Guess the venue!

London Community Gospel Choir
Photo credit: Roger Thomas
This is the London Community Gospel Choir. But what I (and photographer Roger Thomas) found surprising was the venue. Definitely not where you'd expect....but where?

Roger writes: "The joint was jumping. It was as if they's lit a small fire under every seat in the house."  Anyone? There's another picture if you "Read more."

London Community Gospel Choir with choirs 2020 and Urban Voices
Photo Credit: Roger Thomas


Where there are a three VERY interesting lunchtime gigs coming up this month:

Tuesday August 9th. Vocalist Kai Hoffman. Who also writes for us.

Thursday August 11th has two top players, both of whom are completely there at the top level on at least two instruments. Ivo Neame and Jim Hart. Neame is a pianist and saxophonist. Hart plays vibraphone and drums. Fascinating

Thursday August 25th . Peter King Quartet. The legendary saxophonist has to be heard. Often.


RIP Gene McDaniels (1935-2011)

American singer-songwriter producer Gene McDaniels died yesterday. His songs from the sixties will stay in the memory: “A Hundred Pounds of Clay,” “Tower of Strength,” “Point of No Return,” and, perhaps above all, “Compared to What,” truly immortalized by Les McCann and Eddie Harris . (above) Here's a tribute from a friend. RIP.


Julian Siegel wins award

Paul Pace presenting Julian Sigel with the jazz award
at the 2011 London Awards for Art and Performance
Photo credit: Simon Hipkins 

The London Awards for Art and Performance 2011, organized by London Festival Fringe , sponsored by the Waldorf Hilton, were held in the Waldorf's magnificent balroom in Aldwych on Thursday July 28th.

The four finalists for the jazz award were :

Beats n Pieces
Submotion Orchestra
Matt Roberts Big Band
Julian Siegel

and the winner was..... JULIAN SIEGEL, whose album Urban Theme Park is bound to be on best of lists for 2011.

There's a description of the awards process (and the jazz longlist) here


Preview: Jazzverse Jukebox with Soweto Kinch

Sarah Ellen Hughes previews the Jazzverse Jukebox with Jumoke Fashola and Soweto Kinch on Sunday August 7th at Ronnie Scott's

The Jazzverse Jukebox – a monthly event in Ronnie Scott’s upstairs bar – is a creation of singer and broadcaster Jumoké Fashola and her jazz trio, which is “designed to stimulate the senses, soothe the soul and energise the eardrums.”On Sunday 7th August, as part of the Brit Jazz Fest season, the event will migrate downstairs and join forces with the formidable talents of saxophonist/MC Soweto Kinch.

Soweto Kinch has been adorned with awards ever since he won the Montreux Jazz Saxophone competition in 2002. From then he has picked up three BBC jazz awards, two MOBOs and a Mercury Music Prize nomination for his album in 2003. Not bad for someone who is only just in his thirties, and originally studied Modern History at Oxford, hoping to become a journalist!

The rest of the show is packed full of some of the UK’s best singers and ‘spoken word artists,’ including Charlie Dark and Sh’maya, ranging in styles from pop to hip-hop and grime.

Then there’s the host - acclaimed singer, and award-winning radio and television broadcaster, Fashola has performed in every genre of singing perceivable, including solos in Handel’s Messiah and The Wizard of Oz. Her rich and mellow voice has a clear influence of gospel and a hint of the blues.


National Jazz Archive receives 3-year grant of £346,300

Syd Lipton
Image provided by the National Jazz Archive

Patience rewarded: congratulations to the team at the National Jazz Archive, based at Loughton Library in Essex, who have just announced that they have received a three year grant of £346,300 from the Heritage Lottery Fund .

The archive will be investing in a full cataloguing of the archive for the first time, conservation where necessary, the launch of a new “Story of British Jazz” website, with sound files, not only of music but also of interviews and memories. There will also be more public events and an education programme.

Boy, these processes in the museums sector take a long time. I reckon it was 2007 when the archive received a "Phase One Development Grant" and project manager Angela Davies was first taken on board to prepare the application which has just led to this grant.

It represents a major team effort from the archive's founder Digby Fairweather, who calls this development "the most exciting moment in the Archive's history since we received our first book donation back in 1988!"(Dig never leaves home without an exclamation mark), Chair of Trustees Chris Hodgkins, Vice Chair Graham Langley and patrons such as Dame Cleo Laine, Sir Michael Parkinson and Gary Crosby.

And above all from one of the most helpful people in jazz, David Nathan, who has continued to staff the archive consistently, professionally, smilingly throughout. And by people who have given their sevices for events: e.g. the Dankworth family, John Altman, Alan Barnes, and Simon Spillett who did an event as recently as last week.

The next stage will be a series of recruitment processes, which will start in January 2012, for a Project Manager, an Archivist, a specialist in digitisation, and a Learning and Participation Manager. The archive will stay in Loughton, but looks like it will probably need extra space .

The archive will also be making a fundraising effort, to support this major increase in its activity from other sources. The NJA's website has a button to make direct donations.  Registered charity number: 327894


The Independent newspaper, music and freedom

Drumroll. And yeah, can you try to make it last till about next Monday August 1st.

Because, believe it or not, next Monday the Independent will do something highly unusual.  It will, I am told, publish a live jazz review (Andy Gill/ Keith Jarrett) . What's the big deal? I stand to be corrcted, but I believe this to be the first review of a live jazz event in the Independent since August 2010.

So this is the way a newspaper fiercely proud to be "free from party political bias, free from proprietorial influence"  chooses to deal with jazz, or as Duke Ellington called it, the "unhampered, unhindered expression of complete freedom."

By way of comparison, and again according to my quick perusal of the paper's online archive, the Independent has given that talisman of freedom Britney Spears a staggering twenty-three items of coverage so far this year alone. Oops, let's do live jazz again.


Review: Keith Jarrett Standards Trio

Keith Jarrett / Gary Peacock / Jack DeJohnette
(Royal Festival Hall, 27th July 2011) 

Those untameable, disconsolate beasts, social media commentators, have been giving Keith Jarrett a hard time. Or do I mean "We...."?

Rather than paying attention to the music, there is one who posts as @angryjarrett on Twitter (strapline "Are you taping this? ARE YOU FREAKIN' TAPING THIS?"). Another goes by the moniker of @fakejarrett . And those with an appetite for controversy, or a perverse need to see the artist humbled, can be sated by tracking down a Youtube clip (160,000 views) of Jarrett losing his patience with people with cameras at UmbriaJazz in 2007.

If I have to be true to the stereotype of the blogger and complain at all about last night, then all I that can find would be that Jack DeJohnette was occasionally overbalancing. This was an approach which worked well in Ornette Coleman's "When will the Blues leave?" with rims and casings producing unusual and anarchic textures, but less so at other times.

But, in the final analysis, are the seekers-out of controversy and small gripes really representative, well, of anybody? On the evidence of last night's packed Royal Festival Hall concert by the Keith Jarrett Standards Trio with Gary Peacock and Jack DeJohnette, it is clear that the population of devotees, accumulated over decades, is larger, by far, than that of the malcontents.

