Blog of Big Band Jazz

Good Sight of the Week was definitely whole families up and dancing at the big band concert in the Cadogan Hall last Sunday afternoon. Richard Pite’s curious attraction to treat his deposit account as a kamikaze pilot would his Mitsubishi, results every so often in a Pitey Productions do down there presenting various facets of the jazz repertoire, often with your jaded scribe enlisted in the role of the jaded frontman. Being as it was an historical overview of the last 100 years of big band music, entitled appropriately enough, 100 Years Of Big Band Jazz, it didn’t really contain anything which could be described as New or Innovative, and it will therefore come as no surprise that it was a venture completely devoid of funding. As such, it needed to survive by being of actual interest to the general public. Being something of a whistle-stop tour, the problem was as ever deciding what to leave out- in order to present a balanced history, major contributors such as Duke Ellington and Count Basie were rationed to one number each, in order to make room for such iconic sounds as the massed piccolos on Soul Bossa Nova, the amazing Electronic Valve Instrument in the Mike Stern composition from 1994 or the Sousa-esque proto-jazz of James Europe from 1914.

The concert raised the interesting question of Nature Or Nurture- had Pitey and I have nipped round to Hughie Green’s house and while one of us kept his wife on the doorstep with double glazing brochures, the other nipped around the back, got in the garage and “borrowed” the old clapometer from Op Knocks, we’d be able to present the following information in a more statistical manner. It did seem, though, that by far and away the most popular choices of the afternoon were the ones which had been the most popular in their day. Unsurprisingly, these were Sing Sing Sing, and if I may say so, a magnificently galvanising rendition of In The Mood. As I’ve touched on earlier, the demo graph in the auditorium was interesting. As well as the crowd you’d expect of ladies and gentlemen of a certain age who have been fans all along, the placing of the concert on the afternoon of Father’s Day and its marketing as a family treat with discounted tickets for parties of four meant that there were, most unusually, quite a lot of children in, and even a few toddlers. As an aside, I was faced with the interesting challenge of introducing a concert without being able to say things like bugger or poo on the mike- no small challenge, I can tell you- but notwithstanding that it was immediately obvious that within nanoseconds of the jungle tom-toms at the top of Sing Sing Sing firing up, the power of this music to transfix the young is still every bit as potent as it was back in 1936. No-one’s told them that this stuff is good, they just reacted to it. I feel it’s more a case of Nature. Frantically gyrating youngsters were in evidence all around the room. Up on the balcony an Indian dad in a turban and his three nippers were going at it like not only was there no tomorrow, but not a great deal left of today. Perhaps those at the funding bodies who grant a hundred thousand quid a pop for people to go around supermarkets with percussion mallets in order to investigate ways of making a soundscape of available sounds from foodstuffs (I’m not kidding, alas) could divert a share of this dough to send big bands (and classical ensembles) round primary schools to interest the young in the visceral power of music. In the long term, who knows, perhaps the huge cultural wasteland that exists in our green and pleasant land between the X-factor at one end, pumped up with ordinary folks’ money by Simon Cowell, and the X-perimental at the other, pumped up with ordinary folks’ money by the Government could actually be filled with accessible art enjoyed by many. God forbid it might even provide a career or two for some of the terrifying hordes of young virtuosos piling out of the conservatoires in manner similar to commuters disgorging themselves from the 8.46 from Cockfosters.

Talking of Accessible Art and the 8.46 from Cockfosters, I have a new page on the site-have a look at the Curry Underground (link above this post). In a way reminiscent of those magazines you see advertised where you get on off cut of balsa a week and eventually end up with a model of HMS Victory, the Eiffel Tower, Felicity Kendall etc etc, The Curry Underground will build up week by week into the only comprehensive guide to the tube system in terms of the Indian food on offer near the stations. It’s going to be a lot of weeks-there’s a lot of stations. This, of course is much needed information for the working musician- we are often found at strange times in unfamiliar places, and knowledge such as a tea dance at the Hawkey Hall which can be easily accessed from South Woodford, but then followed by a Tandoori Mixed Grill and A Chilli Nan at the Meghna for £13.50 on the walk back to the train will, I’m sure, make the lot of many a happier one. Normal people with proper jobs are welcome to use the guide too- it’s not just limited to the Hogarthian human zoo that is the music profession.

