Review: Poles Together at Jazz Cafe Posk

In Ravenscourt Park, that no man's land between Hammersmith and Chiswick, sits a low-rise, austere grey-and-white building from the early 1970's, POSK, the Polish Cultural Centre. It takes its role in the community with intense but justifiable seriousness: the first sight which greets you on entering the building is a board covered with A4-size Metropolitan Police posters for missing persons and unsolved murders.

But on Fridays and Saturdays its split-level basement cavern is home to a very welcoming jazz club, Jazz Café Posk. Posters from long-forgotten Polish jazz festivals cover the walls. A shiny disco ball suspended from the bright red ceiling suggests steamier evenings. The jazz club is, proudly, about to celebrate its second anniversary under the friendly guidance of Marek Greliak.

Greliak, a theatre designer by training, has lived in the UK for about thirty years. And he loves jazz. Unfortunately for him, he never actually gets to see the bands properly. "Someone has to take the money," he shrugs. His musical background? "A bad drummer." Why does he promote jazz? "I admire the musicians. Jazz is just great. It's always fresh."

The admission price, £5, is modest. Greliak succeeds in one aim, which is to give London's hard-working Polish community a good cheap night out. And Polish people who know a thing or two about extreme winters, were certainly not going to be put off this Saturday by what Londoners would think of as a bitterly cold evening.

A good vantage point to watch the band is the short, wide flight of stairs between the lower level, where the bands play, and the higher level with its well-stocked and friendly bar. Young people of both sexes happily and attractively drape themselves over these stairs, drink in hand.

Greliak's best night since he started? "No question. The first anniversary, with guitarist Jarek Smietana". Smietana filled the 200-capacity room to bursting. "We had to turn 50 people away."

Greliak is looking forward to inviting Smietana back for the second anniversary in March. He has a great band booked to play with Smietana - no names yet. Greliak also suggests- with a twinkle in his eye- that there will be some VERY special guests.

The gig I heard was by a band new to me, Paragon. An Anglo-German band formed by Peter Ehwald and Arthur Lea in 2003, the year when they were both students on the jazz course at the Royal Academy of Music. Ehwald had taken an elective year to study with Julian Arguelles.

It was joyous and heartening to discover that Ehwald had been utterly insistent on being able to study with Arguelles, whose originality and strong voice is one of the very best, but also one of the best-kept secrets of jazz in Britain. Arguelles' playing had somehow left a strong impression on the ears and on the ambitions of Ehwald as a young and aspiring young music student in Cologne. If only miracles like this could happen more often for British jazz musicians.

Ehwald is now based in Berlin, two of the others in London, and one in Brooklyn, but Paragon's four members somehow do the mileage to get together , and to continue Paragon as what Ehwald calls "a proper working band". The group plays highly complex original material. But Paragon seem to have these tunes thoroughly lodged in their memory and under their fingers. Only one music stand was in evidence, and I never saw any of the players' eyes drifting down to it for reassurance. Ehwald has a prodigious saxophone technique and a fine ear, particularly in his frequent excursions into altissimo, but his most natural voice seemed to me to emerge in the more thoughtful and expressive moments.

The band's compositions are by Ehwald and Lea. There's an interesting attraction of opposites here. Whereas Lea is inspired to to put pen to stave by, for example, the birth of a niece, Ehwald's compositions originate from , say, anger at the extortionate rental contract on a flat in Cologne in "Never Rent a Flat," and a short-lived crisis about the decision whether to devote his career to music.

Pianist Lea also plays beautiful, lyrical tenor horn. For me, his and Ehwald's unrushed, uncluttered and highly melodic duetting on "Mixed Mode" was a highlight of the gig.

Matthias Novak on bass and John Scott on drums played strongly. Reactions were generally so intuitive and quick that the band seemed to be able move convincingly, and with one collective mind into each new feel.

An enjoyable evening with a sizeable but very supportive audience of real listeners. And for me the first-time discovery of a venue close to where I live, which I will definitely be recommending again.


Better news on Brecon?

The BBC Wales Website is suggesting there will be some good news next week.

Sregnif Dessorc.


Three up for a Grammy on Sunday Feb 8th

An Australian ,in the run-up to the Beijing Olympics, said that we Brits are only capable of winning medals in sports which we can play sitting down.

Well ,there are three jazz artists with British connections who are up for Grammys at the awards ceremony in Los Angeles on Feb 8th.

None of them sit down for very long. Except, occasionally, Doncaster-born, US-based , citizen of the world guitarist John McLaughlin when he performs with his Indian musicians in Shakti Remembered.

McLaughlin's album Floating Point is up for Best Contemporary Jazz Album. Quite a bit of detail and clips from the album HERE

A video of John McLaughlin and Herbie Hancock in very civilized and articulate dialogue is here:

* * * *

The other two nominees are two very different singers, both vying for Best Jazz Vocal Album: UK-based, New Jersey-born Stacey Kent, and Londoner Norma Winstone. Stacey with her British band for "Breakfast On The Morning Tram" on Blue Note, and Norma with German saxophonist Klaus Gesing and Italian pianist Glauco Venier for "Distances" on ECM.

Stacey versus Norma. Hm. Most jazz people I know will only encompass one in their preferences. Listening to jazz can be a very divisive activity. Which is a shame.

* * *

Stacey Kent does swing-oriented standards really well, has a great arranger and a great band. It's has a big audience. It's BBC Radio 2, audience-friendly.

