Tag Archives: John Burgess

Edinburgh Jazz Fest Memories: Norrie Thomson

Norrie Thomson first became an Edinburgh International Jazz Festival driver in 1987 when he was still working with HM Customs & Excise. He says: “Each year until 2000, when I retired after 38.5 years, I took annual leave to cover the jazz festival.

“When I started as a driver at the festival, bands would come for several days at a time – during which the driver effectively became the band’s ‘roadie ‘. Prior to the start of each festival the drivers would get notice of what bands were to appear and would ask to drive their favourites. It also often happened that, subsequently, band leaders would request drivers that they had dealt with previously. Many lasting friendships were built up over the years this way. Work allocations were made by Frances Burgess [mother of saxophonist/clarinettist John Burgess].

“As volunteers, the drivers were worked pretty hard at times putting in many long, unpaid, hours of work. Nevertheless, it was enjoyable and made a valuable contribution to the running of the Festival. A typical example of a volunteer driver’s experience at the Edinburgh International Jazz Festival would be:

  • Edinburgh Airport or the Waverley Station to be meet the band on arrival at the airport or train station and take the musicians to their hotel.
  • Discuss the band’s itinerary with leader or manager and arrange pick up times.

“The bands were worked pretty hard and earned whatever they were paid. The norm was several gigs each day. The driver would assist with loading and unloading band equipment. This would often be done under frantic conditions. Gigs often followed each other with little time to spare and considerable distances to travel.

Tomas Ornberg                                                                                                                                               “Tomas, a Swedish musician, was a very fine reeds player and leader of his Blue 5 and the Swedish Jazz Kings, and had played the festival on many occasions. In addition to the fine Swedish members of his band, Tomas often used top musicians from the jazz world – Bob Barnard, Roy Williams, Kenny Davern, Bob Hunt, Joep Peeters, Martin Litton, Keith Durston to name a few.

“My first experience with Tomas was in the early 1990s, but was the band’s first choice of ‘roadie’ thereafter. The band’s manager and Tomas’s partner was Irene Biermans, a Dutch lady.

“Over the years Tomas and Irene became great friends of mine and we corresponded regularly swapping news of our respective families.

“Whenever we met Tomas would always say to me: ‘I’ve got my clarinet’. This resulted from one memorable festival night when I got a phone call from Tomas, at about 1am, saying that he had lost his clarinet. The Swedish Jazz Kings had been doing the last slot in the Speigeltent, which had been erected on top of the Waverley Market ,and he thought that he must have left it there.

“I quickly dressed, got in my car and drove to the venue, which was still open. I searched around but couldn’t see the instrument. I called Tomas and asked him to describe the case that the instrument was in. He said it wasn’t in a case. I then resumed my search with this new knowledge. I eventually found it hidden behind a large sheet of plywood. I took it to Tomas’s hotel and gave him the clarinet. I think that he almost burst into tears as he had only recently paid a considerable sum of money to Kenny Davern for the instrument.

“The other memorable, regular event relating to both bands was the world class trumpeter /cornettist, Bent Persson ‘playing’ his mouth piece during various trips. (My worst experience of this was outside of the festival when I drove the Swedish Jazz Kings from Ayr to Inverness – Bent ‘played’ all the way.)

“Another one of the class musicians in the Swedish Jazz Kings was the wonderful bass-sax player Frans Sjostrom. His hobby was model aeroplanes. One of my neighbours had a model aeroplane shop and I introduced them to each other. Eventually Frans suggested that he would be some time and that I should go home and he would get the bus. Later on I was told by my neighbour that Frans had spent a considerable amount of money in the shop.

“In recent years Tomas suffered from poor health and in mid May 2018 I received the sad news from Irene telling me that Tomas had passed away.

Larry Adler                                                                                                                                                “In the late 1990s, I had the privilege of meeting and talking to the famous harmonica player, Larry Adler. Before his arrival, I was told that he had to be treated gently and that he was old and a bit frail (he was in his 80s at the time). He would be arriving at the airport with his manager. I allocated an experienced driver to meet them.

“The driver contacted me to say that both persons had been safely delivered to their hotel and that Adler was the oldest man that he had ever seen that wasn’t dead and that his manager was a young Philippino woman!

