I’ve spent the last couple of days getting myself out there again as a jazz player. It is easy to get yourself stuck in a rut as a musician, find groups and gigs where you are comfortable and stop challenging yourself technically and musically. I’m making a public statement here that I’m trying to challenge myself at the moment, and am going to push myself and my playing in the future.
So with that in mind, I grabbed my saxophone on Sunday afternoon and headed off to Brighton. I heard there were a couple of gigs on with some bands that might welcome the odd guest and so i jumped on the train and headed down to the coast. First up was a gig at The Seven Stars from Harry’s Tricks I could hear the session was already in progress as I wandered down the sun drenched laines to the pub. The band were really storming away in their first set with a blend of 20’s style slightly gypsy jazz accompanied by Dimitri with a really melodic trumpet and valve trombone sound. A friend introduced me at their break and I was up and playing for most of the second set. Lots of new tunes that I hadn’t heard before, and some unusual standards too. The band were really accommodating and I felt immediately at home in front of a hugely appreciative (and often bopping) audience.
Next off was a quick walk along the Seafront down the Lion and Lobster to see the marvellous Lawrence Jones and his band in action. I had heard lots about Lawrence in the past from other musicians, all highly complementary about his encyclopaedic knowledge of jazz and his superb instrumental skills. However I hadn’t ever met Lawrence in person until Sunday. What a guy. He is such a larger than life character both in his gritty stage persona, his intense jazz soloing, an his equally gritty vocal delivery. I was slightly nervous just tuning up to Lawrence’s gig… he has a reputation for demanding the best out of the musicians around him, and to be honest I haven’t turned up and sat in on a band for years! But nothing ventured, nothing gained, so I gladly accepted the invitation to come up and join him on a few numbers in the second set. Lawrence’s band were really blistering and there was some great jazz happening in the pub that night. His band have been a regular fixture at The Lion and Lobster for years and you can see why with the quality and variety of music Lawrence had put together. And again some really unusual jazz tunes that I had never heard before!
Sitting in with these bands was a real treat, and I got to have a really worthwhile play at both sessions. So Monday night I was all set for another outing, and this time headed down to Brighton with the aim of checking out some of the jam sessions that were on.
Again I haven’t played at a jam session for years. I used to run a great session myself on Green Lanes in London many years ago, and I know there is a real skill in making these evenings work. Making sure everybody gets a fair play, keeping the house band busy (and paid!) and keeping the egos out of the room as much as possible. Some jam session can be really competitive, but the music I played yesterday in Brighton was all collaborative and supportive and musical!
First up was the Acid Jazz Jam led by Simon Brewin down at the Latest Music Bar. This jam was in a great venue, a real music venue with full sound system and monitors for the band. Simon is just getting this session up and running but it has real potential with an amazing rhythm section, Tom Phelan on keyboards was as ever a true musical star and really kept a variety to the sounds and the tunes being played, (which can be a problem with the funkier sessions!)
I came and joined the band for an atmospheric rendition of Maiden Voyage (which I could barely remember the notes for… must practise…) and an extremely funky version of The Chicken. It was all good stuff, but the funky, explorative style of the music meant we could move away from the chords and have a bit of freedom. It was great to play with a band that were really listening and thinking musically!
Next of was a walk across town to Chequers, a really fabulous, tiny pub which has just started hosting guitarist Tony Williams and his A Train Jazz Jam.
Tony has gone through a few venues with this session recently, but I hope that he has found a permanent home at this new pub, as it is a great venue with a really relaxed vibe. There is barely enough room for the band to be honest (was great moving around to let people get up to the bar!) but that meant you were really up amongst the audience who seemed to be really into the music going on. Tony had a superb rhythm section on the gig with Alex Eberhart on drums and Andre Fry on bass, I was amongst friends and joined the band for most of their second set. Some great tunes, and lovely playing alongside Phillipe Guyard on some double tenor numbers.
And so for the last train home and some bit thoughts and aims for the future… It is time to get practising. Playing in new environments has thrown up some tunes that I know I need to work at now.. and some tunes that are too easy a choice, cliched and I need to avoid playing.
i just need a plan to help me juggle all the folk and the jazz sessions now!