 Listen to the recent duo album Jasmine, with Charlie Haden, and the impression is of a musician getting progressively calmer, mellower. Jarrett got a reputation for petulance in a brief period about 3-4 years ago when other aspects of his life were in turmoil. Yes,  Jack DeJohnette did plead with the audience, at Jarrett's request, to put their phone-cameras away. There were warnings in the hall about taping and photographing which did come across as draconian, heavy-handed. But in the end, these are distractions, a sideshow. It is the music which has to speak for itself. And it did, consistently.

One didn't have to look very far to see the way in which the audience takes Jarrett to its heart. I noticed a man in a seat near me reaching out to find his wife's hand in the particularly melting introduction to Jerome Kern's "Yesterdays." I also read the spontaneous reaction of pianist Andrew McCormack on Facebook last night: "The intro to 'In Your Own Sweet Way' was worth the admission price alone!"

But most telling was the audience's reaction to the end of the official second set. There was whooping, cheering. A significant proportion of the spectators was up on its feet. And they were duly rewarded. The first encore, "God bless the child" was by my watch not far short of fifteen minutes long, and was followed by three others.

Reputation is a lagging indicator. Jarrett is back on form.

Produced by Serious for the South Bank Centre


Review: the return of Steve Williamson

Steve Williamson. Photo credit: Roger Thomas
Tomorrows Warriors Jazz Orchestra dir. Gary Grosby / Steve Williamson
(Purcell Room,Southbank Cenre, July 23rd 2011. Review by Roger Thomas)

Among all the Jazz Warriors, Tomorrows Warriors, and the many bands that have come out of that movement, Steve Williamson is the Forgotten Warrior. A key figure in the original Jazz Warriors, he has scarcely played in public for more than a decade. He decided to shift his energy and his sincerity to focus on imperatives which were more important to him. The good news for the future is that the time away has also allowed him to become productive and given him fresh inspiration towards writing/composition.

The story of Steve Williamson's involvement in this conert is in Gary Crosby's preview for LondonJazz.

There was a packed house, and the programme had a logic, a sense of building towards a climax. The first set was given up to showcasing arrangements by Tomorrows Warriors alumni, namely Peter Edwards, Binker Golding, James Mckay and Jason Yarde. A highlight of the second set was Steve Williamson's composition Soon Come. Gary Crosby had explained to the audience that Soon Come is a West Indian term similar to the Spanish "mañana." And Jason Yarde's arrangement had got right into the spirit: apparently Jason had delivered the parts half an hour before the end of the band's last rehearsal. Literally, with the ink still wet! Denys Baptiste's authoratitive tenor solo gave that tune a kick, a shift in gear, as he delivered a flurry of urgent notes, as if he needed to get them all before the closing of a door.

But the best, the main event, came with the last number, Waltz For Grace, the piece Steve wrote in memory of his sister who passed away at a very young age.

Wiliamson enters the stage with a shy grin acknowledging the applause. Joined by vocalist Myrna Hague, known as Jamaica's First Lady Of Jazz, they position themselves as Steve starts to ease his way into the song with some light soprano lines and the occasional pause for thought followed by more delicate lines before signalling for the song to begin proper. This James McKay arrangement allowed for every facet of the song to be appreciated with moments of poignancy as Steve's soprano intertwined with sweet tones of Myrna's voice. It was one of those moments where you knew you' heard a piece of history in the making, and didn't want the song to end knowing that it was the last song. However, the audience showed such appreciation that Gary Crosby and Steve returned to play a bass and soprano version of John Coltrane's Equinox.

Let's hope to hear more from Steve Williamson, and of the new music he has been working on in the very near future. Welcome back to the Warriors.

Part of Great British Jazz produced for the South Bank Centre by Serious, and of the London is the Place for Me weekend celebrating seminal moments in black British music. Tomorrow's Warriors is a weekend resident at Southbank Centre.


Review: Irma Thomas

Irma Thomas

Irma Thomas
(Barbican Centre, July 24th 2011, review by Kai Hoffman)

New Orleans Soul Queen Irma Thomas performed at the Barbican this week – her first London appearance in twenty years. With the support of her top-calibre band – who played the entire evening from memory, including most requests from Irma’s 51-year back-catalogue – Irma’s clear, powerful voice still has the same wonderful quality from recordings she made back when she first reached commercial success in the 1960s.

Walking out onto the Barbican stage to a standing ovation, Irma’s strong gospel sound was showcased on signature tunes like ‘It’s Raining’ and ‘In Between Tears’ – and it was easy to understand why the Rolling Stones loved her version of ‘Time Is On My Side’ so much, that they decided to record it themselves.

With the announcement that she never mixes her gospel songs with her rhythm and blues, Irma quickly began to ask the audience for requests – and built the entire set on tunes from fans. With the effortless, relaxed energy of a lifetime of performance, the requests included ‘Take a Look at This Heart’, ‘Breakaway’, ‘Ruler of My Heart’ and ‘You Can Have My Husband (But Please Don’t Mess With My Man.’ Her stunning delivery on ‘This Bitter Earth’ and other ballads demonstrated that masterful ability to draw the audience right into the song – and echoed with the experience of surviving Hurricane Katrina.

With the slick polish and showmanship that only comes with experience, Irma’s band kept solos brief but made a stylish, tasteful statement fitting to each tune – the guitarist, hammond and saxophone particularly stood out.

In an age where auto-tuning and airbrushing have become practically second-nature for many, it was incredibly refreshing to hear such a huge, raw, healthy voice. At the age of seventy, and with numerous awards to her name, Irma Thomas is still in fantastic form, with a powerhouse belt and a completely natural sound.

Part of the Barbican Centre's Blaze Soul Series


Jamie Cullum launches The Big Audition

Fran Hardcastle reports on the launch by Jamie Cullum of The Big Audition at Pizza Express Tuesday 26 July.

Pizza Express fully embraced every facet of modern technology last night to launch their nationwide talent contest, The Big Audition.

Not only was Pizza Express founder Peter Boizot there to watch Jamie Cullum launch the competition, the whole world was there too. Cullum performed not only to the room but to audiences watching on Facebook and Youtube with a set list determined by fan requests on Twitter.

Jamie's first gigs were at Pizza Express in Old Town in Swindon, earning £50, a pizza and a Peroni. His debut at Dean Street had A&R from Sony on one side of the room and Universal on the other. Cullum showed last night that, like all the major successes in music, he is a hugely entertaining showman. He and his band performed with a boundless contagious energy.

The Big Audition aims to find the next big thing in music, of all genres, holding auditions across the country for a prize of £5000 and gig at Pizza Express in Dean Street. Taking technology a step further, by advancing on the devices used in singing birthday cards, one of the more unusual prizes on offer is to become the music of the Pizza Express takeaway pizza box. I kid you not.


