Tag Archives: Hot Antic Jazz Band
Thirty years ago, in August 1986, I attended my first Edinburgh Jazz Festival. (Actually, it was my first jazz festival full stop.) These were the heady days of the festival as a sprawling, round-the-clock affair whose programme was like a slightly oversized paperback book, and was stuffed with multiple opportunities to hear the same musicians in all sorts of different line-ups over the course of the week.
These were the days of the Gold Badge (now as fabled as one of Willy Wonka’s Golden Tickets) which allowed agile festival-goers to attend the first of the evening’s three sets in one place set then leg it to another venue for the second set, and then sprint from wherever you had ended up for the evening’s third set back to the station with barely enough time for your father’s last half pint before boarding the last train to Glasgow. (Which, of course, was extra late because the main Edinburgh Festival was on.)
My dad would take a full week off work and travel through to Edinburgh every day (with the also now-fabled Festival Rover train ticket) and attend a full day’s jazz with different assortments of friends, relatives and colleagues. In 1986, I was invited to accompany him – for one reason only. Because Dick Hyman, the American piano genius, was playing a solo set at the Royal Overseas League halfway through the festival.
Earlier that year, Dad had recorded a movie on BBC2, possibly as part of its (also now-fabled) Jazz Week entitled Scott Joplin. It was a TV movie biopic – and one which I have never seen on TV since. Had he not recorded it and had my brothers and I not become completely obsessed with one sequence in it, I probably would not have become a jazz fan. The sequence was a cutting contest between two piano “professors” – and it absolutely thrilled us. To the point that we could soon sing every note of it. As the piano player in the family, I was already playing Scott Joplin pieces. Overnight, mastering the Maple Leaf Rag became my goal for the summer holidays.
So when my dad said that the guy who had played one of the pianos in the cutting contest scenes and who had done all the other piano music in the film was coming to Edinburgh and did I want to come, it was a no-brainer.
Dick Hyman’s solo set wasn’t until the evening of my first day in Edinburgh; being only 14, I had to stay with my father as he took in the rest of the day’s programme. And that programme began in the Grassmarket, in a pub called the Beehive Inn, where I heard and fell in love with the music of the Hot Antic Jazz Band from the south of France.
All of which is a very long way of setting up my first weekend at this year’s Jazz Festival, when the stars aligned and for the first time in over a decade, the Hot Antics plus my dad and I were all in Edinburgh and all at the Spiegeltent on Friday night’s opening concert. As might have been expected, it was a slightly emotional affair as the events in Nice the night before cast a bit of a pall over proceedings but trumpeter and leader Michel Bastide promised that despite what had happened right on their doorstep, they were determined to give us an evening of jazz, “the music we love”.
The personnel and repertoire may have changed over the years since 1986, but the great sense of fun and irresistible joie-de-vivre (even amidst the terrible sadness of Thursday’s tragedy) endure – and were most apparent as soon as they started playing such uplifting numbers as the opener Funny Fumble and Somebody Stole My Gal, surely the happiest number about being dumped? And, as in 1986, when their charming version of Puttin’ on the Ritz made me forever afterwards sing it with a French accent, so Three Little Words a la francaise will keep me going till the next time the Antics come to town.
One 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 firstname.lastname@example.org . For more information, visit www.edinburghjazz.com
Published in The Herald, August 14, 2001
It’s been a few years since this reviewer’s last visit to the Nairn International Jazz Festival, but, thankfully, very little has changed. The atmosphere is as friendly and laid-back as ever, and the prevalence of the founder-organiser’s own eclectic tastes – rather than a worthy but half-hearted attempt to cater for every jazz taste – still ensures that this event has a distinctive character.
Nairn is still very much the jazz festival with the personal touch. You only need to watch the crowds filing out of the venue to witness this: people queue up to thank Ken Ramage, the organiser, for the concert and to request that certain bands be brought back. Musicians and audience members mingle at interval-time, and seem to be united in their enjoyment of the festival and its informal ambience. Indeed, it’s not unusual for bandleaders to ask to be invited back as they bid farewell to the audience.
