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-