Stacey Kent 's early successes in the mid to late 1990's were greatly assisted by the involvement of veteran all-round-fount-of-common-sense record producer Alan Bates of Candid Records. But she has taken her career and visibilty a very long way since then.

The last two years have been dominated by a fight against breast cancer, written about Here

But if you want evidence of the indomitabilty of the human spirit, look at Stacey Kent's post-Grammy comeback schedule; the last eleven days of March have ten gigs in three countries , followed by no fewer eighteen in April.

I'm tempted to hear her at Cadogan Hall with the BBC Big Band. But that week she'll have done Meudon and Zagreb and a couple of other places I've never heard of.

* * *

Winstone is a very very civilized and fine musician always to be found among other fine musicians. For many years with John Taylor, plus great albums with the late very lamented Steve Gray. I hope that, after the demise of New Note, there are still copies around of the Double CD she produced herself "Amoroso, Only More So" with Bobby Wellins and Stan Tracey, because it captures her many moods very well.

There's a good biography of Norma on her Website

And here's my short edit of a very long press release about the Grammy-nominated album:
"It's her first ECM recording in a decade. With tributes to Coltrane and to Pasolini, cover versions from Cole Porter to Peter Gabriel, pieces inspired by Italian folk music and by Erik Satie, a free calypso and more. This is jazz of chamber music sensibility and precision, by a trio that improvises in a clearly-defined group language. German reedman Klaus Gesing and Italian pianist Glauco Venier have been influenced by Winstone’s earlier recordings, but they work with the material in ways entirely their own."

* * * * *

These three people: ample testimony of how extraordinarily broad and welcoming of difference jazz can and should be.

To say you hate jazz is like saying you hate ART. Or FOREIGNERS.


Where to go on a Saturday night.

What's on tomorrow night? And how do you find out?

First place to look is the regular six-to-seven nights a week venues.

Ronnie's: Tim Garland's Lighthouse Trio, which I've already written about here

The Vortex: The Vortex has Carol Grimes, take a look at her website

By the way, the Vortex is getting VERY BUSY, and it certainly will be tomorrow.
Gone are the days you could just turn up.

The 606: The Six has Clark Tracey's new band with Paul Jordanous and Piers Green. I heard their launch a few months ago at the Pizza. This is going to be an interesting band.

Again, expect the 606 to be heaving. I heard an Austrian bass player leading a soul/funk outfit last Saturday and it was absolutely full!

The Bull's Head: : Guy Barker's band. Amazing line-up. Altoist Benjamin Herman from Holland, Dave Newton on piano, Phil Donkin bass (he seems to be suddenly turning up everywhere) and Seb de Krom, drums.

The Bull doea not take bookings. It takes cash on the door. In this case fifteen quid. The old way. So you just have to be early. This is a stupendous band , so here's an UNQUALIFIED RECOMMENDATION.

Pizza Express Dean Street: James Taylor Quartet. Pleased to see Nick Smart can still show his Royal students the route down from the clouds by gigging in his jazz funk band and grooving along to a Hammond on a Saturday night.

Pretty full again, I'd guess.

So that's the regular venues. Salute them.

There are to my knowledge three listings sources.
There's Jazz in London- see the link
Jazzwise Magazine's listings guide
Jazz Services: It's national. So you find London between Liverpool and Motherwell.

What else is there?

If we can call Berkhamsted London, there's Digby Fairweather's band. Dig knows how to give an audience a very good time indeed.
There's some Gypsy Jazz at the Quecumbar.
And Ian Pearce on piano playing for diners at the Archduke.
There's the amazing Italian Renato D'Aiello on tenor up from Somerset playing for the diners at the Octave Bar (see link on right).
And Quaglino's in Bury Street St James's often have amazing people
but they don't publicize who.
And there's Jazz Cafe Posk in Hammersmith with the "Paragon Quartet."
No clues. There is a classical saxophone quartet by this name which specializes in things like Gavin Bryars....Hm.

Bear in mind that the weekly gigs, the more experimental gigs tend to be earlier in the week, for a whole host of reasons....

But if there are more gigs than this in London tomorrow night, and there probably are, then , I have to say, people are hiding them extremely effectively.


Four pictures

The antidote to too many words.

Four great bass players.
Four real gentlemen.
Four good images from Richard Kaby’s site

Oli Hayhurst

Larry Bartley

Dave Green

Jeremy Brown


Jean Toussaint

Jean Toussaint has his next appearance at Steve Rubie's intimate basement club, the 606, in Lots Road, Chelsea on February 5th. Steve Rubie has promoted him regularly, and with good reason. Because, in action, Toussaint can be totally mesmerising.

Here's a bang-up-to-date December 2008 clip of him on fine form at the Duc des Lombards in Paris.

Toussaint's life story to date takes an unconventional path trodden by no other musician. Originally from St. Thomas in the Virgin Islands, his career had lift-off. Studies at Berklee College in Boston led him to one of the most coveted elite positions in the world of jazz: in 1982, around the time of his twenty-second bithday, he became a member of Art Blakey's Jazz Messengers. He was to prosper in that role for another five years. In this picture he's on the left, with Terence Blanchard, Donald Harrison and Lonnie Plaxico.

But thereafter if there is a predictable pattern to Jean Toussaint's life, it is that he has never conformed to any stereotype.

In the late 1980's he chose to make his home in North London, rather than stay in the US, and that is our huge gain.

