Swanage Jazz Festival 2016
This years gathering of the jazz fraternity in sunny (mostly but at least dry) Swanage was for me, musically anyway, one of the best. At NO time did I feel that I was bored, or that there was nothing worth listening to.
Sadly we learnt that is was the penultimate Swanage Jazz Festival! All good things come to an end, and for 27 years we who pay for our weekend stroller tickets have enjoyed the fruits of someone else’s labour of organisation and financial management, not forgetting the shear slog of getting all the chairs out and away at the end, and clearing all the rubbish every night etc etc.
Now, like many of us who only have to listen, the organisers have grown old, and tired, and at the moment at least, no one has come forward to takeover the organising of this prestigious event.
So a very heart felt “THANK YOU” to all of the Swanage Jazz Team, and to Fred Lindup in particular, who has been the driving force behind the concept of what became in the end the template for other jazz festivals.
So, this year what did I listen to?
First listen, and for enough time until the plastic chair made sitting no longer an option was
The Kofi/Barnes Aggregation
This was Tony Kofi and Alan Barnes on saxes, John Turville, piano, Adam King bass, and Clark Tracey drums. This was in Marquee 2, the home of Swanage Modern Jazz, and it provided a good ear opener for the weekend. Hard, swinging, modern bop. One has to be impressed by the incredible ability of the two at the front, but also not wishing to denigrate by not mentioning the rest. Don’t forget that young Adam King has been seen at Marlow JC a number of times.
Mentioning Marlow JC leads me to my next visit, next door to the (Trad!) Marquee 1, where I stood, in order to give my backside a refresher! But the link with Marlow is that Michael Eagleton told me to hear The Budapest Ragtime Band if I could, which I duly did for ¾ of an hour. Fun, different, in as much as it was not your 1960’s concept of trad, but a recreation of a 1920’s Ragtime Orchestra. It was very polished, but in a slightly Orient Express way! The instrumentation included a violin, but no saxophones, a trumpet, a trombone, bass, drums, and a xylophone player who added vocals.
After this introduction to the weekends music, and the meeting with some old friends, I retired to my digs.
After a strenuous breakfast the first part of the day is taken up with the march up and down the front with Dave Brennan’s Heritage Band. Like much else, this was a thinner affair than before. Dave Brennan himself not being well enough to attend this years Swanage Festival. His first miss in 27 years! As can be seen in the photos there were fewer musicians and fewer umbrellas than before as well.
Passing on from this, my first band of Marquee 2 was The Mark Nightingale/Alistair White Quintet, with John Horler on piano, Alec Dankworth bass and yet again, almost the drummer in residence this year, Clark Tracey. As you may expect from a double trombone front line, this was a tribute to Jay and Kay records of the late 50’s that some of us had (correction, I still have mine!). Some newer material was also played, and it was all very enjoyable.
After this, I took a walk to The Conservative Club. In their upper room (The Churchill Room), a mixture of jazz styles is always played. Mostly leaning more to the traditional (rather than just Trad) styles of music, often in smaller ensemble forms. Here I heard a tremendous set by a young guitarist called Remi Harris in a trio format. Initially it was gypsy style, but he played at least 4 different styles of jazz guitar. He had with him the appropriate guitar for each style, and he told us what the differences were and why the were needed. Styles demonstrated ranged from BB King to Eric Clapton, via Fleetwood Mac. An absolutely enthralling experience. The room and its chairs, are also comfortable (unlike the plastic collapsible chairs in the Marquees) and the beer and rolls great value!
Next, for me, after a walk up the hill to the Methodist Church was a session under the leadership of bassist Andy Cleyndert. He has written the arrangements, and formed a quartet to play them. Andy has more than one distinctive talent. In addition to being a renowned bass player, he is a photographer, recording engineer and record producer. From previous visits to Swanage he must have been aware of the reverberant acoustics of the church, and I’m sure some of his arranging for the quartet had born this in mind.
In addition to Andy the quartet consisted of Martin Shaw on trumpet, Mark Edwards on piano and Colin Oxley on drums. The quartet produced some ethereal sounds, beautifully blended and assembled together. One piece based on a work by Bach, was truly beautiful. It allowed everyone (even I feel the audience) to stretch out. I think it drew the most applause of the set.
The church seating, whilst better than the marquee’s, still left enough impression on me to make me move slightly before the end, but it was a really worthwhile and memorable part of this years festival.
Next, and last for me for the day, and after a break for dinner (in Beavers, quick and pleasant service café food) I went back to Marquee 2 for a session I had looked forward to, the Buck Clayton Legacy Band, organised by BBC presenter and bass player Alyn Shipton.
