Edinburgh Jazz Festival 2016: Remembering Chet Baker

Remembering Chet Baker, City Art Centre ****
 
It may sound like the title of a show, but Remembering Chet Baker is the name of the Scottish trio which, for the last four years, has been celebrating the music and musical style of the jazz icon who died prematurely 28 years ago. As they hinted during Monday afternoon’s performance, there’s not much point in celebrating Baker’s life or him as a person: he seems to have hurt everyone in his life and, by all accounts, was really not a very nice human being.
 
That, combined with the inescapable fact that Baker was a master of melancholy famous for such mope-fests as the misery-laden ballads The Thrill is Gone and You Don’t Know What Love Is could have made one suspect that this would not be the cheeriest way to spend a Monday afternoon. However, nothing could have been further from the truth – thanks to the fact that singer/presenter Iain Ewing punctuated proceedings with cheeky patter, and kept the mood light.
 
Both Ewing and trumpeter Colin Steele, who was on top form, have clearly been influenced by Baker’s lyrical, pared-back style and gentle, soft tone – but, refreshingly, neither attempts to mimic him or recreate his solos. It’s as if both musicians have been so steeped in Baker’s recordings that they can give the standards associated with him a lovely, Baker-esque, flavour, without resorting to impersonations.
 
Among the specific highlights were the classy, upbeat opener There Will Never Be Another You, which featured the first of a series of gorgeously understated solos by Steele; pianist Euan Stevenson’s elegant, Satie-like accompaniment on I Get Along Without You Very Well, and the two instrumentalists’ electrifying duet on All the Things You Are.
* First published on HeraldScotland, Wednesday July 20th

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Edinburgh Jazz & Blues Festival 2016: New Orleans Swamp Donkeys

New Orleans Swamp Donkeys Traditional Jass Band, City Art Centre ** 
The Friday late-night session at the Edinburgh Jazz Festival’s new venue for 2016, the fifth floor of the City Art Centre, was a bit of a surreal experience – before you even got to the performance by a be-kilted escapee from the Louis Armstrong lookalikes agency. 
 
Why? Because, as with the Spiegeltents, where punters have to queue in all weathers until doors-open a few minutes before kick-off, ticket-holders had to wait in line in the ground floor lobby until, eight minutes before showtime, they were allowed into the lift – in groups determined by the ticket inspectors. The easyjet similarity continued with a pre-take-off announcement that, upon disembarking, the bar would be on their right and the toilets straight-ahead.
 
If you were flying solo and weren’t in the first few elevators’ full, then by the time you reached your destination, and had bought a drink or been to the bathroom, the music had started and there were no seats available other than at the very back of this long, curtained-off space.
 
Still, as it turned out, this was probably the place to sit – if you were alone and not in “party flight” mode. It meant that the Swamp Donkeys wouldn’t spot grimaces on the this jazz fan’s face as their leader, trumpeter and singer James Williams, turned in 90 minutes’ worth of panto-worthy impersonations of Louis Armstrong, complete with giant white hanky. 
 
Despite his respectable trumpet playing, and some nice ensemble moments, and although the party-tastic young Friday night crowd lapped it up, there was nothing special about this touristy New Orleans band whose only advantages over a similarly unremarkable Scottish trad band were the authentic accents.
* First published in The Herald, Monday July 18

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Edinburgh Jazz & Blues Festival 2016: Hot Antic Jazz Band

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30 Years of Antics in Edinburgh

My Life in JazzThirty 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.20160716_183543

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Joe Temperley Obituary

Jazz 2012 004Joe Temperley, who has died at the age of 88, was a giant of the baritone saxophone and the first Scottish jazz musician to make it on the New York scene. In a career which spanned seven decades, he worked his way through the best British dance and jazz bands before moving to New York and doing the same there, serving in no less prestigious an organisation than the Duke Ellington Orchestra and, later, its closest modern-day equivalent – Wynton Marsalis’s Jazz at Lincoln Center Orchestra.

