Tag Archives: Classic Jazz Orchestra

Edinburgh Jazz & Blues Festival: Ken Mathieson Classic Jazz Orchestra

Ken Mathieson Classic Jazz Orchestra – Hot Horns, George Square Spiegeltent ***

A performance by Ken Mathieson’s Classic Jazz Orchestra at the Spiegeltent has become an annual event at the Edinburgh Jazz & Blues Festival, and it is usually accompanied by this reviewer sitting on the edge of her seat as she thrills to the lesser-played Bix or Ellington tune being lovingly and energetically recreated by the gentlemen of the band.

On Saturday evening, however, the thrills were fewer and further between than usual – despite the participation of English trumpeter Enrico Tomasso as guest star. One of the ways in which the CJO normally gets the spines a-tingling is through the terrific unison playing of members of the top-notch front line, but for much of Saturday’s concert, the ensemble playing just didn’t have the usual pizazz and was actually a bit on the raggedy side. More loose like this than tight like that, as Louis Armstrong might have said.

Nevertheless, the CJO on a slightly off day is still preferable to most alternatives, and there were treats scattered here and there through the concert, among them Dick Lee’s impish clarinet breaks and Phil O’Malley’s eloquent ones on Wild Man Blues, Lee’s funky penny whistle solo on Savoy Blues and Konrad Wiszniewski’s dynamic tenor solo on Swedish Schnapps.

As for Tomasso, he demonstrated once again that when it comes to emulating the style and sound of Louis Armstrong, he is the leader of the pack. No-one Else But You was the first of a run of tunes which burst into life as soon as he came in on trumpet.

* First published in The Herald on Monday, July 27th

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Review: Classic Jazz Orchestra

Ken Mathieson’s Classic Jazz Orchestra, Glasgow Art Club, Thursday November 15th ****

We fans of what is rather dismissively described as “mainstream” jazz (which is to say jazz that swings, is tuneful and usually has at least a bare-bones structure) are often made to feel like a minority group; the uncool kids on the jazz block who get torn to shreds if we stick our heads above the parapet and dare to venture a negative opinion about one of the current sacred cows.

The irony is that, since it encompasses the history of jazz, this minority music represents the majority of jazz genres and possibilities. Which is why Thursday night’s concert by Ken Mathieson’s excellent Classic Jazz Orchestra was almost entirely different to the one it gave during the Edinburgh Jazz Festival in July. Back then the focus was on the early “Kings of Jazz” – Louis Armstrong, Bix Beiderbecke and Jelly Roll Morton – and their music from the 1920s and 1930s, but on Thursday, it was the middle period of jazz which was most revisited in repertoire terms.

Revisited – and refreshed. The joy of the CJO is that it is not slavishly recreating original recordings or trying to capture a period feel. It mixes numbers from across the decades – in much the same way as we do with our record collections – but they’re channelled through the prism of Mathieson’s own arrangements, or the original ones which he will undoubtedly have tweaked to suit this top-notch band.

Among the many gems served up in style on Thursday were numbers by Cannonball Adderley, Barney Bigard and Bob Brookmeyer but the absolute stand-outs were Gerry Mulligan’s Out Back of the Barn, which showcased the elegant baritone saxophone of Allon Beauvoisin, and two showstopping numbers by Antonio Carlos Jobim.

First published in The Herald, Monday November 19th

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Edinburgh Jazz Festival 2012 in Videos: Classic Jazz Orchestra

To read my review of this concert, click here

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Edinburgh Jazz Festival 2011: Ken Mathieson’s Classic Jazz Orchestra with Cecile McLorin Salvant

Ken Mathieson’s Classic Jazz Orchestra, Spiegeltent, Sunday July 24th ****

Whether it was the Spiegeltent audience’s enthusiastic reception or the fact that they were able to play their favourite tunes – as opposed to being limited to one or two composers’ output – the musicians of the Classic Jazz Orchestra were in especially fine form for their Sunday night session.