A stellar line up (Karen Sharp, Alan Barnes Robert Fowler reeds, Ian Smith trumpet, Adrian Fry trombone, Martin Litton piano and Bobby Worth drums) that failed in my view to generate the swing and excitement I associate with Buck Clayton and the “legacy” Clayton had from the Count Basie Orchestra. A lot of hasty reading from the parts, interspersed with individual solos, all of good quality, just didn’t do it for me. It lacked that spark of spontaneity. I had sat for the first set, I admit that I was sitting near the back, and therefore the weight of sound may have had an influence. I got up at the interval to talk to friends at the bar, and stayed for the start of set 2, but then succumbed to the idea of a bed before the end!!
Sunday this year had a special significance for me, as it fell on the 14th anniversary of the death of my son Stuart from Cancer. I made my way to Marquee 2, and was nearly undone emotionally when the Alton Collage Jazz Band, with guest Alan Barnes played Duke Ellington’s “Come Sunday”. This band of young people had one or two good soloists (baritone sax, trombone for example) and a leader (teacher?) on trumpet that was also very good. She appeared young enough to be one of the sixth form, but was probably a teacher! They were fun to listen to, and made a good start to the day.
I then went to church! Sadly not for worship, but to hear The Dave Newton Trio with saxophonist Greg Abate. On drums was Matt Skelton with Jeremy Brown on bass. Greg Abate is an American saxophonist, who plays in the UK quite often and has played Swanage many times. He plays bop style, and with Dave Newton’s trio stayed with alto sax and flute. This was another really enthralling session. Dave Newton is a real star, and so is Matt Skelton. Even with the acoustics of the church, which could be described as “lively”, the abilities of all to play together and yet improvise during their solos was greatly entertaining. Great jazz.
Back down the hill and up again to the Green, and the idea of a burger struck home.
Whilst standing in line for my burger I glanced to my right, and was surprised to see a certain Mr Williams who was also ordering a burger. So I asked him where he was playing, and he replied that he had been invited to guest with the TJ Johnson band, a band that I had not previously considered going to see. I found a sheltered spot to sit and eat my burger and looked at my full program. It should be noted at this time that I only had readily available my program amendment sheet, which gave who and where, but not personnel. In the full program for the said TJ Johnson band I saw mention of one of Hedsor jazz’s favourite saxophone players, Al Nichols, who is a regular member of that band (I found out). So I hastened to Marquee 1, and enjoyed all of the second set, with Al playing alongside the great Roy Williams. For those of you too young to remember the Alex Welsh band, Roy was his trombonist, and after that he played trombone with one of Humph’s great bands, alongside John Barnes and a very young Alan Barnes. TJ Johnson plays keyboard and sings (very well) in a style rather like Dr. John (but with clearer diction!). A very enjoyable, and unplanned interlude. Great music.
After this, and a short break for fresh air and further chat with friends, I returned to Marquee 2 for the session that got my vote for the best band session of the weekend. The Skelton-Skinner Septet.
Billed in the notes to the program as “The Skelton-Skinner AllStars” they were indeed all stars. A small version of a big band, their timing and attack and musical ability could not be surpassed in my view. They swung like crazy, and played excellent solos. But so they should, because the all stars are Matt Skelton drums (and announcements), Colin Skinner alto sax, Alan Barnes reeds various, Mike Lovate trumpet, Gordon Campbell trombone, David Newton piano and Jeremy Brown bass. Playing some Basie and Ellington tunes, but with a sprinkling of other music as well it brought broad an infectious smiles to everyone’s faces! A real WOW set.
After this, I gave my posterior a 2 hour break, took onboard chicken and chips, and made my way back from the town to hear the last band of the festival for Marquee 2, Pete Long and Richard Pite Tribute to Jazz at the Philharmonic. Loads of great talent, with pianist Dave Newton and including another Hedsor favourite, guitarist Nigel Price it was a band that I felt was a bit too over indulgent. Loads of long solos, loads of brassy noise, but not a lot worth remembering really. It was fun, but not great jazz.
However I think I can say that for me this penultimate Swanage Jazz Festival was one of he most enjoyable I have been to in my 25 years of attendance. I have already booked my residence for next year (a week later than this years festival), and hope that it really wont be the last. I have made many friends over the years, some I have seen every year, some only more recently. Many people have retired from the scene due to advancing age or ill health, but life will not be the same for any of us if Swanage Jazz is allowed to disappear into memory.
Again, well done Fred, and all your hard working team.
Geoff C 2016