His choice of the pianist for his quartet again kicks away the stereotypes. In some quarters in jazz runs a rather sterile debate as to whether black musicians have a feel, a rhythmic sense unavailable to white musicians. Well, Toussaint's sparring partner on piano is white, and from right here in London: the excellent and ever-fresh Andrew McCormack. Toussaint and McCormack together are completely alert and alive to each other's playing. Their constant interplay of rhythmic challenge and counter-challenge makes for an exhilarating collaboration.

On stage, as you can see from the clip, Toussaint is in constant movement. His shoulders are always rotating, like those of a swimmer, or like someone in a hurry to get through a bustling crowd of people. There is a directive energy, a forward motion to the lines of his phrasing - sometimes with the shoulder movement, often in opposition to it. Rhythmically, harmonically, in phrasing there is a logic, a constant organic development in his playing which has subtle strength and complete individuality. The combined experience of watching and listening has to be experienced.

Pupils tell me that during lessons the intensity of his focus on his raw materials and on the method of the improviser - sonority, rhythm, listening, transcribing solos, finding patterns - is quite unbelievable. And yet there is nobody more able to relax, to be completely calm, balanced and utterly impressive, when - for example - entering into a conversation about the grounding and the joys that come from good relationships with teenage children.

Jean Toussaint has performed at the absolute highest level, and has gone on from there. He has developed his unique voice with both patience and passion.

You won't want to miss a note.


I'm intrigued

Less than six months ago, Phil Donkin was part of Gwilym Simcock's trio at the Proms in front of a packed, ecstatic Royal Albert Hall . Live on BBC 2. Profile as high as that in British jazz doesn't come higher. All too rare.

And then? Not much. In the trio he's been replaced by Yuri Goloubev who lives in Milan.

So where's Phil gone?

According to the Guildhall's website he's still teaching , or delivering skills , or curriculum developing .... "Contemporary Jazz/Rhythm Studies" at Guildhall School of Music.

And then I see he's popping up at Pete Hurt's gig at the Ramjam tonight.

And then, more intriguingly, on the Charlie Wright's website, I read the following:

THUR) - 29th of Jan--9pm- (£5) Phil Donkin and "Couple Friends" (Top Berlin based UK double basist on a short visit to his native England)

I love that spelling . Basist. So he's now a "Berlin-based basist."

And who are these "Couple Friends"? Are they from Berlin? Or is this merely 2009 English as Russian from Charlie Wright's Zhenya Strigalev. Anyway, no clues as to who Phil will be playing with. At the level Phil plays it's far more likely to be a nice surprise than a disappointment.

I'm intrigued. I keep using that word. I'd be curious to go. Phil is quality.

If you judge a Chinese restaurant by the number of Chinese eating there, you can also judge a gig by the number of musicians. Cases. They'll be there tomorrow.

And talking of restaurants, that's the curious thing. Charlie Wright's starts the evening as a Thai restuarant. And morphs. Gradually.

In fact, there's a long review/short Ph.D dissertation on the split personality disorder of Charlie Wright's as Thai Restaurant and music venue HERE
Charlie Wright's is another of those funny shaped rooms where those of us who don't get in early to bag our seat have heard a lot from side-on, standing between pillars. Or standing in a throng feeling lucky to be tall.

And here's a thought about hip Hoxton from Hemel Hempstead. It's Ivan Hewett, writing in the Telegraph, the sentence lovingly reproduced on the Charlie Wright's website.

"...sometimes I fear jazz might be becoming just a bit too clean for its own good. Which is why a visit to Charlie Wright's International in the middle of achingly hip Hoxton makes a welcome change."

It'll be good. Not a comfortable place, but a good vibe. And the mystery of "Couple Friends" will be unravelled.




Review: Trinity College Jazz Ensemble/Earle-Smith/Ronnie Scott's

It was billed as a prizegiving for student composers; but by the end of the evening at Ronnie's, you knew you'd attended a celebration.

A noteworthy feature of the gig was the sea of young faces. Not just the entire population of the bandstand, but a significant proportion of the audience too. There can be no more encouraging or life-affirming sight in a jazz club than this.

The opening set was a quintet led by altoist Max Johnson, playing a mixed bag of originals and standards. Johnson's confident, fluent soloing got the evening off to a very promising start. Another player standing out both in this context, and again later in the big band sets was bassist Fergus Ireland, a strong presence, playing with a fine melodic sense, occasionally loping intriguingly, creatively around the beat rather than merely nailing time.

The second set was the evening's main course, John Dankworth's Zodiac Suite. Malcolm Earle Smith's spoken introductions to the pieces were informative, helpful, witty, and just right. Earle Smith has recreated and made editorial amendments to Dankworth's fleet, angular score, and had clearly prepared the students to navigate its tricky corners securely. The Suite has a busy, bustling sixties feel based on descending scale motifs. Dankworth was on hand to dignify the proceedings, and also to confirm that the original players were indeed the likes of Phil Woods and Zoot Sims.

Not much chance for the Trinity cohort of soloists to stretch out here. But the instrumentation had some interesting colours: a strong voice on tuba, and a harp which in the unforgiving heat of a full club didn't quite make it to the pitch of the band.

Trombonist Eleanor Smith, later heard to good effect as a warm-toned mellifluous soloist, handled with confidence trombone figures which lesser players would call unplayable. Smith's fine playing turned many heads tonight, and will doubtless do so again.

Thanks to Earle Smith and Dankworth's efforts, Zodiac Suite had its first airing of recent times with the Trinity forces in Blackheath last November, the second here, and Tony Dudley Evans has made the inspired decision to give the same band the opportunity to gallop through it again at the festival in Cheltenham.