Review: Dankworth tribute plus Whitehead/ Wheeler

"Tribute to John Dankworth and the Big Band"
Photo credit: Roger Thomas
"A Tribute to John Dankworth and the Big Band" / Tim Whitehead and Kenny Wheeler
(Queen Elizabeth Hall, part of "Best of British Jazz" sequence.  And Purcell Room, both concerts Southbank Centre 25th July 2011)

Is there something surreal about the South Bank Centre, or is it just me? It hires its space out to commercial/retail tenants,  runs a car parking operation in a prime site in central London, and yet it is in its totality a registered charity, and pays a rent of just one peppercorn per annum to its landlord, the Arts Council.  It has a "Development Department" which laughably fails to cover even its own operating costs. And it puts on very few jazz gigs. In August its three stages will put on virtually no performance events at all. And yet this Monday it managed to produce a scheduling clash, with two very high quality and significant jazz gigs -  both supported by landlord Arts Council England -  pitted against each other.

The two concerts were a major retrospective entitled "A Tribute to John Dankworth and the Big Band" in the Queen Elizabeth Hall, running at exactly the same time that one of the major creative talents of our time, Kenny Wheeler, was making his first apearance as guest with Tim Whitehead 's "Colour Beginnings" project.

One commentator was apoplectic and went on Twitter: “Privileged few at @southbankcentre got to marvel at Tim Whitehead's Turner tribute. Was next door to a *best of British Jazz* why didn't @southbankcentre think Tim Whitehead & Kenny Wheeler were *best*? Pah! #inexplicablemarketinggaffes”

Not wanting to miss either completely, I attended the first half of the Dankworth show, and the second half of the Whitehead/ Wheeler gig.

"A Tribute to John Dankworth and the Big Band"

There's always a guiding spirit of gentle mischievous good humour hovering over gigs involving the Dankworth family. The first musical sound from the stage was Andy Panayi checking the reed his clarinet with the theme from Hancock's Half Hour.

The idea behind the programme was to go back and tell some of the Dankworth story through performing pieces from different eras. The opener was one of the movements from “World Jazz Suite” (did all twelve ever get finished?).

This was a stunningly good big band. Just about every player in it is a bandleader in his or her own right. You'd go a long way to hear a better sax section : Tim Garland, Jamie Talbot, Andy Panayi, Julian Siegel and Karen Sharp. Dankworth writes punishingly for saxes. The trumpets made the most of his typically bright sound he requires. They were on form, if not ideally balanced, from my seat.

The big band then gave way to one of the key groups, the Dankworth Seven. Two of its original members – Tony Kinsey (his drum chair occupied by the impeccable Ian Thomas - and Eddie Harvey – represented by Mark Nightingale on trombone - were in the audience. Musically Alec Dankworth was in charge, standards were high.
Alec Dankworth
Photo credit: Roger Thomas

There were surprises (for me), notably how readily Tim Garland was able to roll back the clock and play pure 1950's tenor. And high points: a hushed decelerando ending to Ellington's Mood Indigo featuring Henry Lowther wonderfully mellifluous on trumpet. The applause from the end of that number was starting to wane when the it startedto grow again, suddenly and more insistently, as Dame Cleo Laine made a particularly well-timed entrance.

Cleo Laine introduced Frank Holder with great affection, and he launched gleefully into “Too Marvellous for Words.” Holder's bounce, energy, capacity to swing hard, talent as a powerful “conguero,” and above all sheer presence and energy are something astonishing. He was born in Guyana. It is known that he joined the Dankworth Seven in 1952 (!), so he must be in his early to mid eighties. He is astonishing.

Other highlights were a call-and-response chorus from Cleo Laine and Andy Panayi on the Ahlert/ Young 1935 standard I'm Gonna Sit Right Down and Write Myself a Letter (lots of “shooby-doobies” as Laine calls them), and a typically unusual Dankworth instrumental trope stretching the sound palette of the big band on African Waltz: piccolo, vibes, congas and tuba.

But the abiding memory is of a mood, not exactly of nostalgia, nor of pure partying, but a particular atmosphere in which both the talent – there in abundance on stage - , and the going-for-it are encouraged, nurtured and valued.

Tim Whitehead's “Colour Beginnings Quartet with guest Kenny Wheeler 

Tim Whitehead's artistic responses to Turner are personal,  often paradoxical, always deply thought. Some of the heavier grooves come in (surprising) response to pictures where Turner has hardly alowed the paint and water to come into contact with the paper. Whitehead intersperses the pieces with a wide range of different perspectives on Turner's life and work from art critics and contemporaries. Some of the numbers involve him singing - wordlessly -  rather than  playing. But there is a strong and thought-through aesthetic in what Tim Whitehead is doing. He has dwelt on, thought, lived through the whole creative process of absorbing a cloudscape with the eyyes and mind, and then of painting. There is a high degree of  integrity and authenticity about the whole venture.  For example, a sudden unison passage for the whole band,  an upward flurry, brought sudden urgency at the end of  “Skies Sketchbook 1810s page 3.”

What stays in the mind above all from this gig is how innately Kenny Wheeler goes with, understands, responds to Tim Whitehead's very individual response. Wheeler's discourse is often about unpredictable intervals giving unusual perspectives on a line. Inthe context of Tim Whitehead's group, he just catches the updraft, and goes higher.      

Two very different concerts demonstrating, as ever, the sheer range and vitality of British Jazz

"A Tribute to John Dankworth and the Big Band" was produced by Serious as part of the Southbank Centre's Great British Jazz series.


RIP Frank Foster (1928-2011)

Sad to report the death yesterday of great composer/arranger/Basie-ite/Thad Jones Mel Lewis Orchestra stalwart/ saxophonist/flautist/ NEA Jazz Master / generous to a fault Frank Foster, at the age of 82.


Jazz Library: the third programme Round Midnight

Alyn Shipton interviewing Joshua Redman
for Jazz Library at Gateshead in 2009. Photo BBC.
Radio 3 has just announced its September schedules. The news is that from September 17th Jazz Library is to be moved from 4pm Saturday, and  will be joining Jazz Line-Up and Jazz on 3 in a round-midnight slot.

Here's the press release

Jazz Record Requests remains at the heart of Saturday’s schedule with our other Jazz programmes in regular weekly slots. We look forward to the autumn and our continued support of the London Jazz Festival as well as of the young artists coming through our World Routes Academy and New Generation Jazz Artist scheme.”

Jazz Record Requests remains at the same time of 5.00pm on Saturday afternoon while, from Saturday 17th September, Jazz Library moves to 12.00midnight. Jazz Line Up moves earlier to 11.00pm on Sunday evenings and Jazz on 3 remains at 11.00pm on Monday evenings.

Radio 3’s jazz offering is further enhanced through the addition of the Jazz Library podcasts which are now available in perpetuity on the Radio 3 website – - along with associated articles and artist profiles."


Ronnie Scott's Britjazz Festival Aug 1st - 14th

Orphy Robinson
Appearing at Britjazz at Ronnie Scott's on Monday 8th August

The first two Ronnie Scott's Britjazz Festival in 2009 and 2010 sold out completely.The third runs this year from August 1st to 14th, and most of the gigs are close to full, or getting there. There's double bill every night, but admission prices are typically lower than most of the year. The club opens at 6pm every evening.

A few noteworthy gigs:

- They've played Montreux. And the Sydney Opera House, but this is the first ever appearance at Ronnie's for the Matthew Herbert Big Band. The band has no shortage of lively characters, plus singers TBA. Saturday 13th.

