Friday, July 17, 2009

Swanage Jazz festival 2009


Hi Folks,

Having taken a few days recuperation from last weekends Swanage Jazz festival, I thought you might like my comments (and some of my pictures) of the event. So, let me start with


Friday Evening.

My evening started in the newly relocated Marquee 3. As a venue to “stroll” to, I found the clime up to it a bit tough. OK, so I’m over 70, and have had heart surgery, and I got there. But over the weekend, its position DID colour my choice of who to listen to!



Friday, the main event in it was by Sarah Moule, a singer I hadn’t heard live before. She was accompanied by her husband Simon Wallace on piano, an excellent pianist who just showed us what the piano can do. Also with her was the Festival Musician in Residence (!), Alan Barnes. It was an great evening and start to the festival. I enjoyed her singing no end, and I also thought Alan played with great thoughtfulness.


Saturday

Morning for me started off in Marquee 2, for a superb session by Don Weller and Bobby Wellins. They were accompanied by Mark Edwards on piano, Andy Cleyndert bass and Spike Wells on drums.A Stella band, undampened by the rain (yes, we were all in a marquee, but Spike had to be warned of the ever lowering “ceiling” full of water that was just above his head!). I had missed the previous evenings outing by the Three Tenors (Don Weller, Art Theman, and Mornington Locket), but this session enabled me to do a sort of catch up. Bobby Wellins is having something of a renaissance these days, and it was lovely to her him again, and as lyrical as ever. Don Weller is also another saxophonist who is getting better and better, he is playing better and looking better than I have seen and heard for many years.



Next off was a return visit to Marquee 3. A fair walk and climb from M 2, and I don’t think there were any busses at this time of day between the two venues, so it was a determined visit, BECAUSE our old friend James Fenn (guitar) was playing for a band called “OCTUPLE ODESSEY”. It’s very difficult to describe this band. Fun without doubt, terrifically able too, but if I tell you that it had James on amplified guitar,and also a player on a 6 string banjo, Johhny Boston on sax and vocals, a trombone player, Alan Barnes on reeds, as well as bass and drums, you will get the idea that it didn’t fall into any known category. It is led by James Evans, a very accomplished reed player. The band plays music that is carefully arranged, and sounded sometimes a bit like William Walton’s Fa├žade Suite being played by Central Europeans! It drew huge applause, but I did think the final number (not seen by James before in the version they played) called “Pigeon” the least appropriate final number I have ever heard!



I took James out for a coffee and a chat after that, but eventually got to hear (back in M 2) Simon Spillett’s second set. He was, as ever, completely immaculate in both appearance and performance. He was accompanied by John Critchinson on piano, Andy Cleyndert bass and Spike Wells drums. I know at Hedsor we do have the privilege of hearing Simon fairly often, but we shouldn’t take talent like that for granted, he is an amazing bop saxophonist. Don’t forget to go and buy his latest winning album “Sienna Red” (J.J. best album of the year).


At this point I made my one fundamental mistake of the weekend. I needed a break and decided to walk back to my digs, about 20 minutes walk away from M 2. It was at this point that the rain, which had fallen all day, decided to increase its velocity of decent into “torrential” mode, and I got soaked through!


After a suitable drying out period, and the re acquisition of my umbrella, I returned for the evening gig at M 2.


Alan Barnes Octet (Ellingtonians this year) playing a whole evening of Duke Ellingtons music. Many of you would have heard them do this in the Wycombe Town Hall earlier in the year. I enjoyed this repeat performance very much, and had to admire the way the 8 piece coped with the cramped stage, and dripping canvas. The performance was therefore slightly less relaxed than the one heard at High Wycombe, but still very enjoyable. They have really brought the lovely Ellington Tunes back into our lives in real performance.



The Octet also contains for me my weekend highlight. Tony Coe. I have admired him for years. Since about 1957 anyway! His playing is as good as ever. Individual, sometimes beautiful, sometimes pointed, he is a true British star that has gone largely unappreciated by the British jazz public. It was great to see and hear him again. It was sad to see that he needed to sit most of the time, and obviously had difficulty standing.


The walk home was dryer, and umbrellafied!


Sunday

First off, I paid my only visit to M 1 to listen to the Dorset Youth Jazz Orchestra. I loved the mixture of ages, I would think the youngest were about 12, and the oldest (apart from a dad sitting in on keyboard to replace his flu bound daughter) was about 18. They were terrifically enthusiastic, and one or two very accomplished. The drummer has a contract with P & O this summer, and 4 of them are going off to London music collages this coming September. One of the four was a young gentleman singer. He had a terrific voice, and presented his numbers with great maturity.



In to M 2 then for a total contrast. Bruce Adams, Roy Williams, Dave Green, and two guitar players I didn’t know. They were filling the spot that should have been filled by the Australian trumpeter Bob Barnard and his son. They were unable to attend because they hadn’t been able to get enough confirmed bookings for the UK festival season to make the journey financially viable. No drums, no keyboard, and a put together band, who through their collective professionalism played a very pleasent set in total contrast to some of the blasts that happened at other times. As will be seen in my photo, Bruce did do his party trick of playing a trumpet and a flugel horn in harmony at the same time. And he does do it well, it isn’t only just a party trick!



I did take a Sunday Lunch break at this point, and returned to the fray in time to catch the end of the Clark Tracey Sextet. Young musicians all, some from our local big band “Pendulum”, they had a terrific vibraphone player called Lewis Wright (Seems an appropriate name!). The keyboard player was also very talented.


The trio (p, b, d) stayed in place for the following set with Alan Barnes, this time accompanied (and challenged by!), New York saxophonist Greg Abate. All great fun, in an old fashioned, cutting contest sort of way.



Having by now been overcome with jazz fatigue, I returned to my digs (dry this time, Sunday was a lovely day) to prepare for “the evening hour”!


The finale of the festival this year was a set by The Liane Carol Trio. I have always enjoyed her music, and she has been a regular performer at Swanage for almost all of its 20 years. Now comes fame!! And a crowded M 2 saw a good, but noisy, set. I left at half time, as hunger set in, and although the music and the festival friendships should have determined my stay in M 2 (especially as by the end of the first set I did have a seat!), I sought out a steak roll from the food van at the back of the marquees (a great innovation this year), and went out to sit on a bench to eat it. Listening to the gentle sounds of sea on sand, and looking at the lights of Bournemouth in the far distance, my 20th Swanage Jazz Festival came to an end in the beauty of its bay.


I would like to offer the organisers my heartiest congratulations on another superb jazz weekend. It has always been one of my year’s highlights. I still consider it to be the best, and am already making my plans for next year. I suppose, having had that bye pass surgery, and being 71 by then, I should add in that old Latin caveat “DV”.


I would also like to say “thank you” to all the friends who I see there every year. They all help to make the weekend so enjoyable. The Swanage Jazz Festival is vastly more than just great jazz. It is a great experience.


Geoff Cronin

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