Tag Archives: Edinburgh Jazz Festival

Edinburgh Jazz Fest Memories: Forrie Cairns

Edinburgh Jazz Festival archive - Recordbreaker photo

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, 1985 2

Warren Vache & Spanky Davis with Kenny Ellis (bass), Festival Club, 1985

Next: Alison Kerr

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Happy 90th, Bob Wilber!

Bob Wilber, Ed Jazz Fest 1992It’s soprano saxophonist extraordinaire Bob Wilber’s 90th birthday today. I’ve been lucky enough to hear him playing on quite a few occasions over the years – the first time was in August 1992 (when the above photo was taken), when I interrupted my year in Paris to come back for the Edinburgh Jazz Festival, largely because I couldn’t bear to miss hearing him and clarinettist Kenny Davern together – the first chance I had ever had to hear these two titans of classic jazz playing together live.

Three years later, as a fledgling freelance journalist writing for The Herald, I sent myself up north to review concerts by Davern and Wilber, on consecutive nights in neighbouring towns. The night after Davern played his gig at the Eden Court Theatre in Inverness, Wilber performed at – of all places – the Parkdean Holiday Park in Nairn. (This turned out to be a suitably surreal introduction for me to Nairn Jazz and the wonderful world of the much-missed jazz promoter Ken Ramage.)

Never without my clunky Sony Professional tape recorder in those days, I interviewed both Davern and Wilber about the event that would become the most eagerly anticipated gig in my calendar for that summer – a reunion of the full Soprano Summit line-up (living members anyway!), to take place at that year’s Edinburgh Jazz Festival.

Soprano Summit was a hugely successful band in the 1970s which, despite – or possibly because of – its lamentably short lifetime (six years), became legendary. Its albums became collectors’ items almost as soon as they were issued. Its conception – at a “jazz party” – organised by enthusiast Dick Gibson over a holiday weekend in September 1972 – became a tale that clarinettist Davern and fellow founding father, saxophonist and clarinettist Wilber, enjoyed telling. Here’s how it was told to me, in the summer of 1995 …

By day three of the party, audiences were suffering from ear fatigue and Gibson decided that he needed something to wake everyone up. According to Davern, Gibson turned to Wilber and said, in his Alabama drawl, “Now, I wan’ you and Kinny to get together and play a duet.”

The two, who had rarely performed together, quickly talked through a head arrangement of Duke Ellington’s moody and magnificent The Mooche for two soprano saxophones – a combination, amazingly, never before used in a working jazz band.

“We got a rhythm section together,” explained Wilber, “by a fluke Dick Hyman, Bucky Pizzarelli, Bobby Rosengarden and Milt Hinton were all there – and we got up and did the number.” Davern continued: “We finished it off on two high notes in thirds, and to our amazement people just rose up in applause – 650 folks just screaming with delight – and it was then that we realised that we had something different.”

In December 1972, the infant Soprano Summit cut its first album; the only difference in personnel being that the busy bassist Milt Hinton was replaced by George Duvivier.

Then, after a second LP, the second incarnation of Soprano Summit was born. The main reason for change was an economic one: as a six-piece band, Soprano Summit was an expensive package. The band also wanted to travel light, so the piano had to go.

Rhythm guitarist and singer Marty Grosz was signed up to replace Pizzarelli, who was tied up with studio work. Grosz shared with Wilber and Davern a love of tunes which were off the beaten standard track. Indeed, Soprano Summit’s basic ground plan was to be different and to make a feature of the fact that this was a working band with a varied working repertoire. In Grosz, they also had “a marvellous player who lent the band an entertainment factor with his singing and clowning.”

Davern added: “That was the basic sound of the group – two sopranos, or clarinet and soprano, and the guitar held it together like glue.”

The guitar was the icing on an already rather tasty cake, because the essence of Soprano Summit was the relationship between its two frontmen. Davern put it down to the fact that they grew up on the same music, but both have their own views on how it should be played.

“Our differences lie in how to approach the godhead, so to speak. We’re all descendants of classic jazz. Bob has his idea of how it should be interpreted and I have mine. But together, it works.”

In a typical Soprano Summit number they bounced the melody backwards and forwards between them like a football, with one taking a step back to play the obbligato and create a space for the other to lead the way with a solo. There was always a balance between the arranged and the spontaneous, though one sensed that much of the arranging was going on as they played.

