Ali Affleck: The Juggling Jazz Singer

Alison Affleck.pngIf ever there was a living embodiment of get-up-and-go, it’s Alison “Ali” Affleck, the Scots-born American jazz singer and bandleader who – in less than a decade – has established herself as a popular fixture on the Scottish music scene, and one of the busiest singers in the business.

While others struggle to get gigs, Affleck – whose name is synonymous with early New Orleans jazz and blues – is juggling several bands and has so many projects on the back (and front) burners that she must have a super-size Aga in her office.

At this weekend’s Islay Jazz Festival, the ebullient thirtysomething singer is playing virtually back-to-back gigs with the up-and-coming Tenement Jazz Band, a six-piece outfit from Edinburgh, and with regular collaborators Colin Steele and Graeme Stephen.  This comes just a fortnight after she completed a Fringe run comprising not one but three distinct shows, as well as a handful of one-nighters.

Affleck’s obvious capacity for cramming a great deal of activity into a short amount of time makes the stories of her adventures before she returned to Scotland in her late twenties much less like tall tales than they would otherwise have been. After all, in the first fifteen minutes of our conversation, we have covered five countries where she’s resided, two college degrees, one fiancé and several encounters with one Barry White.

Wait, what, rewind – THE Barry White?! “Yes!” laughs Affleck. “I looked after his dogs. I used to work as a vet nurse in California. I went to community college there and one of the courses I did there was vet medicine. I ended up working in a practice for a while, and one of the clients was Barry White. He happened to need help with his dogs – jet black Alsatians, a father, mother and son called Bear, Isis and Sokar.

“I got on well with them so I would groom them, take them out and then return them to his house. He was a nice guy, not the sharpest tool in the box though – his PA’s used to say: ‘We think for Barry so he doesn’t think for himself.’ Sadly, we never discussed music. I was only in my early 20s – and not as ballsy as I am today!”

Barry White’s California mansion was a far cry from Affleck’s hometown of Dundee where she was born and raised. Her talent for singing was evident from an early age, especially to her mother – who had wanted to be an opera singer. “My granny’s side of the family is musical,” says Affleck. “In fact, we are related to the Australian opera singer Dame Nellie Melba – somebody researched our family tree and it turned out that she’s my great, great, great aunt.”

Her singing talent was also very obvious to her primary school teachers. “I became aware of the power in my voice when I was admonished by my teacher for not taking part in something we were doing. She said: ‘You’re not singing. If you had been singing, we would have heard you above everyone else!’ ”

During this period, Affleck was mostly singing Scots songs and performing for family and friends. She won the prestigious Leng Medal, awarded in Dundee schools for children performing Scots songs and keeping the tradition alive.

Through her grandmother, who had an impressive record collection, Affleck first heard the such iconic jazz singers as Billie Holiday and Ella Fitzgerald for the first time but it was only when she was living in San Diego in her late teens – “I went there to study photography” – that she got into jazz singing as a result of a newfound interest in swing dancing.

By the time she moved to New Orleans three years later, she was well on her way to being a jazz obsessive. “I got really feverishly into researching the songs I was learning,” she says. The music that really grabbed her, and with which she is most strongly associated, is that of the early jazz singers – the original jazz and blues vocalists who blazed a trail in the 1920s and 1930s but are often now overlooked. “I have massive affection for these pioneering women, particularly Ma Rainey, Bessie Smith and Alberta Hunter, and I love the storytelling nature of the songs they sang.”

With her powerful, gutsy vocals and obvious skills as a storyteller herself, Affleck is well qualified to revive or take on the songs that these strong black women introduced almost a century ago. But she doesn’t do it in an imitative way, nor are they performed as novelty numbers; she puts them in context with a bit of background information and brings out the humour, feeling and drama in them in a way that makes them feel current, fresh and timeless – even in the case of some of the most familiar songs that have been on the trad jazz repertoire for decades.

