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Mike Hart Obituary

Mike HartMike Hart, who has died at the age of 84, founded the Edinburgh Jazz Festival – Scotland’s first such event – and, in so doing, consolidated the city’s status as an epicentre of classic, traditional and mainstream jazz. The jazz festival he created may have evolved and mutated over the four decades since it began, but it has kept Hart’s kind of jazz at its core.

An only child born in Inverness, Hart moved to Edinburgh when his father (a former engineer) set up an antiques business later run by his mother. After a brief, unhappy spell in boarding school in England, Hart was educated at Edinburgh’s Royal High School, a breeding ground for trad jazz musicians in the late 1940s when that genre of jazz was enjoying huge popularity. The teenage Hart took up drums and by 1949, was playing in a local band, Gavin’s Gloryland Jazz Band, led by trumpeter Jimmy Gavin.

One night, around the same time, in the West End Café, Hart was invited to sit in with the band led by clarinettist Sandy Brown, a maverick and now legendary figure. As Hart told Graham Blamire, the author of Edinburgh Jazz Enlightenment – The Story of Edinburgh Traditional Jazz, “I nearly fell over but immediately accepted”.

So began Hart’s association with Brown, and the trumpeter Al Fairweather and the pianist Stan Greig who also played in the band. With them, Hart went to London in 1952 where their gigs include the Big Jazz Show at the Royal Albert Hall.

After completing his National Service in the RAF, Hart returned to Edinburgh in 1954 and played banjo in trumpeter Charlie McNair’s band. Before long, he had established his own outfit, Mike Hart’s Blue Blowers, and in 1956 he co-founded what would become one of Edinburgh’s longest-running bands, the Climax Jazz Band which featured Jim Petrie on cornet and which would take Hart into the recording studio for the first time. The late 1950s saw the birth of two more popular bands which he co-led, Old Bailey and his Jazz Advocates and the Society Syncopators.

While his jazz career was bubbling away, Hart – who married his first wife, Moira, in 1960 – supported himself and his family via a number of jobs, including agricultural feed advisor, sail boat skipper in France, variety club producer and tour manager (for the likes of Jimmy Shand and Andy Stewart) and, ultimately, from the mid-1970s, running a successful antiques business with his mother, to whom he was very close.

By this time, he had re-formed and re-launched the Society Syncopators as Mike Hart’s Society Syncopators – and it was this band which Hart took on foreign tours on many occasions, notably to the Dunkirk Jazz Festival, where it was named European Amateur Jazz Champions 1979, and to California’s Sacramento Jazz Jubilee which it visited ten times.

Keen to stage something similar in Scotland, Hart spent a great deal of time with the Sacramento Jazz Jubilee’s director, Bill Borcher. Fionna Duncan, who sang with Hart’s band, recalls: “Bill had a sort of ‘war room’ in his house where he plotted out the programme, moving bands and audiences from one venue to the next using models!” This type of planning manifested itself in the way the Edinburgh Jazz Festival was structured during Hart’s tenure.

Hart brought together a number of local bands plus a couple of well-respected soloists from England and staged a mini festival in a ballroom in the capital in 1978.Its success inspired him to seek sponsorship for the first Edinburgh Jazz Festival which took place in 1979, and featured a variety of semi-professional bands from here and abroad.

But it was in 1980 that Hart began to operate the policy which helped define the festival (re-named the Edinburgh International Jazz Festival): he began to hire individual jazz stars, many of them veterans of the great American bands of the 1930s onwards, who had been sidemen in their youth but were now happy to be more in the spotlight. Such now-legendary players as Teddy Wilson, Doc Cheatham, Harry Edison and Milt Hinton all visited the Edinburgh Jazz Festival during its first decade.

Into the mix, Mike Hart added younger players who were part of the mainstream revival. All these musicians would stay for several days, if not a whole festival, at a time and would be mixed and matched in different line-ups, often featuring Scottish talent in the rhythm sections. Many of today’s leading Scottish players – among them pianist Brian Kellock and bassist Roy Percy – cut their teeth at the EIJF, invariably alongside big name Americans.

