Tag Archives: Al Grey

Edinburgh Jazz Fest Memories: Alison Kerr

Edinburgh Jazz Festival - Hot Antic Jazz Band, (and Alison), Drones, 1987.jpg smaller

Alison Kerr (in black, at piano), listening to the Hot Antic Jazz Band, Drones, 1987

If it hadn’t been for the Edinburgh Jazz Festival, which celebrates its 40th anniversary this year, I wouldn’t be writing about jazz now…

It was August 21, 1986, and I was 14 years old when I first accompanied my dad on one of his annual week’s worth of jaunts to Edinburgh during the jazz festival. By this time, he had evolved a jazz festival routine – he booked a week off work, bought a festival rail pass (this was back when the jazz festival coincided with the other Ediburgh festivals), resumed a smoking habit that hadn’t been indulged since the previous festival, and met up with different pals (with varying degrees of interest in jazz but an equally strong interest in beer), at the many licensed premises that doubled as venues.

This was the now long-gone era of the famous jazz festival Pub Trail, when brewers sponsored the jazz festival, the packed programme resembled a paperback novel, and you could hear local and international bands – some semi-professional, some wholly; all enthusiastic purveyors of classic and trad jazz – in pubs all over the city. On my first day at the jazz festival I heard the French band who quickly became lifelong favourites – the Hot Antic Jazz Band. And my fate was sealed ..

That was one strand of the Edinburgh Jazz Festival. The other was the one with ticketed gigs, usually an afternoon or evening long session with two or three sets featuring different line-ups. When the festival introduced their now-fabled Gold Star Badges (in 1986), you could dip in and out of three or more gigs in a night, and follow your favourite bands or soloists around town.

In our case, this invariably meant legging it from somewhere like the Festival Club on Chambers Street over to the Spiegeltent in Charlotte Square and then to the Royal Overseas League on Princes Street – where, that first year, I saw the pianist whose Edinburgh Jazz Festival - Dick Hyman, Royal Overseas League, 1986.jpgappearance in Edinburgh was the reason for mine, the nimble-fingered Dick Hyman – before the inevitable mad dash for the last train back to Glasgow.

Of course, there was no guarantee that you would get into a gig which you hadn’t been at from its kick-off, which is why – in 1991 – there were nearly tears when we ended up standing OUTSIDE the Tartan Club at Fountainbridge (that year’s incarnation of Harlem’s legendary Cotton Club) listening as best we could to an eight-piece all-star band featuring Yank Lawson, Scott Hamilton, Marty Grosz and Kenny Davern (I vividly recall being blown away as Scott Hamilton brilliantly evoked Lester Young’s iconic solo on Back in Your Own Backyward), when we had left perfectly good seats at the Spiegeltent and would have heard Leon Redbone if we had stayed on after the Dry Throat Fellows, another favourite quirky European group. Needless to say, the atmosphere on the train home that night was not the best …

Those early years at the Edinburgh Jazz Festival – me in my mid-teens; my dad in his early 40s – undoubtedly ruined me for everything that came later. I revelled in the camaraderie, rejoiced in observing the characters onstage and off (there was a motley crew of eccentrics – the “Coke Can Kid” and “Monsieur Hulot” were two of our favourites – who would turn up every year and usually be in competition for the front row seats), and delighted in the lack of segregation between audience and musicians which meant that when I emerged from my front-row seat at the end of a gig, my father would tell me he had just had a pint with one of the musicians we’d admired earlier in the day.

Probably the greatest gift the jazz festival gave me – apart from these unique opportunities to spend time with my dad – was the chance to hear some of the greats from the heyday of jazz. The veteran jazz musicians I was privileged to hear during my teens reads like the personnel listings of favourite records from the golden age of jazz – Doc Cheatham, Harry Edison, Buddy Tate, Al Casey, Al Grey, Milt Hinton etc.

Thanks to the jazz festival, I held the door open for Milt Hinton. I heard Art Hodes, who had played piano for Al Capone. I heard Al Casey, who had been in Fats Waller’s bands. And later, as a young journalist, I received annual invitations to his New York jazz festival from Dick Hyman.

Then there are musicians we got to hear for the first time in Edinburgh – and went on to enjoy at successive festivals. If it hadn’t been for the Edinburgh Jazz Festival, I would not have come across the wonderful guitarist, singer and raconteur Marty Grosz as early as IEJF 1991 (5) - Marty Grosz did, and for bringing him into our lives, I’ll be forever grateful to the festival. Few other musicians lift the spirits as he can, and his duo gigs with clarinettist/saxophonist and fellow wise-cracker Ken Peplowski at Edinburgh in the late 1990s, early 2000s were the main highlights of those festivals for many of us.

By the late 1990s, the pub trail was gone, and the informality that we had loved was a thing of the past as the musicians we wanted to hear were usually scheduled to play in the sobering (and non-smoking) Hub venue and being kept well away from the audience.  Our favourite musicians might still be coming to the festival, but if they did it was usually just for one or two concerts. My father no longer needed to book a week off work.

The festival had rolled on to a new era. But what luck to have lived through those early days and to have had just about enough nous to appreciate that what I was witnessing was special.

