Bobby Wellins, who has died at the age of 80, was not only Scotland’s first great jazz tenor saxophonist but also an icon of British jazz whose influence would have lived on even if he had never played again after 1965, when he featured on the iconic album of Stan Tracey’s Under Milk Wood suite.
Remembering Alex Welsh, Spiegeltent St Andrew Square ****
For the second consecutive year, the evening slot on the last day of the jazz festival– or as bandleader John Burgess called it “the fag-end of the festival” – became a jovial celebration of the music of the much-loved Scottish trumpeter and legend of British jazz who died, aged 52, in 1982.
Sunday’s concert reunited the line-up from last year, and was led by the afore-mentioned clarinettist/saxophonist and amiable host Burgess whose jokey patter added to the festive atmosphere. Indeed, from the energy expended by the entire seven-piece band in the opening number, it seemed as if the musicians had started the party without us: they were already on fire when they launched into a rousing Rose Room – there was no gradual build-up. No sooner had a clarinet-wielding Burgess played along with the front line on the melody of Rose Room than he was blowing the sax on the first solo. This was a high-octane concert from the get-go.
Particularly impressive – as ever – was the human dynamo Enrico Tomasso, who, at his best is an irrepressible bundle of musical energy when he’s playing this sort of Chicago-style jazz – and whose solos seemed to explode out of him, notably on an exhilarating After You’ve Gone. Burgess was being facetious when he described him as “quite simply the finest in his price range” but Tomasso is undoubtedly the best when it comes to contemporary trumpeters with the Louis Armstrong influence to the fore.
And, of course, there were also terrific contributions from the great, ever-nimble and ever-lyrical trombonist Roy Williams, who, as a veteran of Welsh’s band, brought the stamp of authenticity to the proceedings.
Diplomats of Jazz, City Art Centre ****
For several years, it was a tradition for this reviewer to request a ticket for the Friday afternoon gig at the Royal Overseas League – and to be told that it had sold out days before and there were no spare tickets. So it was great to see in this year’s programme that the ever-popular Edinburgh band the Diplomats of Jazz were playing their annual Jazz Festival gig at this event’s new venue, the City Art Centre’s fifth floor, which clearly holds a larger audience than the ROL.
It’s no wonder the Diplomats have such a strong following and can easily pack out venues even at a time of year when there are plenty of out-of-town bands around to choose from. They are wonderful purveyors of classic jazz which they play with good humour and style. And it’s always a delight to hear the combined sound of cornet, clarinet, banjo and sousaphone.
Last year, the band’s cornet-playing leader Jim Petrie had a not-so funny turn during their gig and had to be taken to hospital, but he was looking and sounding good on Friday – though his cornet had less of a work-out than his gravelly vocals, and he was suffering from the intense heat from the stadium lights on the stage.
Despite their discomfort, the fully dinner-suited quartet served up an hour’s worth of swinging tunes. Among the catchy highlights were East Coast Trot and Yearning, both of which showcased this band’s top-notch ensemble playing as well as some terrific clarinet solos by Bob Busby, whose spiky-round-the-edges sound brought the great Sandy Brown to mind.
First published on HeraldScotland on Sunday July 24th
Diplomats of Jazz, City Art Centre, Edinburgh, Friday July 22nd
She’s Funny That Way
New Orleans Shuffle
Baby Won’t You Please Come Home
East Coast Trot
Give Me a June Night, the Moonlight and You
Crying’ For the Carolines
Swing That Music
Moscow Drug Club, St Andrew Square Spiegeltent **