Awards and envelopes were to the fore in the third set. Arthur Mead of JazzOrg, and the Worshipful Company of Musicians are in their second year of awarding a prize for a young (under 28) composer/arranger, and the winning compositions for small group and for big band from last year's and this year's composition were all performed, four pieces in total. The four featured composers were Nicole Jacques, James Beckwith, Matt Roberts and James Hamilton, all deserving winners. For my ears the stand-out chart was from Belfast-born Hamilton, '(Would Ya) Giz It,' with clever and lively dialogue between sections, and an insistent, catchy bass figure, played good'n'loud.

Nigel Tully of the Worshipful Company announced that for the next three years the prize will be called the Dankworth Prize, will double in value, thanks to support from the Wavendon Foundation. The British jazz composer's craft now has a really worthwhile prize.

The final work of the set was Dankworth's rousing "Harvey's Festival," written - allegedly at white heat overnight - for the 80th birthday celebration of his long-time collaborator, the composer/arranger, and revered father figure of British jazz education, Eddie Harvey, in 2005. This Ronnie's premiere brought some poetic justice at last: Harvey had held out for months to try to have his party at Ronnie's, but that proved impossible in the middle of the transfer of ownership, and the piece received its first airing at Cecil Sharp House: never a joint in the habit of jumping. Harvey's Festival at Ronnie's was a homecoming, a fitting end to a great evening.


What time does a gig start?

This is a first canter round a subject where input is welcome...

In symphonic music the way sound comes out of silence is highly ritualized. Not one but two sets of applause so even those completely asleep get the point that the music is about to begin. And the norm is for the concert to start on time. And for the audience to get wedged into their numbered seats early.

Indeed norms are changing towards more rather than less punctuality. Classical venue owners need to make their real estate assets sweat. The Wigmore Hall had THREE events yesterday. Which meant that performers will have had a quick sound check or a Sitzprobe, and certainly not the indulgence of complete run-through rehearsals.

And classical audiences seem to go with the trend to clock-watching. They seem less fussed if they don't get encores. I'm thinking about those ostentatious leavers from the expensive seats, whose BlackBerries are already loading as they strut out past coach class...

In rock, the aura of the people who appear on stage is deemed to be of such sheen, that the audience is often expected to allow them to indulge themselves. The technicians and set designers and acolytes will have been there for hours setting up, they and the audience together are supposed to get the point that everyone has to turn up to pay homage to the record industry's myth factory, as and when and if one of its high-value icons choose to emerge on stage and be idolized.

In jazz there is a code, but it is different, more home-spun.

Ronnie Scott's cites an opening time of 6pm, and sets beginning at 7 and 8 30, but reserves the right etc. The two-house evening is now accepted for Fridays and Saturdays. (This is the norm at top clubs in the US. Yoshi's in Oakland, great club, has filled both sets whenever I've been there. The Duc des Lombards in Paris does what Ronnies does and has the two sets in the latter part of the week.)

Many other venues cite 8.30pm. Which in "jazz time" allows for a chat in your seat (you're at a table, why not? )and the set will start at 9pm or 9 15.

What are your ideas, your preferences in jazz???? Tell me. You never know, promoters might listen? Are you happy for the start time to be a bit uncertain. What annoys you? I will return to this subject I'm sure.


Jazz in a recession

Two lines linking the J-word and the R-word reverberate in my mind.

-One good friend of mine often re-iterates the opinion that "jazz is in permanent recession."

That's too bleak.

-The romantic lead in the Kander/Ebb musical "Flora the Red Menace" about the rise of Communism in 1930's, who is also a clarinet player, at one point says his shoes have worn so thin that he can feel if the coin he has trodden on is a nickel or a dime.

-That's too wacky.

But Evan Davis, the animated BBC economic pundit, in yesterday's Guardian, has a go at a few predictions of likely consumer behaviour of the "fans of pop culture" HERE

I think there are several pointers here which make me think that the immediacy and of small scale live music might just fit the bill......:

Davis (1): "Music (by which he means recorded music) will get cheaper. Music downloads will get cheaper. Most industries that have the pattern of very high fixed costs and very low user costs will change... "

Reaction: Jazz has never had bloated marketing costs associated with mass-market music. A chance of a more level playing-field?

Davis (2) "People will go out less. I'm guessing that people will trade down."

Reaction: You can't get a cheaper feel-good evening than some of the things I've been writing about for LondonJazz.

Davis(3) : "There's going to be less TV. We were seduced by the boom years and the advertising revenue produced a television sector bigger than the economy can truthfully sustain."

Reaction: It's those bloated costs again.

Davis (4) : " We all need to find cheap hobbies. My advice to people is to try and find a hobby that doesn't involve spending vast amounts of money. [...]If people can think of themselves as not just defined by their material wealth, that's a good thing. Being excited by things that don't cost money - that's the key."

Reaction: George Gershwin, Tommy Dorsey and Judy Garland got there first:


One of the great free- yes FREE- gigs

One of the first things I look out for when Jazz in London comes out, is Simon Carter's free Sunday night gig at Boaters in Kingston.

Well, the February edition of Jazz in London is out. See the Jazz in London link on the right column.

Jazz in London is a listings pamphlet, produced - in York! - by Mary Greig aided and abetted by Mike Sexton, a true man of Acton. Quite why Jazz in London gets produced in York is a mystery which I will unravel in a future post.

But for now it's down to the serious business of LondonJazz, which is identifying and talking about good gigs.