As Wilber said: “A lot of it is intuitive. We find out what works by trying it, and then incorporate it into our repertoire.”

Their intuition about one another’s direction also meant that they complemented each other’s playing. Davern observed: “Sometimes when the two of us play two notes, you can hear a third note present – a harmonic that suddenly appears, a richness.”

That Edinburgh Jazz Festival reunion turned out to be the only time I ever heard Soprano Summit live, but thankfully there were many more opportunities to hear both Wilber and Davern over the next couple of decades. Davern died in 2006, but Wilber remains active – I last heard him at the Norwich Jazz Party in 2014 when he was on terrific form, serving up deliciously unexpected harmonies and swinging with as much joie-de-vivre as those first times I heard him, more than 20 years earlier.BW 2

 

 

 

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Edinburgh Jazz Festival 2017: Brian Kellock Meets the Ear Regulars

The concert I enjoyed most at the Edinburgh Jazz Festival was one I wasn’t reviewing for a newspaper – so, instead of taking notes, I took photos (just on my phone) of the first-ever encounter between top UK pianist Brian Kellock and two of the most regular members of the band that plays weekly at the Ear Inn in New York City – Jon-Erik Kellso (cornet) and Scott Robinson (clarinet & saxophone). They were joined by Dave Blenkhorn (guitar) and Roy Percy (bass). Scroll down beyond the slideshow for the set list …

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Brian Kellock (piano), Jon-Erik Kellso (cornet), Scott Robinson (clarinet, saxophone), David Blenkhorn (guitar) & Roy Percy (bass) at the Piccolo George Square on Monday July 17th, 2017

Hindustan

Tishimingo Blues

Between the Devil and the Deep Blue Sea

I Guess I’ll Have to Change My Plans

Some of These Days

I’m Puttin’ All My Eggs in One Basket

Gee Baby Ain’t I Good To You

Lady Be Good

I Got a Right To Sing the Blues

Running’ Wild

Creole Love Call (encore)

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Edinburgh Jazz Festival 2017: Ryan Quigley Quintet

Ryan Quigley Quintet Plays Dizzy Gillespie and Charlie Parker, Rose Theatre *****
 
Sunday afternoon’s concert by the Ryan Quigley Quintet could not have been better timed. By the closing weekend of the festival, jazz lag is inevitable – and the depressing weather didn’t exactly make venturing out to a gig seem like an appealing prospect. However, the music of Dizzy Gillespie and Charlie Parker, played by the dynamic band headed by trumpeter Ryan Quigley, proved to be the perfect antidote; just what was required to blast the cobwebs away. 
 
For 90 minutes, this terrific quintet powered through the bebop repertoire, barely pausing for breath between numbers or coming up for air from their energetic solos. This was thrilling, edge-of-your-seat stuff – not least because of the excitement generated by the combination of Quigley and alto saxophonist Soweto Kinch in the front line, playing together for the first time in a decade and clearly getting a kick out of doing so. 
 
Even the ballads were energetic. Introducing All The Things You Are after telling the crowd that the opener, Dizzy Atmosphere, had perhaps been too fast, the wry Quigley promised to slow things down – only to produce a ballad so exciting that it induced whoops from the audience midway through. 
 
It wasn’t just the hot, fiery and flamboyant horn playing of Quigley and Kinch that worked the crowd into a frenzy in this rafters-raising concert; the rhythm section – Alan Benzie (piano), Mario Caribe (bass) and Alyn Cosker (drums) was superb as well; Benzie in particular making an impression with his dazzlingly inventive, witty and sophisticated soloing. In all, the ideal high note with which to end the festival.
 
* First published in The Herald on Tuesday July 25th

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Edinburgh Jazz Festival 2017: Alison Affleck’s Copper Cats

Alison Affleck’s Copper Cats, George Square Spiegeltent ****

“And Now For Something Completely Different” could have been the title of the early evening concert given by Alison Affleck’s Copper Cats on Friday. Unlike any other gig in the jazz festival programme, this hour-long show drew almost exclusively from the early jazz and blues era – and did so from a woman’s point of view, giving a rare airing to songs by such pioneering women as Bessie Smith and Ma Rainey. Leading the charge on Friday and shaking the dust off the early jazz repertoire was Edinburgh-based American singer Alison Affleck, whose informative and sassy introductions to the songs ensured that the audience was receptive and entertained even before she began singing. 
 