As Hogarthian as it is, there seems to be no shortage of volunteers to join up. I saw this up close and personal last week as I experienced yet another indication that rather than being a thrusting Young Turk of British Jazz, I had now become one of its venerable old farts when I was called upon to mediate at a series of final examinations in jazz arranging at a London Music College. There, whiskery pierced young men and willowy young ladies submitted their works to the panel, and we all sat and listened as a band of professionals breathed life into the computer printed scores. In the prober binomial way you’d expect, a few were very good, most were fine, and there were a couple of clankers. No one actually failed, though, except for one feckless lad who downloaded something one of our lads knew off the internet and then wrote it out hoping we wouldn’t notice. What I learnt from this is how terrifyingly easy it is to spot blatant bullshit, and in the case on some others, poorly concealed bullshit. Every time I was asking Incisive Questions of the candidate and getting monosyllabic squirming back, I was transported down a time tunnel of vitriolic horrors to my own viva voce for my business studies A level project, where it was me stuttering out syllables, and occasionally, in horrendous moments of utter meltdown, individual letters under the steely gaze of the examiner. Because I hadn’t really done the work. I felt every bit the poacher turned Nazi. Mind you, these days, by the time you’ve got to the third year at Music College, you’ve probably racked up a good sixty grand’s worth of debt and with the current state of the business this will represent most of your income for at least the next twenty years. It comes as doubly surprising therefore that some of them were trying to fob us off with excuses about the college printer going down that morning, when a more cunning use of yesterday would have taken all that in its stride. Answers to questions like “So why is the first chord of the bridge passage two bars later than it said in the brief?” which went like “er-I don’t know….whatever” will always cause the radar to snap on. It’s difficult not to get carried away with the pomposity and really get in touch with your inner twat though- a trap I’ve alluded to before when ensconced snugly in a conductor’s suite in a concert hall. When it’s five hours into the day, and yet again the college hard drive seems to be the root of all evil, it gets harder still- but I really had to concentrate on the fact that as a direct opposite to what goes on in most of my life, what I say will actually have an effect on these people’s lives. Parish notice now-please, please, please come to the Benny Duke and Peggy gig at the Watersmeet Theatre on Friday 19th September. It’s a lovely gig anyway, and there’s a clip to look at the bottom of the page. The reason I’m getting in a tiz about this is that as well as being the Jazz Event Of The Season, it is the first time that Her Indoors has stepped up to the plate as a promoter. This is good and brave of her, but if it flops, life at The Gables will be downhill all the way to Xmas. However, if she breaks even, or better still, goes into the black, all will be sweetness and light. So come on! Get that plastic out and book right now while tickets last!
Have a look on YouTube – what about those natty brown shoes, eh?
Better still, to buy a ticket , and some more for your chums-


Blog of a Do

Not to be outdone by H.M. the Queen, Her Indoors has had an official birthday this year, alongside the actual one. The actual one took place some weeks ago here at The Gables, and was a low key do, involving a great deal of Marks and Spencer’s macaroni cheese, chocolate éclairs a boxed set of 1980’s Coronation Street, and not a great deal of moving about. By contrast, Her Indoors’ official birthday celebration was something of a Mardi Gras, and ground to a start in the early evening of last Friday.
Being a Signficant Anniversary, she had had it in mind that a Do of appropriate proportions was the thing, and being of good Lancashire stock, she felt that she’d like to create a little bit of Wigan right here in the Home Counties. More specifically, the Wigan in question was to be the one from 1986. In order to achieve this, certain criteria had to be fulfilled-

  • Venue needs to look like a Labour Club
  • Late Bar
  • Brown Buffet
  • Dance Floor
  • Live Music
  • Nice Lavs
  • Room for about 60 people
  • Staggering Distance from The Gables

You can understand that the run-up to this went on for months, and many options were investigated and ultimately rejected. A bold scheme to use The Gables themselves was looked into, involving several miles of purple Lametta, a marquee and a £30 Iceland voucher, but all came to naught. Things were getting a bit dicey- had this been a ball achingly cheap reality TV show entitled “Festa or Fiasco-When Party Plans Go Wrong” there would have been grainy slow motion images of Her Indoors and I on the bridge of The Volvo driving round the neighbourhood looking for venues, terse moments thumbing through the Yellow Pages, passing the local paper back and forth and a spot of storming out into the garden doing the international gesture of desperation, while all the while the voice-over would be coming out with buzz-words like “Party in Peril”, “Big Day In Tatters”, “How can they survive from here”, “If this party doesn’t go ahead, will it be the end of the road for them too?” and “Malaria risk”, all accompanied by a bearded young man called Giles or Ben back at the studio trying to make a threatening underscore on his keyboard on a budget of 9p. Karma went in our favour at the eleventh hour, however, on polling day at the local council elections.

