Forrie Cairns (third from left in front row), with Jim Galloway (centre, on soprano sax) playing When the Saints Go Marching In at the Edinburgh Jazz Festival’s Guinness Book of Records attempt at biggest ever jazz band. This was just, says Forrie, one section of the band!
One-time member of the Clyde Valley Stompers and a fixture on the Scottish jazz scene from the 1950s onwards, Glasgow-born clarinettist Forrie Cairns enjoyed the Edinburgh Jazz Festival as both a player and a listener. He says:
“I was working virtually non-stop in Switzerland for the first 30 years of the jazz festival. But on the odd occasion when I took part in it (I think four altogether), what always excited me was the way Mike Hart (before it became more of committee-run event) managed to arrange those great afternoon Pub Trail gigs and the ones in the Festival Club with all the unusual line-ups comprising the musicians from the various visiting bands.
“For example, in the mid- 1980’s I came over for week with Bob Wallis and although I worked each night with Bob at various venues, I found myself one afternoon duetting with John Crocker, the sax/ clarinet player from the Chris Barber Band. It was great fun.
“That same year gave me the unique opportunity one other afternoon of listening for one hour to the two wonderful horns of Warren Vaché and Spanky Davis, the resident horn man at Jimmy Ryan’s Club in New York. Two quite different styles and two musicians at their peak, not attempting to blow each other off the stand, but rather complementing each other in quite superb fashion. Those musicians who crowded into the Festival Club that day were so lucky. That was the Edinburgh Festival at its best.”
Warren Vache & Spanky Davis with Kenny Ellis (bass), Festival Club, 1985
Next: Alison Kerr
The Big Chris Barber Band, Queen’s Hall, Friday July 18th ****
There was a sense of déjà vu about the concert given on Friday at the Queen’s Hall for the opening night of this year’s Edinburgh Jazz Festival. As the Big Chris Barber Band launched into a performance of Duke Ellington’s glorious Rent Party Blues which stirred neck hairs into a standing ovation, memories of this British outfit’s last visit to the Glasgow Jazz Festival flooded back. And so it was for much of the evening, which seemed to follow the same programme (a mixture of classic New Orleans jazz tunes and spirituals, Ellington compositions and the wild card of Miles Davis’s All Blues) and trigger the same pleasures and frustrations as that 2010 concert.
Among the pleasures of hearing this band are the fact that it offers a rare opportunity to hear 1920s Ellington being played so expertly and enthusiastically. Its slick, exhilarating ensemble playing – especially when trios of clarinets, saxes or trumpets are featured playing in unison (as happens so often, to thrilling effect, on such early Ellington numbers as East St Louis Toodle-Oo and Hot and Bothered) – was a particular delight, and there were some ace solos, not least by star clarinettist Bert Brandsma.
Barber himself, now 84 and in a wheelchair, played some memorable solos when the spotlight (the stylish lighting also added to the concert’s classiness) was on him but, unfortunately, the tear-your-hair-out frustration of being an audience member at one of his concerts was still very much present: it’s nigh-on impossible to make out 90% of what he says because of his rushed delivery. And what makes it even more infuriating is that the 10% that was intelligible was funny and/or fascinating.
First published in The Herald, Monday July 21st