Appropriately, I stumbled across a recently posted video of my all-time fave French jazz band on YouTube yesterday – Bastille Day. There are quite a few videos of them already available, but this one was only uploaded to YouTube in April – so it was a delightful discovery for me.
It seems especially apt to post it now as the Hot Antic Jazz Band was one of the best-loved bands of the Edinburgh Jazz Festival in the 1980s & 1990s – and, in the normal course of things, I would be spending this week in Edinburgh, reminiscing about them and thinking how lucky I was to hear them back in the heyday of the festival, when it had classic jazz at its heart and attracted some of the best groups from across the world.
Back then, these groups would play on the famous McEwans Pub Trail as well as in the mix-and-match, three-set concerts that were a hallmark of the festival, so you could hear them for free, and follow them from one gig to another, often managing to notch up several HAJB sets in one day if you were so inclined. Nowadays, if they were still playing together (sadly, the band retired in 2018), the jazz festival would probably book them for one or two gigs, at £20 a ticket, and that would be your lot.
The Antics weren’t full-time professional musicians (they were all professionals with full-time day jobs) but their commitment to the lesser-played music of the 1920s and 1930s (notably by Jabbo Smith and Clarence Williams), plus their joie-de-vivre and Gallic charm made them beloved by aficionados and jazz newcomers alike, including – in 1986 – the 14-year-old me. (By this time they had already been officially named the best band at the jazz festival – by BBC Radio Scotland.) They returned to the festival many times, with slight variations in personnel over the years, and remained favourites of the core audience which welcomed them back like old friends.
This video is from before my time as an Antic admirer – the early period that could be called the Dungaree Era!
Swedish Jazz Kings and Bob Barnard, Linlithgow Primary School, Linlithgow
The first Scottish date on the Swedish Jazz Kings’ short British tour didn’t get off to the most auspicious of starts – thanks to the acoustics and a dodgy-sounding piano. Mind you, we were lucky to get to hear them at all: Europe’s premier purveyors of hot jazz had originally been booked to appear at the local town hall but due to the fact that the building work there had not been completed, the Linlithgow Jazz Club had to find an alternative venue for Saturday night’s concert.
By the third number, ears had become attuned to the acoustics and it was possible to enjoy the programme of music associated primarily with Clarence Williams, Louis Armstrong. With their line-up of trumpet, soprano sax/clarinet, piano, banjo and sousaphone, the Jazz Kings produce an often thrillingly authentic sound; the superb trumpet and reeds work of Bent Persson and Tomas Ornberg respectively is really the icing on the cake.
Persson is a master of the jaw-dropping hot “breaks” with which Louis Armstrong made his name, while Ornberg – an eccentric (he looks like an impish intellectual) who, on Saturday, had two horns hanging from his neck and two sets of glasses on his head – is a graceful sax and clarinet player. The addition of the majestic Australian trumpeter Bob Barnard, on what he says will be his last European tour, was a delightful bonus.