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Review: The Golden Age Of British Big Bands

Review from our Cadogan Hall show - bookable for London concerts, theatre shows, and jazz festivals around the world. 

The Golden Age of British Big Bands, Cadogan Hall, 23 April 2017. Review by Peter Vacher, photos by Paul Wood


Deep in the Leytonstone think-tank where the Jazz Repertory Company draw up their plans, great minds work tirelessly to devise new enterprises and projects, or as we know them, to create themed concerts designed to tickle the fancy of the Cadogan Hall’s happy band of faithful followers. 

The skills and ingenuity of team leaders Richard Pite and Pete Long are crucial to these endeavours, each concert like a new book whose pages have yet to be turned. That these two musical magpies continue to come up with cleverly devised, thoughtful programmes may well be one of the small wonders of the age. And that of course brings us to their latest outpouring devoted to British big bands which debuted last Sunday. 

In a concert that lived up to the cliché of a game of two halves, the first took the largely populist route with the accent on vocal recollections, with everything from a George Formby favourite warbled by Spats Langham with ukulele accompaniment to a pair of duet s between the sweet-voiced Janice Day [who also had a neat solo turn on That Lovely Weekend] and Langham. All nicely done; 

even if the outstanding Pete Long orchestra was confined to playing second fiddle. No such caveat for Alex Garnett who took on the tenor role in the Coleman Hawkins/Jack Hylton version of Melancholy Baby with his usual creative tenacity, the band writing cleverly devised. Along the way, Fred Elizalde’s spirited 1928 chart for Crazy Rhythm had aged beautifully, with Jay Craig emulating Adrian Rollini on bass saxophone, followed by a rousing Harry Roy piece and then the climactic Bakerloo Non-Stop, from the days of Ted Heath, all brass and belligerence, with lead trumpeter Nathan Bray triumphant in the spotlight. 

With Heath’s Hot Toddy’/’Swinging Shepherd Blues post-interval again exploring the popular, Stan Tracey’s Afro Charlie Meets The White Rabbit then offered a bracing-eye’s view of the jazz uplands with Garnett heard at length and in supreme form, every nuance explored, each short phrase cooked to perfection. Tracey’s unlikely collaboration with Acker Bilk came good with Long’s mellifluous clarinet rendering of Stranger on the Shore before we again reverted to the hit parade with trombonist Chris Dean’s pair of truly show-stopping vocals recalling the heyday of Matt Monro. Jazz-free but superbly done. Back into the premiership with two pieces culled from the Tubby Hayes big band pad; Parisian Thoroughfare giving trumpeter Freddie Gavita his chance to unwind a long, looping improvisation that had boppish élan as its trademark, before trumpeter Mark Armstrong [NYJO’s Musical Director] combined with Garnett on Suddenly Last Tuesday to provide the kind of heartening evidence that all was well on the jazz front. Brilliant chart, superbly executed, tremendous soloists.

Good, too to celebrate John Dankworth, especially since son Alec Dankworth was on bass, with the very catchy African Waltz and the cleverly-constructed Tomorrow’s World theme, this before a roaring tribute to NYJO itself with Bill Charleson’s demanding arrangement of My Old Man this allowing trombonist Callum Au to do some solo muscle flexing. Fast and furious, for sure.

THE BAND: Pete Long [MD, cl, as]; Janice Day [voc]; Thomas Langham [voc/g]; Martin Litton [p]
Freddie Gavita, Nathan Bray, James Davison, Mark Armstrong [t, fgh]; Chris Dean [tb/voc]; Andy Flaxman, Callum Au [tb]; Mark Frost [b-tb]; Bob Sydor [ts, cl, f]; Alex Garnett [ts, cl, f]; Colin Skinner [as, cl, f, picc, sop]; Simon Marsh [as, cl, f]; Jay Craig [bs, cl, b-cl, bass-sax] Alec Dankworth [b]; Richard Pite [d].

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