Boaters is a pub hidden away in the trees in Canbury Gardens, Kingston. Easy with a car. And not too bad with the 65 bus from Richmond or Kingston Stations. The 65 is worth placing your religious faith in, even on Sundays.

First let Simon Carter introduce himself with a Myspace biog which I have edited down a bit:

" I'm a keyboard player who lives and works in London. I studied jazz at the Guildhall School of Music although in recent years the bulk of my work has been on the pop and session scene. I've been lucky enough to play with many great artists including; Jamiroquai, Craig David, Leo Sayer, Deepest Blue, Rooster, The Divine Comedy, Atomic Kitten, Anastacia, Nik Kershaw, 10CC, Kim Wilde, Dina Carroll, Midge Ure, Elkie Brooks, Judie Tzuke, Hamish Stuart, Jimmy Ruffin and Leon Ware. "

What he doesn't tell you is the energy level he communicates as a player. When I watch him, I wonder when Simon's grungy forearm grinds and elbow slides get put into a keyboard syllabus. With extra marks for palm thumps.


and he might as well introduce his gig too:

"I still try and keep my jazz chops together and most Sundays you can see me playing at The Boaters Inn, in Kingston, South West London. Check out what gigs are coming up at
. It's a great gig to see some of the best talent on the London jazz scene such as Jim Mullen, Laurence Cottle, Mornington Lockett, Dave O'Higgins, Derek Nash, Natalie Williams, Jacqui Hicks, Snake Davis, Ian Thomas, Chris Dagley and many more.

I even had the pleasure of playing with Branford Marsalis when he paid a surprise visit to the gig one night."

I can't guarantee you Branford for no admission charge(what a thought!) but the February schedule is all interesting and I am spoilt for choice.

What I'm going to recommend is the most "echt" Boaters gig. February 8th.It has two of the first three names Simon mentions. Mornington Lockett on tough beboppish tenor and Laurence Cottle on electric bass, with Ian Thomas on drums. This is quality, energy, the kind of buzz which will set you up for the week.

Bassist Cottle? Renaissance musician. Monosyllabic rockers, he's worked with loads : Cher, Sting, Seal.... and Black Sabbath. And he runs his own (jazz) big band. For which he writes charts. Andandand.

Lockett/Carter/Cottle/Thomas. These are four top pros who know each other, all completely familiar with their (daily?/weekly?) commute from rock to jazz.

You won't be short changed. But there again you won't be paying either

The other Boaters gigs in Feb are :

1st : Strictly Come Dancing vocalist Tommy Blaize. I've not heard him in this context and could well be tempted to check him out.

15th : Mike Outram. There is no musician with such complete control of the sounds coming out of a guitar. Plus his melodic lines always hold my interest. Plus he's got a sense of humour. And he will kick up a storm with the trio.

22nd: Julian Stringle on reeds and and Neil Angilley. I'll be covering Julian in a future post- he's an astounding player.

The only caveats for Boaters are that if you turn up once the band has started, you may have to crane from behind a pillar.

And, oh yes, when Simon gets a big drum name in, Boaters can turn into London's meeting-place for industrial quantities of drummers. A very curious species of wildlife to watch when they mingle.....


Interview with Claire Martin

I talked to Claire Martin about her forthcoming five-night residency with Sir Richard Rodney Bennett at the Pizza on the Park from Tuesday Feb 10th until Valentine's Day.

What are the origins of her collaboration with Sir RRB?

It was 1991. She was in her mid 20's and had just recorded the first album for her now regular record label, Glasgow-based Linn. For those of us with long memories that's "The Waiting Game." I was relieved to discover from reviews, that I wasn't the only sad bloke in 1992 pressing the repeat button, insistently, to get people to listen to this great new jazz singer singing Thomas Dolby's song "The keys to your Ferrari."

So, the first meeting with Bennett. She was singing in the Strathclyde Lounge of the Royal Concert Halls in Glasgow. He'd been checking out the main hall before a concert and dropped in to listen. . He introduced himself. Told her how much he'd enjoyed her singing. Now Claire is somebody who tends to get results: in this instance she persuaded Bennett to write the liner notes for the first album... and they stayed in touch as friends.

He at the time was working with other singers, notably one born in Natchez, Mississipi called Maud Runnells. Also known as Mrs Laurie Holloway. Also, and best, known by her stage name: the wonderful, late, lamented Marion Montgomery.

The first collaboration as a duo for Martin and Bennett was in 2000. So this is now a seasoned partnership, and it really works. I heard them three years ago in the unlikely setting of the theatre of Bennett's old quaker school in Reading. The place was transformed. Quakers don't believe in miracles - we all get some things wrong...

Claire Martin and Sir Richard Rodney Bennett are not exactly "Two Sleepy People." Bennett lives in New York, Martin in Brighton with her daughter.
Both are the kind of busy person who excels at many things, always on the case with some project or other. On stage they are both engaging personalities completely at ease in the setting. These evenings are sessions which they clearly enjoy and thrive on, which somehow get shoe-horned into schedules. Last year they were at the Algonquin. A couple of years ago in the Barbican Hall.

Martin feels that the songs work in some venues and not in others. For her the room at Pizza on the Park is definitely a favourite.

There's a fuller biography of Claire Martin in the "New Album" section of her

I'm booked in for Valentine's Day. Three weeks to find myself a date.


This Sunday night. Guaranteed good time for people who hate jazz

I hadn't yet put in a gig this weekend.

So I'm putting in one which it is totally impossible not to enjoy.

Hate jazz? You'll love this.