Our local polling station was up a little alleyway nary two hundred yards from the front gate of The Gables, and was a small but tidy 1970’s prefab labelled “South Oxhey Community Centre”. Within, there was a largish room containing all the polling station paraphernalia to form the precision axis upon which the finely milled cogs of the engine of democracy runs in our modern age. You know- a painter’s trestle table, a big box of primary coloured plastic toys and an inflatable triceratops for when the room is used for playgroup and a couple of booths made out of plywood, all under the secure and ever watchful eye of two old birds and a chap with a rosette on. If a riot were to break out, I guess that the mob could be quelled by being pelted with Peppa Pigs. Or something. Anyway, whilst Her Indoors and I were actively involving ourselves in the process of local government, we heard unexpected noises of clinking glasses and general glee emanating from the next room along, and peeking through the door at the end of the room, we saw a magnificent little bar, all adorned with mock teak and fairy lights, and doing a roaring trade into the bargain. A brief chat with Marion behind the bar later, and we’d found our venue!
Giles back in the studio could switch from minor to major and the producers could be relieved that this week’s episode of Festa Or Fiasco could be broadcast as a Feelgood triumph. Marion also had the number of a local caterer called Jim who could provide the required brown buffet, mysteriously for rather less than it would cost you to buy it all yourself, Her Indoors went to poundland and spent tens of pounds on decorations, her chum Emily brought the disco lights and I came up with the idea of having the live music from the Bob Holloway Duo. All ingredients present and correct.

Music at a musicians’ party is always an odd one to fix. Some people like to have everyone get up and play who wants to, but this often ends in the musical equivalent of a drunken chat propped up at the bar. Also, having been in that situation myself a few times, if you are at a do as a guest but are also invited to play, you invariably end up being a rubbish guest and a duff player. Then again, for the chaps faced with the task of entertaining a bunch of musicians with, er, music, there is the question of what to play- should it be clever stuff with lots of flashy notes, or things you’d play for anyone? You can end up with versions of Valerie here with the middle bit from A Love Supreme, if you let this sort of thing run unchecked. Far better to engage chaps on a proper basis and have them do a proper job, and no-one I know does a more proper job than Bob, seen in the picture here with his mate Terry on drums.Bob is old-school, and clearly its undefeated champion. With one foot on the master volume, the other, shoe off, darting around the bass pedals, a separate keyboard in each hand and a vocal mike on the go, very little of Bob’s being is left unused in the act of creating his art. Given this, it is quite remarkable that when I’ve been on jobs with him, people come up to him from the dance and start trying to bark requests down his ear. I’m quite surprised that he hasn’t imploded by now. Leading off the dancing with a magnificent rendition of “A Man And A Woman” and then getting stuck straight in to a fifteen minute Beatles medley, Bob had us all on the floor for hours.

In other parts of the building, the Brown Buffet had been unveiled and was rightly receiving the critical acclaim it so richly deserved. Two vast pies formed the centrepiece, in the proper sequence of one meat, one meat and potato, shouting “Wigan” to even the most casual observer. Being of orthodox school pie oblong construction, each offered the full gamut of crust texture from black and crunchy to golden brown and moist with the mysterious saggy white bit underneath. Flanked on either side was a vast expanse of hot pot, and two huge catering pots filled to the brim with home made curry brought up the rear. On top of this there were enough French sticks to keep Beau Geste and his mates happy for a week, and a cheeseboard which read like the A-Z at the dairy counter at Costco. Which, of course, it probably was. It was a work of art- right down to the paper plates and bowls arranged in the number 40 to chime in with the theme of the night. I’m normally a fiend for Buffets, as my Ma brought me up with the good old ethos that somehow if I finished my dinner, I’d save a starving African village, but as I was mainly in the grips of Terpsichore, flailing helplessly as I was in the magma of hot rhythm emanating from the Bob Holloway duo, I stuck to a portion of steak pie drowned in curry. It was brilliant. It was also plentiful- at the end of the night there was enough left that if my Ma’s theory about Third World famine was correct, Her Indoors’ 40th would be high on the agenda at the upcoming Oxfam conference.

At the after party party, back here at the Gables, things wound down in a very genteel manner, with the last bit of drunken rubbish being spoken at around 4.30 a.m. As I had the impressionable young of Hertfordshire to teach the next morning, I’d retired at the positively crepuscular hour of 3, so as not to smell too much of booze and general rotting matter whilst croakily explaining a melodic minor scale to a nipper in return for folding money. Before that, the Men of the group had made a visit to the Shed in order to visit the ongoing work that is The Seaplanes Of The Axis Powers diorama. In its way, it was curiously Victorian, with the chaps withdrawing and the ladies still at table, near the chocolate. I took the opportunity to drunkenly bang on about the travesty of the TSR 2. to a captive audience. I think I got away with it.

There had been no fights, no crying and not too much sick. Perhaps we’re all getting older.