That Temperley was regarded as an integral part of that ensemble’s sound and success was obvious even before he was honoured with a concert in his name last year. Wynton Marsalis told one magazine: “It’s difficult to express in words the depth of respect and admiration we have for Joe. And it’s not just about music. It’s also a personal, a spiritual thing. His approach is timeless. And he’s the center of our band.”

In addition to his long association with that band, Temperley was also an educator who taught at Juilliard and the Manhattan School of Music, and was a guest mentor for the Fife Youth Jazz Orchestra during his regular visits back to Scotland where he kept up with his extended family and the jazz community here. In the hours after his death was announced on Wednesday afternoon, Facebook was flooded with heartfelt messages from students who had benefitted from Temperley’s teaching.

Until old age and ill health took their toll, Temperley was a big, physically imposing figure who seemed physically to embody the history which he represented; a history that spanned the dance band era, the big bands, bebop – and was peppered with musical and social encounters with such icons as Billie Holiday and Ella Fitzgerald, in whose final concert he played.

His burly figure, often gruff manner and stern appearance could make grown men – such as his favourite UK pianist, Brian Kellock – quiver in their boots. In the jazz room at Hospitalfield House in Abroath, a large photo of Temperley hangs on the wall behind the bandstand. Its subject appears to glower over in the direction of the piano. “It’s really quite disconcerting,” says Kellock, “even though, once I got to know him, I discovered that he was really a big softie.”

The cumbersome baritone saxophone was an appropriate instrument for a towering figure such as Temperley – but it wasn’t cumbersome in his hands. Famously, he could coax the most tender and romantic sounds out of it (fellow saxophonist and jazz educator Tommy Smith yesterday compared the Temperley sound to “sweet velvet”) – as exemplified in recent years on his chosen Scottish encore, an unaccompanied performance of My Love is Like a Red, Red Rose in which the melody was caressed in such a gentle and exquisite way that you knew he was singing the words in his head. It stopped the show every time.

The son of a bus driver, Joseph Temperley was born in the mining town of Lochgelly, in Fife, in 1927. The second youngest of five children, he left school at the age of 14 when his mother secured him a job in a butcher’s shop. By this time, he was already playing cornet alongside his elder brother, Bob, in the Cowdenbeath Brass Band – and it was Bob who bought the youngster his first saxophone, an alto, so he could join his dance band. As Temperley liked to tell it later, he had six months of lessons and then ended his musical education because, by that point, he could play better than the teacher. “All the stuff that I learned, I learned by doing,” he said.

The teenage Temperley formed a band called the Debonairs, in which he played tenor sax. Speaking in 2010, he recalled: “I had a horse and cart and I would go round all the villages during the day, trying to sell meat. Then at night I’d play sax in dance bands!”

When the Debonairs took part in a dance band competition organised by Melody Maker, Temperley’s talent was spotted and he was invited to play with the winning band. At the age of 17, he left Lochgelly for the bright lights of Glasgow where he played at the Piccadilly Club on Sauchiehall Street for 18 months.

During the days, he would augment his earnings by playing snooker. “The guys in Glasgow thought that I was just some country boy from Fife and they would be able to take a few bob off me – but they didn’t know that I had been playing snooker at the Miners’ Welfare for years. The days were quite profitable for me!”

When Tommy Sampson’s band, one of the most popular of the period, came to play at Green’s Playhouse, Temperley went along for an audition and was signed up on the spot. Not yet 20 years old, he moved to London to take the tenor chair in the Sampson band – “the first time I was in a band that was sort of regimented”. He then joined the Harry Parry band, with which he had his first experience of foreign travel, then moved onto Joe Loss’s band, then Jack Parnell’s and Tony Crombie’s (with Annie Ross on vocals) before settling into what turned out to be eight year stint with Humphrey Lyttelton’s band, during which he switched to the baritone sax. “That was the start of my professional career,” he later said. “The rest was incidental.”