When the jazz festival became a limited company, Hart assumed the role of Artistic Director, and later Founding Director. In 1995, he was awarded an MBE for his services to jazz, and he also received a citation from the City of Sacramento in recognition for his work.

Always a figure who cut a dash and who had something of the old-fashioned adventurer and bon viveur about him, Hart threw himself into other passions beyond jazz. He was an accomplished deep sea fisher (a photo of him and the 180lb Blue Fin Tuna which he caught during a trip to Madeira with author and deep sea fisherman Trevor Housby is featured in Housby’s best-selling book). He also enjoyed sailing and racing his wooden keelboat, then he got hooked on flying, learning to fly a single engine Cessna aircraft and gaining his private pilot’s licence in 1985. That passion gave way to driving and owning a Triking wheeler sports car and attending events for enthusiasts. Jazz remained the constant while other interests came and went.

Graham Blamire says: “Mike would never have claimed to be an innovative or particularly original jazz musician but he was a fine player, both as a member of the rhythm section and in his solo work. He could be a volatile and demanding individual with whom to work, but he had vision, energy and determination and, when he wanted, a great deal of charm. He was a major influence on Edinburgh Jazz for a very long time, a leading figure in some of Edinburgh’s best bands, and he left his mark on jazz at an international level through his creation of the EIJF, which will be his enduring memorial.”

Hart, who was twice married and divorced, is survived by his children Susan and Michael, and three grandchildren.

* Michael Warner Hart, founder and original director of the Edinburgh Jazz Festival, jazz musician; born Inverness March 23, 1934; died Edinburgh December 11, 2018.

This obituary was first published in The Herald on Wednesday, December 26 2018

Mike Hart, banjo, 1965 at the Manhattan Club

Old Bailey & the Jazz Advocates, 1965, at the Manhattan Club. Thanks to Hamish McGregor (clarinet) for the photo.

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Review: Tim Kliphuis Trio, Glasgow Royal Concert Hall

Tim Kliphuis Trio, Glasgow Royal Concert Hall, Sat December 1st ****Tim Kliphuis Trio

 The Royal Scottish National Orchestra didn’t have a monopoly on the classical goings-on in the Concert Hall on Saturday night; upstairs, in the elegant former restaurant space, a trio was performing Bach, Brahms and Vivaldi pieces which it has recorded with orchestras for Sony Classical over the last few years.

 The Tim Kliphuis Trio doesn’t merely “swing the classics”, however. Kliphuis (violin), Nigel Clark (guitar) and Roy Percy (bass) started out as a superior gypsy jazz group and their renditions of the classics are very much shaped by their roots in the swinging, life-affirming spirit of the music of the great Stephane Grappelli and Django Reinhardt. 

 On Saturday, some of the classical numbers – such as the Allegro in G from Bach’s Brandenburg Concertos – sounded as if they had always been jazz tunes, opening with riffs played in unison by this impeccably in-synch trio, before erupting into solos that spotlighted the breezy virtuosity of the individuals. 

 Showmanship and drama also played a part, with the first set’s electrifying closer – Winter, from Vivaldi’s The Four Seasons – breaking the speed limit and bringing many members of the audience to their feet. (That number was one of many on which it was a difficult to hear Nigel Clark’s dazzling guitar-playing without straining. The acoustic in the room meant that whenever he played a delicate, quiet ballad or was being accompanied on a solo by both of his colleagues, he was in danger of being completely drowned out.)

The classical pieces were beautifully balanced by a handful of French and American numbers from the 1930s, notably the ballad Ou es tu?, once sung – as Kliphuis explained – “by Edith Piaf, Jean Sablon, Maurice Chevalier and ..” 

 “Kenneth McKellar?” interjected Percy helpfully.

