Thirty years ago, in August 1986, I attended my first Edinburgh Jazz Festival. (Actually, it was my first jazz festival full stop.) These were the heady days of the festival as a sprawling, round-the-clock affair whose programme was like a slightly oversized paperback book, and was stuffed with multiple opportunities to hear the same musicians in all sorts of different line-ups over the course of the week.
These were the days of the Gold Badge (now as fabled as one of Willy Wonka’s Golden Tickets) which allowed agile festival-goers to attend the first of the evening’s three sets in one place set then leg it to another venue for the second set, and then sprint from wherever you had ended up for the evening’s third set back to the station with barely enough time for your father’s last half pint before boarding the last train to Glasgow. (Which, of course, was extra late because the main Edinburgh Festival was on.)
My dad would take a full week off work and travel through to Edinburgh every day (with the also now-fabled Festival Rover train ticket) and attend a full day’s jazz with different assortments of friends, relatives and colleagues. In 1986, I was invited to accompany him – for one reason only. Because Dick Hyman, the American piano genius, was playing a solo set at the Royal Overseas League halfway through the festival.
Earlier that year, Dad had recorded a movie on BBC2, possibly as part of its (also now-fabled) Jazz Week entitled Scott Joplin. It was a TV movie biopic – and one which I have never seen on TV since. Had he not recorded it and had my brothers and I not become completely obsessed with one sequence in it, I probably would not have become a jazz fan. The sequence was a cutting contest between two piano “professors” – and it absolutely thrilled us. To the point that we could soon sing every note of it. As the piano player in the family, I was already playing Scott Joplin pieces. Overnight, mastering the Maple Leaf Rag became my goal for the summer holidays.
So when my dad said that the guy who had played one of the pianos in the cutting contest scenes and who had done all the other piano music in the film was coming to Edinburgh and did I want to come, it was a no-brainer.
Dick Hyman’s solo set wasn’t until the evening of my first day in Edinburgh; being only 14, I had to stay with my father as he took in the rest of the day’s programme. And that programme began in the Grassmarket, in a pub called the Beehive Inn, where I heard and fell in love with the music of the Hot Antic Jazz Band from the south of France.
All of which is a very long way of setting up my first weekend at this year’s Jazz Festival, when the stars aligned and for the first time in over a decade, the Hot Antics plus my dad and I were all in Edinburgh and all at the Spiegeltent on Friday night’s opening concert. As might have been expected, it was a slightly emotional affair as the events in Nice the night before cast a bit of a pall over proceedings but trumpeter and leader Michel Bastide promised that despite what had happened right on their doorstep, they were determined to give us an evening of jazz, “the music we love”.
The personnel and repertoire may have changed over the years since 1986, but the great sense of fun and irresistible joie-de-vivre (even amidst the terrible sadness of Thursday’s tragedy) endure – and were most apparent as soon as they started playing such uplifting numbers as the opener Funny Fumble and Somebody Stole My Gal, surely the happiest number about being dumped? And, as in 1986, when their charming version of Puttin’ on the Ritz made me forever afterwards sing it with a French accent, so Three Little Words a la francaise will keep me going till the next time the Antics come to town.