- A first apearance at Ronnie's since the 1970's by Chris Barber and the first for his big band (6th), and Ronnie's debuts for the Michael Garrick Big Band (2nd) and Orphy Robinson's Codefive (8th)

- A return to the club by acclaimed Manchester big band Beats n Pieces with some new repertoire

- Singers: Claire Martin, Liane Carroll, Ian Shaw, Earl Okin, Gwyneth Herbert

 - Mercury Prize nominee Gwilym Simcock


We are working with Ronnie Scott's and LondonJazz newsletter readers can choose between no fewer than three prizes this week

PRIZE ONE - A pair of tickets for Thursday 4th August

PRIZE TWO -A pair of tickets for Friday 12th August
BLINQ QUARTET (Brendan Reilly, Liane Caroll, Ian Shaw, Natalie Williams)

Put your name in the hat to go to ANY EVENING of the festival. List below.

Monday 1st August

Tuesday 2nd August

Wednesday 3rd August

Thursday 4th August

Friday 5th August

Saturday 6th August

Sunday 7th August

Monday 8th August

Tuesday 9th August

Wednesday 10th August

Thursday 11th August

Friday 12th August
BLINQ QUARTET (Brendan Reilly, Liane Caroll, Ian Shaw, Natalie Williams)

Saturday 13th August

Sunday 14th August



London Fringe Festival Awards this Thursday

Paul Pace of Ronnie's and I were the judges in the jazz category of the London Festival Fringe Awards for Art and Performance this Thursday. There are in all ten categories of award.


CD Review: Bohuslan Big Band/ Colin Towns / Nils Landgren - Don't Fence Me In

Bohuslan Big Band/Colin Towns /Nils Landgren - Don't Fence Me In
(ACT ACT 9028-2. CD Review by Frank Griffith)

Colin Towns is well known for his many associations with continental European big bands. On this CD he is working with Sweden's Bohuslan Big Band led by trombonist/vocalist, Nils Landgren. Towns' recent projects include the music of Frank Zappa and John Lennon, as well as countless TV and film scores including "Our Friends from the North". For an overview of his career see this LondonJazz feature.

All of these influences no doubt come to the fore in his unique and eclectic treatments of the largely 1930s melodies created by one of the Broadway stage's most prolific and influential composers, Cole Porter. Towns is clearly celebrating Porter's inherent theatricality and lyrics in this case, but this is at the risk of the composer's innovative harmonies and rich and quirky melodies sometimes going unexplored and unexploited.
Most of the pieces are based on rhythmic grooves with largely modal harmonies (1 or 2 chords) and melodies added on top- as if they are an afterthought or secondary in some way. One of Porter's most distinctive melodies, "Begin the Beguine", is a given a ten minute modal treatment replete with a driving groove that also provides the basis for for spirited trombone and alto sax solos. It does certainly provide a unique and inspired approach, but to these ears not one that gets fully under the skin of the song.

Landgren is admired by London-based trombonist (and fellow Swede) Mattias Eskilsson for having a part of the trombone's register which he completely makes his own with an inimitable signature sound. “He's got the flow," says Eskilsson. And, indeed, Landgren's Tommy Dorsey-esque fluid melodicism portrays Porter's songs with rich aplomb. His singing, while in tune and distinctive (it has a Sting-like, hoarse quality) is a somewhat puzzling addition to the mix.

The Bohuslan Big Band is a highly talented, skilled and professional unit as is their fearless leader's trombone and vocals. The arrangements are unique and challenging - to say the least - but , for this listener's ears, don't offer up the full range of colours and possibilities that lurk and thrive in Porter's music.

ACT Music and Vision


Amy Winehouse and NYJO - photos and a tribute

Amy Winehouse singing with NYJO
Photo copyright Bill Ashton. All Rights Reserved.
Bill Ashton, Founder MD and Life President of the National Youth Jazz Orchestra writes for LondonJazz about Amy Winehouse: 

In my loft there is a pile of largely unmarked minidisks. One of them, dating back to July 2000, contains four tracks recorded live by the sixteen year old Amy Winehouse.

A few weeks earlier, I had had a call from Sylvia Young, Head of the eponymous Theatre School, “Mr. Ashton, I’d like to send a sixteen year old singer called Amy Winehouse to you. Neither we nor the Brit School really know what to do with her”.

“Send her along” I said cheerfully, “We don’t audition; she’ll just join in if she wants to”.

The following Saturday, a typical North London schoolgirl appeared at the Cockpit. In a voice only slightly higher than that of Michael Caine, she said, in one breath, “ullomynameisAmyWinehousethat’saJewishname”.

I sent her through to the singers’ rehearsal room, and for the next few weeks, she sat in the corner smoking for England, not joining in with anything they were doing but in the words of Annabel Williams, her singing teacher, “Whatever we were doing, she nailed it in one”.
Amy Winehouse singing with NYJO
Photo copyright Bill Ashton. All righs reserved.

In June of that year, I invited her to sing one song and the following month, I rang her early Sunday morning, “Can you sing with us today, we haven’t got a singer?”
“I don’t know your repertoire, but don’t worry I’ll learn them on the tube”.

She was a good as her word, she came through the door having learnt four songs, and sung them perfectly without any leadsheet or even a set if words. Saxophonist Alan Stuart commented, “Are you going to sign her? Because if you don’t, I will. She’s going to be a superstar”.

She left us not long afterwards, because she had hoped to sing standards with NYJO and found herself singing songs by me and other NYJO writers. She formed a trio of NYJO 2 players including drummer, Bradley Webb, and she set off around the jazz clubs. I can honestly say, she had the best jazz voice of any young singer I have ever heard, learnt from her taxi driver father, Mitch. Jewish taxi drivers having the best musical taste of anyone!

A few months later, I was approached by Simon Fuller’s 19 Management, who had launched the Spice Girls, to give them a list of young female singers. I figured that they and Amy deserved each other, so passed on her numbers to them and she went to the audition, along with singers such as Annabel Williams and Rachel Calladine.

The rest is history, and for some reason, I was sent two copies of her first album called, Frank. Some of the tracks of which are excellent jazz singing. But then, she hooked up with the ‘pop world’ and married her songs to street rhythms and became the pop icon that we all know.

When she died, on Saturday 23rd July 2011, the pop world lost an icon. The jazz world had lost a great jazz singer several years earlier.

Bill Ashton will be talking about Amy Winehouse on Piers Morgan Tonight at10 30pm on CNN 


Jarretting from a distance

View from the back  row of the Royal Festival Hall

Peter Bacon has decided not to go to hear the now sold-out Keith Jarrett gig this Wednesday at the Royal Festival Hall, and writes that, the experience approaches a religious rite, and that for him, the experience involves too many compromises :

"When your overwhelming memory is of how many times you have been told to switch your phone off and warned that if you so much as think of taking a picture you will have your eyes surgically removed layer by layer, or if you even emit one too heavy a breath you will be removed for insulting not only the guru Keith but all of music that has ever been played in a public place since the gargling of the first amoeba, then one has to ask: has the point been lost here somewhere?"

 (HERE'S HIS PIECE) I'm going to review the gig, with an open mind...