“Later, during his stay, I, with another couple of volunteers, met with him in The Hub where we spoke to him (or rather he spoke to us) about his life in music. It was like talking to the history of jazz. The only irritating part of it all was his habit of bringing himself into everything – ‘When Gershwin accompanied me playing Rhapsody In Blue’, ‘When Ellington accompanied me playing the St Louis Blues’, etc.

“He did tell us that it was the American comedian, Jack Benny, who persuaded him to become a professional musician.

Leon Redbone                                                                                                                                          “Leon Redbone came to prominence in the UK through his rendition of ‘So Relax’, the soundtrack to Inter Cities sleeper service. Before this and after he was well known in the jazz / blues world as a fine singer and guitarist. He appeared at the EIJF at least twice.

“On one occasion, I assigned a driver to meet him off the 3pm train from London, King’s X. Round about 3.15pm I got a message from the driver saying that Redbone had not arrived on the 3pm train. I told the driver to wait for the next train which was due at 3.30pm. At about 3.45pm I got another call saying that he wasn’t off the 3.30pm arrival and that there wasn’t a black man on the train. What’s the point of putting artistes’ photos in the programme?! He had arrived on the 3pm train, couldn’t see anyone from the jazz festival, jumped into a taxi and went to his hotel!

Stolen Keys                                                                                                                                                    “The first Saturday of the festival has always been ‘Mardi Gras’ in the Grassmarket. This is one of the free events and consequently is very busy. Because of this, vehicles cannot go into the main part of the street but have to stop either in King’s Stable Road or the main road through the Grassmarket.

“One such Saturday in the mid noughties one of the bus drivers had to take a band of young musicians from New Orleans to play at the Mardi Gras. The driver stopped the bus on the main street, opposite where the band was to play. The band members objected to the fact that they could not go into the Grassmarket and that they would have to cross the road to get to their destination. The driver left his bus to see if any better arrangements could be made. When he returned, the band had disappeared along with the bus’s ignition key.

“I was informed of this situation and with the driver took steps to retrieve the key. I also cornered the band’s road manager and, in no uncertain terms, told him that what had happened was tantamount to theft and that if a similar situation occurred I would have no option but to call in the police.

“Unfortunately, the band members demanded an apology from the driver. What did he have to apologise for? He had done nothing wrong. I decided that the band would have to arrange its own transport and advised the driver accordingly.

‘Big Al’ Carson                                                                                                                                          “Probably the most aptly named musician who ever played at the festival. He hailed from New Orleans and weighed in at 38 stones (532 lbs). When travelling by air he had to book two seats. When travelling round Edinburgh the only suitable transport was a black taxi although he could squeeze into the front seats in the passenger section of a mini-bus.

“Big Al was at two festivals as a vocalist and sousaphone player. He was fortunate, as was the festival, in that he could fit in comfortably to the jazz or blues parts of the event.

“As could be surmised he had a prodigious appetite. One afternoon he was playing at the blues festival, located at the Caledonian Brewery. The brewery had a pub within the grounds, reserved for artistes. The beauty of this establishment was that there was no charge for food or drink! Every so often, a tray of about 12 Scotch pies was provided. On the occasion to which I refer, Big Al ate the whole lot and looked for more.

“He was a lovely man, always grateful for the trouble that was taken to look after him. He was always afraid that he was being a nuisance. I only once saw him angry. I had to drive him from Edinburgh to Prestwick Airport. He was going to Oslo by Ryanair (there were no Scandinavian flights from Edinburgh at the time).

“I accompanied him to the check-in desk where he was told that he would have to pay $160 excess baggage. He queried this, stating that as he had paid for two seats he should be allowed two lots of baggage. Ryanair being Ryanair would have none of this. This caused Big Al to become agitated and increasingly angry to the extent that the check-in person was threatening to call the police. I eventually managed to calm him down. His parting shot to Ryanair was that when he left Norway to return to the States he would be travelling with a real airline.

Lonnie Donegan                                                                                                                                          “Lonnie Donegan had been a hero of mine since the mid 1950s when he was with Ken Colyer’s band and with Chris Barber. However, it was with ‘The Rock island Line’, recorded in 1954, that Lonnie became internationally well known.