Of course, it helps that Affleck also has a gift for surrounding herself with the best musicians. Returning to Scotland after a long residency in the States and an impressive amount of travel, Affleck was lucky to land in Edinburgh just as new opportunities were flourishing for would-be singers. Whighams, a wine bar and restaurant in the west end, had just launched its jazz club and weekly sessions in which singers could have the chance to sing with the house rhythm section, and Affleck, who had finally decided to focus on music after dabbling in numerous academic courses and jobs, became a regular.

“It was great for me,” she recalls. “It gave me an instant way to meet people. The Jazz Bar’s Tuesday night jam session was way more intimidating!”

Also lucky was the fact that Edinburgh has a relatively high concentration of terrific jazz musicians who can play in the style which Affleck loves. Through Whighams, she met regular collaborators Dick Lee (clarinets and saxes), Colin Steele (trumpet) and Roy Percy (bass), who have been “a great support – especially whenever I’ve thought of packing it in”. Lee was in the first band she formed – Vieux Carré – and both he and Steele play with Affleck in her Copper Cats, while Steele is one of her Gin Mill Genies.

Indeed, Affleck seems to have a knack for hatching new bands on a regular basis. “It’s true!” laughs. “But it’s through necessity. I’ve always found that if I want to do something, I have to be proactive. I realised that if I wanted to do the music that I want to do, I would have to make the band.

“The problem I have is that there are so few really top musicians that can play this sort of stuff well, and have the time to do it. I’m trying to forge a career but I’m hitting a wall because the guys I work with here can’t come on tour for one reason or another – and they play in other bands as well as with me. So I do feel a wee bit stuck. I’ve always been able to find a way, and if someone can’t do a gig I can usually find a dep but it means I have to adapt. And if I have to compromise in my performance, I always feel deflated afterwards.”

Affleck’s way of dealing with these frustrations is to take practical steps – and build a new band. The latest one is an all-female sextet named the Red Hot Rhythm Makers, which is not even a year old. It seems entirely apt that Affleck, who plays washboard and concertina, should galvanise a group of women to play the music of the original female pioneers – and it’s a refreshing new direction as trad and classic jazz have long been male-dominated in Britain.

“It’s turned out to be a really nice experience,” says Affleck. “Not only does it mean that I have another band I can do gigs with but the dynamic in an all-woman band is very different – in a positive way. We share the load more: everybody adopts roles, for example, one of the girls offered to be the cashier. I’ve never had this before! Every time we get together I really enjoy the camaraderie. It’s hilarious: everybody apologises to each other whenever they make a mistake – that never happens when guys mess up!”

So what’s next for this particular pioneer? “Well, the Gin Mill Genies have just put out a new live CD, Pioneer … Queen… Goddess … Diva – Birth of the Blues, and the Copper Cats are releasing a new studio recording. I’m writing some original material, and I’m working on a Billie Holiday-themed show which will feature Martin Kershaw playing on the songs she did with Lester Young. Oh, and there’s a new monthly trad residency at the Jazz Bar which I’m heading up. Those are the main strands I’m working on just now …”

Affleck pauses for a split second, before adding: “But I’m always looking for new collaborations …”

 * Visit www.aliaffleck.com to keep track of all the latest news on her various bands.

* First published in The Herald, Saturday September 15th

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Edinburgh Jazz Festival 2018: Carol Kidd

Carol Kidd, George Square Spiegeltent ****

There was a very strong sense of déjà vu about Saturday night’s concert by Scottish singing star Carol Kidd’s jazz festival concert. As with last year’s performance, it took place in the main Spiegeltent in George Square and she was once more accompanied by a trio headed by pianist Paul Harrison.

As anyone who attended the 40th Anniversary Jazz Gala which launched the Edinburgh Jazz Festival the previous weekend will have observed, the 2018 Carol Kidd is at the top of her game again. At that all-star concert, the pixie-ish singer stole the show with a couple of heartbreakingly moving ballads – new additions to her repertoire – and she repeated those triumphs at her own gig, threatening to reduce listeners to blubbering wrecks with her perfect, crystal-clear renditions of Billy Joel’s And So It Goes and Rodgers and Hammerstein’s Something Wonderful (from The King and I). She made every note, and every word matter – and she had her rapt audience hanging on every syllable.

