Last year I arrived at the Norwich Jazz Party just as pianist John Bunch was leaving. One of the reasons I booked myself in for the full weekend this year was so that that wouldn’t happen again. But John’s death in March left us all deprived of his elegant playing. His loss was keenly felt at this year’s event – but he was paid an affectionate tribute by several of his regular bandmates under the leadership of tenor saxophonist Scott Hamilton.
Unlike some musicians who trot out the same tunes at every opportunity, or at least have a couple of numbers associated with them, John always liked variety in his repertoire, and his taste was wide-ranging. So it was tough even for someone who knew John as well as Scott Hamilton did to concoct a set in tribute to him.
“None of us could come up with a whole set of John Bunch things,” admitted Hamilton, who kicked off proceedings with a gorgeous take on the ballad Be My Love before launching into John’s memorable arrangement of Fats Waller’s Jitterbug Waltz. This dynamic number, with its sudden changes of tempo, gave everyone in the band – Bucky Pizzarelli (guitar), John Pearce (piano), Dave Green (bass) and Steve Brown (drums) – a chance to shine.
Of course, the set had to end with John’s Bunch, the song which Hamilton said John wrote for Zoot Sims and Al Cohn. This was a rollicking, rousing number with nods to boogie woogie and it inspired a powerhouse performance from Hamilton in particular.