Nairn Jazz Festival 1994

By way of tribute to Ken Ramage (who died earlier this month), the founder and organiser of the wonderful Nairn Jazz Festival – and the promoter of many non-festival concerts, I’m going to run all my Nairn articles (or as many as I can find), starting with this, my first review from Nairn – of my first time at the Nairn Jazz Festival, published in The Herald on August 11, 1994. I’m not sure where or how I wrote this as it was pre-internet. It was probably phoned-in to copytakers, a now-extinct species!

You had to be there really, but you can take my word for it that the audience for jazz is alive and flourishing in the north of Scotland. Consider the remarkable initiative of Nairn fruiterer-cum-jazz promoter Ken Ramage who decided – only three months ago – to build a festival around an exclusive Scottish appearance by the Ray Brown Trio.

Only the promise of a night of world-class music would drag the mainstream jazz fan away from residency at the Edinburgh Jazz Festival, but Ramage could not have selected a better group to launch his own event than the one which took the stage in the grounds of the Golf View Hotel on Tuesday night. With an all-American, all-star, front line of cornettist Warren Vache, clarinettist Kenny Davern, tenor saxophonist Scott Hamilton and trombonist Joel Helleny, plus a stellar British rhythm section in the shape of the Colin Purbrook Trio, it could only be a winner.

The band swung its way through numbers like Bernie’s Tune and Sweet Georgia Brown, but it was in the various groups within the group that the individual musicians truly shone. Jerome Kern’s Pick Yourself Up showcased the dulcet cornet tones of Vache, while Joel Helleny – making his first Scottish appearance – introduced the 300-strong audience to his poetic playing with a stunning Polka Dots and Moonbeams. The two brassmen were featured on a poignant You’ve Changed.

Much the same could be said of Hamilton and Davern who locked horns and competed for the notes in the dog whistle register during their splendid version of Blue Monk. Elsewhere, Hamilton’s bluesy, growling tenor on It Don’t Mean a Thing If It Ain’t Got That Swing, and his lulling Nightingale Sang in Berkeley Square provoked cheers – as did Davern’s beautifully restrained solo number, Sweet Lorraine.

The Vache-Davern-Hamilton triumverate is always a pleasure to hear, but add Joel Helleny and a trio as compatible as Purbrook’s and we really had one helluva line-up. They will be a tough act to follow, but then so is singer Carol Kidd. She appears at the Marquee tonight accompanied by her regular trio of Dave Newton (piano), Dave Green (bass) and Allan Ganley (drums).

For many, however, the highlight of Nairn’s jazz festival will be the booking that set the ball rolling – the Ray Brown Trio. Bass player Brown started out with the Dizzy Gillespie-Charlie Parker Quintet before working with, and marrying, Ella Fitzgerald. His name will also be remembered from Norman Granz’s legendary Jazz At the Philharmonic concert series, or from his stint with Oscar Peterson’s most celebrated trio. On Sunday Brown’s band features Benny Green, a young pianist in great demand worldwide, and another Peterson regular – drummer Jeff Hamilton.

Here’s the complete list of numbers played by Vache, Hamilton, Davern, Helleny etc:

* Sometimes I’m Happy (SH)

* Polka Dots and Moonbeams (JH)

* Pick Yourself Up (WV)

* A Nightingale Sang in Berkeley Square (SH)

* Sweet Lorraine (KD)

* It Don’t Mean a Thing (whole band)

* Bernie’s Tune

* In a Mellow Tone

* You’ve Changed (WV & JH)

* On Green Dolphin Street (trio)

* Blue Monk (SH & KD)

* Sweet Georgia Brown

I didn’t hear the rest of the Nairn Jazz Festival – I got a lift down to the Edinburgh Jazz Festival with Vache, Hamilton and Davern who were all appearing at the Gala Concert at the Queen’s Hall the day this review was published!

1 Comment

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One response to “Nairn Jazz Festival 1994

  1. Thanks for posting this. I miss Davern and Hell very much. They were two of the best musicians I’ve ever heard, and I was truly blessed to play with them and befriend them. I learned a lot from them.

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