Review: Jazz on the Hill, Sani Festival (Greece)

David Murray Cuban Ensemble plays Nat ‘King’ Cole en Español,
Sani Festival, 2011. Photo: John L Walters

Jazz on the Hill, Sani Festival, 15-17 July 2011
(Round-up review by John L Walters)

The Sani Festival, based at the Sani Resort on the Kassandra peninsula of Halkidiki in Greece, has been running quietly since 1992, featuring international artists such as Dee Dee Bridgewater, Abdullah Ibrahim, Omar Sosa, Freddie Hubbard and Brad Mehldau for an audience drawn from both holidaymakers and local listeners. This year’s ‘Jazz on the Hill’ featured three acts: David Murray’s Cuban-flavoured tribute to Nat ‘King’ Cole; Italian composer-pianist Ludovico Einaudi; and Arcoluz, the thrilling acoustic trio led by French bassist Renaud Garcia-Fons.

Yet the setting was star attraction: the stage is mounted in front of a ruined Byzantine tower on a hill overlooking two sandy bays. At the end of each dazzlingly sunny day, a full, orange moon rose steadily in the night sky as music filled the open space.

David Murray’s current project taps into the repertoire of Cole Español, which Nat ‘King’ Cole recorded at Egrem Studios in Cuba with arranger Nelson Riddle in 1958, a time, just before the revolution, when Havana was still an offshore Vegas-style playground. (For more about this era, see the animated movie Chico & Rita ).

Some versions of Murray’s band use strings, additional percussion or singers, but for Sani he led a roaring, purely instrumental octet, with fine solos from trombonist Denis Cuni Rodriguez and trumpeter Mario Morejon, and a rhythm section steeped in the nuances of Afro-Cuban jazz: pianist Pepe Rivero’s montunos were particularly impressive.

The set-list included a radiant version of Quizás, Quizás, Quizás (aka Perhaps, Perhaps, Perhaps). Chatting over a glass of red after the concert, Murray spoke glowingly of his recent Paris gig with Omara Portuondo (of Buena Vista Social Club fame) and a string orchestra. ‘Man, that was so smooth,’ he said, ‘I scared myself! We could play Vegas with that band.’
David Murray (left), tenor and Irving Acao, alto sax
Sani Festival 2011. Photo by John L Walters

David Murray plays Nat King Cole / David Murray's Myspace
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Ludovico Einaudi at the soundcheck
Sani Festival 2011. Photo by John L Walters

The following night, in complete contrast, featured Ludovico Einaudi’s sextet, whose music, if not jazz, was equally appropriate for the balmy ambience of the Sani Festival stage. Played live, Einaudi’s elegant, quasi-minimalist work sounds warmer than on record. The first segment of his long set was a suite for piano (Einaudi himself) and string quartet; the ensemble, which includes long-time collaborators Marco Decimo (cello) and Antonio Leofreddi (viola), played his scores in a robust, committed manner.

Later in the concert they morphed into more of a World Music band, with violinist Mauro Durante taking centre stage to play tambourine and glockenspiel while Federico Mecozzi, the other violinist, switched between bass guitar, electric violin and various guitars. By the end of the set, with German electronics whiz Robert Lippok coaxing beats out of his laptop, they built up to a well received, throbbing prog-rock conclusion. But the highlights were a couple of pieces for solo piano and electronics, in which Lippok’s subtle processes enhanced and extended the timbres of Einaudi’s delicate, fragmented piano part. It was a kind of minimalism, but with a distinctively Mediterranean flavour.

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Einaudi is a favourite of Stavros Andreadis, chairman of the family-owned resort. Andreadis founded the festival in 1992 after a jazz festival in Sicily inspired him to bring some of the same artists to Sani: ‘It was almost a joke,’ he says, but a challenge he couldn’t resist. But it was an immediate hit with musicians and audience. Artistic director Olga Tabouris-Babalis arrived in 1996 to add structure to the festival, developing themes, which have included focusing on certain instruments, or upon European jazz labels such as ACT, Enja and ECM.

Tabouris-Babalis stressed the importance of having a music event that was ‘not obviously commercial’, which attracted quality acts that would ‘build bridges between visitors and locals through music.’ There’s also theatre, classical music and unclassifiable events, such as last year’s LUPERCYCLOPEDIA, a multiscreen presentation of material from The Tulse Luper Suitcases with Peter Greenaway presiding over a large plasma touchscreen as live VJ.

Given the current state of the Greek economy, Tabouris-Babalis doesn’t see the festival expanding, but its future is secure: the resort’s income comes mainly from holidaymakers from Germany, the UK, Russia, Bulgaria. The auditorium can hold anything up to 3000 people, but it can be adapted to crowds of a few hundred. Pressed for festival highlights, Tabouris-Babalis mentions Charlie Haden, Cassandra Wilson and her all-time favourite: Ahmad Jamal in the 1990s. ‘He forgot he was in front of people … it was like the piano was a flying piano!’

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Renaud Garcia-Fons (five-string double bass) at 2011 Sani Festival
Photo by John L Walters 
Up on the hill on the third night, Renaud Garcia-Fons’ Arcoluz was a fine conclusion to an idyllic weekend. The repertoire was taken mainly from the acclaimed live album Arcoluz (2006), includes Anda Loco, Entre Continentes and the astonishing Berimbass, which draws out similarities between the bass and the Brazilian percussion instrument the berimbau.

The set began with a long, thoughtful bass solo in which Garcia-Fons conjured several different sounds – oud, sarod, violin – from his five-string bass before settling in to the percussive groove of Veré. Garcia-Fons moved effortlessly between arco and pizzicato throughout, changing his role from accompanist to lead instrument to ensemble player in dazzling unison passages (with Flamenco guitarist Kiko Ruiz and percussionist Pascal Rollando) that were as tightly executed as those of the most obsessive fusion band. Yet Garcia-Fons’ compositions, not to mention his highly personal sound – make the all-acoustic Arcoluz something else.

L to R: Kiko Ruiz, Renaud Garcia-Fons and Pascal Rollando
at Sani Festival 2011. Photograph by John L Walters

In conversation after the gig, Garcia-Fons described the trio’s music as ‘chamber music’, indicating that more of the music is written out than might be assumed from its improvisatory flair. ‘Without jazz, I would not play this kind of music,’ he asserted, explaining that his career has included playing bebop with Kenny Clark and big band music with Sam Woodyard as well as collaborating with world jazz pioneers such as Dhafer Youssef, Kudsi Erguner and Nguyen Lê.

Garcia-Fons said that when he started playing (aged 16), his ‘dream was to make the double bass a universal instrument … the bass can have this multicultural identity.’ He is quick to point out that his five-string bass, with an added high C string, is not a customised instrument. ‘I am not the first one doing this: there was Barre Philips and others … It’s factory made, it’s a thing you can find.’ The extra string gives him many possibilities, but it also makes it difficult to play certain passages ‘because the angle for the bow is restricted’.

Watching Garcia-Fons’ intense performance, it is hard to believe there are any restrictions to his playing – he’s a consummate master of his instrument, yet modest and generous to his bandmates, who shine equally well. The audience, tanned and relaxed, loved every note and Arcoluz encored with the mysterious Oryssa, from Garcia-Fons’ 1997 album Oriental Bass.

