Tag Archives: Ken Mathieson

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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Sandy Taylor Obituary

Sandy Taylor picSandy Taylor, who has died at the age of 92, was a popular and elegant Scottish jazz pianist and the music director for singer Carol Kidd’s first three albums. A familiar face to anyone who attended jazz concerts at the Glasgow Society of Musicians in the 1980s, and the resident pianist in various west of Scotland hotels over the decades, he was also something of a mentor to such younger musicians as the saxophonist Laura Macdonald and the singer/pianist and BBC radio presenter Stephen Duffy.

Born at the family home, Dumfin Sawmill, Glenfruin in 1922, Alexander Wilson Taylor attended the Vale of Leven Academy in Alexandria before serving in the RAF as a radio operator on a Halifax bomber during the war. His family operated Dumfin Sawmill, and Taylor followed in his father’s footsteps by taking over the mill, while also working as a self—employed joiner and playing piano gigs. He married Marjorie in 1958, and they had two children, Sanders and Joyce.

In 1968, after two storms in quick succession both devastated the dam, lade and waterwheel on the Fruin which powered the machinery in the Taylor premises, the mill stopped operating as a sawmill but Taylor continued to live at Dumfin until he went into sheltered housing in 2012, two years after Marjorie’s death.

In the mid-1970s, Taylor joined the band led by saxophonist/vibraphonist Jimmy Feighan which had a long-standing Saturday afternoon gig at Glasgow’s Lorne Hotel. The band’s singer was Carol Kidd, newly returned to singing after a decade-long absence. She and Taylor hit it off immediately, and their musical rapport soon began to inspire enquiries from promoters who wanted to book Kidd plus Taylor, and the rest of the rhythm section – Alex Moore on bass guitar and Murray Smith on drums. Before long they were regulars at the Edinburgh Jazz Festival and playing three fortnights a year at Ronnie Scott’s in London.

For Kidd, working with Taylor was the closest musical relationship she had had. “He knew exactly the kind of songs that would suit my voice and he knew how to accompany a singer – which is an art form in itself.” David Newton, the then up-and-coming pianist who succeeded Taylor as Kidd’s accompanist, credits the older player with providing him with a Eureka moment about the art of accompaniment.

“In the late 1970s I played piano in a club called Aphrodite in London. The singer Karen Kay, who had been on a talent show like Opportunity Knocks, came and I was her accompanist for six weeks. At the end of it she said: ‘Thanks very much, but you’re the worst accompanist a singer could have.’

“So, bearing this in mind, when I came up to Scotland and started working with singers I watched Sandy Taylor in action. He knew when to play and when not to play – when to leave space for the singer to do what she or he does. None of this footling about.”

Kidd describes Taylor’s style as minimalist, adding: “Another thing I loved about him was that his sense of humour came through in his playing – and that’s not often the case with musicians. He had a lovely way of making things light and quite funny and then very serious –
and that’s what his personality was all about too. He had a wonderful personality.”

Indeed, Taylor was known in the Scottish jazz scene as a raconteur par excellence, who would tell long-winded tales and reel his listener in before walloping them in the face with a devastating punchline. Drummer and bandleader Ken Mathieson, who played regularly with Taylor at the Duck Bay Marina, recalls: “Sandy was a genuine one-off: he could be a prickly character who wouldn’t tolerate fools at all, but if he decided you were a friend, you were a friend for life with no reprieves or paroles. He was fantastically entertaining company.”

For Laura Macdonald, the renowned alto saxophonist who, in her late teens and early twenties, played a weekly duo gig with Taylor at the Inn on the Green in Glasgow for a few years before she went to study in the USA, the age difference between her and the then septuagenarian pianist didn’t get in the way of their instant friendship.

She says: “He had the spirit of a young man and we just clicked. He was always totally mischievous and would crack me up on the bandstand and off. Musically, he was a soulmate – we couldn’t believe how often we both played the same thing at the same moment in an improvisation. We’d come off the bandstand and sit and stare at each other and and say ‘How did that happen?!’. He gave me confidence, and freed me up musically.”

Sandy Taylor is survived by his younger twin brothers Bill and Joe, his son Sanders, his daughter Joyce as well as two grand-daughters and a great-grandson.

Sandy Taylor, pianist, born November 28 1922; died April 21 2015

* First published in The Herald, Saturday May 11Nice Work cover

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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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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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Edinburgh Jazz Festival: CJO & Duke Heitger

KEN MATHIESON’S CLASSIC JAZZ ORCHESTRA & DUKE HEITGER PLAY LOUIS ARMSTRONG, JAMHOUSE
****
Ken Mathieson certainly knows how to pick his musical collaborators. Last year it was multi-instrumentalist Alan Barnes who joined the CJO for a concert of Benny Carter tunes; this year it’s American trumpeter Duke Heitger who proved to be the ideal guest star for a programme of mainly Louis Armstrong-associated music. Heitger, no stranger to Edinburgh audiences, is an excellent trumpeter with a majestic, proclamatory style of playing which recalls the great Satchmo’s sound.
On Sunday night at the Jamhouse, which this year has been given over to the traditional and classic jazz strand, the CJO and Heitger gave the audience a taste of what’s on their new Celebrating Satchmo CD, as well as such extra-Armstrong treats as Duke Ellington’s Happy Go Lucky Local.
This band seldom fails to impress – and no wonder: it has some of the best Scottish players in its front line, notably, on Sunday, Dick Lee and Martin Foster on clarinets and saxes (on Coal Cart Blues in particular). And it’s as strong on its ensemble playing as it is on its soloists’ contributions.
For his part, Heitger served up his own, inspired, takes on the “breaks” with which Armstrong dazzled listeners on such classic Hot Five and Seven tunes as Wild Man Blues, Savoy Blues and – especially – Potato Head Blues, which Mathieson, ever the wag, dedicated to Wayne Rooney.

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