With “Humph,” Temperley met many top American musicians – Louis Armstrong, Billie Holiday, Thelonious Monk, Cannonball Adderley, Anita O’Day. “The first time I came across iced tea was when Cannonball Adderley ordered it,” he recalled in 2010. “I thought: ‘what’s that?’!”

Temperley’s first taste of New York, the epicentre of jazz, was with Lyttelton’s band in August 1959. “I arrived wearing a Harris tweed jacket. It was so hot, I’d sit in the bath all day and only go out at night!’ After returning from three weeks in jazz heaven, Temperley was desperate to get back – and in December 1965 he did so, permanently.

After six months without a gig, Temperley was approached by Woody Herman to join his band for a series of one-nighters, but after two years on the road, he had had enough and returned to New York where he freelanced quite contentedly for several years, with a regular gig with the Thad Jones and Mel Lewis Jazz Orchestra every Monday at the famous Village Vanguard club. He met everyone there. “Miles Davis came in two or three times. And Charlie Mingus, André Previn, Bill Evans. People from the Ellington band. Monday night was a big social scene, and some marvellous people came down there.”

In the early 1970s, he worked with Frank Sinatra – an experience he alluded to during An Evening With Joe Temperley, a special duo concert-cum-trip-down-memory-lane he gave with Brian Kellock at the 2010 Edinburgh Jazz Festival. When Kellock interrupted Temperley’s roll call of stars he had met to ask if Sinatra was a nice guy, the audience got a typically frank reply: “The bass player who worked with him for 20 years was leaving the band. As he left, he said to Sinatra ‘I’m off’. And Frank Sinatra replied: ‘I don’t talk to the help.’!”

A change of direction came in October 1974 when the pastor of the Lutheran Church on 54th Street, the church which serves New York’s jazz community, asked Temperley to play at the funeral of Harry Carney, the great baritone saxophonist who had played in Duke Ellington’s band for 45 years.

“I played Sophisticated Lady at Harry’s funeral – and that’s how I got the job replacing him in the Ellington band,” recalled Temperley as he introduced that number at the 2010 jazz festival. Temperley spent ten years in the Ellington band – by now run by Mercer Ellington – before becoming one of the original members of the Jazz at Lincoln Center Orchestra in 1990; a gig which he described as being “like a real job with health benefits, dental benefits, a pension”.

Until relatively recently, he was still touring the world with the orchestra. Latterly, he claimed that the only thing that troubled him about the sax was carrying it. Despite his obvious frailty, he turned in a series of terrific and surprisingly robust performances, switching between the baritone and the bass clarinet during a mini tour with Brian Kellock which turned out to be his final visit to Scotland in March 2015.

* Joe Temperley, jazz saxophonist and educator, born September 20 1927; died May 11 2016.
Joe Temperley and meText and photos (c) Alison Kerr, 2016.

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Stilgoe Rides Again

StilgoeThe top highlight of many music and movie lovers’ Fringe last year was singer- jazz pianist Joe Stilgoe’s joyful, classy, five-star show Songs on Film, a loving and stylish homage to the films he grew up with. In true Hollywood style, he’s back this week with a follow-up, Songs on Film – The Sequel, which runs until Sunday.

He says: “The strapline for this show is: ‘Like all good sequels, the cast is the same, most of the themes are the same – there are just more explosions and fight scenes.’ Since we’re only doing a short run this year, we will probably get some of the same audience from last year so we wanted to make it a bit different – but we have kept some of the greatest hits from the first show.”

Of course, as Stilgoe points out, songs from films is “a rich genre to mine” – so where do you start?  “The reason I thought the show worked was because I related it to my own experience of watching cinema – why I went into music, I think that made it cohesive. So this time we’ve got a section about growing up in the 1980s, and celebrating the mullets and the massive jackets, I’m thinking Ted Danson ..”