This is precisely what happened at this year’s showcase concert, given by David Ostwald’s Louis Armstrong Centennial Band on Saturday. This classy New York-based group went down a storm and seemed to be as delighted by the response they received as the audience was thrilled by the music. Unlike, say, the Nairn All-Stars band, which had appeared two nights earlier, this was a ready-made outfit comprising members who work together regularly and operate less as a group of individuals (although trumpeter Randy Sandke, clarinettist-saxophonist Dan Levinson, trombonist John Allred and pianist Mark Shane are all in demand as soloists) and more as an ensemble. Consequently, they managed to cram several decades’ worth of Armstrong material into a hugely enjoyable couple of sets.
The Ostwald outfit asked for, and received, an instant invitation to come back to Nairn. But it wasn’t the only debuting group looking for a return visit. The Hot Antics charmed Nairn audiences with two afternoon concerts at the weekend. This French band’s winning combination of seldom-played tunes from the 1920s and 1930s plus a good deal of fun and banter – prompted a flurry of requests, not least from the band itself, for a repeat performance at a future event.
The surprise of the festival was Dunstan Coulber, an English clarinettist who led a swing quartet, featuring the versatile pianist Richard Busiakiewicz, on Friday evening. The winner of the Perrier Young Jazz Musician of the Year, Coulber has a soft, fluid, and commanding style which contrasted well with Busiakiewicz’s crisp, elegant playing.
The Nairn audience’s willingness to try out the unfamiliar is a sign of its faith in the taste of the organiser, and he rewarded the loyalty by arranging return visits by old favourites. It was a not-so-old favourite who opened the festival on Wednesday. Jane Monheit, the American singer who made her Scottish debut in Nairn in December, was welcomed back as if she was the prodigal daughter, while Monty Alexander, the Jamaican pianist who has played the festival in the past and who would appear to have been adopted by Nairn as one of its own, seemed to thrive on the friendly atmosphere when he gave a late-night recital on Friday.
Although all the evening events played to a full tent, the stand-out concerts of the festival were the ones which were heard by fewest people. In the intimate, and unlikely, venue of the newly-converted stables of Brodie Castle on Friday afternoon, the peerless American musicians Warren Vache (cornet) and Howard Alden (guitar) – both of whom have been absent from the festival for several years – teamed up with the excellent bass player Ricky Steele for two glorious sets which are bound to become Nairn festival legend.
So, to recap, the 1986 Edinburgh Jazz Festival was my first … I was 14, I accompanied my Dad, whose annual jazz festival routine involved taking the week off work and taking up smoking (it seemed to make the Pub Trail pints taste better). The main event and reason for my being invited was to hear piano wizard Dick Hyman play at the Royal Overseas League that night. But, being a youngster, I had to go wherever my father went – and, of course, he had a full day of jazz planned.
Many of the musicians I heard on my first day were already elder statesmen of jazz when I was born. I speak, of course, of the musicians I was privileged to hear playing in the Speigeltent (a venue that I’ll be virtually inhabiting over the next week at this year’s event): Harry “Sweets” Edison (trumpet), Buddy Tate (tenor sax), Al Grey (trombone), Ray Bryant (piano), Milt Hinton (bass) and Gus Johnson (drums). In all honesty, I don’t remember much about what they played (and these were the days before I took notes) but I’m pretty sure that – as with Doc Cheatham eight years later – there was a strong sense of
being in the presence of guys who were part of the fabric of the music’s history.
From the Speigeltent, we undoubtedly followed part of the old McEwan’s Pub Trail, to the now-legendary Festival Club for a 3pm set by the band which had much to do with my conversion to fully-fledged jazz fan: The Hot Antic Jazz Band. This Gallic group should be compulsory listening for anyone who thinks jazz is po-faced or inaccessible. Humour, style, joie-de-vivre and terrific musicianship are the hallmarks of an Antics concert. They won me over – and they’re still going strong. My seven-year-old sons love them too…
One of my abiding memories of my early jazz festival visits is of hot-footing it from venue to venue (often across town) in order to catch ten minutes of a set and cram as much into the day as possible. With our gold badges we could get into any gig that wasn’t already full to capacity and this meant that if you only
wanted to hear the first band in a three-set evening in one venue, you could take a chance on getting into the second or third set in a different venue – usually (at Dad’s suggestion) the one furthest from Waverley Station where we’d catch the last train home. These gambles usually paid off (and were worth taking if you realised that you had perhaps chosen the wrong gig to start your night in), though there was a memorable occasion when Dad and I pitched up at the “Tartan Club” in Fountainbridge only to be told that we’d have to listen to Kenny Davern, Scott Hamilton and the rest of the all-star group onstage from outside the front door as the club was already full. I don’t know if I’ve dreamt it, but I am sure I heard Hamilton storming through a superb version of Back In Your Own Back Yard (the only time I’ve ever heard it live) on that occasion – playing it fast and furiously as if to ensure that those of us straining to hear the music from outside wouldn’t miss out.
