Jazz Night Memories
with Wednesday Nighter
Top bands...superb solos...ideal for dancers & listeners
December 14: BLACK CAT JAZZ
Billing themselves, on their website as an authentic 'New Orleans Dance Hall-style' band , they certainly proved to be tuneful and nostalgic with their choice of programme on their debut visit to SCTJC.
To this particular onlooker, however, the 'all-seated' presentation did not quite fit the Dixieland image and nor am I sure how the 'Dance Hall' description matches the popular deep south persona of standing instrumentalists improvising their hearts out.
However, the newcomers attracted an attendance of approaching three figures and proved to be fine musicians if lacking a dash or two of excitement. Some bands, confronted by Walmley's large inviting dance floor, tend to select those numbers most suited to a ballroom. The reality is that we're a jazz club first while also populated by a high percentage of dancers.
And so, regretfully, I have to conclude, that while, no doubt, here was an assembly of pussy cats they did not get some of us purring with satisfaction.
A couple of numbers that stick in my mind were Try a Little Tenderness, (but remembered more as a dreamy post-war ballad then as a pre-war jazz number) and Long Distance Blues, with a R&B style bluesey vocal by reeds man John Scantlebury, a familiar figure with us from visits with New Orleans Heat.
Here was proof positive that they can be more raunchy and unfettered than they were to prove on the night. Personally I would have enjoyed more of that.Pictures: Terry Thomas (left to right): Tom Whittingham, Spike Kennedy, Steve Graham, Sarah Thatcher, Peter Winterhart, John Scantlebury
December 7: George Huxley All Stars: 'Could be top of the league...'
If we had a football-style table to record which band attracted the highest attendances, George Huxley and his All Stars might very well be top of the league in a very talented and tuneful field.
Once again more than a hundred of we enthusiasts turned out to watch a band that most of us have seen more times than we can remember. And that figure was some twenty percent more than the previous week.
Once described by Humphrey Lyttleton as Britain's Sydney Bechet, he of the purist of pure soprano saxes and clarinets, not to mention that precious-looking white alto, has been entertaining audiences with his art for over 60 years and shows no sign of surrendering into octogenarian inactivity.
One slightly potty thought that struck this fellow-octogenarian was the diversity of topics that were embraced by the simple but talented folk who created this marvellous music for us back in the mists of yesteryear. Think about it....
When Shadows Fall during the American Civil War and there was Marching Through Georgia, the Old Folkes at Home were enjoying an Indian Summer but things were happening Down in Jungle Town. There was a Black Cat on the Fence and The Bucket's Got a Hole in It. No wonder they were Singin' the Blues....
Daft, I know but something of a contrast to the modern lyrics that we hear now. And a darned sight more fun.
Huxley has a very pleasant mix in the make-up of his sextet. Behind the traditional trombone (Ron Hills), trumpet (Gordon Whitworth) and reeds(George) front line, John Penn tinkled away melodically, and sometimes high tempo on the ivories and with the dependable Graham Smith, depping for Barry Norman on drums.
Then there was the ever-dapper John Fellows not only on bass but frequently donning a huge sousaphone to produce sounds that seem to come from somewhere deep down in planet earth. Judging by the widespread comments as we prepared to leave to the soothing strains of Home, it was yet another splendid night out at The Walmley Club. Pictures: Terry Thomas
November 30: WABASH JAZZMEN 'Drumless...but hard-driven jazz'
When Mark Challinor went forth drumless into North-West jazz in 1994, 'to launch a new sound' , it must have seemed a brave decision. Foolhardy, maybe. Now, twenty-two years down the line, his experiment has more than proved itself a success.
So much so that when he announced, in closing the evening's entertainment, that he was booked to visit SCTJC at Walmley three times in 2017 there was enthusiastic applause from all around the room. A ringing endorsement, indeed.
OK, but how can you play hard-driving Dixieland, or 'trad' jazz, without the steady beat of the drum alongside double bass in the rhythm section? The answer is that Mark leads the band from behind with such gusto and sense of timing, blending to perfection after years of practice with bassist Richard Vernon, that his Wabash Jazzmen contrive to, mostly at least, disguise the absence of a drummer.
Another element is the sheer quality of the individuals. Mike Hayler is a fine exponent of clarinet and the saxophones, and Richard Leach among the best of the trombonists who grace our stage.
A versatile lot they are, too. My personal favourite was an R&B number from the early 1950s, Kansas City. 'A sort of a banjo boogie' was how Mark introduced it. I'm not sure whether this is called an 'eight bar' or a '12 bar' blues but they gave it that wonderfully earthy sound with Hayler's guttural tenor sax, Leach's exciting trombone and a reminder by octogenarian Gordon Whitworth of his younger years of excellence on trumpet.
In contrast to that was Hayler's rhythm-backed clarinet solo with Troika, a gentle Russian folk song once played, we were assured, by Kenny Ball. Among the other stand-out offerings was Leach's solo feature on Savoy Blues. I read recently that this was composed overnight by the great Kid Ory after he was asked by Louis Armstrong to write a new piece to add to a Hot Five recording session booked for the following day!
It was named after the hotel where Armstrong was currently serving a residency. So how about that: composed in 24 hours yet still a top jazz number, world-wide, nearly a century on. Pictures: Terry Thomas
November 23: The SAVANNAH SOUND 'raw...extrovert...awesome...show-stopping'
It tells us all we need to know about the pulling power of this long-established, totally reliable band when we learn that the attendance was around 120, roughly double what most clubs around the UK can expect to draw. It is also at the top end of expectations of SCTJC at The Walmley Club.