The other stand-out ballad was an old Harold Arlen-Yip Harburg favourite, Happiness Is Just a Thing Called Joe, which Kidd sang so exquisitely that the effect was spine-tingling. On this, as with the afore-mentioned new ballads, she was accompanied – though perhaps not always to her best advantage – by just Paul Harrison.

Less satsifying were the numbers which featured the full line-up; a line-up which, as last year, sounded like it would benefit from the addition of a guitar for a warmer, less dry sound. That said, le tout ensemble sounded terrific on the R&B song You Don’t Know Me which opened the show, and on a dramatically executed I Think It’s Going to Rain Today.

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Edinburgh Jazz Festival 2018: Curtis Stigers & Martin Taylor

Curtis Stigers & Martin Taylor, Teviot Row, Edinburgh *****Curtis S & Martin T 2

Anyone who heard Curtis Stigers – the American singer-saxophonist with the Mount Rushmore features and the craggy, soulful voice – when he played a series of duo gigs at Le Monde in 2012-2013 will have had his second Edinburgh Jazz Festival appearance of this year circled in their programme since it was announced. Why? Because not only was he coming back for his first duo gig here since then – but also because he was going to be teamed with British guitar star Martin Taylor.

This may have been Stigers’s and Taylor’s first full concert together, but – as they explained – they met years ago, and the idea of a duo gig has been gestating ever since, with a shared love for the legendary Tony Bennett-Bill Evans recordings providing inspiration both in terms of repertoire (their 2018 version of Days of Wine and Roses was a particular joy) and as a prime example of the art of the jazz duo.

Right from the off, it was clear that the full-house audience at Teviot Row – great acoustics, great sightlines, fiendishly uncomfortable heat – was in for a treat. A terrific storyteller, Stigers clearly relishes this sort of intimate setting, and the opportunity it affords him to get to the core of a song and lay bare its heart – especially when he has such a suitably sensitive musical partner.

It’s no surprise, then, that it was the ballads – notably their exquisite takes on All The Things You Are,  My Foolish Heart, I Fall In Love Too Easily and There’s Always Tomorrow – which best showcased the results of this successful summit meeting.

First published in The Scotsman on Saturday July 21st

  • You’d Be So Nice To Come Home To
  • But Beautiful
  • Days of Wine and Roses
  • My Foolish Heart
  • Willow Weep For Me
  • All The Things You Are
  • They Can’t Take That Away From Me
  • I Fall In Love Too Easily
  • Comes Love (with Alison Burns, vocals)
  • Why Did I Choose You (Martin Taylor solo)
  • I Won’t Last A Day Without You (Martin Taylor solo)
  • Georgia On My Mind
  • I Wonder Why
  • You’re My Centerpiece
  • There’s Always Tomorrow (encore)

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Edinburgh Jazz Festival 2018: The New Wave of Scottish Jazz

The New Wave of Scottish Jazz, Teviot Row ****

Teviot Row, this year’s base camp for the Edinburgh Jazz Festival, was the scene for a show featuring the festival’s pick of the jazz talent that has recently erupted out of Glasgow. But it will be a testament to their youth if the musicians who performed didn’t feel like stretcher cases after their appearances on the stage in the airless auditorium – usually the university’s debating hall – on Saturday night. The heat was unbearable, the atmosphere sticky and suffocating; all the moreso because there was no break until 80 minutes into the concert.

This didn’t seem to bother the dazzling young pianist Fergus McCreadie whose talent and trio were the main focal point of that long first half, and who electrified the audience with a series of atmospheric numbers which recalled the style of the American pianist-composer Dave Grusin.

Like the Mark Hendry Octet, which played rich, multi-layered pieces after the break (and was listened to, by the casualties of the first half, from the bar), this was original, contemporary material very much catering to a specific jazz sensibility.