In the run-up to this year’s jazz festival, I’m publishing a series sharing memories of the jazz festival from across its 40-year history, and from the perspectives of punters and performers alike. If you would like to share your stories and photos, please email me on girlfriday71@yahoo.com

Next: Roy Percy

Advertisements

Leave a comment

Filed under Edinburgh Jazz Festival 40th Anniversary, Uncategorized

My Silver Jubilee in Jazz (Part 2) – In Photos

Gus Johnson (drums), Harry Edison (trumpet) & Al Grey (trombone) at the 1986 Edinburgh Jazz Festival, (c) Donnie Kerr

So, to recap, the 1986 Edinburgh Jazz Festival was my first …  I was 14, I accompanied my Dad, whose annual jazz festival routine involved taking the week off work and taking up smoking (it seemed to make the Pub Trail pints taste better). The main event and reason for my being invited was to hear piano wizard Dick Hyman play at the Royal Overseas League that night. But, being a youngster, I had to go wherever my father went – and, of course, he had a full day of jazz planned.

Buddy Tate at the Speigeltent, at the Edinburgh Jazz Festival on Thursday, August 21st, 1986 (c) Donnie Kerr

Many of the musicians I heard on my first day were already elder statesmen of jazz when I was born. I speak, of course, of the musicians I was privileged to hear playing in the Speigeltent (a venue that I’ll be virtually inhabiting over the next week at this year’s event): Harry “Sweets” Edison (trumpet), Buddy Tate (tenor sax), Al Grey (trombone), Ray Bryant (piano), Milt Hinton (bass) and Gus Johnson (drums). In all honesty, I don’t remember much about what they played (and these were the days before I took notes) but I’m pretty sure that – as with Doc Cheatham eight years later – there was a strong sense of

Michel Bastide,Virginie Bonnel & Jean-Francois Bonnel of The Hot Antic Jazz Band at the Festival Club, Edinburgh Jazz Festival, Thursday August 21st, 1986 (c) Donnie Kerr

being in the presence of guys who were part of the fabric of the music’s history.

From the Speigeltent, we undoubtedly followed part of the old McEwan’s Pub Trail, to the now-legendary Festival Club for a 3pm set by the band which had much to do with my conversion to fully-fledged jazz fan: The Hot Antic Jazz Band. This Gallic group should be compulsory listening for anyone who thinks jazz is po-faced or inaccessible. Humour, style, joie-de-vivre and terrific musicianship are the hallmarks of an Antics concert. They won me over – and they’re still going strong. My seven-year-old sons love them too…

One of my abiding memories of my early jazz festival visits is of hot-footing it from venue to venue (often across town) in order to catch ten minutes of a set and cram as much into the day as possible. With our gold badges we could get into any gig that wasn’t already full to capacity and this meant that if you only

Spanky Davis (trumpet) & Al Grey (trombone), at the Festival Club, at the Edinburgh Jazz Festival on Thursday August 21st, 1986 (c) Donnie Kerr

wanted to hear the first band in a three-set evening in one venue, you could take a chance on getting into the second or third set in a different venue – usually (at Dad’s  suggestion) the one furthest from Waverley Station where we’d catch the last train home. These gambles usually paid off (and were worth taking if you realised that you had perhaps chosen the wrong gig to start your night in), though there was a memorable occasion when Dad and I pitched up at the “Tartan Club” in Fountainbridge only to be told that we’d have to listen to Kenny Davern, Scott Hamilton and the rest of the all-star group onstage from outside the front door as the club was already full. I don’t know if I’ve dreamt it, but I am sure I heard Hamilton storming through a superb version of Back In Your Own Back Yard (the only time I’ve ever heard it live) on that occasion – playing it fast and furiously as if to ensure that those of us straining to hear the music from outside wouldn’t miss out.

Dick Hyman, Royal Overseas League, Edinburgh Jazz Festival, Thursday August 21st, 1986 (c) Donnie Kerr

That first year, we didn’t do any of that kind of juggling: there was no way we were going to risk not getting in to see Dick Hyman at the Royal Overseas League, a venue which fills to uncomfortable capacity very quickly.  Indeed, there was no way we were going to risk not getting front row seats – and prime position for requesting Maple Leaf Rag, the Joplin tune which had first got me hooked on Hyman’s playing just a few months earlier.

And in case there is any doubt about my having been there that day, here’s the photographic evidence: you can glimpse my reflection in the mirror on the pillar of the Speigeltent ..

2 Comments

Filed under Concert reviews, Uncategorized

My Silver Jubilee in Jazz (Part 1)

The Edinburgh Jazz Festival starts on Friday, July 22nd and I’m both mortified and proud to declare that this year is the 25th anniversary not only of my first-ever Edinburgh Jazz Festival, but also of my first-ever jazz concert (and first-ever visit to a pub with my dad) … and it all happened on one day: Thursday, August 21st, 1986. I relived that fateful day in my first-ever (bit of a theme emerging here) Edinburgh Jazz Festival preview feature which was written, in 1993, while I was still a student and about 20 articles into my journalistic career. I remembered August 21st 1986 much more vividly when I wrote that article than I do now, so here it is:And here are the pages from the programme with the tantalising list of concerts I attended – as well as those I didn’t..

And then the main event:

2 Comments

Filed under Uncategorized