As leader Ken Mathieson has often explained, this band draws its repertoire from right across the first half-century of jazz, from the 1920s through to the 1960s – and Sunday’s varied programme was effectively a musical version of this manifesto. Both sets kicked off with numbers recorded definitively by cornettist Bix Beiderbecke in the years running up to his 1931 death (it was a treat to hear Way Down Yonder in New Orleans again, with the band playing Beiderbecke’s glorious solo as part of the arrangement) before moving on to tunes ranging from Jelly Roll Morton to Gerry Mulligan, with one of their new party pieces- Antonio Carlos Jobim’s slithery Waters of March a particular highlight.

Cecile McLorin Salvant, the young American singer who made her debut in Edinburgh this weekend, joined the band for a handful of songs – and blew the audience away. Her lovely, bright voice and habit of paring down the tune and holding back on the beat recalled Billie Holiday on the bouncier tunes, yet she displayed Sarah Vaughan’s ugly-beauty approach when it came to her stand-out song, the ballad Born to Be Blue.

(First published in The Scotsman, Tuesday July 26th)

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Glasgow Jazz Festival Memories

In July 1988, I had recently finished my Highers but I was still only in the third year of my jazz education. Aged 16, I had notched up a couple of Edinburgh Jazz Festivals and started to build a basic jazz record collection thanks to the excellent Giants of Jazz series.

What I hadn’t yet experienced was a full-blown, formal jazz concert in a proper hall – but that was about to change. The Glasgow Jazz Festival has always specialised in big, one-off concerts and it was at the festival of 1988 that I experienced my first – in the form of the Gerry Mulligan Concert Jazz Band at the Theatre Royal. To be honest, I’m not even sure I’d heard of Gerry Mulligan when my Dad – a master in the art of brainwashing (midnight feasts to celebrate Louis Armstrong’s birthday had been the first phase) – said he’d bought us tickets.

Hearing the sound of this terrific, 16-piece, outfit was electrifying and exhilarating and it made me an instrant fan of Mulligan’s eloquent and very distinctive saxophone playing, composing and arranging. So much so that I waited at the stage door to get his autograph. Despite his reputation as a difficult customer, he obliged willingly – another reason for me to love him. The highlight of the evening for me was the utterly thrilling number he had penned for the jazz festival – The Flying Scotsman, a rollercoaster ride of a tune.

Many of the numbers the band played in Glasgow (scroll down for the list) were on their recent LP Walk on the Water, so in the weeks following the jazz festival, I got hooked on that album in particular while also discovering such other landmarks in Mulligan’s career as the Birth of the Cool album he made with Gil Evans and Miles Davis in the late 1940s, the piano-less quartet he pioneered with Chet Baker in the 1950s, the series of classic LPs which teamed him with such other notable saxophonists as Johnny Hodges, his tentet, the original incarnation of the Concert Jazz Band, his film work – notably I Want to Live! (1958), which we’re showing at this year’s jazz festival – and his lovely 1960 album with his one-time lover, the movie actress Judy Holliday..

The Glasgow concert was recorded by the BBC to be broadcast on Radio 3 some months later. When it was, Dad and I were ready for it: we had tape recorders set up all over the house so that we could have back-up copies of the recording, and they were all started at different times so there was no chance of us losing a bit of a number as we turned over a tape when one side ran out.

The recording confirmed all my initial feelings about the concert, and I’ve been playing my favourite copy of it (the one which left in all Mulligan’s announcements) ever since. It came to Paris with me in 1991, when I went to work there for a year (a year which culminated in my seeing Gerry Mulligan

with the Re-Birth of the Cool Band at La Villette), and it came to Edinburgh with me, in 1994, when I did a brief post-grad course.

While the next Glasgow Jazz Festival concert I attended – Stan Getz’s, in 1989 – was released on a CD, by Concord, the Mulligan one has never materialised in this form, and The Flying Scotsman was only subsequently performed by Mulligan (who died in 1996) in a quartet setting. (This will be recitified by the
Classic Jazz Orchestra plus Alan Barnes on June 29, at this year’s festival.)

Frankly, Getz’s concert made nothing like the impression on me that Gerry Mulligan’s did. In fact, all I remember is the fact that I – along with everyone else – failed to get an autograph: he resolutely refused to oblige the many fans who waited for him at the stage door. Dad, who was on hand to photograph the autograph being given, snapped me walking away with a decidedly bemused look on my face.