That first year, we didn’t do any of that kind of juggling: there was no way we were going to risk not getting in to see Dick Hyman at the Royal Overseas League, a venue which fills to uncomfortable capacity very quickly. Indeed, there was no way we were going to risk not getting front row seats – and prime position for requesting Maple Leaf Rag, the Joplin tune which had first got me hooked on Hyman’s playing just a few months earlier.
And in case there is any doubt about my having been there that day, here’s the photographic evidence: you can glimpse my reflection in the mirror on the pillar of the Speigeltent ..
The Edinburgh Jazz Festival starts on Friday, July 22nd and I’m both mortified and proud to declare that this year is the 25th anniversary not only of my first-ever Edinburgh Jazz Festival, but also of my first-ever jazz concert (and first-ever visit to a pub with my dad) … and it all happened on one day: Thursday, August 21st, 1986. I relived that fateful day in my first-ever (bit of a theme emerging here) Edinburgh Jazz Festival preview feature which was written, in 1993, while I was still a student and about 20 articles into my journalistic career. I remembered August 21st 1986 much more vividly when I wrote that article than I do now, so here it is:And here are the pages from the programme with the tantalising list of concerts I attended – as well as those I didn’t..
The offspring and I spent Friday lunchtime at the Keswick Jazz Festival, in the toujours charmant company of the Hot Antic Jazz Band. These purveyors of classic 1920s jazz were the first jazz band I ever heard – at my first jazz festival, back in 1986. (I was 14.) I found this photo recently, of my second encounter with them, in 1987 – possibly the first time I ever propped up a piano in an Edinburgh pub, but most certainly not the last…
For the second time, I managed to bring my seven-year-old twin sons to hear them – the last time was at the 2009 Keswick Jazz Festival. They loved the music (much of it was recorded on their Kiddizoom cameras), reckoned that pianist Martin Seck resembled Star Wars’ Han Solo (“though he has different hair”) and went straight to the piano when they got home. Well, they have a reputation to live up to: trumpeter Michel Bastide dedicated a number to them and said that they played like Willie “the Lion” Smith, a resemblance that so far has only been visual (wth props)..
The line-up of the Hot Antic has changed since I first got to know them, but Michel Bastide (trumpet) and Jean-Pierre Dubois (banjo & clarinet) – both pictured above – plus Christian Lefevre (tuba) are still at the band’s heart. Bernard Antherieu (clarinet & banjo) joined back in the early 1990s, followed by the afore-mentioned Martin Seck. Michel Bescont (saxophone & clarinet) is a brand new addition. In Keswick on Friday,they had Matthias Seuffert (clarinet & sax) as a special guest.
Here are some more pictures from a concert which included many tunes I’ve never heard them play before – Somebody Stole My Gal, You, Horse Feathers (no connection to the Marx Brothers film), Bright Boy Blues and Hot Feet among them – and as many familiar Antic numbers, including the glorious Morocco Blues, Okay Baby and The Charleston Is the Best Dance After All.
Apologies for the quality of the images – my new Panasonic Lumix is supposed to be great for photographing concerts but, frankly, it’s not. For motion picture recording, however, it’s superb. Looks like I’ll have to take two cameras to concerts I want to photograph and/or film.
As ever, the band’s arrangements were stylish and fun and showed off the three clarinets or, in the case of the next picture, the vocal trio of Michel, Martin and Bernard. This might have been taken during their delightful rendition of another new addition to their repertoire – Three Little Words.
We didn’t have to burst a gut to catch the bus which connects with the train back to Glasgow this year, so we actually took in a little bit of Keswick. The Theatre By the Lake, where the Antics were playing, is the main venue in the jazz festival and it was lovely to step out from the over-heated venue and wander down to the lake. Every jazz festival should have one …