Not only that but whereas most of the standards we hear being played in jazz concerts began life in the great movie and stage musicals, many of the songs with which Stilgoe fills his show are from non-musicals. “We want to choose songs that people remember films by – whether it’s Goodnight Sweetheart from Three Men and a Baby or the waltz from Pixar’s Up. Those really give you that nostalgic burst – and people came up to us last year and said how much they enjoyed that aspect.”

What was also striking last year was the fact that we got to hear songs which most of us had probably never heard performed live before. One stand-out in that department was Arthur’s Song, from the 1981 comedy Arthur. “I love playing that one so much because I love Dudley Moore and I love that film. It’s not a song that people play over and over again but it is very evocative of that film and the era.”

At the age of 36, Stilgoe is too young to have seen Arthur in the cinema when it came out; The Jungle Book was the first film he saw on the big screen. “I loved it, specifically because of the music – I went on to be a huge fan of Louis Prima and the Sherman brothers who wrote the songs.”

Very much a chip off the old block (Stilgoe’s father is the songwriter and broadcaster Sir Richard), he jokes: “As a teenager I went through a period of hating musicals. I thought they were silly. So I guess my teenage rebellion was just not liking musicals for a few years, which must have hurt my dad. But then I came back to them and realised that this is the family business!”

It must, therefore, have been a dream come true to find himself – as recently as Saturday – onstage at The Old Vic in High Society?  “Yes, I’m still on a bit of a cloud because it was such a wonderful experience and High Society is the film that made me want to be a jazz musician.”

Playing a character (named Joey) specially created for him, but performing the same sort of function in the show as Louis Armstrong did in the film, Stilgoe “played a Nat King Cole/Mel Torme kind of figure who would have been booked for the party in the film.. Basically, I started the show by mucking around with the audience asking them to shout out songs and take part in a singalong.”

So he brought anarchy to High Society? “Yes! Some nice anarchy – because at the start you want to get the audience into a party atmosphere. I got to sing the title number and some other songs including my favourite, Well Did You Evah? .. yes, I admit it, I gatecrashed the Sinatra-Crosby duet!”

He also learned to dance for High Society. So should we be on alert for a spot of Fred Astaire-style dancing in this year’s Songs on Film? “The problem with that is, if I’m dancing, who’s playing the piano?!” Still, maybe it’s an idea for the third part of the trilogy – or further down the line when his six-month-old daughter has joined the family business?

But back to this year’s Songs on Film. Are we talking a superior sequel, a Godfather 2? “Absolutely,” laughs Stilgoe who is driving up the motorway as we speak. “We’re talking Godfather 2 and Toy Story 2; definitely not a Jaws 4 – or even 2 or 3!”

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Edinburgh Jazz & Blues Festival: Sinatra – The Man and His Music

Sinatra – The Man and His Music, George Square Spiegeltent *

Dear oh dear. It’s just as well the Sinatra centenary show which opened the jazz festival was such a swellegant, elegant, five-star affair – because the one which closed it on Sunday was an embarrassment and one which would undoubtedly have haemorrhaged more of its audience had walking out not involved walking into a monsoon.

A Sinatra who can’t sing? Check. A Sinatra who doesn’t swing? Check. A Sinatra who forgets the lyrics to I’ve Got You Under My Skin? You’ve guessed it. Playing Ol’ Blue Eyes, actor Sandy Batchelor certainly knew how to work a sharp suit but that was about the extent of his Sinatra repertoire.

This was an entirely superficial portrayal of a complex character who came over as one-dimensional and charisma-deficient. Not only were there factual inaccuracies (it was Green’s Playhouse in which Sinatra performed in Ayr, not the Gaiety Theatre); worse there were misrepresentations of him – you only had to go home and watch his Oscar acceptance speech on YouTube to see that portraying him as bolshie and arrogant rather than really very appreciative was inaccurate.

Certainly, much of the audience seemed to fall under the spell of something (maybe the band) – but the only non-grimace-like smile in evidence as Batchelor slaughtered song after song was on the face of his father, Dave, who wrote and directed this production and led the band on trombone.

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