Much more accessible were singer Luca Manning’s trio of songs, accompanied by ace pianist Alan Benzie, which kicked off the proceedings. Manning’s breathy, vaguely Chet Bakerish, vocals combined with his evocative way of telling a story were especially well showcased in the Steve Swallow song City of Dallas.

  • First published in The Scotsman, Monday July 16th

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Edinburgh Jazz Festival 2018: 40th Anniversary Jazz Gala

40th Anniversary Jazz Gala, Assembly Hall ****Carol Kidd & Paul Harrison 2

The Edinburgh Jazz & Blues Festival swung into action on Friday, with a special concert as its showpiece event. It’s 40 years since an embryonic version of the festival first took place and, on Friday, it revisited its old gala format with a sort of jazz variety show bringing together Scottish jazz stars who have notched up appearances in every full decade of its life.

Pianist Brian Kellock’s relationship with the jazz festival dates back to even before his official debut there, in the 1980s. On Friday, reunited with drummer John Rae, his trio was in high spirits – though it was the languid Ballad For Very Tired and Very Sad Lotus Eaters that stood out.

Tenor saxophonist Tommy Smith, who also cut his jazz teeth in the festival’s first decade, joined Kellock for a trio of tunes – notably a gorgeous Without a Song and a Sweet Georgia Brown that sent sparks flying – which highlighted their rapport and showed how attuned to each other’s musical thought processes they are.

It was disappointing that Martin Taylor, one of the leading jazz guitarists in the world, got a little lost in the mix kicking off a second half which was to be dominated, time-wise, by a gypsy jazz group which only came on the scene a few years ago. Taylor’s meander through Henry Mancini’s bittersweet ballad Two For the Road was a mini-masterclass in the art of solo guitar.

It would have been even more of a treat to hear him play with singer Carol Kidd (pictured above, with pianist Paul Harrison) but she had done her bit, bringing the house down at the end of the first half with two stunning ballads – by Billy Joel and Richard Rodgers – which served as appetite-whetters for her concert next Saturday.

Nobody got more of the spotlight, however, than singer/violinist Seonaid Aitken, who was in her element hosting the show on the jazz festival’s behalf, duetting with its stars and leading her band, Rose Room, through the longest set of the night.

  • An edited version of this review appeared on HeraldScotland on Monday, July 16th

 

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Edinburgh Jazz Fest Memories: Norrie Thomson

Norrie Thomson first became an Edinburgh International Jazz Festival driver in 1987 when he was still working with HM Customs & Excise. He says: “Each year until 2000, when I retired after 38.5 years, I took annual leave to cover the jazz festival.

“When I started as a driver at the festival, bands would come for several days at a time – during which the driver effectively became the band’s ‘roadie ‘. Prior to the start of each festival the drivers would get notice of what bands were to appear and would ask to drive their favourites. It also often happened that, subsequently, band leaders would request drivers that they had dealt with previously. Many lasting friendships were built up over the years this way. Work allocations were made by Frances Burgess [mother of saxophonist/clarinettist John Burgess].

“As volunteers, the drivers were worked pretty hard at times putting in many long, unpaid, hours of work. Nevertheless, it was enjoyable and made a valuable contribution to the running of the Festival. A typical example of a volunteer driver’s experience at the Edinburgh International Jazz Festival would be:

  • Edinburgh Airport or the Waverley Station to be meet the band on arrival at the airport or train station and take the musicians to their hotel.
  • Discuss the band’s itinerary with leader or manager and arrange pick up times.

“The bands were worked pretty hard and earned whatever they were paid. The norm was several gigs each day. The driver would assist with loading and unloading band equipment. This would often be done under frantic conditions. Gigs often followed each other with little time to spare and considerable distances to travel.

Tomas Ornberg                                                                                                                                               “Tomas, a Swedish musician, was a very fine reeds player and leader of his Blue 5 and the Swedish Jazz Kings, and had played the festival on many occasions. In addition to the fine Swedish members of his band, Tomas often used top musicians from the jazz world – Bob Barnard, Roy Williams, Kenny Davern, Bob Hunt, Joep Peeters, Martin Litton, Keith Durston to name a few.

