Welsh College of Music & Drama will be shaking things up when the Haines-Davies Quintet plays swinging hard bop from the golden era of jazz.