J f F s at the Pizza Express Jazz Club, Birmingham Jazz and Gateshead Jazz festival as well as Breda Festival in Holland to standing ovations.
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John Cumming: “What we’ve been doing is to find artists here who have got a real sense of the importance of these particular musicians and have got a real connection with the history because they’ve studied it or immersed themselves in it and enjoy playing it. In a way it’s taking music composed and played by artists who have this incredible respect for him and making something that’s within the tradition but also the guys have their own personality coming through. It goes back to when we had the late Campbell Burnap doing a Jack Teagarden programme for example and Alan Barnes doing work around a Benny Goodman programme.
“Alyn’s completely immersed in the music and has got that ability to tell a story. He actually uses different techniques to tell the story of his work. So we thought, well actually that works because also 12 November would have been Clayton’s birthday, so it fits very neatly. It felt that this was a way of paying tribute, as it were, so that it can be illuminating for new generations as well, rather than trotting out a lot of the old recordings by bands. In the context of a festival where we’re also trying to draw in people who might not otherwise come into the music, and to give them an insight that’s maybe a little more original or a little different, it seems exactly the right thing to do.” But is there an aspect roy eldridge: cutting contest combatant By stretching the boundaries of harmony, rhythm and register, ‘Little Jazz’, as he was known, had a seminal influence on beboppers such as Dizzy Gillespie and Fats Navarro. Going on stage for him was like entering a boxing ring. Eldridge would challenge everyone to a duel. “If it were possible he would have tried for a cutting contest with Buddy Bolden,” said critic Nat Hentoff. He worked with the Fletcher Henderson, Gene Krupa and Teddy Hill bands in the 1930-40s, with Coleman Hawkins, his own quintet and in the 1950s became the star trumpeter of Norman Granz’ Jazz at the Philharmonic. Granz Jazz at the Philharmonic.
of this that is saying, “hey don’t forget about these guys!” “Absolutely,” he says. “Because effectively their legacy also is part of the way trumpet players today play. I remember having a conversation years ago with Lester Bowie about Rex Stewart. Not many people know about Rex Stewart any more. I saw him at a gig in Newcastle when I was a teenager. I remember the way he was vocalising the instrument and the use of different valves and mutes and what have you. And when I had a conversation about it Bowie accepted that, and really enjoyed talking about it. It felt like the way that those players influenced whether it was Dizzy Gillespie or Miles Davis, that’s who they listened to, then you have that continuity going and then it feels appropriate that we should at least allow people to get a taste of what that was about. That in a way is the rationale. The information about them is far less out there than it is with Louis. I’m sure also that the name of Louis Armstrong will also crop up in Jazz Voice. There will be other bits of him turning up at the festival in different ways.”
But aside from its historical significance, what could be the value of musicians such as Buck Clayton today? I asked Alyn Shipton. “This music has several qualities,” he says.
“It’s well crafted, and designed with the soloist in mind. It’s creative, but it stimulates further creativity by providing the perfect platform for jamming, but in structures is a little more sophisticated than 12-bar blues and the rhythm changes. It’s difficult to play well – just because it doesn’t have the attributes of later styles does not mean it is intrinsically easier to play. And audiences seem immediately to get this. They latch on to the fact that it’s a battleground for soloists. But they also share in the immense sense of fun we have playing it.”
The Clayton jam sessions that were significant in the revival of early jazz in the mid-1950s, Shipton suggests, approximates the sound they’re aiming to bring to life, which he describes as “the loose-limbed Kansas City-style sound of the 1950s, but with a nod in the direction of bebop as well as mainstream although the great thing about those Clayton jam sessions is that they accommodated a huge range of styles.”
Even so, most of the figures from that era don’t seem to be at all influential on young jazz musicians any more. Why does Shipton think this is the case?
“It’s largely a question of where players begin listening when they discover the music,” he says. “The majority of my Royal Academy students began listening in the post-Coltrane era, so they have a lot of discovering and listening to do to find their way back to people like Buck. If you’re trying to figure out Herbie Hancock’s harmonic language or Coltrane fingering patterns, maybe it’s going to be a while before you look back at Kenny Kersey or Billy Kyle, or Coleman Hawkins and Buddy Tate. But I should single out the exceptional Tom Walsh at the Academy who is a trumpeter with a great affinity for earlier styles who did a really excellent rendition of Artie Shaw’s Eldridge feature ‘Little Jazz’ in last year’s charlie shavers:
mouthpiece was buried in satchmo’s coffin One of the most unsung of the great trumpeters of the swing era, notably for his work in John Kirby’s Sextet and the Tommy Dorsey Orchestra during the 1940s, Norman Granz’s Jazz at the Philharmonic was highlighted by his eardrum-bursting, squealing high note battles with Eldridge. It’s worth nothing Charlie’s cousin was heavyweight boxer Earnie Shavers and Charlie later toured with Frank Sinatra, as well as playing regularly with both Billie Holiday and Benny Goodman. Shavers died in 1971 aged 51, just two days after Louis Armstrong and at his request his mouthpiece was buried in Louis’ coffin.
Academy big band concert.”
Roy Eldridge is the subject of the first afternoon concert at the Purcell Room taking place earlier on the same day as Shipton’s Buck Clayton tribute. The British pre-bop drummer and enthusiast Richard Pite decided to welcome in Eldridge’s centenary with a revisit of sorts to the ‘Live At The Philharmonic’ recording The Trumpet Battle in 1952 when Eldridge locked horns with the dazzling trumpeter Charlie Shavers. “Richard Pite is a drummer who’s again immersed in different early styles of drumming but is also a musicologist in a way,” says John Cumming.
“But he’s also able to tell a story through choice of repertoire, talking, generally absorbing the audience. We had a talk to him about Roy Eldridge, in a way as a contrasting figure to Buck Clayton. Clayton was quite a cultured player whereas Roy Eldridge had that kind of fire and brimstone about his playing. So I asked Richard whether he could put together something about Roy Eldridge and he said well actually there is this connecting point with Charlie Shavers because they did a record together and I guess Charlie Shavers is one of the other great extrovert trumpet players, a larger than life figure. Both of them toured over here individually with bands, so there’s a connection with the evolution of British mainstream jazz as well. Basically what we’re trying to do is concentrate activity in the first weekend of the festival because it gives a little focal point, the idea that we’re looking at the jazz tradition and trying to find ways of bringing it into the festival, and also we can try and remind people how great these players actually were.” Roy Eldridge and Charlie Shavers: The Trumpet Battle is at the Purcell Room, as part of the London Jazz Festival, on 12 November, beginning at 3pm. Later at 7.45pm, the Buck Clayton Legacy Band also play in the Purcell Room
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