“My first experience with Tomas was in the early 1990s, but was the band’s first choice of ‘roadie’ thereafter. The band’s manager and Tomas’s partner was Irene Biermans, a Dutch lady.

“Over the years Tomas and Irene became great friends of mine and we corresponded regularly swapping news of our respective families.

“Whenever we met Tomas would always say to me: ‘I’ve got my clarinet’. This resulted from one memorable festival night when I got a phone call from Tomas, at about 1am, saying that he had lost his clarinet. The Swedish Jazz Kings had been doing the last slot in the Speigeltent, which had been erected on top of the Waverley Market ,and he thought that he must have left it there.

“I quickly dressed, got in my car and drove to the venue, which was still open. I searched around but couldn’t see the instrument. I called Tomas and asked him to describe the case that the instrument was in. He said it wasn’t in a case. I then resumed my search with this new knowledge. I eventually found it hidden behind a large sheet of plywood. I took it to Tomas’s hotel and gave him the clarinet. I think that he almost burst into tears as he had only recently paid a considerable sum of money to Kenny Davern for the instrument.

“The other memorable, regular event relating to both bands was the world class trumpeter /cornettist, Bent Persson ‘playing’ his mouth piece during various trips. (My worst experience of this was outside of the festival when I drove the Swedish Jazz Kings from Ayr to Inverness – Bent ‘played’ all the way.)

“Another one of the class musicians in the Swedish Jazz Kings was the wonderful bass-sax player Frans Sjostrom. His hobby was model aeroplanes. One of my neighbours had a model aeroplane shop and I introduced them to each other. Eventually Frans suggested that he would be some time and that I should go home and he would get the bus. Later on I was told by my neighbour that Frans had spent a considerable amount of money in the shop.

“In recent years Tomas suffered from poor health and in mid May 2018 I received the sad news from Irene telling me that Tomas had passed away.

Larry Adler                                                                                                                                                “In the late 1990s, I had the privilege of meeting and talking to the famous harmonica player, Larry Adler. Before his arrival, I was told that he had to be treated gently and that he was old and a bit frail (he was in his 80s at the time). He would be arriving at the airport with his manager. I allocated an experienced driver to meet them.

“The driver contacted me to say that both persons had been safely delivered to their hotel and that Adler was the oldest man that he had ever seen that wasn’t dead and that his manager was a young Philippino woman!

“Later, during his stay, I, with another couple of volunteers, met with him in The Hub where we spoke to him (or rather he spoke to us) about his life in music. It was like talking to the history of jazz. The only irritating part of it all was his habit of bringing himself into everything – ‘When Gershwin accompanied me playing Rhapsody In Blue’, ‘When Ellington accompanied me playing the St Louis Blues’, etc.

“He did tell us that it was the American comedian, Jack Benny, who persuaded him to become a professional musician.

Leon Redbone                                                                                                                                          “Leon Redbone came to prominence in the UK through his rendition of ‘So Relax’, the soundtrack to Inter Cities sleeper service. Before this and after he was well known in the jazz / blues world as a fine singer and guitarist. He appeared at the EIJF at least twice.

“On one occasion, I assigned a driver to meet him off the 3pm train from London, King’s X. Round about 3.15pm I got a message from the driver saying that Redbone had not arrived on the 3pm train. I told the driver to wait for the next train which was due at 3.30pm. At about 3.45pm I got another call saying that he wasn’t off the 3.30pm arrival and that there wasn’t a black man on the train. What’s the point of putting artistes’ photos in the programme?! He had arrived on the 3pm train, couldn’t see anyone from the jazz festival, jumped into a taxi and went to his hotel!

Stolen Keys                                                                                                                                                    “The first Saturday of the festival has always been ‘Mardi Gras’ in the Grassmarket. This is one of the free events and consequently is very busy. Because of this, vehicles cannot go into the main part of the street but have to stop either in King’s Stable Road or the main road through the Grassmarket.