Renaud Garcia-Fons website

Sani Resort Marina
Photo by John L Walters (c) 2011

Text and images © John L Walters 2011

The Sani Festival  (also on Twitter as @sanifestival and Facebook) continues throughout the summer months, with Hindi Zahra, ‘Manos Hatzidakis meets the world of jazz’ and classical ensembles including Idee Fixe. Full programme. The author was the guest of Sani Resort on a press trip arranged by Grifco PR .


RIP Fran Landesman (1927-2011)

The 'Poet Laureate of lovers and losers', 'the jazz world's answer to Dorothy Parker', lyricist supreme, the writer of the words of "Spring Can Really Hang You Up The Most" Fran Landesman passed away last night. She had survived her husband of 60 years Jay by just a few months.

Kai Hoffman wrote this lovelyreview/tribute for us as recently as April when Fran Landesman hosted a very special evening at Leicester Square Theatre.



Sachal Studio Orchestra Lahore. Interesting. There's more information on the origins, and of the significance of this jazz project recorded by Pakistani musicians in Lahore in a short BBC film (thanks RS and AW for the spot!)


Review: Deborah Brown

Deborah Brown. Photo from kcjazzlark

Deborah Brown
(Pizza Express Dean Street, first night of three. Review by Sarah Ellen Hughes.)

What a voice. Kansas City-born Deborah Brown is billed as “simply one of the greatest jazz singers in the world.” I have to say I totally agree. She got it right from the start. Charismatic, confident, becoming and thoughtful, she addressed the audience wittily and with ease.

After an instrumental, Rodgers and Hart's My Romance, she and the trio (Barry Green, piano, Jeremy Brown, bass and Stephen Keogh, drums) opened with Wonderful World. It was a totally honest delivery, with so much body and tone. It’s wonderful to hear a singer scatting with lyrical integrity and developing musical ideas, not just producing bop-lick after bop-lick.

The set was full of creatively arranged standards – an unusually re-harmonised Mood Indigo was her nod to Duke Ellington. She’s clearly capable of belting a note or two, but she delivered this with understated grace and subtlety.

She has utter control of her instrument. She doesn’t just automatically sing, but thinks about which twists and turns and felicitations will fit the mood, lyrics and feel of the song. Thus each song is different. This was reflected right down to the scatting – which didn’t showcase all her ideas and range in one song. Each solo was highly individual, crafted for each individual melody.

On Devil May Care, Deborah and bassist Jeremy Brown took an extended chorus together. Here she really ripped it up and we were treated to a range nearing 3 octaves alongside an explosive treatment of the tune. They repeated this duet situation later, and again to great effect, in I’m Satisfied, proof that you can never have too much of a good thing.

Another notable arrangement was that of What Is This Thing Called Love – a tune which most people (NYJO notably!) play or sing at fast-as-we- can, see-you-at-the-end tempo. But the original manuscript for this song has the direction “slow and tortured,” which makes sense, considering the lyrics are all about the desperation felt after someone has left you for another. So thank goodness for singers like Deborah Brown, who gave it a Caravan-type vibe and a much slower delivery than is commonly employed.

The highlight for me was a moving In a Sentimental Mood – which everyone was talking about afterwards – a delicious interpretation of the tune, and the sort of thing Dexter Gordon might have played.

It’s a great shame the house wasn’t full – although there was a star-studded audience with the likes of Ian Shaw and Tina May in attendance. Deborah Brown is on again tonight, and there are two shows on Saturday. Go! She's worth it.


Roy Ayers - Everybody Loves the sunshine in W Nine

Roy Ayers. Photo credit: Charlie Campbell
Something special for the children of a small C of E primary school on the last afternoon of their summer term yesterday. Roy Ayers dropped by - call it an unscheduled stop on his European tour - to perform an impromptu 30 minute set to the children of St Saviour's Primary School in Little Venice, and to get them singing "Everybody Loves the Sunshine." A reminder of the unique magic and power of live music to make the heart of communities beat more strongly.

Perhaps some children at a large primary school in SW1 will get the message.


News about American vocalist Barbara Morrison

Barbara Morrison
Rob Adams has written in to us about a heartening response from the Scottish jazz community rallying round to support American vocalist Barbara Morrison who has had to cancel a tour for medical reasons:

Jazz musicians from across Scotland are giving their services free in a series of benefit gigs for the American singer Barbara Morrison, who has had to cancel her fifteen-night run at this year’s Edinburgh Fringe festival.

The popular and always entertaining Morrison, who has suffered from diabetes for some time, has had to have a leg amputated due to complications brought on by the disease. She was due to appear at The Outhouse, a venue she particularly liked for its intimacy, from August 5 to 21. Musicians including singer Todd Gordon and pianist Tom Finlay have now agreed to waive their fees for performances between August 5 and 14 so that the £10 cover charge can go towards Morrison’s treatment bill.

Morrison, who spent seven years touring with Ray Charles and has appeared with Dizzy Gillespie, the Count Basie Orchestra and B B King, among many other significant jazz and blues musicians, appeared in Scotland many times after making her debut in Edinburgh in 2000 and in 2009 she won one of The Herald newspaper’s coveted Herald Angel statuettes, awarded for outstanding performances during Edinburgh’s summer festival season, after giving world class concerts at The Outhouse.

She is being fitted with a prosthetic limb at home in California and is reportedly in good spirits, promising to return to gigging as soon as possible. Her long-time friend, singer and official New Orleans Musical Ambassador Lillian Boutte will fill in for Morrison at the Outhouse from August 15 onwards and continue until August 28.


Mercury Prize Nomination for Gwilym Simcock

Gwilym Simcock. Photo credit: William Ellis
Congratulations to Gwilym Simcock on being nominated for the Mercury Prize for the solo album "Good Days at Schloss Elmau on ACTMusic.“It’s the ultimate hard thing for a piano player to do. You’re completely naked and there’s no hiding place,”  Tom Gray interviewed Gwilym for us just before the London launch of the album. 


Review: Mostly Other People do the Killing

Mostly Other People Do The Killing
Drawing copyright Geoff Winston 2011. All Rights Reserved

Mostly Other People Do The Killing
(Vortex, Thursday 14 July 2011 - night 2 of two-day residency; review and drawing by Geoff Winston)
Moppa Elliott - bass; Peter Evans - trumpets; Jon Irabagon - saxes; Kevin Shea - drums

'Mostly Other People Do The Killing' is a provocative name for a jazz outfit, even now, seven years after its inception. Intentionally sharp, politically tinged, this young quartet bring acute skill and musical awareness to the perpetually shifting focus of their live delivery. At the same time, confidence, humour and a sense of enjoyment ran through their performances at the Vortex last week, which were also their first UK appearances together.

MOPDTK is primarily a vehicle for Moppa Elliot's compositions, the titles of many of which are based on locations in his native Pennsylvania - 'Round Bottom and Square Top,' for example. He and Peter Evans are disarmingly kitted out in preppy/Ivy League threads, a kind of camouflage for the band's radical drift. Their roots are many and varied - there's currently alot of blues in there, along with a line straight through to the genre-defining small jazz groups of the 60s, a hefty dose of James Brown's visionary funk, and an unashamedly manic punk seam.

