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Mike Hart Obituary

Mike HartMike Hart, who has died at the age of 84, founded the Edinburgh Jazz Festival – Scotland’s first such event – and, in so doing, consolidated the city’s status as an epicentre of classic, traditional and mainstream jazz. The jazz festival he created may have evolved and mutated over the four decades since it began, but it has kept Hart’s kind of jazz at its core.

An only child born in Inverness, Hart moved to Edinburgh when his father (a former engineer) set up an antiques business later run by his mother. After a brief, unhappy spell in boarding school in England, Hart was educated at Edinburgh’s Royal High School, a breeding ground for trad jazz musicians in the late 1940s when that genre of jazz was enjoying huge popularity. The teenage Hart took up drums and by 1949, was playing in a local band, Gavin’s Gloryland Jazz Band, led by trumpeter Jimmy Gavin.

One night, around the same time, in the West End Café, Hart was invited to sit in with the band led by clarinettist Sandy Brown, a maverick and now legendary figure. As Hart told Graham Blamire, the author of Edinburgh Jazz Enlightenment – The Story of Edinburgh Traditional Jazz, “I nearly fell over but immediately accepted”.

So began Hart’s association with Brown, and the trumpeter Al Fairweather and the pianist Stan Greig who also played in the band. With them, Hart went to London in 1952 where their gigs include the Big Jazz Show at the Royal Albert Hall.

After completing his National Service in the RAF, Hart returned to Edinburgh in 1954 and played banjo in trumpeter Charlie McNair’s band. Before long, he had established his own outfit, Mike Hart’s Blue Blowers, and in 1956 he co-founded what would become one of Edinburgh’s longest-running bands, the Climax Jazz Band which featured Jim Petrie on cornet and which would take Hart into the recording studio for the first time. The late 1950s saw the birth of two more popular bands which he co-led, Old Bailey and his Jazz Advocates and the Society Syncopators.

While his jazz career was bubbling away, Hart – who married his first wife, Moira, in 1960 – supported himself and his family via a number of jobs, including agricultural feed advisor, sail boat skipper in France, variety club producer and tour manager (for the likes of Jimmy Shand and Andy Stewart) and, ultimately, from the mid-1970s, running a successful antiques business with his mother, to whom he was very close.

By this time, he had re-formed and re-launched the Society Syncopators as Mike Hart’s Society Syncopators – and it was this band which Hart took on foreign tours on many occasions, notably to the Dunkirk Jazz Festival, where it was named European Amateur Jazz Champions 1979, and to California’s Sacramento Jazz Jubilee which it visited ten times.

Keen to stage something similar in Scotland, Hart spent a great deal of time with the Sacramento Jazz Jubilee’s director, Bill Borcher. Fionna Duncan, who sang with Hart’s band, recalls: “Bill had a sort of ‘war room’ in his house where he plotted out the programme, moving bands and audiences from one venue to the next using models!” This type of planning manifested itself in the way the Edinburgh Jazz Festival was structured during Hart’s tenure.

Hart brought together a number of local bands plus a couple of well-respected soloists from England and staged a mini festival in a ballroom in the capital in 1978.Its success inspired him to seek sponsorship for the first Edinburgh Jazz Festival which took place in 1979, and featured a variety of semi-professional bands from here and abroad.

But it was in 1980 that Hart began to operate the policy which helped define the festival (re-named the Edinburgh International Jazz Festival): he began to hire individual jazz stars, many of them veterans of the great American bands of the 1930s onwards, who had been sidemen in their youth but were now happy to be more in the spotlight. Such now-legendary players as Teddy Wilson, Doc Cheatham, Harry Edison and Milt Hinton all visited the Edinburgh Jazz Festival during its first decade.

Into the mix, Mike Hart added younger players who were part of the mainstream revival. All these musicians would stay for several days, if not a whole festival, at a time and would be mixed and matched in different line-ups, often featuring Scottish talent in the rhythm sections. Many of today’s leading Scottish players – among them pianist Brian Kellock and bassist Roy Percy – cut their teeth at the EIJF, invariably alongside big name Americans.

When the jazz festival became a limited company, Hart assumed the role of Artistic Director, and later Founding Director. In 1995, he was awarded an MBE for his services to jazz, and he also received a citation from the City of Sacramento in recognition for his work.

