How many jazz fans – or musicians on the current scene for that matter – know their Rex Stewarts from their Charlie Shavers? Far too few, probably. If you’re not so familiar with these names or indeed their recordings, it’s nothing to be ashamed about; it’s likely more than a few of the writers from Jazzwise, myself included, would also have to confess to some gaps in their knowledge when it comes to all things pre-bop.
Later this month at the London Jazz Festival producers Serious attempt to fill in these gaps with a thread of events that pays tribute to a few of the greatest trumpeters from the swing era, all but one of whom would have reached their hundredth birthday by this year. One is a no brainer. Louis is a new re-imagined silent film directed by American director, musician and Forbes listed billionaire Dan Pritzker, loosely based on the childhood realities and fantasies in New Orleans of a universal icon whose status goes way beyond jazz itself, Louis Armstrong. The film will be screened as silents were, accompanied by live music connecting back to the deep history of New Orleans but newly arranged and mostly written by trumpeter Wynton Marsalis. The live jazz band soundtrack is complemented by the nineteenth century piano music of another New Orleans composer Louis Moreau Gottschalk, to be played by classical pianist Cecile Licad. It has played before in America but this is the European première. Marsalis’ score will be performed by a selection of musicians from his closest circle: an eight-piece led by trombonist Wycliffe Gordon and featuring saxophonist Wess Anderson, bassist Reginald Veal, and drummer Herlin Riley among others (see page 14).
The other “trumpet centenary” events paired together on Saturday 12 November are very different affairs: taking place at the Purcell Room they involve live bands with audio-visual narration and celebrate the music of less wellknown classic swing era trumpeters Buck knownw clalacssic swing e g raa trumpepeters Buck
NOVEMBER11 // Jazzwise 34
The Buck Clayton Legacy Band
Marking the centenary of the birth of BUCK CLAYTON this month at the London Jazz Festival, JOHN CUMMING and ALYN SHIPTON talk to SELWYN HARRIS about the genesis of a special trumpet strand at the festival that refuses to forget important and inuential trumpet heroes of yesteryear
Clayton, Roy Eldridge and also Charlie Shavers. Whereas the film Louis mixes the few known facts about Armstrong’s childhood with fiction – paying homage also to Charlie Chaplin and using contemporary filming techniques and live soundtrack – the tribute concerts are much more concerned with authenticity. The original swing period and the mainstream jazz scene which later evolved from it can, on the surface, sound chirpily quaint and oddly nostalgic to contemporary ears, being associated as it is with a pre-modernist era. However, this misses the crucial point that these musicians’ sound vocabulary has passed into the DNA of today’s jazz musicians, whether they know it or not. So how do you go about this problem of connecting and passing on this music to a wider and also younger audience? Serious’ John Cumming, the artistic director of the London Jazz Festival, believes it has a lot to do with presentation.
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“I think that more and more over the last few years I’m trying to find ways of using the festival to illuminate pieces of jazz history in a way which is a bit more than just putting on a tribute band,” he says. “Maybe that’s slightly cruel, but there’s plenty of instances where bands are put together or will play tribute to a particular record or artist or whatever. That’s fine as far as it goes but I’ve always been quite interested particularly where there are not necessarily famous musicians but musicians who are a key part of the evolution and where the direct connection has gone where they might have died some years ago. Particularly when it gets to older forms of jazz where there aren’t that many direct connecting points as it were, musicians who might have played with them or whatever it might be. So with Buck Clayton it’s a sense that here we are with a real individual kind of star of the music who stretches back to being the great soloist with the Count Basie Band but then continued to be a force in the music – during the 1950s there were this series of Buck Clayton jam session records which explored the mainstream with different players. He used to tour over here with different rhythm sections and bands until he died really.”
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Buck Clayton, who would have turned 100 this month, is celebrated in a concert put together by the broadcaster, journalist, author and bassist Alyn Shipton. He tells me how he met Clayton through the ex-Cab Calloway guitarist Danny Barker whose memoirs he edited in 1986; Barker told him that Clayton had also written his memoirs and Shipton went on to publish them. They became friends and shortly after Clayton’s death in 1991, Shipton received a package full of music, “and a note from Buck that said, basically, I had helped keep his memory alive with the book, and maybe I could do the same with some of the music he’d written or arranged.”
Arranged for nine-piece band by the German saxophonist and co-leader Matthias Seuffert, the Buck Clayton Legacy Band will play mainly from these lead sheets, most of which has never been recorded previously. Featuring the likes of reedsman Alan Barnes and Dutch trumpeter Menno Daams, the band played earlier this year buck clayton:
the wrestler Buck (Wilbur Dorsey) Clayton was the star trumpeter in Count Basie’s band from the late-1930s to the early-1940s, afterwards going on to tour with Basie singer Jimmy Rushing’s band. He maintained his stature later in the mid-50s as a key figure in the revivalist mainstream movement, highlighted by the extended soloing jam on the Buck Clayton Jam Sessions. In the 1960s he toured with Eddie Condon and Humphrey Lyttelton, before lip problems forced him to retire from playing although he went on to impress as a bandleader and arranger. Alyn Shipton says: “Humph always tells the story about Buck’s ‘wrestler’s tricks’ where he’d pretend to have some ailment that prevented him from playing well. So Humph would blow fit to burst, trying to compensate for an obviously out-of-sorts Clayton, until Buck would suddenly wink at the rhythm section and come out all guns blazing, easily triumphing over Humph who had worn himself out. Apparently Buck’s most blatant excuse was “I can’t play so well tonight, I left my truss in the hotel.”