Jazz Journal

John Bunch and me at the 2003 Blackpool Swinging Jazz Party

It’s been a sad week, with the news of John Bunch’s death.  John was a good friend to me, and, after meeting him at the Nairn Jazz Festival of 2002 (we were staying in the same Elgin hotel, and were transported to gigs in the same mini-bus), we stayed in touch between festivals – John, after all, was a dab hand at e-mail (and, even more impressively, at emailing photos).

John Bunch and one of his youngest friends at the 2005 Blackpool Swinging Jazz Party

Scott Hamilton told me last week that John had been responsible for various jobs that he landed during his early days in New York – including his stint with the Benny Goodman band. And that there were lots of musicians who owed John a debt of gratitude. Helping and encouraging younger people seems to have been something that John did as a matter of course. He certainly did it with me, and would often send me emails congratulating me on articles that he must have sought out online.

Just before I heard about John’s death, I finished the liner notes for Top Shelf, the new Arbors CD by cornettist Warren Vache and trombonist John Allred. It’s a reunion of the band that featured on the live CD, Jubilation, a couple of years back: in addition to John and Warren, there’s Tardo Hammer on piano, Nicki Parrott on bass and Leroy Williams on drums.

Warren and John seem to have had great fun choosing the tunes – most of them lesser-played bop numbers from the 1950s and 1960s – and they play them in such a swinging and lyrical way that they’re very accessible even to those listeners who normally give bop a bodyswerve.. I sent the notes to Warren for approval just as the news of John’s death came through, and he immediately resolved to dedicate the CD to John, and to another friend and colleague who died recently, the great drummer Jake Hanna.

A reunion at the 2008 Nairn Jazz Festival.

John spent six years working as the musical director for the singer Tony Bennett so it was a strange coincidence that after several months on the blink, my digi-box finally sprang back into life in time for me to see Bennett in the star-studded documentary on Johnny Mercer, The Dream’s On Me, on BBC4 at the weekend.

This hugely enjoyable and suitably long (after all Mercer did write more popular songs than just about anyone else) film was a real treat and featured performances by everyone from Bing Crosby to Jamie Cullum, via Morgan Eastwood. Who? I hear you asking. Well, if I tell you that Morgan Eastwood is the teenage daughter of the film’s executive producer, a certain Clint, that might explain it – and the fact she got to sing the programme’s title song!

There’s another chance to see Johnny Mercer – The Dream’s On Me on Friday on BBC4 at 10pm. I’ll be kicking my Friday night off in style with a couple of programmes of Fred Astaire and Ginger Rogers singing the songs from the Great American Songbook – presumably excerpts from their great run of movies in the 1930s. To paraphrase Irving Berlin: “I’ll be in heaven… “

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