It was the latter which initiated proceedings. The sound of Kevin Shea tapping his sticks on the Vortex furniture as he chatted at the back of the room burgeoned in to a fully wired onslaught onstage within minutes. Elliot's undeflected bass lines underpinned the turmoil unleashed by Shea. In the spirit of Han Bennink Shea played, hugged and licked the Vortex's structural column, performed a handstand, and in his final solo of the evening, slowly collapsed in to his kit, leaving the cymbal to move independently, apparently unassisted.

This flash of showmanship is not to distract from the sheer musicianship on offer. Chicagoan Jon Irabagon, on alto most of the time, is an understatedly exceptional sax player, and left no doubt as to why he was the recipient of the 2008 Thelonious Monk Saxophone Prize. He and the equally outstanding Peter Evans maintained a breathtaking flow of references and statements. The contrasts, the flipping from high velocity to slow and languorous was almost schizophrenic. Tunes were picked up, dropped and exchanged, but the thread was never lost. Evans for one spell maintained sounds like a bee buzzing against a window; Irabagon's drawn-out extemporisation on soprano sax, held in a high-pitched trilling zone, made for a uniquely memorable interpretation of 'Night in Tunisia', with Evans holding back in his refined and restrained pocket trumpet solo.

Ornette, Adderley, Ellington and Blakey blew in through the mist - reinforcing the referencing to landmark albums in MOPDTK's witty re-enactments of the cover photography and designs of 'Out of the Afternoon', 'This is our Music' and 'Night in Tunisia' on their recent CDs on Elliot's Hot Cup Records.

The wonky blues, the echoes of the marching bands popped up and disappeared before you could get hold of them. As Evans pointed out afterwards, that sense of a well-oiled conversation comes naturally to them, because they've played together so often. Whether these interchanges happen, metaphorically, on the front stoop or in the barroom, whether they skim over familiar territory or head off into new discourses, this was a fresh and invigorating evening's music.

Peter Evans. Drawing by Geoff Winston
Copyright 2011 All Rights Reserved

Jazz on 3 will present a recording of MOPDTK at the Vortex at 11pm on Monday July 25th.


Tim Whitehead's Colour Beginnings, with Kenny Wheeler - preview (and our Prize Draw)

Landscape from the Lausanne sketch book : JMW Turner

Tim Whitehead "Colour Beginnings" Quartet with Kenny Wheeler
(Purcell Room Monday July 25th)

This new collaboration started with a conversation at a gig. Tim Whitehead and Kenny Wheeler both had compositions featured by Pete Churchill's London Vocal Project last year, they were both in the audience, and got talking. Whitehead sent Wheeler a CD, Wheeler listened to Whitehead's compositions, liked them, and the upshot is a concert at the Purcell Room next Monday.

We have a pair of ticket for it as our prize draw this week for newsletter readers.

The origins of the "Colour Beginnings" were explained by Tim Whitehead to the Guardian last year:

I realised there was something in Turner's work with which I had discovered a deep connection. In the autumn of 2006, I took myself to the prints and drawings room at Tate Britain, where you can see a part of the Turner collection that is not on public view, including all his sketchbooks, and the watercolour sketches, known as Colour Beginnings.

The luminosity of the colour takes your breath away. I had been looking for a starting point to a project that was essentially about responding to colour tonality with sound tonality, and I had found it.

Tim then had a residency at Tate Britain to take these ideas further, funded by the Leverhulme Trust, and the compositions based on this experience continue to evolve.

The quartet has toured extensively playing these compositions, including memorable gigs at Tate St Ives, in a women's open prison, at the Sage in Gateshead... .

The piece which habitully begins these concerts is "Landscape from the Lausanne sketch book," based on the illustration above. "The colours, the tonalities of the picture," says Whitehead, "are orangey, yellowy, ambiguous. there's a hint of factory chimneys, a bridge, but it's minimal. The tonal range might be subdued and subtle but it gives a feeling of space. I take a theme over and over again through key centres . The feeling I get is up, optimistic."

Tim says that in the feedback he has had - by email, people talking to him after gigs - is that what they get, and like, from the experience that he "had responded in feeling." People had understood that it isn't " an exercise ininterpreting the paintings, but responding to thefeelings got from paintings."
This year some there will be more dates. Whitehead's Quartet follows (in some cases in the footsteps of Turner) to:

- Turner Contemporary in Margate (this Friday July 22nd)

- Purcell Room this Monday 25th

- Stables in Wavendon in September

- in the London Jazz Festival in a Turner-related venue yet to be announced

But next Monday has the feel of a premiere: Whitehead has responded to the extra possibilities of having another melodic voice, to "write countermelodies , second lines , to move the line around."

Turner, Whitehead, Wheeler. A special, new collaboration is born.

Tickets from South Bank Centre


The music of Steve Williamson at the Purcell Room

Steve Williamson

The Artistic Director of Tomorrow’s Warriors , Gary Crosby OBE previews "Tomorrow’s Warriors Jazz Orchestra Plays The Music of Steve Williamson," a project in which the composer has - unexpectedly - become personally involved.
(Saturday 23 July, 7:45pm Purcell Room, Southbank Centre)

Steve Williamson was a close personal friend, and the better I came to know him the more I understood that his music was not only about his theoretical and technical skills but also his cultural background. He was very interested in modern classical music and his use of folkloric relationships within the music were not always picked up by jazz writers. He sadly dropped off the scene in the early nineties with only intermittent reappearances since that time.

I felt that by working on new arrangements of Steve’s music with upcoming talents such as Peter Edwards, Binker Golding and James McKay. and more established figures like Jason Yarde, was an opportunity to play the music of someone that I loved and respected, and to make the public aware of Steve’s important contribution to the legacy of black British jazz.

But recently an extraordinary thing happened. The writer Kevin LeGendre ran into Steve playing on Hackney Marshes and told him what we were doing. Steve then came down to one of our Southbank weekend workshops and was deeply touched to hear our young musicians playing his music.

At the Southbank this Saturday we’ll be playing five pieces reflecting Steve’s relationship with bebop, his Jamaican roots and his understanding of modern musical techniques. And we're delighted that Steve will join us to perform his 'Waltz For Grace' along with the wonderful Jamaican singer Myrna Hague.We sincerely hope the audience will join us and follow Steve’s journey of artistic discovery.

This concert is part of "London Is The Place For Me" - A weekend at the Southbank centre celebrating some of the seminal moments in black British music.


Montreux Jazz Festival report

Sarah Ellen Hughes reports on her Montreux Jazz Festival Experience:

For two weeks each July, the sleepy town of Montreux by Lake Geneva in Switzerland, looking out at the Alps of Savoie, is transformed into a hubbub of International stars and music performances of the highest calibre.

Started 46 years ago by Claude Nobs – a music enthusiast and former Tourist Bureau consultant – Montreux has become one of the major fixtures in the International jazz calendar. A host of super-stars have performed at the event, including Marvin Gaye, Ray Charles, Aretha Franklin, Nina Simone and James Brown.