Brass Volcanoes. Dragon Hall, Stukeley Street in Covent Garden. This Sunday 7 till 10.

Graham Hughes (bouncy sousaphone player, superb crooner, great sound on both trombone and bass trumpet) and Andy Williamson (tenor and Scottish madness) put on this great thing once a month on Sunday nights at the Dragon Hall in Covent Garden. It's simply outrageus fun.

How can one describe it?

It's a sort of mad party with a New Orleans Marching Band which does excursions into Reggae and Soul and Jaco Pastorius's Chicken. Atmosphere. Dancers of all ages. And ridiculously cheap food.

Last time the whole band decided, spontaneously, that they were going to play lying down among the dancers on the dance floor. And at another point Andy W decided there had to be at least one other entrance into the building and took half the audience out in the street as a conga with him leading it on tenor from the front to find it....

Find enjoyment. It's what recessions are for.

And here's their website


Grammy Nominee in Deptford and Greenwich- 18 Feb

The mainstream media mostly work with the press releases they receive.

I always have the suspicion, or rather the certain knowledge, that a lot goes on below their radar. One has to know where to find it.

A listening gig this one. Very interesting as they used to say in 1698 on Rowan and Martin's Laugh-In.

Those who like the confidence of having original sources can copy/paste this simple link:

I can save you the trouble: it's good blurb, probably written by Head of Jazz Studies Simon Purcell, who has a dauntingly interplanetary level of intelligence - plus being a nice guy and a subtle, energetic musician:


Wednesday 18 February

Route 88 - with Uri Caine

7:00 Laban, Creekside

Jazz meets the classics through the art of the piano. The groundbreaking American pianist Uri Caine performs as improvising soloist in his jazz transcription of the Brahms/Handel Variations with Trinity Chamber Orchestra (Nic Pendlebury, conductor). Also featuring the remarkable classical improviser Douglas Finch with faculty and students from the Jazz and Keyboard Faculties of Trinity College of Music with fresh takes on jazz standards, Debussy Preludes and tunes provided by the audience.

Beats in the Bar – special edition with Uri Caine

9:30 Up the Creek, Greenwich

An informal session, with renowned artists from the Jazz faculty at TCM joined by Uri Caine.

Caine is irrepressibly inventive, like someone continually pointing out interesting and unsuspected new features of the landscape… - Mike Wheeler, Music and Vision


Caine also has a website

And here's a 3 minute interview off Youtube

This a gig for very concentrated listening...I'm going.

I suspect the buzz will pick up, and that these gigs will get busy.


A tale of two Americans

Frank Griffith

Bob Martin

How lucky we are as Londoners: this city is a magnet for fine musicians from just about anywhere in the world.

I'm writing this on the eve of the Obama inauguration. So I'm thinking in particular about two remarkable Americans, both adoptive Londoners for the past 10 years.

And suggesting you go and hear them in the Frank Griffith Nonet, appearing at the Vortex on Thursday Feb 5th, and again on Sunday lunchtime at the Gripton family hostelry deep in the forests of Berkshire: Jagz, at Ascot station.

From close to the Pacific coast, from the University of Oregon's home town of Eugene, Oregon, via a spell in New York, hails the exceptionally versatile Frank Griffith. And from the opposite coast, from Atlantic City, New Jersey, Bob Martin.

Bob Martin has a burning sound, a presence on alto which sails over a band, and engraves itself deep into one's musical memory. Bob had a long stint in the powerhouse Buddy Rich band in the 1970's- not an environment for the delicate of heart.

Sound clips of Bob make the "MUSIC" section of his website definitely worth a visit.

That sound. It's his. It's unique. No more to say.

Frank is always busy. Take a deep breath. Frank arranges - composes -teaches-writes-researches - runs the jazz programme at Brunel University - plays clarinet - plays tenor- bandleads - hustles - promotes - wisecracks....He's a whirlwind but he has an absorbed, ingrained knowledge of the music which makes him very special.

Sir John Dankworth once told me "I've come to the conclusion Frank Griffith knows my life story better than I do."

The seven Brits occupying the other seven chairs of the nonet which will appear at the Vortex are our top notch. They are from the gratin, the creme of British players Trumpets Henry Lowther and Robbie Robson; baritone sax Mick Foster who looks like, and has the integrity of, John the Baptist; Adrian Fry on trombone - a modest genius as player and arranger; young gun John Turville on piano, utterly solid Cornishman Dave Whitford on bass, and ever-inspirational and creative Paul Clarvis at the drums.(There's a different but equally good rhythm section for Ascot).

Hear the nonet , tight and fluent, here
(You have to find the tracks to download and go through a short registration process)

And Go Obama. You can!


A surreal giggle at the Pizza thanks to Ian Shaw

During Ian Shaw's solo set at the start of the evening on Thursday. He's having problems with the mic over the keyboard. It keeps slipping downwards. He stops playing. Decides to fix it. It slips down. He lifts it. It slips back. So he talks his microphone:

"If you're going to go down on me, could we at least do dinner first?"


Who should be the patron saint of jazz clarinettists?

One gig which has really caught my eye is the appearance of the 80-year old Bob Wilber at- I'm not kidding - Pinner Parish Church. The Rev. Stuart Nattrass and Peter Vacher of Pinner Jazz always put on interesting acts. But for February they really have quite a coup. A rare UK appearance for a very big beast indeed.

