Nairn Jazz Festival 1997

Published in The Herald, August 12, 1997

With the late addition to Nairn International Jazz Festival’s opening concert of one man, numerous jazz fans (this one included) were spurred into foregoing a recovery period after the Edinburgh International Jazz Festival in order to travel up north a day earlier than planned.

Cornettist Warren Vache (left), who had battled to be audible amid the chaos of Wednesday’s Usher Hall concert and whose Thursday set with Scott Hamilton suffered as a result of overwhelming heat and (justifiably) inflamed tempers, was to join singer Carol Kidd for her Friday-night concert. This was too enticing and inspired a musical match to miss.

Vache and Kidd have a great deal in common: both are capable of styling songs in the most subtle and imaginative ways and both regularly delight audiences with exquisite performances of ballads. Hell, they even have a favourite song – I Can’t Get Started – in common. The prospect of hearing them balladeering together was mouthwatering. The reality, however, was monumentally depressing.

All hopes for a meeting of two like musical minds were dashed as we waited and waited for Vache to be invited on stage. This world-class cornetist was totally marginalised by Carol Kidd, who was to keep him hanging around until the end of the show before inviting him on to the marquee stage, and introducing him as someone who ”had played with Rosemary Clooney”.

Vache was patronised, sidelined and allowed to play on only three numbers in total. A disgusting waste of his unparalleled talent As it was, Vache had the honour of playing on one Kidd ballad. In the Wee Small Hours of the Morning hinted at what might have been, but it was followed by two raucous, uninspired songs during which the drummer was featured more than Mr Vache.

Saturday night and Sunday afternoon at the busy marquee in the grounds of the stately hotel Boath House were altogether more uplifting experiences. Vache was teamed up – as he was at this event last year – with the veteran pianist Ralph
Sutton for two concerts of duets. The cornetist made up for lost time, with a virtuosic , powerhouse display of swinging, soulful and lyrical playing. The atmosphere was electric, and the affection and rapport between Sutton and Vache were unforced and very evident.

Vache stalked the stage as he played, periodically leaning into Sutton’s piano, and was clearly more at ease than he had been in any other recent gig. The choice of numbers was perfect (Home, Old Folks, I Want a Little Girl), and every one was a thrill; Sutton’s classy but warm pianistics provided the perfect balance with Vache’s eloquent cornet.

Highlights – and there were many – included Sutton’s brilliant boogie woogie on St Louis Blues, his lightning-fast stride on I Found a New Baby and his evocative interpretation of Bix Beiderbecke’s In A Mist. Again, the Beiderbecke connection continued with a spellbinding, heart-melting Vache-Sutton duet on Singin’ the Blues.

Indeed, if – as Hoagy Carmichael famously said – Beiderbecke’s sound was like a girl saying yes, then Warren Vache’s is the boy asking . . . in the most romantic way. Witness his beguiling playing on Sleepy Time Down South, Nobody Knows, I Can’t Get Started and the divine This Is All I Ask.

Sutton and Vache were a tough double act to follow, but young pianist Benny Green did an impressive job on Sunday night. While the first half of his trio’s concert perhaps overdid the self-indulgent abstraction, the second offered more soulful, lyrical musings, with a sumptuously slow The Very Thought Of You, an extended blues, and Stolen Moments being the most memorable numbers.

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