This year's line-up was true to form. Headliners included BB King, George Benson, Natalie Cole, Quincy Jones, Chaka Khan and Esperanza Spalding. And not even headlining, but just playing in other people’s bands were Herbie Hancock, Wayne Shorter and Chick Corea. And as with most jazz festivals, there were plenty of non-jazz acts for the generic music fan: Ricky Martin, Santana, Sting, rapper Mos Def, and Seal.

The only trouble with this amazing line-up is that you can’t possibly program a different person each night, so many of the highlights were grouped together into one concert. Unfortunately, this meant for long evenings of music, which feel even longer if you have a standing ticket.

Natalie Cole was at the end of the evening’s bill at the Miles Davis Hall. But before I could see the first jazz singer I ever listened to and really loved, I had to stand through the first set from ‘Montreuz Jazz on the Road’ which was a showcase for last year’s vocal and piano competition winners. The second set came from Mario Biondi, an Italian singer who had brought with him many Italian fans who, after his 45-minute set, shouted for more so enthusiastically that he performed not one, but two encores. Then an interval, during which I held on for dear life to my front-row position that I had bagged at 10 past 8 that evening, waiting to be as close to the stage as possible for Ms Cole. At last she appeared – looking glamorous to the maximum, clasping a sparkly microphone to match her incredible dress. Unfortunately, she had such a bad cold that during every instrumental solo she had to blow her nose, and her backing vocalists out-classed her. After four songs, her frock was starting to fall down so in her wonderfully genteel and elegant way, she made her apologies and tottered off stage to get changed. By this time it was quarter to midnight and I had an early morning flight so I left mid-set.

Despite my disappointing experience at a formal concert, the Montreux Jazz experience is unlike any I’ve had before. An event that welcomes almost half a million music fans annually, the entire town and region works together to ensure a slick jazz operation. On arrival at Geneva airport, you can buy a discounted train ticket to Montreux and back. There is a bus that runs from Vevey to Villeneuve (two towns either side of Montreux) which is free during festival hours. Grand orange signs direct you to the best car parks from miles away, and there are temporary sign posts all over town directing you to the various venues and events. The festival not only offers formal concerts and workshops, but there are Jazz Trains and Jazz Boats that make the most of the incredible scenery and setting. An outdoor band stand surrounded by bars, food stalls and markets offers free music throughout the day and into the night.

It’s an amazing festival, and if I can afford to buy a proper seat at next year’s festival, I will definitely be returning!


RIP Eric Delaney (1924-2011)

Sad to hear that drummer/bandleader Eric Delaney died on Friday at the age of 87. Lance Liddle has written an obituary. He was playing, bright as a button, at one of the first brunches at Ronnie's with Digby Fairweather last March.


Review: Shireen Francis

Shireen Francis
(Pizza Express Dean Street, July 14th 2011)

If New York is so good they could shamelessly name it twice, then why should Shireen Francis, a much-admired singer -  but perhaps a too closely-guarded secret - on the London scene feel constrained to celebrate the launch her album “Steppin’ In” just the one time? The CD had its first launch gig at the 606 in April. And another at Pizza Express Dean Street last night.

Celebrating is something Shireen does well. Indeed there seems to be a particular point in just about every song Shireen Francis performed last night which I found myself looking forward to - and then celebrating - and that’s the moment at the end of a song form when she cuts loose.

A lot of good things happen before that point: Francis has a deep understanding of, and can convey, and sell wonderfully the forms, the architecture even of long songs. But then there’s that joyous moment when she leaves them behind. The dry land of the song is abandoned, and the band instantly settles into a warm, liquid groove and flow. To get technical, she is the reigning champ of open section outro.  Smiles were visible again and again on each of the band's faces. The instrumentalists were clearly savouring the joy of that uncertainty, the possibilities which Francis’ spontaneous let's-go-anywhere-we-please feel can give.

This is what Shireen does probably as well as any singer in the world. It’s natural, it’s remarkable, it’s down to several things: her Caribbean roots, her considerable high spec vocal gearbox, the fact that the band can enter into multi-dimensional dialogue with each other with nothing off-limits. But it's also about trust. The musicians know absolutely that they can all put their absolute faith in Francis’ understated, rock-solid talent and temperament as bandleader, to get them back to a precise point on the shore every time, and – to mix the metaphors – get them to land on a dime.

It was a band of five consummate London pros. Bassist Dave Green is flawless, it scarcely needs saying. Tristan Maillot on drums gave that typically crisp precision and sense of lift. Barry Green on piano and as MD played sweetly But what surprised me was how far both Dominic Grant on acoustic guitar, and particularly Gareth Lockrane - on any one of four flutes - could adapt their instruments to lean into the more heavyweight grooves. Lockrane’s visceral alto flute growling in an earthy blues will stay strongly in the mind.

But to the leader the honours. Shireen Francis is a very fine jazz singer who deserves to be FAR more widely known.


Yamaha Jazz Scholars Night 2011

Yamaha Jazz Scholars 2011. Phot credit: Hayley Madden

Yamaha Jazz Scholars 2011
(Portcullis House SW1, Report by Bruce Lindsay)

Michael Connarty MP and JazzFM's Helen Mayhew presented the fifth annual Yamaha Jazz Scholar awards at the Houses of Parliament on 13 July. The awards recognise the talents of six newly-graduated musicians, one from each of the full-time jazz degree courses in the UK, who each receive a £1,000 scholarship as well as a chance to record for an album to be distributed with Jazzwise magazine later this year.

The 2011 winners are:

Josh Arcoleo (Royal Academy) – tenor sax
Nick Costley-White (Guildhall) – guitar
Chris Eldred (Trinity) – piano
Chris Hyson (RWCMD) – double bass
Jonathan Silk (Birmingham Conservatoire) - drums
Riley Stone-Lonergan (Leeds College of Music) – tenor sax.

Josh Arcoleo is probably the best known of the Scholars: he's a member of the Kit Downes Sextet and was awarded the inaugural Kenny Wheeler Prize earlier this month. He also seemed like the most confident of the group when the six Scholars took to the stage, but all of these young musicians displayed obvious promise during their performance.

The evening's speeches were measured and brief. Bill Martin, from Yamaha, spoke positively and passionately about the awards and the recipients.

Michael Connarty, co-chair of the All Party Parliamentary Jazz Appreciation Group, was similarly positive, as always. He spoke in support of the extension of copyright from 50 to 70 years, to help in protecting the incomes of composers and performers, and also made the evening's only critical comment. Referring to the Norwegian government's commitment to the international promotion of its musical talent Connarty criticised the British government's failure to promote its own music, jazz in particular, on the world stage and suggested that the British Council could do more.

The evening began with a short but upbeat and entertaining set from the Joe Stilgoe Trio. Pianist Stilgoe was in fine voice and it was good to hear bassist Tom Mason and drummer Ben Reynolds showing off their vocal prowess as well as their instrumental talents. The trio's jazz version of Jessie J's “Price Tag” was a highlight, even if most of the audience seemed unaware of Jessie J herself: “She's from the world of pop music” Stilgoe helpfully explained.

2010 Awards Report
Supported by Yamaha Music Education