My title needs explaining:

Some of us are condemned. We lament our fate on most of the days when we pick up our twenty-six inches of grenadilla wood. The cross we bear is to curse the memory of Johann Christoph Denner of Nürnberg for having invented the clarinet. Ridiculously easy to play, but maddeningly hard to play really well. And so we worship those who really CAN.

I have no doubt that the classical sound I would want to capture if I had another lifetime to devote to the clarinet would be that of Bernard Walton playing Brahms Quintet.

Buy one here

But whose is the jazz clarinet voice we will hear in heaven?

I once witnessed one old gentleman trying to trap another- rather celebrated- old gentleman into an argument. Who, he asked, was the greatest jazz clarinettist: Artie Shaw or Benny Goodman?

Point taken. This tricky beast has produced very few great jazz voices. But it has certainly produced more than just these two. There's Buddy de Franco. And there's Jimmy Giuffre. And possibly Eddie Daniels. But there is also, definitely, Bob Wilber.

The 1980 album Dizzyfingers is a strong statement to any clarinettist. And what it says is: "Yes, I can." He is a clarinettist equally at home on his alto sax, and - life just ain't fair!- his soprano as well.

Bob Wilber started off in life with the kind of advantages liable to make a lot of people jealous. Does a jazz musician need to seek forgiveness for being born into a moneyed New York family? Is it his fault that his teacher, his main teenage influence, his mentor and above all his promulgator was the great Sidney Bechet? Can he now be forgiven for having honed his arranging craft at the feet of... Lennie Tristano?

His Rainbow Room residency in the 1980's is the stuff of legend, his Ellington re-creations for Coppola's film Cotton Club (here's a clip) are masterly. His more recent history/education projects have been for the illustrious and super-funded Lincoln Center.

Wilber lives part of the year in Chipping Camden, but sightings on the stand over here have become all too rare. Bob Wilber is a class act, a central figure with a deep knowledge of the evolution of jazz.

For more information about him go to the information page on his website . It seems not to have been updated for a while.

Return to LondonJazz Home Page


Julian Siegel- the word's getting out

The buzz about Nottingham-born Julian Siegel has finally got going in the past year. And about time too.

Julian WORKS. Hard. Woodsheds. Hard. Drives himself. Hard. And the results in his playing are amazing. His total command of tenor and bass clarinet really are something else. But in the past year I have also started to be genuinely moved. I'd call it true integrity and depth. Something to say. A story to tell.

He's also capable of powerhouse playing, blowing anyone in town off the stage, as he did at the 2007 BBC Jazz Awardsa, and again here with Gary Husband's thundering band:

Visiting Americans Greg Cohen on bass and Joey Baron on drums, both of whom often found in the company of John Zorn and Dave Douglas- no less- have been helping to spreading that word. eg: I heard last weekend on a grapevine via Germany that Joey Baron had been singing Julian's praises to musicians over there.

Maybe that's what it takes, for New Yorkers to put the seal of quality on what we have in London. Amen to that.

I was at the Vortex gig which was recorded by Basho and issued as
Live At The Vortex

I can tell you, these guys play with consummate feel , passion and often ruthlessly quiet intensity.


What's happening to Brecon??

I was appalled when I read in a number of places that after 25 years, the Brecon Jazz Festival might not happen this year.

The company promoting the festival, is in administration as of last Friday. The website is down.

How, why oh why, do we come almost to expect that this hardy, nature-defying plant called jazz will have regularly to uproot itself.

It ain't right. These guys are good. They deserve some luck!

Jim Smith has done such a great job as Director. The festival incorporates a very broad range of styles. He gets the right bands into the right venues. It's a very pretty town. And those memories.... I was in the front row for the gig by Joe Lovano, an inspired choice as artist-in-residence in 2007, with the kick-ass Gareth Williams trio. The youth bands outdoors. I have in my mind's ear everything from Scott Hamilton in a tent to Partisans. Plus distant memories of tough Tennessee tenor Bennie Wallace in the Market Hall, and always a warm and friendly and informed audience....

Anyway, the latest news from BBC Wales does seem more encouraging.

Let's hope so.


The warmth of the Mediterranean for six quid

The jazz scene around the conservatoires is always a source of inspiration and optimism, and there is nowhere better in the world right now than the Royal Academy of Music in Marylebone Road.

Next Monday's gig (19th Jan) caught my eye.

With the likes of Stuart Hall and Paul Clarvis to inspire these bright-eyed and bushy tailed young musicians, and a fascinating theme this promises to be a super rhythmically charged evening, with a lot of percussion.

Plus the classical percussionists of RAM, who have their own source of inspiration in the wonderful Neil Percy of the LSO, a real pro among pros.

And with modest genius Nick Smart in charge of proceedings, you know you will be in very good hands right from the first downbeat.

Not just a paddle in the warm waters of the Mediterranean, but you're promised a quick 747 down into South African townships too....

Not bad for a winter evening in London!

"Academy Jazz and Percussion"
An evening of jazz-infused music from North Africa, Eastern Europe and South Africa.This showcase marks another chapter in the growing list of collaborations between the jazz and percussion departments at the Academy. This time they explore some of the influential small group music from the Balkans, Turkey, Greece, Armenia and Lebanon.In the second half, a stirring Big Band set looks back at some of the key figuresof South African jazz including Abdullah Ibrahim, Dudu Pukwana and Chris McGregor. The programme will present music arranged and led by our special guest Stuart Hall, along with Dave Hassell, Paul Clarvis and Nick Smart."