It turned out that the highlight of the 1989 festival was hearing the legendary Cab Calloway performing Minnie the Moocher with the Glasgow audience enthusiastically yelling the “ho-de-hoes” back at him, and waiting, programme and pen in hand, for him to leave the theatre after the show…

* The Classic Jazz Orchestra & Alan Barnes play the music of Benny Carter and Gerry Mulligan, Tron Theatre, Wednesday June 29 as part of the 25th Glasgow Jazz Festival. Visit www.jazzglasgow.com for details

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Jazz on Film @ Glasgow Jazz Festival prt 2

By way of previewing the 25th Glasgow Jazz Festival, which this year includes a Jazz on Film strand, the Glasgow Film Theatre is showing a couple of movies – and I’ll be introducing them..

First up, the definitive – and original – jazz documentary, Jazz on a Summer’s Day (1959), which is showing on Saturday, June 25 at 1.45pm. I’ve written extensively on this wonderfully evocative film before – so please read my jazz and style posts about it.

I am delighted that we’re showing it as a taster for the Glasgow Jazz Festival because it is a favourite film of Glasgow audiences. It also ties in rather nicely with a concert I had a wee hand in: the Classic Jazz Orchestra’s concert, which pays tribute to two of the big names who appeared at the first two editions of the Glasgow Jazz Fest – Benny Carter and Gerry Mulligan. Saxophonist extraordinaire Alan Barnes is playing both the part of altoist Carter and baritone player Mulligan. And the connection with JOASD? Well, Mulligan can be seen both performing and being a jazz fan (he’s pictured in the poster above) in Bert Stern’s iconic documentary.

The other film I’m introducing (at the GFT, on Monday June 27 at 6pm) is not really a jazz film but was chosen because its  music was written by the great Michel Legrand, who is performing with his trio to the Glasgow Jazz Festival, on July 2. I thought that Les Demoiselles de Rochefort, the tongue-in-cheek 1967 homage to the classic Hollywood musical, was much more likely to appeal to a jazz audience than something like The Thomas Crown Affair as the music does have a bit of a jazz feel in parts – mostly when Legrand is playing piano. Also, I’ve heard that this is Legrand’s favourite of his own films..

I first saw Les Demoiselles a couple of years ago and have been obsessed with it ever since. It’s kitsch but stylish, cheeky but romantic, silly but – typically, given that it’s French – deadly serious about l’amour… It has frothy, camp pop tunes and lush, romantic ballads. I’m not 100% sure whether Catherine Deneuve, Francois Dorleac, Gene Kelly, Jacques Perrin, Danielle Darrieux, Michel Piccoli and George Chakiris did their own singing – but hopefully I’ll find out when I interview Monsieur Legrand next week.

* For tickets, visit www.gft.org.uk .

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Classic Jazz Orchestra, Glasgow Art Club

The spirit of the old Glasgow Society of Musicians – where this jazz fan first heard many of her favourite jazz players – is alive and well and may have finally found a new home, thanks to the Bridge Music series of concerts at the Glasgow Art Club. Warm and welcoming, cosy yet spacious, the art club has the same relaxed ambience of the Society’s Berkeley Street building and, based on Thursday night’s concert by the Classic Jazz Orchestra, it would certainly be a worthy successor as a venue for classic and mainstream jazz whose fans have generally not been well served in Glasgow for years.

That fact was underlined by the various mini-reunions going on between punters who used to frequent the GSOM. As the evening progressed, the audience swelled to include many younger concert-goers, undoubtedly lured by the deal that Bridge Music is offering to RSAMD students and their chums.

Of course, it helped enormously that the band appearing on the bill was the CJO, an outfit which never fails to draw a crowd, thanks to the fact that it varies its programme regularly and offers a rare chance to hear tunes from the 1920s onwards played as if they were brand new. Thursday night’s programme veered more to the 1950s and 1960s end of the repertoire, with stand-outs including a masterful version of The Waters of March in which the melody seemed to snake its way fluidly around the front line, Oliver Nelson’s airily cool Stolen Moments and Duke Ellington’s Happy Go Lucky Loco, a train-inspired piece which built up a terrific head of steam.

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