Always a figure who cut a dash and who had something of the old-fashioned adventurer and bon viveur about him, Hart threw himself into other passions beyond jazz. He was an accomplished deep sea fisher (a photo of him and the 180lb Blue Fin Tuna which he caught during a trip to Madeira with author and deep sea fisherman Trevor Housby is featured in Housby’s best-selling book). He also enjoyed sailing and racing his wooden keelboat, then he got hooked on flying, learning to fly a single engine Cessna aircraft and gaining his private pilot’s licence in 1985. That passion gave way to driving and owning a Triking wheeler sports car and attending events for enthusiasts. Jazz remained the constant while other interests came and went.

Graham Blamire says: “Mike would never have claimed to be an innovative or particularly original jazz musician but he was a fine player, both as a member of the rhythm section and in his solo work. He could be a volatile and demanding individual with whom to work, but he had vision, energy and determination and, when he wanted, a great deal of charm. He was a major influence on Edinburgh Jazz for a very long time, a leading figure in some of Edinburgh’s best bands, and he left his mark on jazz at an international level through his creation of the EIJF, which will be his enduring memorial.”

Hart, who was twice married and divorced, is survived by his children Susan and Michael, and three grandchildren.

* Michael Warner Hart, founder and original director of the Edinburgh Jazz Festival, jazz musician; born Inverness March 23, 1934; died Edinburgh December 11, 2018.

This obituary was first published in The Herald on Wednesday, December 26 2018

Mike Hart, banjo, 1965 at the Manhattan Club

Old Bailey & the Jazz Advocates, 1965, at the Manhattan Club. Thanks to Hamish McGregor (clarinet) for the photo.

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CD Recommendations: May 2014

Evan Christopher’s Django a la Creole Live! (Fremeaux & Associes) Django a la Creole live sleeve

This international group has a loyal following thanks to its exhilarating fusion of Evan Christopher’s exotic clarinet sound with the Hot Club format of the trio, and invariably provides a five-star live listening experience so it’s no surprise that this CD, a selection of numbers recorded during its autumn 2012 tour, is nigh-on sensational. As ever, Christopher thrills with his dynamic, dramatic soloing and the exciting interplay with the superb lead guitarist David Blenkhorn. While most of the titles feature on the quartet’s previous CDs, there is a handful of new tunes – among them One For the Duke, a sublime take on the Ben Webster-Johnny Hodges number I’d Be There.

The Radio Luxembourg Sessions: The 208 Rhythm Club – Volume 2 (Vocalion)Sandy Brown sleeve 

The 208 Rhythm Club was a half-hour programme broadcast on Radio Luxembourg in the early 1960s and featuring groups promoting new recordings they had made at the Lansdowne Studios, to be issued by EMI’s Columbia subsidiary. This CD comprises two terrific 1961 sessions recently unearthed and presented here unedited and remastered – one by Al Fairweather & Sandy Brown’s All Stars and the other by Humphrey Lyttelton and his Band (featuring Tony Coe and Joe Temperley). Everyone is on top form; the Fairweather-Brown session is a typically uplifting affair, featuring such classic Brown tunes as Glories in the Evening, Harlem Fats and Bimbo, while the Lyttelton one boasts a couple of stunning Ellington numbers.

Scott Hamilton Quartet: Dean Street Nights (Woodville Records) Scott Hamilton Dean Street Nights

Dean Street, as anyone who has ever sought out top-notch jazz in London knows, is the Soho address of the Pizza Express jazz club which, for decades now, has played regular host to the great American tenor saxophonist Scott Hamilton who plays residencies there several times a year. This sensational session was recorded during a final night in his festive season run of early 2012, and it shows the one-time regular fixture on the British touring circuit in magnificent form, blowing up a storm with his longstanding London trio. Highlights include a gorgeous bossa version of Sweet and Lovely (with signature, masterful Hamilton intro), a riotous Jitterbug Waltz and a sublime If I Had You.

Live at Monmartre – Nicolaj Bentzon Trio featuring Winard Harper (Storyville) Live at Montmartre

A versatile Danish pianist, composer and conductor, Nicolaj Bentzon returned to his first love, the classic jazz piano trio, for two dates at Copenhagen’s famous Jazzhus Montmartre club last summer. Given that he’s the latest star of a composing dynasty that stretches back two centuries, it’s no surprise that Bentzon’s ten-tune set includes five original numbers – notably the gentle and classical-flavoured Flyv Fugi, Flyv and Cantilena Elegiaca. His style is exciting, occasionally explosive, and (as the liner notes say) effervescent, with traces here and there of the influence of Oscar Peterson and Erroll Garner.