“One such Saturday in the mid noughties one of the bus drivers had to take a band of young musicians from New Orleans to play at the Mardi Gras. The driver stopped the bus on the main street, opposite where the band was to play. The band members objected to the fact that they could not go into the Grassmarket and that they would have to cross the road to get to their destination. The driver left his bus to see if any better arrangements could be made. When he returned, the band had disappeared along with the bus’s ignition key.

“I was informed of this situation and with the driver took steps to retrieve the key. I also cornered the band’s road manager and, in no uncertain terms, told him that what had happened was tantamount to theft and that if a similar situation occurred I would have no option but to call in the police.

“Unfortunately, the band members demanded an apology from the driver. What did he have to apologise for? He had done nothing wrong. I decided that the band would have to arrange its own transport and advised the driver accordingly.

‘Big Al’ Carson                                                                                                                                          “Probably the most aptly named musician who ever played at the festival. He hailed from New Orleans and weighed in at 38 stones (532 lbs). When travelling by air he had to book two seats. When travelling round Edinburgh the only suitable transport was a black taxi although he could squeeze into the front seats in the passenger section of a mini-bus.

“Big Al was at two festivals as a vocalist and sousaphone player. He was fortunate, as was the festival, in that he could fit in comfortably to the jazz or blues parts of the event.

“As could be surmised he had a prodigious appetite. One afternoon he was playing at the blues festival, located at the Caledonian Brewery. The brewery had a pub within the grounds, reserved for artistes. The beauty of this establishment was that there was no charge for food or drink! Every so often, a tray of about 12 Scotch pies was provided. On the occasion to which I refer, Big Al ate the whole lot and looked for more.

“He was a lovely man, always grateful for the trouble that was taken to look after him. He was always afraid that he was being a nuisance. I only once saw him angry. I had to drive him from Edinburgh to Prestwick Airport. He was going to Oslo by Ryanair (there were no Scandinavian flights from Edinburgh at the time).

“I accompanied him to the check-in desk where he was told that he would have to pay $160 excess baggage. He queried this, stating that as he had paid for two seats he should be allowed two lots of baggage. Ryanair being Ryanair would have none of this. This caused Big Al to become agitated and increasingly angry to the extent that the check-in person was threatening to call the police. I eventually managed to calm him down. His parting shot to Ryanair was that when he left Norway to return to the States he would be travelling with a real airline.

Lonnie Donegan                                                                                                                                          “Lonnie Donegan had been a hero of mine since the mid 1950s when he was with Ken Colyer’s band and with Chris Barber. However, it was with ‘The Rock island Line’, recorded in 1954, that Lonnie became internationally well known.

‘I prided myself in that I had nearly every recording that he had made together with some private stuff and radio broadcasts. In August 2002 he appeared at the Festival. He was not a well man at the time and I collected him from the premises of a chiropractor to take him to the Queen’s Hall where he was performing that evening. He sat hunched into the corner of the back seat of the car and was accompanied by his son, Peter. He was quite talkative and was looking forward to the evening’s concert. I genuinely thought that he wouldn’t make it.

“I attended the concert, in the company of Bill Gunter, the washboard player from the Californian band, Cell Block 7, that I was driving during the festival. Like myself, Bill was a big fan of Donegan.

“The concert time arrived and Lonnie bounced onto the stage and proceeded to entertain the capacity audience for the next two hours. The transformation from a small, hunched-up man in the back seat of a car to what appeared to be a human dynamo was incredible. I was really please that I had met and spoken to him.

“Three months later, in November 2002, Lonnie died.

The Golden Eagle Jazz Band                                                                                                                “Another band from California. A great bunch of guys many of whom I have stayed in touch with since the ’90s.

“One of the jobs the band had was a publicity session at the Gyle Shopping Centre. The band was on a slighly raised stage. The trombonist, Glenn Calkins, had the biggest bag of mutes that I’ve ever seen. The bass player, Robin Tankard, a dep from Liverpool and the Merseysippi Jazz Band, was a bit of a joker. Glenn had just finished playing a solo using a baby’s potty as a mute and had laid it on floor. Robin kicked the potty out in front of the band and the public, thinking this was a band of buskers, started putting money into the potty. By the end of the gig there was £45 in the potty. Dick Shooshan the leader said to me that this was almost like begging. I said that it was begging!