‘I prided myself in that I had nearly every recording that he had made together with some private stuff and radio broadcasts. In August 2002 he appeared at the Festival. He was not a well man at the time and I collected him from the premises of a chiropractor to take him to the Queen’s Hall where he was performing that evening. He sat hunched into the corner of the back seat of the car and was accompanied by his son, Peter. He was quite talkative and was looking forward to the evening’s concert. I genuinely thought that he wouldn’t make it.

“I attended the concert, in the company of Bill Gunter, the washboard player from the Californian band, Cell Block 7, that I was driving during the festival. Like myself, Bill was a big fan of Donegan.

“The concert time arrived and Lonnie bounced onto the stage and proceeded to entertain the capacity audience for the next two hours. The transformation from a small, hunched-up man in the back seat of a car to what appeared to be a human dynamo was incredible. I was really please that I had met and spoken to him.

“Three months later, in November 2002, Lonnie died.

The Golden Eagle Jazz Band                                                                                                                “Another band from California. A great bunch of guys many of whom I have stayed in touch with since the ’90s.

“One of the jobs the band had was a publicity session at the Gyle Shopping Centre. The band was on a slighly raised stage. The trombonist, Glenn Calkins, had the biggest bag of mutes that I’ve ever seen. The bass player, Robin Tankard, a dep from Liverpool and the Merseysippi Jazz Band, was a bit of a joker. Glenn had just finished playing a solo using a baby’s potty as a mute and had laid it on floor. Robin kicked the potty out in front of the band and the public, thinking this was a band of buskers, started putting money into the potty. By the end of the gig there was £45 in the potty. Dick Shooshan the leader said to me that this was almost like begging. I said that it was begging!

“The band stayed in Edinburgh for a week after the festival ended and played each evening in the Carlton Hotel. Each day the band played in Princes Street Gardens and always the potty was to the fore! The musos earned their beer money for the week this way.

“In honour of the band’s visit to Scotland a poem was written. [Scroll down to read.]

 

Road Managers                                                                                                                                “Over the years I have found that some road managers seem to create situations to demonstrate to their clients just how well they are being looked after. This, of course, can backfire as the following examples show.

“An internationally famous vocal group is due to land at Edinburgh Airport. The group’s road manager has stated that three limousines are required, one for each vocalist. The band accompanying the vocalists are to be transported in a mini-bus. I have to go the airport to ensure that everything runs smoothly.

“The vocalists arrive together with the band. Only one limousine appears. The male vocalist jumps in and departs leaving the two female vocalists and the band. I speak to the female vocalists, apologising for the absence of the two limousines. The ladies tell me that they are glad because they wanted to travel with the band.

“The second situation is reasonably similar. Again, we have a well known vocalist travelling with his backing band. The road manager has demanded a nice car for the vocalist and a mini- bus for the band. The arrival location is the Waverley Station. Because of the station parking situation, I go into the station to meet the party whilst the nice car (a Mercedes) and the mini-bus are waiting in Market Street at the back of the station.

“As we emerge from the station, I indicate to the vocalist where his car is. He tells me that he doesn’t want a car. He wants to travel with the band. Again, this is a crazy thing. The driver has had to drive from Barnton to the Waverley at the height of the rush hour for nothing.

The Music                                                                                                                                                                    “One of the main advantages that I have gained from the many years that I have been involved with the Festival is the number of recordings that I have done – always with the band leaders permission, I may add. These recordings will end up in the Edinburgh / Scottish Jazz Archive eventually.

“I have only once been refused permission to record and after listening to the band I was glad!

* The 2018 Edinburgh Jazz & Blues Festival runs from July 13-22.

Haggis-2

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Edinburgh Jazz Festival 2016: Remembering Alex Welsh

Remembering Alex Welsh, Spiegeltent St Andrew Square ****

For the second consecutive year, the evening slot on the last day of the jazz festival– or as bandleader John Burgess called it “the fag-end of the festival” – became a jovial celebration of the music of the much-loved Scottish trumpeter and legend of British jazz who died, aged 52, in 1982.

