Birth of the Cool, George Square Piccolo *****
Tag Archives: Martin Kershaw
Stu Brown’s Twisted Toons,Recital Room, Glasgow, Saturday June 28th ****
It was impossible not to be charmed by the Twisted Toons concert at the Recital Room on Saturday evening. Not only is drummer Stu Brown an extremely engaging and amiable host, but his passion for Raymond Scott’s cultish compositions – which were used in dozens of classic Warner Bros cartoons as well as the more recent Ren and Stimpy animations – and the performances of them by a septet comprising A-list Scottish jazz musicians make an irresistible combination. That said, however, a little of the Scott repertoire goes a long way…
The opening numbers were highly enjoyable. Jungle Medley was a collection of pieces from Looney Tunes cartoons by Carl Stalling which segued into Scott’s swinging, vaguely early-Ellingtonian composition Dinner Time For a Pack of Hungry Cannibals and featured a superb hot clarinet solo by Martin Kershaw. Scott’s spooky Goblins in the Steeple was another gem, thanks to the terrific ensemble work and a stylish solo by trumpeter Tom MacNiven. The septet sound – of clarinet, saxophone, trumpet, violin, piano, bass and drums – on this number, the playful arrangement and the classy playing brought to mind some of the brilliant work of some of Marty Grosz’s modern-day small, 1920s-style, groups which blend zingy, witty arrangements with top drawer soloing.
Less appealing, however, were full-length cartoon scores – perhaps they would work better if accompanying a screening of the cartoons. The complete scores are too disjointed, and their jazz and tuneful elements too scattered to be satisfying listening on their own for the lay person.
* First published in The Scotsman, Monday June 30th
Free 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
Fifty years ago, while the Beatles stormed America, an altogether cooler, more laidback craze breezed across the world. The summery, sultry, gently swaying sound of bossa nova, which had blown in from Brazil and captured the imagination of American jazz musicians, was showcased in a landmark collaboration between tenor saxophonist Stan Getz and a Brazilian quartet led by guitarist/singer Joao Gilberto and featuring music written by the great composer Antonio Carlos Jobim.
Getz/Gilberto was the album and it’s a landmark LP in jazz and pop history. It put bossa nova on the map, produced a chart-topping single, and made household names of both Stan Getz and Astrud Gilberto, the singer whose beguilingly unfussy, airy vocals helped make a hit of the album’s opening track, The Girl From Ipanema – which is now the second most recorded pop song in history (after the Beatles’ Yesterday). Getz/Gilberto was the first jazz album to win a Grammy for Album of the Year. And now, to mark its 50th anniversary – and just in time for a Brazil-themed summer – it has been re-issued in a special edition CD.
It’s an album which has become so familiar and is so accessible, and its tunes – Corcovado, Desafinado and The Girl From Ipanema, especially – so readily associated with bossa and so often now reduced to what’s tantamount to elevator music, that it’s easy to forget that this was all brand new and trendsetting back in 1964. Also, as the American tenor saxophonist Scott Hamilton says, “not only is it the best that Stan ever played – and that’s saying something – but it’s also one of those rare albums that is just perfect.”
Edinburgh-based alto saxophonist and Getz admirer Martin Kershaw agrees, and points out that it is a peerless example of “crossover” music. “We’ve all heard collaborations where we’ve thought ‘mm, that sounds like a slightly half-baked version of the two kinds of music that have been fused’, but that’s certainly not the case here. It feels like a finished article in that it just works so well. Getz himself sounds so comfortable in it .You don’t feel for a second that there’s anything forced or contrived about it; it sounds very natural. It’s an amazing collaboration.”
Whereas many jazz recordings of the period showcased a soloist or two with a rhythm section, Getz/Gilberto comes over as much more of a group effort; The Girl From Ipanema flows from Joao Gilberto’s soft Portuguese vocals – first hummed then quietly sung – into his wife’s breezy English vocals then Getz’s wistful tenor sax and Jobim’s gentle piano chords …. The whole thing is soothing, undulating, languid, dreamy, romantic and a sort of comforting musical tonic for Americans living through turbulent times. This was a nation still reeling from the Kennedy assassination just a few months earlier. And not everybody was finding musical solace or distraction in the noisy invaders from Liverpool.
