Thursday 26 March 2020

Covid-19 and live jazz

I've been involved with selling jazz music on lp and cd for more than 25 years, first in a shop and now by mail order. Like all jazz lovers I cherish many recordings which have touched my heart, engaged my brain and opened my ears to the rich variety of this important music and especially to magical performances I will always cherish.

But I've been listening to live jazz for more than twice as long and my memories of (I'm sorry if this sounds pretentious) epiphanic moments will never leave me.

A few examples:

  • The Bell Inn on Oxford Road in Reading marveling to the thrilling sound of Ken Colyer in the last number of the evening, waving his derby mute.
  • The magisterial sound of Coleman Hawkins leading a great band- Sweets Edison, Sir Charles Thompson, Jimmy Woode and Jo Jones at Wembley Town Hall for a Jazz 625 recording.
  • Another Jazz 625 recording with Wes Montgomery - he had to play 3 intros to his ballad feature because of technical problems- and played 3 completely different one
  • Roland Kirk at Scott's sitting at the piano, propping up his manzello and playing a blues with a drone. Then handing out whistles so we could join in on Here comes the whistle man. 
  • Sheila Jordan at our little club in Leicester in a duo with Harvie S. The p a broke down so she told Harvie to turn off his bass amp and sang for us without any.
  • Evan Parker playing a soprano solo in Bread & Roses cafe under our bookshop Blackthorn Books so mesmerising  I had to remind myself to breathe.
  • Evan again in a duo with Dave Holland at the Vortex with Dave's lyricism leading the music in expected directions.
  • Howard Riley playing a superb solo gig at our club in Leicester
  • Alex Hawkins and Louis Moholo-Moholo- first in Leicester then in Derby, where Alex started playing Nkosi Sikelel' iAfrika and Louis- without missing a beat- took off his cap
  • Tony Levin's 70th birthday concert- with Aki Takase and Mujician- then playing blistering bebop with Peter King a week later.
All of this acts as preamble to the sorry state in which we currently find ourselves- jazz clubs closed, concerts cancelled. What's to be done to avoid withdrawal symptoms?

Some musicians and clubs are staging virtual gigs: there some details here: the downside being that they are live streams; they are not archived in any way. They confirm the famous Eric Dolphy remark. Later: Cafe Oto now has an archive, including a beautiful Alex Hawkins solo set- here
And I must mention drummer Spike Wells' website which contains many private recordings not available elsewhere, some sensitive writing on jazz...and sermons!

However there is an archive; I've mentioned it before but this is an apposite moment to remind you. 
Smalls Jazz Club in Greenwich Village makes audio and video records of all their gigs (and there are often three gigs a night.) I believe they plan to add recordings of their sister club Mezzrow also.
The video is basic, alternating between 3 fixed cameras, and the audio is variable but always acceptable.  

The club features a very wide range of artists- some famous (in jazz terms at least): Kirk Lightsey, Tim Armacost, Chris Cheek, Joel Frahm, JD Allen, ....others you've probably not heard of: Stacy Dillard, Jon Elbaz, Matt Brewer, Mike Karn.... If you're more of a mainstream persuasion there are gigs by Scott Hamilton, Warren Vache, Rossano Sportiallo, Ken Peplowski, Harry Allen.

Smalls has an after hours set where some renowned musicians come to sit in and relax; the late Roy Hargrove was a regular, and I once caught Wynton Marsalis sitting in with Tim Armacost.

You can have access to the complete archive for $10 a month and the income from the archive is split between the club and the musicians.  

To get to Smalls click here.



Jazzhouse said...

I've just heard that Smalls' landlord is demanding rent as usual; though Spike has enough cash for now the situation is getting more difficult by the day.

Ian Popplestone said...

What a fine list, Alan, and a good excuse for me to trawl through my own memories. I don’t have many epiphanies personally owing to a touch of arthritis but here are some of my special recollections from the last 40 years.
• Miles Davis in London in ’82, when the critics were starting to accept again that it might actually be jazz that he was playing. He came on stage hunched and introverted but the band with Marcus Miller and Mike Stern were superb, giving life and energy to the evening.
• Stan Tracey at the Herts Jazz Club in 2010 playing duo with Clark, playing magnificent jazz, fantastic rhythms and harmonies, along with the Tracey sense of humour – misfingering a chord and quite liking it so repeating It two or three times with a little smile.
• The Sun Ra Arkestra in New York in the 80s, walking through the audience as they played ‘We Travel the Spaceways’. There always seemed to be a level of uncertainty of what might happen next and would it be music or theatre. Perhaps teleportation?
• Pharaoh Sanders at La Defense in Paris in 1980, blowing mute air through his sax to show us how cold it was. Then going on to warm the hall up with his musical fire and then some and then a bit more again.
• The great George Russell with his orchestra at the Barbican in 2003. Huge, complex, multidimensional music that drew the crowd into that rare UK jazz display – a standing ovation at the end of the evening, saluting both the night and the previous 60 or so years.
• Martin Drew at the Herts Jazz Club, breaking his stint with Oscar Peterson, showing that you really can play melodic tunes on the drums. I’d have listened to an evening of Martin just playing solo.
• Going to a small bar in Manhattan in the 80s to see the Jazz Messengers play and marvelling: at the energy Art Blakey still infused into the music; at the first set, which they managed to play flawlessly without a bassist; at the fact there were only about 50 people in the bar for these brilliant musicians.
• Coming up almost to date, Michael de Souza and Owen Dawson on guitar and trombone a couple of years back in my nearest (and fine) club – Monday evening at Bedford’s White Horse, run by the drummer Mark Hale. You could see all evening that they were listening to each other intently, holding conversations, confirming, elaborating. Like jazz ought to be.
There are many more memories that I could have included. And a few that I couldn’t because my recall fails me. When did I see the never less than marvellous Ornette Coleman pick up his violin? Who was the fine American saxophonist at the Man in the Moon in Cambridge back 40 years ago?

Mike G said...

Most afternoons I manage to watch one or two of the sessions from Smalls - I did like the Uri Caine trio I mentioned last week and will go back to him again, but have also found some good Hersch, Lightsey amongst the pianists as well as Blake, Sipiagin, Peplowski, Kelso, Barron etc amongst others. How did I manage to be so reluctant to invest a few pounds a month in such a good source, and I have not even tried to listen to any of the people of whom I've never heard , which must be around 99% of those listed in the archive alphabet.