* First published in The Herald on Wednesday December 5th

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Edinburgh Jazz Fest Memories: Roy Percy

Edinburgh Jazz Festival - Roy Percy on bass, 2017,& Dave Blenkhorn (guitar) 2

Roy Percy & Dave Blenkhorn, Edinburgh Jazz Festival, July 2017 (c) Alison Kerr

Scottish bass player Roy Percy was a student when he first became involved with the jazz festival; these days he can usually be seen in different line-ups throughout the event, and he’s kept busy the rest of the year as one third of the acclaimed Tim Kliphuis Trio and one quarter of the popular Swing 2018 band. He says:

“My earliest attendance of the jazz festival was in August 1984, when my school band was supposed to take part in the youth competition at the King James Hotel in the now Edinburgh Jazz Festival - Milt Hinton & Buddy Tate, 1986.jpg 2demolished St James Shopping Centre. We didn’t play in the end (no-one can remember why!) but we attended and watched the bands and lots of speeches.

“I first played the festival in 1986 with John Elliot’s Dixieland Band. We won the youth band award that year. It was sponsored by Avis car rentals. The award had their motto on it – ‘We Try Harder,’ which we thought was very funny, everything considered.

“The bands were only allowed one older member (over 25, I think) and in our case that was banjoist Bev Knight, who now plays for Jim Petrie in the Diplomats of Jazz. Everyone in the band was at the Edinburgh Uni except for me. I was a proud Stevenson College boy!

“My first big thrill of the jazz festival was that first year – I was a festival volunteer and one evening I filled in for Milt Hinton’s driver. I carried his bass into Meadowbank for him. He was nice – chatty and friendly – but I was a bit shy of asking him too many questions. I loved hearing him play. He slapped the bass a little too, which I hadn’t expected him to be doing. Fantastic!

“The following year, I played at the festival in Swing ’87 – with Dick Lee on clarinet, and John Russell and Martin Leys on guitars. (I joined in November 1986.) We had Fapy Lafertin join us that year. In his prime, he was the best of the gypsy guitarists, and still Edinburgh Jazz Festival - Al Casey (guitar), Ronnie Rae (bass), Roy Williams (trombone) Fingers Bar, 1987not surpassed by anyone since.

“That same year, I drove Al Casey to Pollock Halls of Residence (where he was staying, almost unbelievably!) in my 1964 Rover P4. I took the longest route I could think of so I could chat to him, as he was friendly and happy to chat. He kept asking:  ‘Is this a Rolls Royce?’

“At the halls, I made him a hot chocolate in the shared kitchenette and asked him about Fats Waller. ‘Best fun, strongest pianist I ever knew. So inventive too. I was a kid and learned so much, so quickly too. I gotta pee now.’ And that was it. Afterwards he went back to asking me about my car!”

Next: Fiona Alexander

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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 2013: Tim Kliphuis Tribute to Stephane Grappelli

Tim Kliphuis Tribute to Stephane Grappelli, Palazzo Spiegeltent, Edinburgh, Friday July 19th ****

You had to feel sorry for Dutch jazz violinist Tim Kliphuis’s trio having to work hard and fast on fingerbusting solos in the sweltering heat of yesterday evening at the Spiegeltent. But right from the off, this impressive band was cooking (in more ways than one), lulling the audience into a false sense of laidback, playful security on an opening Honeysuckle Rose then driving the speed up into top gear and performing most of the old Waller warhorse at an exhaustingly fast pace.

What was obvious from the outset was what a tight unit Kliphuis, guitarist Nigel Clark and bassist Roy Percy are. Watching them communicate with eye contact, and – in the case of Kliphuis and Clark – play complicated passages in unison with the breeziest of casual elegance, it was clear that theirs is a relationship where familiarity and spontaneity happily co-exist.

Whereas many Hot Club-style bands may boast one top drawer guitarist or a fantastic instrumentalist out front, Kliphuis’s trio has twin virtuosi in the form of him and Clark, as was most perfectly showcased on the stunning Grappelli ballad Souvenir de Villengen, a musical dialogue between the two.

Other highlights of their one-set gig were a seductive take on The Nearness of You (which highlighted just how lovely the all-strings sound is, particularly on ballads), a lightning fast Shine and the finale, a whistlestop tour of genres of violin music in which Kliphuis (like the late Grappelli) plays – and another demonstration of his loose, lyrical and swinging style.