“The band stayed in Edinburgh for a week after the festival ended and played each evening in the Carlton Hotel. Each day the band played in Princes Street Gardens and always the potty was to the fore! The musos earned their beer money for the week this way.

“In honour of the band’s visit to Scotland a poem was written. [Scroll down to read.]

 

Road Managers                                                                                                                                “Over the years I have found that some road managers seem to create situations to demonstrate to their clients just how well they are being looked after. This, of course, can backfire as the following examples show.

“An internationally famous vocal group is due to land at Edinburgh Airport. The group’s road manager has stated that three limousines are required, one for each vocalist. The band accompanying the vocalists are to be transported in a mini-bus. I have to go the airport to ensure that everything runs smoothly.

“The vocalists arrive together with the band. Only one limousine appears. The male vocalist jumps in and departs leaving the two female vocalists and the band. I speak to the female vocalists, apologising for the absence of the two limousines. The ladies tell me that they are glad because they wanted to travel with the band.

“The second situation is reasonably similar. Again, we have a well known vocalist travelling with his backing band. The road manager has demanded a nice car for the vocalist and a mini- bus for the band. The arrival location is the Waverley Station. Because of the station parking situation, I go into the station to meet the party whilst the nice car (a Mercedes) and the mini-bus are waiting in Market Street at the back of the station.

“As we emerge from the station, I indicate to the vocalist where his car is. He tells me that he doesn’t want a car. He wants to travel with the band. Again, this is a crazy thing. The driver has had to drive from Barnton to the Waverley at the height of the rush hour for nothing.

The Music                                                                                                                                                                    “One of the main advantages that I have gained from the many years that I have been involved with the Festival is the number of recordings that I have done – always with the band leaders permission, I may add. These recordings will end up in the Edinburgh / Scottish Jazz Archive eventually.

“I have only once been refused permission to record and after listening to the band I was glad!

* The 2018 Edinburgh Jazz & Blues Festival runs from July 13-22.

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Review: Nigel Clark & Tom MacNiven Quintet Celebrate Bobby Wellins, Glasgow Jazz Festival

Nigel Clark & Tom MacNiven Quintet Celebrate Bobby Wellins, Drygate, Glasgow, Saturday June 23rd ****

Saturday night at the Glasgow Jazz Festival was all about one of the city’s greatest musical exports – the tenor saxophonist Bobby Wellins, who died in November 2016 at the age of 80.

The esteem in which he’s held by successive generations of players and the fondness with which he’s remembered radiated through the three-part tribute which featured musicians he worked with in Scotland – notably trumpeter MacNiven and pianist Brian Kellock – and those, such as guitarist Nigel Clark and tenor saxophonist Helena Kay, whom he encouraged when they were starting out in jazz.

Kicking off the proceedings was a compelling documentary, Dreams Are Free, which was not only a lovely portrait of Wellins but also a reminder of how much films can bring to a music festival; for one hour, Wellins himself regaled the audience with his star-studded stories, and spoke extremely frankly about the struggle with heroin which kept him away from playing for a decade and nearly cost him his family.

Gary Barber’s film was followed by an exquisite solo set by Nigel Clark who was mentored by Wellins when they were both working down south in the 1980s and is, like Wellins, a master of ballad. Highlights included Oscar Peterson’s Hymn to Freedom and Antonio Carlos Jobim’s O Grande Amor.

Jobim also provided a highlight of the closing set – by an all-star Scottish quintet playing the tracks recorded 20 years previously on Tom MacNiven’s album Guess What?, which had featured Wellins. O Morro/Favela was one of the calmer numbers in an exuberant set which culminated in something of a party atmosphere with MacNiven’s Disciples of the Art of the Off Beat and an unexpectedly rousing take on Blue Monk.

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