PREVIEW/ INTERVIEW: Buck Clayton Legacy Band, (Pizza Express Tues 18th Nov, EFG LJF)

The Buck Clayton Legacy Band. Photo Credit: John Watson

Alyn Shipton explains in this interview with Sebastian some of the background to the Buck Clayton Legacy Band concert, which Alyn will present at Pizza Express Dean Street as part of the 2014 EFG London Jazz Festival. The concert will also mark the 40th anniversary of the death of Duke Ellington:

LondonJazz News: How long has this Buck Clayton Legacy Band been going on?

Alyn Shipton: In January 1992, a month after Buck Clayton's death, I was contacted by Nancy Miller Elliott, the co-author of Buck's autobiography (Buck Clayton's Jazz World) to say that she had something for me. The next month I was in New York for Radio 3, to record an interview with Buddy Tate on his 79th birthday, so I dropped in to see Nancy and there was a package of music with a note from Buck to say "you kept my memory alive with the book, now maybe you can do the same with my music". In the package were lead sheets, scores and some full sets of parts. I stuffed them all into my case of hold luggage and brought them back to the UK. So chatting to trumpeter Ian Smith, with whom I had played in the Vile Bodies big band at the Ritz for some years, we decided that a band had to be formed to play them.

LJN: What persuaded you that you could get started?

AS: It took a while. I took a break from playing from 1991 until around 2003, while my children were growing up. After I got back into performing, in 2004, with the help of German saxophonist Matthias Seuffert, who was then living in the UK, Buck's yellowing sheets of music were organised into proper sets of parts, and Matthias turned some of the lead sheets into full band arrangements. We aimed at an instrumentation similar to the band that Buck brought to the UK in 1961 - two trumpets, trombone, two reeds and rhythm. The band was launched at the 2004 Ascona Jazz festival in Switzerland.

LJN: And how did it go after that launch?

AS: From the start it was an international band, initially featuring French trumpeter Patrick Artero in the role of Buck, and later on various UK appearances, including the Keswick Festival, with Enrico Tomasso and Bent Persson. In 2011, the personnel stabilised, with my original colleague Ian Smith and Dutch musician Menno Daams handling the trumpet duties. Alan Barnes and Matthias played reeds, and Adrian Fry trombone. That year on our first UK tour, the BBC recorded our CD Claytonia, live in concert at the Sage, Gateshead. That was playing Buck's compositions, and mainly those that were hitherto unrecorded.

LJN: Did you manage to broaden out the repertoire beyond Buck Clayton's own compositions? 

AS: Yes, I wanted to encourage the band to take on repertoire that Buck himself might have tackled, so with Gwyneth Herbert we devised a show that explored Peggy Lee's recorded repertoire with a medium sized swing band of this kind, and with American bluesman Michael Roach, we investigated the collaborations between Buck and singers such as Jimmy Rushing and Big Joe Turner.

Duke Ellington (with trumpet) at the wedding of Buck Clayton (right)
Photo courtesy of Alyn Shipton

LJN: For your November gig will you be covering the waterfront?

AS: Well it's more a question of taking the A Train, because this gig is an opportunity to remember Duke Ellington, on the 40th anniversary of his death. Duke and Buck were great friends - indeed Duke was best man at Buck's first wedding (photo above). In the '50s, Duke played with Buck's All Stars on the Newport Jazz Festival, and they remained close throughout Duke's life.

So Alan Barnes has come up with a set of Ducal small group music for us. Some are Alan's take on Duke and Hodges, and others were written for Alan by Tony Faulkner, and these charts don't often get an airing, so this is a chance to dust them off, and play them as part of the EFG London Jazz Festival.

LJN: Who's playing?

AS: For these concerts we have a slightly different line-up - one trumpet (Ian), three reeds, (Alan, Matthias and Robert Fowler), trombone, (Adrian) and rhythm.


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