Tag Archives: Doc Cheatham

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

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Hot Antics in Edinburgh

HotAnticOne of the most popular bands to appear regularly at the Edinburgh Jazz Festival during its heyday of the 1980s returns to the Scottish capital next month – for one night only. The Hot Antic Jazz Band delighted EJF audiences on the celebrated pub trail for the best part of two decades, and few ensembles are as fondly remembered or as emblematic of the old festival, beer-fuelled, spirit of jazz joie-de-vivre. This is, sans doubt, the band that sealed my fate as a jazz fan..

The Hot Antic Jazz Band (so-called as a play on words – Hot Antic, pronounced in French, sounds the same as “authentic” in French) may be made up of part-time musicians, but it has appeared at some of the world’s best festivals and venues, including the Carnegie Hall in New York. The standard of its musicianship and the players’ enthusiasm are such that the band has attracted the attention of various jazz greats, including Jabbo Smith.

Indeed, it was a love of the music of the long-lost trumpet legend Jabbo Smith, regarded in his prime as the only serious competition to Louis Armstrong, which first brought the original Antics together in 1979. Trumpeter Michel Bastide explains: “We met during a jam session in a club in Montpellier and during the break fell to talking about Jabbo’s music. It was there and then that we decided to do something about it – and the Hot Antic was born.”

In 1982, when the band was still in its infancy and concentrating on numbers written and originally recorded by Smith during his all-too-brief heyday, the opportunity to work with their hero on a short tour presented itself. A strong friendship was formed between the ageing trumpeter and the French musicians and, when he died in 1991, it was to Michel Bastide that Smith left his horn.

Unfortunately, the Antics never brought Jabbo Smith to Edinburgh but they count as highlights of their 35 years some of their early visits to the capital. Bastide says: “We fell in love with the Edinburgh Jazz Festival because we discovered a city devoted to jazz for a full week, with jazz everywhere – in the pubs, in the concert halls, in the hotels, everywhere. And there were opportunities to meet players like Teddy Wilson, Buddy Tate and Doc Cheatham. Plus, we liked the smell of the beer …. ”

A spirit of Marx Bros-esque mischief and a sense of camaraderie are key aspects of the Hot Antic Jazz Band’s popularity within the jazz world – and outwith it: this band is required listening for anyone who thinks that jazz is po-faced and serious. At 14, I was seduced by its Gallic charm (never again able to sing Puttin’ on the Ritz without a ‘Allo ‘Allo accent), sense of style (I’ve yet to see a classic jazz band as effortlessly stylish as the Antics in their post-dungarees era) and playfulness.

Indeed, the fun atmosphere onstage also undoubtedly appeals to some of the famous names who have sat in with the French musicians. Bastide recalls the thrill of being joined onstage by trumpeter Doc Cheatham, the gentle jazz giant who did the festival circuit throughout his seventies and eighties. “We were playing at a jam session at the Breda Jazz Festival, and Doc asked if he could sit in with us. It was very, very cute. He came to the stage like a little boy and said: ‘May I play with you? May I sit in with you?’ What more could I say except: ‘Yes, please.'” More recently, in the early 2000s, Wynton Marsalis became almost an honorary Antic thanks to various jam sessions at the Marciac Jazz Festival.

So what is the secret of the Antics’ longevity? Bastide has no doubts on that score. “The Hot Antic is still active because we are friends, we play just for fun, just for the pleasure of playing the music we like – the music of the 1920s – and the pleasure of playing together.” It sounds as if Jabbo Smith got it right when he described them as “the happiest band in all Europe”.

* The Hot Antic Jazz Band plays Edinburgh’s Jazz ‘n’ Jive Club, Heriot’s Rugby Club, on Friday, May 9 at 8pm. Tickets cost £8 for members; £10 for non-members and can be booked by calling Jim Callander on 01259 211049 or emailing info@edinburghjazz.com . For more information, visit www.edinburghjazz.com

Jabbo Smith & the Hot Antic Jazz Band – Lina Blues

Hot Antic Jazz Band – That Rhythm Man (1987)

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Our Boy Bix

Few jazz musicians inspire as much warmth and affection as Bix Beiderbecke, the legendary cornettist who died exactly 80 years ago.

Bix – it’s impossible not to refer to him by his first name, because those of us who love his music are also mad about this lost boy wonder – was one of jazz music’s first major casualties; a glorious talent which flared briefly but was burned out before his 30th birthday.

Nevertheless, in less than a decade’s worth of recordings, Bix made an indelible mark on the music.  His cornet sound is utterly unique and instantly identifiable: bright, golden and beguiling. Listen to any of the tunes which feature him and, even when he’s playing with an already impressive band, he lifts the whole sound when he comes in, and drives the ensemble.

I can’t think of a better example of the wonder of Bix in that context than the jubilant 1927 recording of Sorry (scroll down to hear it). It sounds great before Bix comes in, but when he does it’s like a light has been switched on and everything is illuminated.

His solos – which should be required listening for every jazz musician – are works of art, nothing less. Does it get any better than his spots on Jazz Me Blues and the exquisitely melancholy I’m Coming Virginia? I doubt it.

And then there are the piano pieces. You can’t talk about Bix without it being personal, and you certainly can’t talk about the piano pieces without noting that
Bix was an ahead-of-his-time composer with an ear for unusual harmonies, and a deep love of the music of Ravel and Debussy. And yet, he never did learn to read and write music – and he always remained a little at odds with convention, a rebellious figure who regularly tried, and failed (thankfully), to conform and fit in.

His individuality, which some tried to suppress, also drew fans and admirers to him like a magnet. “He opened roads to us – and brought forwards so much melody and harmony in his solo work that it opened all of our eyes,” said the trumpeter Doc Cheatham. At one point in the 1920s, as Doc recalled: “We all chased around trying to play like Bix, every one of us.” Louis Armstrong agreed, adding: “Ain’t none of them played like him yet. He was a born genius. They crowded him with love.”

Bix was an alcoholic from early in his career, when the bootleg gin flowed freely despite (or perhaps because of) Prohibition. He died on August 6, 1931 – at the age of just 28, having spent the last couple of years of his life either unwell, drying out or unfulfilled and frustrated in the Paul Whiteman band.

Almost immediately the legend of Bix sprang up, in books and on film. It’s difficult to gauge, through eight decades’ worth of cliches, hyperbole and mythology, exactly what Bix the man was like. All you can do is listen to the music and hear for yourself.

Some writers have bemoaned the fact that his premature death deprived us of more recordings; frankly, that thought has never occurred to me – his body of work comprises so many moments of sheer joy and heartbreaking loveliness, all of them endlessly appealing …

Each day this week, I’ll be posting the thoughts of a series of  Bix fans – musicians and writers –  about what Bix means to them, along with their favourite Bix tracks. Tomorrow: Warren Vache.

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