Lee Wiley: Four Classic Albums Plus (Avid) Lee Wiley

Lee Wiley (1908-1975) is one of the most criminally overlooked jazz singers but she was, and is, one much adored by musicians. Before Ella Fitzgerald recorded her first “songbook” album, the smoky-voiced Wiley had already earned the admiration of Gershwin, Porter and co with her classy, sassy, swinging and sexy interpretations of their songs. The quartet of LPs included here stem from the 1950s and include her sublime and iconic Night in Manhattan, as well as two classic big band/orchestra albums – the glorious West of the Moon, and A Touch of the Blues.

Curtis Stigers: Hooray For Love (Concord Jazz) Curtis Stigers Hooray For Love

Given his recent track record – of dishing up exclusively (as he put it) “sad songs or songs about sex” – you might expect Down With Love to be the title song of a Curtis Stigers album, but the soulful, craggy-voiced singer has clearly turned born-again romantic in the time since his last CD was released, and is spreading the word via a mixture of swinging standards and original numbers which are new but sound as if they’ve been torn from the back pages  of the Great American Songbook. The Gershwins’ Love Is Here To Stay is served up in a particularly tasty sextet arrangement (which evokes the groovy feel of Harry Edison and Jimmy Rowles’s mid-1950s album Sweets) and is a treat to hear, but it’s those catchy new tunes – notably the title track and A Matter of Time – which linger in the mind more than the other classics.

Georgia Mancio & Nigel Price: Come Rain or Come Shine (Roomspin) Georgia Mancio

There’s a cool, classy elegance and balmy feel to this gorgeous new album from the London-based singer Georgia Mancio which – along with the voice, guitar and bass line-up (and one of the song choices) – recall the glorious Julie and Julie is Her Name records made by Julie London in the 1950s. Mancio, however, is no clone and stamps each number with her own style which is less pared-down and more daring than London’s. Her gentle, clear and beguiling voice is for the most part beautifully complemented by Nigel Price’s eloquent guitar, along with Julie Walkington on bass; stand-outs include a sublimely sultry Manha de Carnaval (well, the English language version, A Day in the Life of a Fool), a swinging Gone With the Wind and a breezily romantic Moonlight in Vermont.

Kate Daniels: Atmospherics (Loxford Records) Kate Daniels CD sleeve

Hers may not be the strongest, most arresting or distinctive voice but British singer Kate Daniels has created a strangely compelling collection of songs on this CD; an introduction to a style she intriguingly (and accurately, based on most of the evidence here) describes as “jazz noir”. These are moody, melancholy, midnight-y arrangements featuring such top British musicians as John Etheridge (guitar), John Horler (piano), Graham Pike (trumpet) and Tony Coe (tenor sax), and a voice that lends itself equally well to gently swinging ballads and gut-wrenching chansons.

Warren Vache & Alan Barnes: The Cobbler’s Waltz (Woodville Records)Vache- Barnes

If ever there were two players whose delight in each other’s playing is infectious, it’s the duo of American cornettist Vache and British clarinettist/saxophonist Barnes. Old friends and occasional colleagues, this pair clearly relish opportunities for collaborating – and that certainly shines through on this CD, even before you read Vache’s lively liner notes. More laid-back than their last outing on Woodville, this quintet recording (with top-drawer British rhythm section of John Pearce, Dave Green and Steve Brown) features an inspired mix of off-the-beaten track tunes as well as a couple of insanely catchy original numbers by Vache.

Thelonious Monk: Paris 1969 (Blue Note Records) Thelonious Monk Paris 1969

Also newly available on DVD, this is a rare recording of a late-career concert by the maverick pianist-composer Thelonious Monk (then aged 52) in the company of his longtime collaborator Charlie Rouse on tenor sax, plus a much younger bassist and drummer (17-year-old Paris Wright). Monk may have been past his creative prime, playing tunes he had played umpteen times before, and breaking in a new rhythm section – but this concert is hugely enjoyable and fresh-sounding and it went down a storm with the Parisian audience. Maybe for those of us who aren’t Monk maniacs, the slightly more mellow, older incarnation of the pianist has a particular appeal. Veteran drummer Philly Joe Jones, who had been resident in the French capital for a year, was invited up by Monk to sit in on the closing numbers.