Sunday’s concert reunited the line-up from last year, and was led by the afore-mentioned clarinettist/saxophonist and amiable host Burgess whose jokey patter added to the festive atmosphere. Indeed, from the energy expended by the entire seven-piece band in the opening number, it seemed as if the musicians had started the party without us: they were already on fire when they launched into a rousing Rose Room – there was no gradual build-up. No sooner had a clarinet-wielding Burgess played along with the front line on the melody of Rose Room than he was blowing the sax on the first solo. This was a high-octane concert from the get-go.

Particularly impressive – as ever – was the human dynamo Enrico Tomasso, who, at his best is an irrepressible bundle of musical energy when he’s playing this sort of Chicago-style jazz – and whose solos seemed to explode out of him, notably on an exhilarating After You’ve Gone. Burgess was being facetious when he described him as “quite simply the finest in his price range” but Tomasso is undoubtedly the best when it comes to contemporary trumpeters with the Louis Armstrong influence to the fore.

And, of course, there were also terrific contributions from the great, ever-nimble and ever-lyrical trombonist Roy Williams, who, as a veteran of Welsh’s band, brought the stamp of authenticity to the proceedings.

* First published in HeraldScotland on Monday July 25th

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Edinburgh Jazz & Blues Festival: Remembering Alex Welsh

Remembering Alex Welsh, Tron Kirk ****

Anyone who knew Alex Welsh, the Edinburgh-born trumpet star who died in 1982, and who was at Sunday evening’s tribute concert, will have been heartened by how well he is still remembered and how he inspired arguably the best concert of the final days of this year’s jazz festival.

Of course it helped that the septet comprised two members of Welsh’s famous band – the English trombone star Roy Williams and guitarist/banjoist Jim Douglas. The eloquent Williams, an old favourite of Edinburgh audiences, in his introduction to a gorgeous Cole Porter rarity entitled You Are Everything I Love, told the packed house: “It’s wonderful to be doing this – and quite emotional too, because we had some great times. You may have noticed that we were five minutes late starting the gig – that was a tradition of the Alex Welsh band!”

Explaining that it’s only recently that he has come to appreciate how good the band sounded, Williams described the day-to-day reality of playing the same tunes with the same guys every night. Trumpeter Enrico Tomasso, who was just 11 when he met Welsh, paid verbal and musical homage in style: a veritable jazz dynamo, he was in tremendous form throughout – as was the rest of the front line, which included ringmaster John Burgess (clarinet/saxophone) and which made even the oldest of old warhorses sound fresh, energetic and exciting.

Burgess may not have had the firsthand experience of encountering Alex Welsh – he didn’t say – but it was clear that it was his love of the band’s recordings which prompted this project, and so much fun was had by all that we can undoubtedly expect a reunion in the not-too-distant.

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

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Edinburgh Jazz & Blues Festival: John Burgess Big Five

John Burgess Big Five, St Andrew Square Spiegeltent ***

How can you keep ‘em down on the farm after they’ve heard the all-star ensemble that took to the George Square Spiegeltent earlier in the jazz festival week? That Monday night concert, which boasted a front line that included American stars Warren Vaché (cornet) and Scott Hamilton (tenor sax), was still the talk of the town by Friday evening when the similar, but slightly scaled down, all-Scots line-up led by clarinettist/saxophonist John Burgess took to the St Andrew Square Spiegeltent stage.

But whereas the Monday concert had been edge-of-the-seat stuff, with every number a showcase for one genius or another and the musicians playing to a rapt audience, Friday’s – or at least the first half – was more the sort of gig folk spill into after work, and the music was the ideal accompaniment to a an early evening drinking session rather than something that made you want to hang on to every last note. The Friday-night-in-the-pub atmosphere certainly extended to the back of the tent where there was some distinctly boorish and intimidating behaviour unravelling as the band played on.

Things improved in the second half which featured some majestic and pared-down trumpet from Colin Steele on Someday You’ll Be Sorry and Everybody Loves My Baby, and a lovely, lyrical clarinet feature from John Burgess on I’m In the Market For You, which he dedicated to his hero, the famous Edinburgh clarinettist Archie Semple, plus some characteristically inventive drumming from John Rae who, along with Campbell Normand (piano) , was not the musician advertised in the festival programme.