Not only this, but band leader and drummer John Meehan signed off by saying that despite the lengthy journey, and our earlier start by half an hour, they had thoroughly enjoyed entertaining us (helped possibly by the fact that the winner of the raffle had donated his bottle of scotch to the travelling musicians!).
Savannah have been on the road seemingly forever and yet (to this observer, anyway) they truly do seem to be better than ever, possibly by having perfected what I can only describe as the the Savannah Sound. This, I feel rightly or wrongly, to be based on Brian Ellis's use of the keyboards as well as trumpeter and front man Bill Smith becoming even more raw and goose-pimply extrovert with his harmonica and vocals.
To some the common mouth organ may seem a slightly trivial addition to a top band but, in fact, it was one of the very first Blues instruments in use more than a century ago when it was known as the 'Blues Harp'. More recently it has been featured in rock and mainstream by the likes of Bob Dylan, Stevie Wonder and Neil Young, not to mention, in a wider musical context, the great Larry Adler.
However, a man credited with being the first to become a true maestro of the blues harp was named Marion 'Little Walter' Jacobs... though it is hard to imagine that he blew, sucked and tongue-twisted his way to a more show-stopping sound than Bill Smith, in leading that awesome Savannah Sound. (Little Walter, incidentally, toured briefly with the Rolling Stones some 50 years ago. )
So when Roger Myerscough's clarinet and sax, John Meehan's drums, Tony Pollitt's bass and Chris Marney's banjo are added in gig after gig up and down the country, seemingly non stop, you have a collective, well-practised output that just comes naturally to them. We heard it here especially with Nothing Blues and, believe it or not, You Are My Sunshine. All for a fiver !
Pictures: Terry Thomas
November 16: SUSSEX JAZZ KINGS: 'Splendid Entertainment'
In the best possible way, you usually know what you're going to get with SJK. Not this time, though. Over a period of time, illnesses have forced personnel changes to be made resulting in ex-Gambit bandleader Peter Lay being their new permanent drummer and Kevin Scott on banjo.
As well as being outstanding instrumentalists both can supply a good jazzy vocal here and there to add to the band's evergreen talents. When, for example, the infectiously cheerful Kevin gave us a dixieland, singalong version of the theme tune to the brilliant TV series Dad's Army (pictured, above) they had all, or most of us, joining in with Who Do You Think You're Kidding Mr Hitler? That, surely, is a first for SCTJC?
Just a thought, but some of us remember well those wartime days that the words parody and we're still here singing them, aren't we....the Dad's ( & Mum's) Army keeping jazz alive, maybe?
During a pleasant evening of splendid enertainment we got, from the seasoned, talented trumpeter and leader Dave Stradwick and his band , the usual repertoire of century-old classics such as Dr Jazz, Old Spinning Wheel in the Parlour and Sweet Georgia Brown. Alongside them some excellent vocals, too, including : Tight Like That & Dr Jazz (trombonist Peter McAulay), Why Don't You Go Down to New Orleans (Peter Lay) and Carolina Moon with hammed up intro (Kevin Scott).
Also, I loved Dave's growling and atmospheric muted trumpetry in Saratoga Swing, Kevin's plucking banjo melodies ( Old Spinning Wheel) and bassist Pete Clancy's sousaphone oompahs in the Dad's Army skylarking. OK, most of us are 'getting on a bit' but we're not too old to retain our sense of the ridiculous, are we?
Pictures: Terry Thomas
Kevin Scott Pete Clancy Dave Stradwick Bernard Stutt Iain McAulay Pete Lay
November 9: Brian Mellor's Jazz Ramblers: 'Giving 'deps' a good name...'
This was a rather different collection of Ramblers than in the past with only Brian himself, trumpeter Gordon Whitworth and trombonist Mike Owen on stage...but it was a night when the three 'deps' who joined them did him proud with their individual and collective contributions.
On reeds Andy Leggett smoothly filled the George Huxley role, John Fellows was as rhythmically disciplined as always on double bass and leading UK drummer Nick Millward gave us a marathon solo of which Baby Jools would have been more than proud.
One rendition from the gig that sticks in my mind was Tishomingo Blues played beautifully by Andy on soprano sax and vocal. Just coming up to its 100th birthday since first published in 1917, I've always thought of Tishomingo as a jazz standard instrumental number rather than as a song so it was a 'first' to hear the mournful words of longing for a return to the Mississippi.
Leggett, who is familiar with Walmley as a member of Chris Pearce's bands, also gave us a dreamy tenor solo in Do You Know What it means to Miss New Orleans, and switched to alto for Sweethearts on Parade.
Nick Millward, inspired by his drumming icon, Buddy Rich, joined Kenny Ball in 1999 and toured the world with many other bands, including in recent years the regular British jazz Award winning Best Small Band, Digby Fairweather. This rich pedigree was born out in his remarkable dexterity and timing in bringing I've Found a New Baby, to a mind-boggling climax.
These guys give the sometimes-criticised practice of 'depping' a very good name. Pictures: Terry Thomas
IPictures(l to r) Terry Williams, Brian Mellor, Brian Lawrence, Matt Palmer, Pete Brown
Pictures: Terry Thomas