Stan Getz’s daughter, Bev, was ten years old when the album came out in 1964 and was present at many of the rehearsals and get-togethers before it was recorded the year before. Her impression of the atmosphere and personalities is exactly what anyone who loves the record would hope and expect. She says: “I found the Brazilians to be just such lovely, friendly, warm people; really gracious and fun-loving and kind. They were definitely not Americans, you could tell! They came to our house and we went to Joao and Astrud’s apartment, where they were staying in Manhattan, to rehearse – I remember being there a couple of times with my parents.
“And that’s when my dad heard Astrud singing – while she was doing the dishes. He said: ‘Let’s have Astrud sing the English lyrics’ – because they needed somebody to sing the English lyrics and I guess that’s how that came about.”
And the music? “I remember thinking how pretty it was – and how different to what I’d heard before. And my dad was quite taken with it – on so many levels. He referred to it as folk music; he said it’s beautiful music. He always loved folk music from all different countries, because it expressed who the people were from that country.”
Jobim, who was just one week older than Getz, told the saxophonist that he had written the songs on Getz/Gilberto while listening to and being influenced by the West Coast “cool school” jazz of the 1950s, a scene which Getz belonged to. So it really was a meeting of like minds on many levels, and a very organic music-making process. For Getz, who had recorded Brazilian music on his earlier Verve album, Jazz Samba, with the guitarist Charlie Byrd, this was the next step: recording it with the leading Brazilian musicians of the day.
The impact and success of the album – and The Girl From Ipanema, especially – took everyone by surprise. Bev Getz was oblivious to her father’s newfound pop star status -until, that is, he took the family to see the Beatles at Shea Stadium (“It was awful, I was completely unimpressed – you couldn’t hear a thing for all the screaming!”) and they were invited to go back to meet the Fab Four at their New York hotel after what turned out to be a historic concert.
Bev recalls: “We were in the lobby of, I think it was the Plaza, waiting to be escorted up and of course I was on tenterhooks. But then we heard that some fan had gotten up on to the roof and was threatening to throw herself off if she didn’t get to meet the Beatles. And that was it: we had to leave, because that became a whole big thing. And that was a huge disappointment in my life!”
Although he appreciated the opportunities and the fame which came with the success of The Girl From Ipanema and Getz/Gilberto, for Getz the musician, the association with bossa nova soon became a bit of a burden, and a bit of a bore. Bev explains: “He went with whatever he was feeling and hearing at the time. He did it, and then he moved on. And that’s what he did with the whole bossa nova thing – as a matter of fact he got pretty sick of it. Musically, he never stood still, he never stayed in one place. He was a creator so he wanted to create, he wanted to continue – and he was always being pulled back to the bossa.
“He didn’t resent it; he was just like “aaarrrggghhh!”. And in later years he would rarely play The Girl From Ipanema; he would play one of the ones that he really loved more, O Grande Amor. I think he threw that one into just about every set. It’s my favourite – and it was his too.”
* Getz/Gilberto: Expanded Edition (Verve) is out now. Martin Kershaw plays every Thursday at the Playtime evening he co-founded at the Outhouse, Edinburgh (www.playtime-music.com)
* First published in The Scotsman, Saturday June 7th
Billie Holiday is a singer beloved by instrumentalists, and one whose distinctive repertoire has been celebrated by such wonderful, lyrical musicians as Ruby Braff, Chet Baker and Bobby Wellins. Now tenor saxophone giant Scott Hamilton offers his take on ten Holiday classics, in the company of his new, hard-swinging American trio/quartet. As ever, his big, soulful sound is a particular joy on the ballads, notably God Bless the Child and Good Morning Heartache, and it’s also a treat to hear Holiday’s 1930s small group hits getting the Hamilton stamp.