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

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Review: Leith Jazz Festival 2014

The Ugly Bug Ragtime ThreeFree jazz can mean two things. It can connote jazz that’s wholly, wildly, improvised – and it can mean amateur hour. And that’s where this year’s Leith Jazz Festival turned out to be the exception that proves the rule. Why? Because over the course of two and a half days, it offered punters the chance to hear not just good jazz, but also world-class jazz – and all for the price of a pint (or three).

Returning to the festival for its third year, alto saxophonist Martin Kershaw must have had deja vu as he took to what passed for the stage area in Sofi’s on Saturday. His duo gig there with bassist Ed Kelly was one of the highlights of 2012, and the follow-up was just as memorable – though this time it had the added appeal of a canine floorshow as it coincided with the monthly meeting of local dog owners and their pooches.

Kershaw and Kelly dished up a wonderful afternoon of cool, classy swinging jazz, with an especially slow Manha de Carnivale and the beguiling, Stan Getz-associated, ballad With the Wind and the Rain In Your Hair among the highlights.

A second helping of Kershaw’s airy, eloquent sax was a must on Sunday at the Isobar where the 1950s West Coast sound was evoked by him, trombonist Chris Grieve and guitarist Graeme Stephen, a sublime sounding combination which – appropriately enough, given that Leith’s twin city is Rio de Janeiro – worked especially well on a couple of bossas.

The Isobar also played host to another of the weekend’s stand-outs: a duo gig by trumpeter Colin Steele and guitarist Lachlan MacColl. The joint was jumping so much that MacColl’s douce guitar playing got lost in the lively ambience, but Steele certainly made himself heard, not least on an especially funky Blues March and an uptempo, boppish All the Things You Are – the second of three outings for the Jerome Kern classic that the Isobar witnessed over the weekend.

For anyone who fondly remembers the old Edinburgh Jazz Festival pub trail, the Leith event is its 21st century incarnation. The spirit seemed to prevail most strongly at the Saturday afternoon gig by The Ugly Bug Ragtime Three (pictured above), a clarinet-bass-banjo/guitar trio recently hatched by leader John Burgess.

If only there had been more breathing space in the packed-out Malt ‘n’ Hops pub, there would almost certainly have been an outbreak of slow dancing along to the Uglies’ gorgeous, gently swinging How Come You Do Me Like You Do. Ah well. Maybe next year … the festival is still young.

* First published in The Scotsman, Monday June 9th

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Edinburgh Jazz Festival 2012 in Videos: Nova Scotia Jazz Band with Brian Kellock

To read my review of this concert, click here

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Edinburgh Jazz Festival 2012: Nova Scotia Jazz Band with Brian Kellock

Nova Scotia Jazz Band with Brian Kellock, Teatro Spiegeltent, Sunday July 29th

****

Yowser. The Edinburgh Jazz Festival ended in party mode on Sunday night with a rip-roaring concert by a group which is not exactly a stranger to Edinburgh audiences. But what the Nova Scotia Jazz Band lacked in exotic appeal it made up for in energy and enthusiasm: this was a terrific gig which ensured that the festival went out with a bang for those of us in attendance. Only a bit of dancing would have added to the fun.

And dancing would certainly have complemented the music which included scorching performances of suchJazz Age pop tunes as Black Bottom and The Charleston. Only bandleader John Burgess’s battle cry of “G’on yersel’!” to banjo player Duncan Finlay on the high-octane opener Goody Goody threatened to shatter the illusion that we were in a1920s Chicago speakeasy.

Playing in the front line of the Nova Scotias for the first time since Mike Daly’s departure, trumpeter Ryan Quigley brought a dynamism to proceedings and delivered a series of superb, red-hot solos on material not normally associated with him. His muted breaks on That Da-Da Strain were especially memorable, along with some beautiful, Chet Baker-esque playing on Embraceable You, a gorgeous duet with pianist Brian Kellock who had earlier threatened to blow the roof of the tent off with his sensational playing, notably on what must be the only version of C Jam Blues to kick off with the Death March theme from Star Wars.

It will be a night to remember for local bass player Roy Percy, too – though not for the cheeriest of reasons: apologising for the late start to the concert, John Burgess explained that Percy, who had been playing earlier in the evening, had fallen from the stage and dislocated his shoulder.

First published in The Herald, Tuesday July 31st

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