One of the most popular bands to appear regularly at the Edinburgh Jazz Festival during its heyday of the 1980s returns to the Scottish capital next month – for one night only. The Hot Antic Jazz Band delighted EJF audiences on the celebrated pub trail for the best part of two decades, and few ensembles are as fondly remembered or as emblematic of the old festival, beer-fuelled, spirit of jazz joie-de-vivre. This is, sans doubt, the band that sealed my fate as a jazz fan..
The Hot Antic Jazz Band (so-called as a play on words – Hot Antic, pronounced in French, sounds the same as “authentic” in French) may be made up of part-time musicians, but it has appeared at some of the world’s best festivals and venues, including the Carnegie Hall in New York. The standard of its musicianship and the players’ enthusiasm are such that the band has attracted the attention of various jazz greats, including Jabbo Smith.
Indeed, it was a love of the music of the long-lost trumpet legend Jabbo Smith, regarded in his prime as the only serious competition to Louis Armstrong, which first brought the original Antics together in 1979. Trumpeter Michel Bastide explains: “We met during a jam session in a club in Montpellier and during the break fell to talking about Jabbo’s music. It was there and then that we decided to do something about it – and the Hot Antic was born.”
In 1982, when the band was still in its infancy and concentrating on numbers written and originally recorded by Smith during his all-too-brief heyday, the opportunity to work with their hero on a short tour presented itself. A strong friendship was formed between the ageing trumpeter and the French musicians and, when he died in 1991, it was to Michel Bastide that Smith left his horn.
Unfortunately, the Antics never brought Jabbo Smith to Edinburgh but they count as highlights of their 35 years some of their early visits to the capital. Bastide says: “We fell in love with the Edinburgh Jazz Festival because we discovered a city devoted to jazz for a full week, with jazz everywhere – in the pubs, in the concert halls, in the hotels, everywhere. And there were opportunities to meet players like Teddy Wilson, Buddy Tate and Doc Cheatham. Plus, we liked the smell of the beer …. ”
A spirit of Marx Bros-esque mischief and a sense of camaraderie are key aspects of the Hot Antic Jazz Band’s popularity within the jazz world – and outwith it: this band is required listening for anyone who thinks that jazz is po-faced and serious. At 14, I was seduced by its Gallic charm (never again able to sing Puttin’ on the Ritz without a ‘Allo ‘Allo accent), sense of style (I’ve yet to see a classic jazz band as effortlessly stylish as the Antics in their post-dungarees era) and playfulness.
Indeed, the fun atmosphere onstage also undoubtedly appeals to some of the famous names who have sat in with the French musicians. Bastide recalls the thrill of being joined onstage by trumpeter Doc Cheatham, the gentle jazz giant who did the festival circuit throughout his seventies and eighties. “We were playing at a jam session at the Breda Jazz Festival, and Doc asked if he could sit in with us. It was very, very cute. He came to the stage like a little boy and said: ‘May I play with you? May I sit in with you?’ What more could I say except: ‘Yes, please.'” More recently, in the early 2000s, Wynton Marsalis became almost an honorary Antic thanks to various jam sessions at the Marciac Jazz Festival.
So what is the secret of the Antics’ longevity? Bastide has no doubts on that score. “The Hot Antic is still active because we are friends, we play just for fun, just for the pleasure of playing the music we like – the music of the 1920s – and the pleasure of playing together.” It sounds as if Jabbo Smith got it right when he described them as “the happiest band in all Europe”.
* The Hot Antic Jazz Band plays Edinburgh’s Jazz ‘n’ Jive Club, Heriot’s Rugby Club, on Friday, May 9 at 8pm. Tickets cost £8 for members; £10 for non-members and can be booked by calling Jim Callander on 01259 211049 or emailing firstname.lastname@example.org . For more information, visit www.edinburghjazz.com