Christine Tobin: A Thousand Kisses Deep (Trail Belle Records) Christine Tobin

Irish singer Tobin introduced the material on this album of Leonard Cohen songs at the inaugural British Vocal Jazz Festival at last year’s Edinburgh Fringe – and the concert was one of the highlights of the event. With her gutsy, powerful voice and unfussy yet passionate style, Tobin turns each song into a vivid story or portrait, and has strong accompaniment from her trio, led by guitarist Phil Robson, which is augmented to include accordion on several tracks – an addition which brings a chanson-y feel to the proceedings.

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Stan Greig Obituary

The pianist Stan Greig, who has died at the age of 82 following a long illness, was a stalwart of the British jazz scene for 60 years and was known for his boogie-woogie prowess, and his convivial nature. As pianist or drummer (he took up drums, he said, because he was so often confronted by duff pianos on gigs), he played in key bands in the British trad jazz revival movement, among them the groups led by Ken Colyer, Acker Bilk and Humphrey Lyttelton before embarking on a fruitful freelance career in middle age.

Born in Joppa, Edinburgh in 1930, Stanley Mackay Greig was the son of a piano tuner and repairer. At Edinburgh’s Royal High School in the mid-1940s, he formed a band with fellow pupils who, like him, were mad for 1920s jazz. The Royal High School Gang’s front line featured the now-legendary duo of clarinettist Sandy Brown and trumpeter Al Fairweather. It rehearsed in Greig’s living room, and almost immediately began playing gigs. Greig continued to play with Brown and Fairweather after they had all moved to London; their fantastically distinctive album Doctor McJazz is one of the all-time greats.

On leaving school, Greig took up his father’s trade and worked with him until the age of 24 when, as a drummer, he signed up to Ken Colyer’s London-based band. He joined Humphrey Lyttelton just in time to play drums on the 1956 recording session that produced the Top Twenty hit, Bad Penny Blues, but his tenure with Lyttelton was interrupted by the Suez Crisis – he was called up as a reservist – and when he returned, he had to share the drummer role with Eddie Taylor, who had been brought in as his replacement. Greig soon quit to go on tour, as a pianist, with the American gospel singer Brother John Sellers.

Greig spent much of the 1960s on the road as pianist with Acker Bilk’s Paramount Jazz Band which was riding high on the success of their hit Stranger on the Shore. After eight years, he left and spent a year running a coffee shop before emerging as a freelance juggling all sorts of gigs with piano tuning jobs (Mick Jagger was one of his regular clients). In 1975, he formed the London Jazz Big Band, a 16-piece outfit which featured many big names on the London scene, had a devoted following for ten years, and was very much a labour of Greig’s love. (He even built the music stands.)

Multi-instrumentalist Alan Barnes, who worked regularly with Greig when both were in Humphrey Lyttelton’s band in the 1980s, describes the London Jazz Big Band as “one of the most joyous big bands ever”.

Barnes adds: “He was a great spirit to be around and a real driving force in Humph’s band. One of his original boogie compositions had a break in which he would shout out the song title. I can remember his sudden appearance in the pulpit above the band in Peterborough Cathedral yelling ‘Beano Boogie!’ at an amazed congregation.”

The clarinettist Forrie Cairns, who played duo gigs with Greig in the 1970s, recalls: “Stan was a musician totally absorbed in the music all his life, and a pianist who differed from almost all the other good British pianists in his amazing feel for blues and gospel music. He played that style like the black American musicians did.” Which is no doubt why, in the 1980s, he toured Europe with the Harlem Jazz & Blues Band, an otherwise all Afro-American line-up of veterans from the golden era of jazz.

By 2002, the onset of Parkinson’s Disease had begun to hamper Greig’s ability to play. At a benefit concert in his honour that year, he was assisted by Jools Holland, and at a wonderful tribute concert to Sandy Brown at the 2002 Edinburgh Jazz Festival he shared piano duties with his old friend Ralph Laing.

Twice divorced, Greig is survived by his first wife and by their three children.

* Stan Greig, pianist, born August 12, 1930; died November 18, 2012.

First published in The Herald, Saturday December 1

 

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