Friday, 12 December 2014

Mike Westbrook - Celebration

In musical terms 1967 is a year now perhaps best remembered for The Beatles Sgt Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band, an album which undoubtedly
changed popular music forever. But at the same time as John, Paul, George, and Ringo were putting that masterpiece together at the Abbey
Road Studios, another group of similarly aged young men were in the Decca Studios in West London doing precisely the same for modern British jazz.

Mike Westbrook's Concert Band was an outfit that had been formed in 1966, and one that had already made a name for itself on the UK jazz
scene as a band with power, inventiveness, and a handful of soloists,especially John Surman, Mike Osborne, and Malcolm Griffiths, who were changing the very concept of the jazz solo with performances that left the listener as breathless as the musician. It was heady stuff that even
now, some 40 years after the release of Celebration - which the Westbrook band recorded on two sweltering summer days in 1967 - sounds as fresh and even more exciting than the first time I heard it.

Tuesday, 17 July 2012

A Biography of Sidney Bechet

The list of books about jazz and jazz musicians, and by jazz musicians, grows and grows, but amongst them only a few really stand out, most notably Ian Carr's Miles Davis, Artie Shaw's autobiography The Trouble with Cinderella, and Sidney Bechet's superb 1960 autobiography Treat it Gentle, recorded on tape by Joan Williams and Desmond Flower.

There can be no doubt that Bechet helped shape the music of the 20th century (and the 21st), but ( like the best writers of the 20th century, such as Hemingway, Steinbeck, Miller, Lawrence) he also helped shape  how we feel about the 20th century, how we feel about life and about the past.

In other words Bechet's sound on the clarinet and the soprano sax is always stripped down, yet hallmarked by his incredible vibrato, which leaves little or no trace of period, which means that, like Arthur Miller's dialogue,Bechet's sound is always modern (and I don't mean in the 'Modern Jazz' sense, but in the sense of the wider modernist movement), always striving for something close to perfection.

A Life of Jelly Roll Morton

One of the most influential jazz pianists, composers and band-leaders of the first third of the 20th century was undoubtedly Ferdinand Joseph, 'Jelly Roll' Morton ( the original French family name was Le Menth, which means mint or candy and rather suits this flamboyant man) was born in New Orleans in 1885 and was, in 1902 aged 17, already playing piano in the whorehouses of the infamous Storyville district, and playing with
such a style and in-built swing that he was attracting more paying customers than the whores.

Duke Ellington Live at Newport & Blues in Orbit

To see the Ellington Orchestra live was a very moving and wholly
theatrical experience, with each musician a player with his own
script, and his own entrances and exits. Unless you were lucky enough to
have seen Ellington in concert, and I was, all that remains are the
recordings, with two that I believe give some idea of the man, and the musicians
who played for him in the 1950s.

At the start of that decade Duke Ellington and his Orchestra still
topped the Metronome Jazz Poll; in fact they even topped the Popular
Music Poll. But by 1956, with Elvis Presley taking the world by storm,
Ellington's career seemed to be on the slide, that is until that year's
Newport Jazz Festival, which by then was only a couple of years old but
already seemed to be on its last legs, due to a lack of interest by the
public, and the inability to attract what few jazz stars there were.

Monday, 2 July 2012

Our Kind of Jazz - The Ted Heath Orchestra

Back in 1958 Decca released Our Kind Of Jazz by the Ted Heath Orchestra - plus guests - which sounds as fresh today as the day the tracks were recorded at the old Decca studios in Broadhurst Gardens, West Hampstead, reminding us what a superb outfit the Heath orchestra was. You only have to look at the personnel of the band to realise it's a Who's Who of British Jazz of the 1950s.

On saxes alone we have guests Don Rendell, the much lamented Ronnie Scott - who was, along with Rendell, an inspiration to a whole generation of British tenor players, not least Tubby Hayes, who, with Scott created the now legendary Jazz Couriers, and once had the delight and honour of playing in the Ellington band when Paul Gonzalves was ill. The rest of the sax section includes the unforgettable Tommy Whittle, who for a while was the musical director at the Dorchester Hotel in London. He also played in the Dankworth orchestra for years. Just listen to these three tenor players - plus Red Price - kick off side one of the record with Ronnie Roullier's Four Fours to hear sax section playing at its most accomplished - you simply don't want it to stop! The section is completed by regular Heath sidemen Ken Kiddier, Henry Mackenzie, and Ronnie Chamberlain, whose soprano sax playing must have inspired the young John Surman on to great things.

Friday, 29 June 2012

John Dankworth's What The Dickens!

John Dankworth was born in London in 1927, and by the time
he was ten wanted to play the clarinet like his hero Benny Goodman.
But soon after entering the Royal Academy of Music, in 1944,
and hearing a recording by Charlie Parker, took up the alto saxophone
as well as the clarinet.

Wednesday, 27 June 2012

Jess Stacy at Carnegie Hall, 1938

Photo: PuroJazz

On a cold and wet Sunday night in January 1938 the Benny Goodman
Orchestra - and a few very illustrious guests such as Count Basie,
Lester Young and Buck Clayton - played Carnegie Hall in New York, the
first jazz orchestra ever to do so. They changed forever the way jazz
was perceived, and one man, the pianist Jess Stacy, changed forever the
way jazz piano was perceived.

Tuesday, 26 June 2012

Tubby Hayes - Down in the Village

Jazz of the 20th century is as much about recordings as it is about musicians, and when a particular musician, or group of musicians, record something exceptional that recording instantly becomes a bench mark of excellence, and an inspiration for future musicians ( think of Miles Davis’s Kind of Blue for instance) and something of a friend and companion for the jazz fan. I’ve had one such friend for nearly fifty years.

Back in the early 1960s there was an arts magazine called The Scene which, in their first issue, had a feature on the British saxophonist and vibes player Edward Brian ‘Tubby’ Hayes explaining that this 28 year old jazz musician was going to conquer the world, and that we should all buy his latest (his first I think) LP, called Down In The Village because those privileged few (Steve Race had been one of the few and couldn’t stop talking about the forthcoming LP on his BBC Light Programme show) who had been lucky enough to witness the recording session at the Ronnie Scott Club in London’s Soho said it was exceptional and a bench mark of excellence. They were right.