The Scottish National Jazz Orchestra: In the Spirit of Duke (Spartacus)
Last autumn’s Duke Ellington-themed tour by the SNJO was undoubtedly one of the best live Ellington experiences in Scotland, in living memory. This CD is a 16-track fusion of music from the five Scottish concerts and it not only captures the thrill of hearing a young band getting a kick out of the glorious Ellington repertoire, but it also showcases its world-class ensemble playing (especially that of the saxophone section), and such terrific soloists as Ruaraidh Pattison (alto sax), Martin Kershaw (clarinet), Ryan Quigley (trumpet), Tommy Smith (tenor saxophone) and the inimitable Brian Kellock (piano).
This CD is a wonderful introduction to the gorgeous, gentle sound and lyrical style of Icelandic alto saxophonist Sigurdur Flosason, and features a line-up of sax plus Hammond B3 organ, played by Kjeld Lauritsen); guitar, played by Jacob Fischer, and drums, played by Kristian Leith. Flosason excels throughout, particularly on ballads. The overall effect is of a series of laidback musical conversations, with the dialogue between sax and guitar especially pleasing. Indeed, the organ often gets in the way.
American piano virtuoso Dick Hyman (newly turned 86) has joined forces with the alto from the popular folk singing group The Wailin’ Jennies for this unsurprisingly classy duo album. Masse has a luscious, rich voice and refreshingly unfussy style, and serves up lovely interpretations of an eclectic selection of songs including two original numbers and two sublime Kurt Weill ballads. Only the title track, which closes the CD, disappoints since Masse morphs into what sounds like Betty Boop. Hyman remains as elegant, imaginative and dynamic as ever.
Leith Jazz Festival, various venues, June 16-17, 2012 ****
Like a phoenix rising from distinctly soggy ashes, the Leith Jazz Festival was revived over the weekend after more than a decade. And even the damp weather didn’t rain on the parade of the publicans who found their establishments packed out for (at least) the daytime gigs which ranged from hard core blues to 1920s classic jazz. For those who remember the old pub trail of the Edinburgh Jazz Festival, nipping from one hostelry to another, often catching the first set in one pub before zipping along the road to catch the second set in another was a lovely nostalgia trip.
All the names on the bill were local – but they included some of the best on the Edinburgh scene, from pianist Brian Kellock, who was the unofficial artistic director of the event, and whose regular Sunday session at The Shore was a focal point of the weekend for many festival-goers, to the reliably excellent Swing 2012, which specialises in laid-back, Hot Club of France-inspired jazz, and who played on Sunday evening at The Granary.
Indeed, for the jazz aficionado, Sunday was THE day to get the walking shoes on. And the place to be in the early part of the afternoon was Sofi’s Bar where the alto saxophonist Martin Kershaw – a musician you’d rarely get to hear for free – and bassist Ed Kelly held an audience spellbound as they dished up a fantastic, full concert.
Kershaw, a supremely eloquent and lyrical player, was in terrific form, and was well matched with Kelly. Among the many highlights were an exquisite reading of the Antonio Carlos Jobim heartbreaker How Insensitive (which hinted at the Stan Getz influence on Kershaw’s upper register playing), a bouncy All The Things You Are and a hard-swinging take on Charlie Parker’s Marmaduke. Horace Silver’s Song For My Father was a lovely nod to Father’s Day.
The Compass proved not to be the best venue for singer Lorna Reid and her intimate duo gig with guitarist Graeme Stephen. While Kershaw had an attentive audience, she had to contend with noisy diners who were not there to hear the music and didn’t care who knew it. Nevertheless, those who did listen were rewarded with some lovely songs served in a tasteful, elegant style by the soulful-sounding Reid and her like-minded accompanist.
A late set by the wonderful Diplomats of Jazz – an Edinburgh institution which, like Swing 2012, used to feature on the old jazz festival pub trail – was the ideal way to round off the weekend. Decked out in their dinner suits, the Diplomats may have had to contend with the football on the TV at the other end of the Constitution Bar, but they did so in style: their exuberant playing on Crying for the Carolines and Sorry was a joy to behold.
* First published in The Scotsman, Monday June 18, 2012