One of the personal pleasures of this year’s Norwich Jazz Party was the chance for me to see the French trumpeter Alain Bouchet again – and the first time that I’d seen him in the company of Warren Vache, who had put us in contact in the first instance. Two decades ago!
In fact, it was exactly 20 years ago – in May 1992 – that I first heard of Alain, whose style of playing has been shaped by very similar influences to Warren’s. I was already a fan of Mr Vache’s music back then, and during a brief visit to my home town of Glasgow from Paris where I was working as an “assistante” in a school, I went with my father to hear Warren perform at the Glasgow Society of Musicians. On learning that I was based in Paris, he put me in touch with Alain who was then working regularly in the French capital.
My pal and I went to hear him at Le Montana, a club on the rue Saint-Benoit in Saint Germain-des-Pres. As impoverished students, we couldn’t afford the bar prices so we shared (and topped up) a bottle of Perrier as we listened to the jazz. Alain’s group didn’t come on until 10pm and the music wasn’t due to finish until 2am, by which time the trains out to the suburb where we stayed would have stopped forthe night. Determined not to miss a note, I persuaded my pal to stay until the end of the gig. Then we crossed the boulevard Saint-Germain to the Pub Saint-Germain , where we nursed another Perrier until 6am when our trains started running again. The things we do for jazz…
Anyway, I was an immediate fan of Alain’s lovely playing. Warm, lyrical, swinging and joyful, it is beautifully captured on a CD from that era which I still play regularly: his 1991 Jazzology album Introducing Alain Bouchet (in His Premier American Recording) which found him in the company of Vache and several other top American solo stars.
In Norwich, he was in great company too – playing with the likes of Rossano Sportiello (piano) for the very first time. Here they are in action:
This feisty solo by Warren Vache woke me and my camera up at the climax of a lunchtime set on day 2 of the Norwich Jazz Party. I think I had sunk into a slump and wasn’t concentrating after pianist Nick Dawson had taken the ill-advised decision to burst into song on the Gershwin ballad Isn’t It a Pity? It was indeed a pity that he started singing, and I have to say I switched off (for self-preservation purposes) – only to be jolted back into alertness by Vache’s magnificent solo on It Had To Be You – which shook up the musical proceedings and set us back on the road to musical excellence. (And which was one of three versions of this rarely-played number performed over the weekend!) It was like a prize fighter entering the ring and laying out everyone in his wake.
I was disappointed that there was no opportunity this year to hear Vache in my preferred setting for him: the duo. It was particularly disappointing because guitarist Bucky Pizzarelli was there – and one of my favourite memories of the old Nairn Jazz Festival is a duo gig he and Pizzarelli played.
Vache’s most intimate set in Norwich last week was a trio one with guitarist Dave Cliff (plus bass) which swelled to quartet because Vache – understandably – wanted to invite his old pal Alain Bouchet to join him, given that they weren’t scheduled to play together otherwise.
However, my favourite of the numbers he played which I recorded was this deliciously funky take on Yesterdays which he performed in his first set of the weekend, with Dave Cliff, John Pearce (piano), Giorgos Antoniou (bass) and Steve Brown (drums).
Vache the balladeer is always a winner – listen no further than this Ghost of a Chance, one of two played at Norwich this year, on which he shares the spotlight with a fellow master musical seducer, Houston Person (tenor sax).
The Norwich Jazz Party strikes just the right balance between the completely informal, thrown-together, “jam” sets and arranged sets which have a rehearsal and charts and more esoteric material. I love both – and both formats produced some magic last weekend. Such as? Well, that first track came from the opening night’s jam session. Or try this Drop Me Off in Harlem, which combusted into action so spontaneously that I didn’t even have the camera ready. And, no, that’s not Robert Redford on the soprano sax: it’s Bob Wilber, who, having hit 84, now seems to be rewinding towards his sprightly seventies…Another number which I was delighted to have captured on camera was this funky take on No Moon At All by singer Rebecca Kilgore with Craig Milverton (piano), Harry Allen (tenor sax) and Eddie Erickson (guitar) all featured. Of the sets featuring arrangements, my favourites were undoubtedly the Benny Carter set, led by Ken Peplowski, and Alan Barnes’s Ellington set – of which this sublime Sultry Sunset, featuring the national treasure that is Mr Barnes, was a stand-out.
The wonderful French trumpeter, pictured above (with me, a long time ago!) recalls his first impressions of “l’ami” Bix:
“When I was a young jazz musician, I – of course – listened to the records by King Oliver, Louis Armstrong’s Hot Five and Hot Seven, but also the ones by Bix Beiderbecke. His music was different, very individual and recognisable; as was his style of phrasing. I’d go so far as to say that for the time, his music was “modern”, advanced.
“He was surrounded by marvellous musicians like Frankie Trumbauer and Hoagy Carmichael. I was lucky enough to appear in a French TV movie To Bix or Not To Bix, in which I played his friend, Emmett Hardy.
“He only lived a short time but 80 years after his death, Bix’s music is always with us. Two of his compositions sum up the musician: In a Mist (Bix was an excellent pianist) and the beautiful Davenport Blues.”