Thursday, July 22, 2010

The 21st Swanage Jazz Festival

Right at the start let me say that I have enjoyed this years festival immensely. I would like to say a big THANK YOU to Fred Lindup and his team for consistently organising the best jazz festival in the UK for the last 21 years. I have only managed to get to 20 of them, and in 2001 was carted away with a heart condition that eventually led to 3 heart attacks and open-heart surgery. But, despite all odds, and many of you know what they were, I was there the year later, just to show all concerned that I was still alive!!

Can I also say a big THANK YOU to the many, many, friends that I have made over the years at the Swanage Jazz Festival. Every year we have an old boys/girls reunion. We chat, we share comments on what/who we have seen, good or bad. Then at the end of the weekend we all say “see you next year”, and most of us do. The friendship expressed through our joint love of jazz, and of Swanage is one of my life’s deep joys.

Now, on to my experience of this years musical events.


Knowing from previous experience where Marquee 3 was, I went into training a week before, but it is still a breath-taking climb to get there. So it was with great disappointment, that by the time I did, not long after the published start time of 7.15 pm, the place was too full to stand in. You couldn’t even get to the bar, because all the space was full of people trying to see and listen to the John Donaldson Quartet, who were later going to be joined by Alan Barnes. So, I turned around, and descended, to see a few minutes of Richard Leach’s 7 Stars of Jazz in M 1. I thought it very strange that they modelled themselves on The Alex Welsh Dixelanders, and not on the inspiration of The Alex Welsh Dixielanders, which of course was the Eddie Condon School of Jazz. And although without doubt, the 7 Stars were all competent musicians, for me, they didn’t shine.

Feeling now slightly jaded, I went to the other Marquee in range, M 2. I got a seat, and one of the best shows of the entire weekend. Show, because it was a mix of jazz and cabaret, but performed by the self proclaimed dyke, Lea Delaria,American star of Broadway and TV, and her band. Lea was a hoot, but the lady wot played the piano was tremendous. Janette Mason, is for me, a real find.
The evening finished with a standing ovation, which presaged good for the rest of the weekend.


I had two friends playing at Swanage on Saturday, Mike Wills in the morning, with Paul Munnery (trombone) and Hootie and the Gang. They were great fun, if a little under rehearsed. The front line were all good readers, and the arrangements of 1930’s Kansas City style were great

At the end of their set, I rushed down the hill (yes, I had got to M 3 again), to take in Vasilis Xenopoulos with Nigel Price’s Trio. Another excellent set, spoilt slightly by poor sound. No sound man was evident, and the lack of treble literally took the edge of things except for the last 25 minutes, when the wonderful organ player (Paul Whitaker) found the right switch to press on the PA, and we all realised what we had been missing. BUT the set was musically tremendous. Don’t forget folks, that I have booked Nigel with Vasilis for the Marlow Jazz Festival on October 23rd.

I then caught 20 minutes or so of Hotsy Totsy in the Conservative Club. H T are an all lady band, two reeds at the front, singing Boswell Sisters type songs from the late 20’s early 30’s. Good fun, but it was another venue that was too full, and I retreated eventually (after the intake of food and sociability)

to see the first set of Keith Nichols’ Blue Devils in M 1. Again I must say that sound was a problem. This time the sound desk was behind the orchestra, not an ideal place to balance sound from. The band was terrific, making the big band sounds of the 20’s and 30’s sound vibrant and exciting.

By then, I retired to my hotel, and waited with (baited?) breath for Sunday.


My hotel had Stan Tracey staying in it, with Clark too, so, as I hadn’t heard the Octet on Saturday night, I went to M 2 to see the Stan Tracey Trio. Stan is looking a little grey and stooped these days, but he is still a vibrant and powerful piano player. Stan and Clark were joined by Andy Cleyndert on bass. Good interplay between all three, a wonderful set.

They were followed by Steve Waterman’s Sextet, who showed us all what terrific musicians can do with arranged music, and then what individual musicians can do with space to solo. They were blindingly good, playing tunes that originated with Benny Golsen, Herbie Hancock, Tadd Dameron and the like. Wonderful music brilliantly played.

A quick trip to the Conservative Club to see Mike Wills again, playing with a band (Judy Eames Jazz Revellers) giving us a quick update on the music of Bessie Smith and Ottilie Patterson, (Judy, the leader, is a singer!!) Apart from our own Mike on reeds, Judy’s husband on trumpet a la Max Kaminsky, the keyboard player was a pretty good stride player.

Food and sociability over again, I returned to M 2 for an entertaining, often improvised, big band set with the Alan Barnes Quartet and Tina May. Well that’s how they were billed, but it was really an Octet. And to get an Octet to do things on the run, without anything falling off, is a remarkable achievement and a tribute to their musicianship. So, for this record, they were Steve Fishwick Trumpet, Mattias Eskilsson Trombone, Alan Barnes Reeds, Andy Panayi Reeds, Jim Hart Vibes, Robin Aspland piano, Mark Hodgson Bass, and Paul Clarvis drums. Tina May sang from the score/lyric sheet Alan Platter words from Alan’s suite about jazz, plus a few standards that were not in the band book. A great time was had by all. All in the band enjoyed it, and “standing” and “ovation” again come to mind at the end of the evening, and of the 21st Festival.

And so it was. I am a fan of Tina May. Many of you know that already, so it was an additional delight to find her at breakfast on Monday, with Alan’s mum and dad!!

Overall it is a tremendous achievement for Swanage to put such a great music event on. I hope you are just getting started, and that I (I must be joking) can look forward to another 21 years of Swanage Jazz.