REVIEW – Tuxedo Jazz Orchestra at Harrow Arts Centre

The Tuxedo Jazz Orchestra

Tuxedo Jazz Orchestra
(Harrow Arts Centre, 28th June 2015. Review by Peter Vacher)

Nothing twee or self-conscious, no hint of parody or Great Gatsby-style nostalgia, just a well-dressed and pleasing programme of 20s and 30s music. While that might not be the published mission statement for Tony Jacobs and the Tuxedo Jazz Orchestra, it’s certainly what they delivered to an enthusiastic [if largely senior] audience at the HAC on Sunday night. As their publicity blurb put it, ‘the show is packed with great songs and tunes – authentically and lovingly recreated’, and so they were.

Front-man Jacobs, known for his ten-year vocal tenure with the Syd Lawrence orchestra has been presenting shows of this ilk for a while and has found a concert formula that really works well. The Tuxedo’s opening blast on ‘Stomp Off, Let’s Go’ in the Bob Crosby Bobcats arrangements set the mood, the tight ensemble and vigorous swing a promise of good things to come. These included a number of Bing Crosby-style vocals from Jacobs, whose easy manner and self-deprecating humour speak of a relaxed view of life, these complemented by the clear-voiced singing of Catherine Sykes. Ms Sykes has that most agreeable quality, an innate relish for the lyrics coupled with the kind of classy intonation that avoids extremes and just lets the song work for itself. Just to hear her sing ‘Comes Love’ against the backdrop of the original Artie Shaw arrangement was a delight in itself. She and Jacobs also duet endearingly on such things as ‘Cheek to Cheek’, and with trombonist Graham Hughes added, on the timeless ‘The Waiter, the Porter and the Upstairs Maid’.

Lest it be thought that the Jacobs programme was overly weighted towards popular show songs, jazz interest was satisfied by the presence of star trumpeter Peter Rudeforth, a Chris Barber man, growling expertly on ‘Black and Tan Fantasy’ and popping up throughout as did veteran tenor-man Jimmy Hastings who took charge on ‘Business in F’, the ensemble again in surging form on the climactic ‘White Heat’. I especially liked their band-within-a-band, the Little Tuxes, on ‘Royal Garden Blues’, with Rudeforth, Hughes and Hastings again, this time on clarinet, with strong support from the rhythm section primed by the virtuosic bass of Paul Morgan and the light touch of pianist Trevor Brown. This keyboard expert later excelled on a solo version of ‘Nola’ before giving the old crowd-pleaser ‘12th Street Rag’ a jaunty going-over. Eclectic choices maybe but done to perfection, the mixture of material, even including ‘Teddy Bear’s Picnic’, plus the expert musicianship of all concerned, making this old-style band show a joy to behold.

The Tuxedo Jazz Orchestra: Peter Rudeforth, Dave Ford [t] Graham Hughes [tb]; Jimmy Hastings [ts,cl]; Duncan Lamont Jr. [as,cl]; Mark Alloway [bs,as,cl]; Trevor Brown [p]; Len Walker [bjo]; Paul Morgan [b]; Jeff Lardner [d]; Catherine Sykes [voc]; Tony Jacobs [voc, dir].

Peter Vacher's new book ‘Swingin’ on Central Avenue: African-American Jazz in Los Angeles’ is out in September.

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