Monday 19 January7:30pmDuke's Hall, RAM
Tickets £6 (concessions £4)


A hard dose of economic reality

A very different post this - with thanks to Oliver Weindling who covered it on Sunday at

Out there in the tough real world, the CD distributors, essential businesses in the ecology of the music industry, are going to the wall.

First Pinnacle, the physical distributor of record labels went into administration before Christmas. Leaving some jazz musicians in the unenviable position of being offered their stock/back catalogue back - but at a price.

Now comes the fall-out from Pinnacle: New Note into administration last Friday. Leaving debts to smaller labels unpaid.

New Note were never a flashy business. Their offices are in Swanley next to the M20/M25 motorway junction, take the wrong lane and you're in the municipal refuse tip (sic)

The article from Music Week here explains what happened, and highlights the positive.

But hold on...Proper were in the process of merging anyway as announced in early December...

Malcolm Mills of Proper is a stalwart of the industry and of the music. Sounds like the right man in a crisis...

But watch out. Musicians or from indy labels are going to be feeling the pain from the New Note/ Pinnacle collapses in the months to come.

There is one glamorous and we're -all-friends side to the record industry which is promoting, and heading off for Midem or SXSW.

And then there is this, which is much tougher.....Debt can be eerily silent....


The London Jazz Orchestra Sunday Teatime Slot

Chris Parker and John Fordham make me wish I'd been at the London Jazz Orchestra/ Henry Lowther gig last Sunday. (*)

The next one is at 4pm on Sunday Feb 1st, with charts by Pete Hurt. Pete is a quiet generous man, and a classy and endlessly subtle tenor player. Sounds special...

(*) Note- But if I had gone, this blog would never have got started...


Herbie in your living rooom

BBC4 is screening Antonioni's Blow-Up from 1966 this Thursday at 11pm. I'm looking forward to catching at least a bit of it...

Iconic. Soundtrack by the 25-year old Herbie Hancock.

And according to Christian Genzel's Herbie discography

one HELL of a band.

Herbie Hancock: piano; Freddie Hubbard: trumpet; Joe Newman: trumpet; Phil Woods: alto sax; Joe Henderson: tenor sax; Jimmy Smith: organ; Jim Hall:guitar; Ron Carter: bass; Jack DeJohnette: drums

But fed in at low volume. These are some guys to be made to play quietly in the corner.

Here's the briefest of clips. Joe Henderson's about to start stretching out when it gets cut off...but you can't always get what you want...



A special evening at Ronnie's Monday 26th, thanks to :


and Nigel Tully and Bernard David of the Worshipful Company of Musicians,

It's the launch the Dankworth Prize for Jazz Composition, featuring Trinity College of Music Jazz Ensemble.

Tim Garland and Frank Griffith are the judges for two composition prizes, which will be heard, plus charts from Sir John Dankworth.

Nigel and Bernard are pulling strands of the jazz community together in a very effective and positive way. More power to their pigtail and elbow respectively!!

Here's a Dankworth moment from 1978, the Tomorrow's World theme, ending with a low A baritone honk!


The RamJam, Kingston

An intimate jazz venue? You betcha. The band is virtually in your lap. Richard Fletcher, brother of percussionist Chris, is a great supporter of the music. When this club is full, there is nowhere that brings music more immediately into your ears.

(It's where the picture of me on bari was taken. Yes that expression is : "can I trust the arranger's next chord?")

On Mondays young and even-younger-looking Duncan Eagles runs a Jazz Funk Jamm (that extra m is a puzzler...) O

On Wednesdays, now in its fifth year is the Way Out West. Tim Whitehead bludgeoned it into existence. Mick and Maureen Sexton of have been huge supporters.

The January programme is here:

And first up this Wednesday, before she goes on tour is Kate Williams Band.



Red Garland- Groovy

There's a band in my head. And there's also a band in my car. Since receiving it as a Christmas present, the omnipresent CD has been the re-issued Red Garland Groovy with Paul Chambers and Art Taylor from 1957 on Prestige.

Garland's rootless voiced comping is wonderful, I'm uplifted by the acres of space he leaves on Willow Weep For Me. A great album.



Liane- Caravan



Looking Ahead

Jan 10th 2009

The First Post.

I'd rather start by looking forwards, than looking back. A theme...

One thing this blog is going to be about is anticipation. About evenings I'm looking forward to....and maybe also the gigs I would try to get to if I could. The gigs which jump off the schedules, which remind me of other good gigs. The travelling hopefully before you arrive. The sounds, the vibe are already there in the mind.

As Louis said to Ruby Braff: It's what you do if the band on stage - or by inference life in general - doesn't provide the sounds you want: "I just turn up the volume of the band in my head."

What's caught my eye this week? The Ian Shaw evenings at the Pizza.

There will his jaw-dropping energy and infectious good humour....but ALL the juxtapositions look great. Several forms of the unexpected can be expected....why else would one go?

He's there every night from Tuesday to Saturday. The one I've picked out to go to is Thursday.

With Natalie Williams - commandingly tall/glam/Anglo-Tscherman/ex-Guildhall( in the dim and distant)/a super musician....

And Liane Carroll. What I say to non-jazz people is: you have to go and hear Liane. You can't not. You mean you've not seen the Hanging Gardens of Babylon or the Colossus of Rhodes? Liane is a wonder. A phenomenon.

Her autobiographical songs.... her Laura Nyro songs .......her phenomenal pianism....her standards (eg Caravan...or the one she calls the Ram's lament ...There Will Never Be Another You) ..her outrageous patter between numbers. It's always a great show. Even for those of us who go every six weeks or so, Liane just NEVER disappoints.