First published in The Scotsman, Saturday July 20th 2013

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Tim Kliphuis: Grappelli a Go-Go

TimKliphuisGuitarists inspired by the gypsy jazz playing of the legendary Django Reinhardt are ten-a-penny but violinists emulating the jaunty, joie-de-vivre-oozing, style of Stephane Grappelli, the other star of the iconic Quintet of the Hot Club of France, are much less common. Dutch virtuoso Tim Kliphuis is a rare example – and one who is bringing a new Grappelli tribute concert to the Edinburgh Jazz Festival next week.

You’d be forgiven for assuming that a Grappelli tribute concert means a concert of music played by Kliphuis – who counts the late French man as his prime violin inspiration, along with Jean-Luc Ponty – in the style of his hero. But, in fact, it’s more than that: the music which Kliphuis’s trio will play will mostly be numbers which Grappelli wrote, and which have seldom been performed, least of all by their composer.

Indeed, it may be news to most of us that the grand homme of jazz violin produced enough compositions to fill even half of a concert. However, Kliphuis says:  “We’ve unearthed compositions that people won’t have heard performed – certainly not by Grappelli, and not by anybody else as far as  I know. I want to show how lovely they are.”

But why is it that we don’t know about Grappelli as composer? “Well, it’s his own fault,” laughs Kliphuis. “It’s because he didn’t play his own tunes. He just wrote them, and he would record them on an album – that’s how we know them or they would have disappeared completely – maybe once, maybe twice and that was that.”

Like many jazz greats, Grappelli didn’t vary his concert repertoire too much as he grew older. Kliphuis says: “His original tunes were probably not as well known by his accompanists, and I think he was very happy just letting his accompanists play what they knew and what they were comfortable with – and not rehearsing too much. So he recorded the tunes – to get them on record, have a document of them – but in concerts, he’d play well-known tunes, hits like Sweet Georgia Brown and Crazy Rhythm. He wanted an easygoing approach which of course works, so the show would be fun because the musicians were enjoying themselves and not reading or thinking too much.”

We know that Grappelli co-wrote (with Reinhardt) many of the classic Hot Club tunes, but when did this solo composing take place – all the way through his career?  “It started in the 1940s, after the Hot Club. During the war years he was in London. His first composition is from 1942 – it’s called Jive Bomber – and there’s another called Piccadilly Stomp from the same year. Those are the first two I’ve found that are kind of suitable for playing by us.

“I’m sure he composed tunes between the 1940s and the 1970s but you don’t see them until the 1970s because then he would record a song on an album somewhere. With me being very much into Grappelli’s style as a fiddler, any record that I’d see that I didn’t know all the tunes on, I’d buy – so I ended up with a lot of different recordings of Sweet Georgia Brown but I also found some unfamiliar songs that I had to check out.”

It was a ballad called Souvenir de Villingen that first alerted Kliphuis to his hero’s composing skills. “It’s slightly unusual, quite modern and classical sounding. And of course he plays it very beautifully. It’s a melody you remember.” In all, Kliphuis reckons, Grappelli probably wrote between 20 and 30 compositions. “I know ten or 12 of them well, and I play eight of them that I think are great. So it’s like that – there’s a percentage that are not quite up to the standard of great songs but there are a few that are really good and so we’ve taken those and put them in the programme, which will also include his big hits and songs that he was fond of playing.”

The “we” that Kliphuis refers to throughout our chat is his regular trio, the other two thirds of which are Scottish. Since 2006, guitarist Nigel Clark and bassist Roy Percy have worked regularly with Kliphuis, both in the UK and abroad, and the unit is very much a working band – a rare species in this day and age.

One of the reasons it works, says Kliphuis, is because – like Grappelli – they all love classical music. “That’s probably the thing that binds us. The love of classical music translates itself in a wish to be kind of dynamic, to have really high points and low lows and to have a range of emotions in the music we’re playing– we don’t just play swingy stuff, where you do a set of swing and another set of swing. We are trying to go beyond that and to get more emotion in our concerts and they are both looking for that as much as I am.”

* Tim Kliphuis Tribute to Stephane Grappelli, Palazzo Spiegeltent, Edinburgh, Friday July 19 at 6.30pm. For info & tickets, visit www.edinburghjazzfestival.com

(First published in The Scotsman, July 15 2013)

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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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