Despite her fairly stylised, slightly theatrical mannerisms, Affleck brought an authenticity to such ancient numbers as Downhearted Blues and A Good Man is Hard To Find. Her natural American accent played a big part in this, along with an obvious inclination towards blues-singing. But where she particularly excelled on Friday was as a musical storyteller. St James Infirmary and The Black-Eyed Blues were stand-outs because Affleck didn’t just churn out the lyrics; she used them to bring the characters mentioned in these songs to life, and to create atmosphere and drama. 
 
Of course, she couldn’t have done all this as enjoyably without a good band playing with her; her piano-less quintet – boasting the crack team of Colin Steele (trumpet) and Dick Lee (clarinet) – did a terrific job of keeping the music swinging in suitably hot style.
 
* First published in The Scotsman on Monday July 24th

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Edinburgh Jazz Festival 2017: Remembering Chet – and Gerry

Remembering Chet – and Gerry, Rose Theatre ****
 
The deservedly popular tribute group Remembering Chet – a swinging trio with Iain Ewing (vocals) and Colin Steele (trumpet) reflecting the twin facets of the late, great Chet Baker’s music-making, and Euan Stevenson (piano) accompanying them – has been a staple of the last few Edinburgh Jazz Festivals. For this year’s event, on Saturday lunchtime, the band added a new dimension by bringing baritone saxophonist Billy Fleming in to the mix, thus allowing them to broaden the programme out to include some of the classic numbers Baker recorded with Gerry Mulligan in the 1950s.
 
It certainly gave the group – which, Ewing explained, he had been about to retire – a new lease of life; Fleming’s graceful baritone forming a formidable front line with the ever-eloquent Steele trumpet, notably in their unaccompanied climax to Bernie’s Tune, one of the compositions famously recorded by Baker and Mulligan’s radical piano-less quartet but here benefitting also from Euan Stevenson’s elegant keyboard skills.
 
Ewing, as ever, kept his patter lighthearted and often very funny to offset the melancholy that characterises the greatest hits from Baker’s back catalogue as a singer. As Steele headed offstage to sit out one ballad, Ewing quipped: “Colin’s away to mainline in the toilets. We are a Method Chet Baker tribute band. I, of course, represent Chet Baker after he died.”
 
As for those melancholy songs, Ewing – like Steele on trumpet – did his usual terrific job of stylishly channelling the Baker hallmarks – wistfulness, a soft, gentle tone, simplicity and vulnerability – while avoiding sounding like an impersonator. The many highlights included I Get Along Without You Very Well, which featured an exquisite, Satie-esque accompaniment from Euan Stevenson.
 
* First published in The Scotsman on Monday July 24th

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Edinburgh Jazz Festival 2017: Carol Kidd Sings the Music of Judy Garland

Carol Kidd Sings the Music of Judy Garland, George Square Spiegeltent, Edinburgh ***
 
If there has been one consistent talking point through this year’s Edinburgh Jazz Festival it has been frustration with its Easyjet method of boarding – making audiences for the tents queue outside; only to be allowed into the venue at the time that the concert is scheduled to start.
 
At Thursday’s Carol Kidd concert, one which was always likely to draw a high proportion of golden oldie ticket holders, observers braced themselves for fisticuffs as a bunch of stick-wielding geriatrics sprang unexpectedly from benches in George Square Gardens and formed a Saga-style stampede into the venue ahead of the punters who had been waiting in the mile-long queue. 
 
Kidd herself referred to the problems of age during an enjoyable 90 minutes in which she evoked the spirit of Ella Fitzgerald by gamely improvising the lyrics she had forgotten, but the main challenge she faced was on ballads – normally her strongest suit. The problem was that her band – pianist Paul Harrison and bassist Mario Caribe – didn’t provide enough colour, depth or texture behind her as she sang such beautiful ballads as The Man Who Got Away. 
 
Kidd has sung Gershwin’s Do It Again in a slowed-down, seductive and suggestive style before and it has been magic, but on Thursday, there was so little going on behind the long, not very varied, notes of the melody that it began to seem funereal rather than sexy. Even her musical Meg Ryan moment on the “oh-oh-oh” failed to relight the fire …
 
* First published in The Scotsman on Saturday July 22nd

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