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Jammy Jam

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.

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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!

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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!

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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.

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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!

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Posted by on July 21, 2015 in Performing

 

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Straight No Chaser Big Band Latest Vid

Managed to capture a good clip from our Straight No Chaser gig last month at The Brunswick.  This beautiful arrangement is adapted from the original Porgy and Bess version.  Performed by Jacqui Sampson on vocals.   Hope you enjoy.

 
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Posted by on February 22, 2015 in Pics / Vids / Audio

 

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After Supper

Performing with Straight No Chaser Big Band, at The Brunswick in November this year.

Count Basie / Neal Hefti classic  After Supper

 
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Posted by on December 7, 2014 in Gigs, Pics / Vids / Audio

 

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Straight No Chaser: It’s Oh So Nice

Recorded at our regular gig at The Hassocks Hotel, West Sussex, Sunday 2nd November.

 
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Posted by on November 11, 2014 in Gigs, Pics / Vids / Audio

 

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New Straight No Chaser Music

David Beebee has taken up the challenge of arranging some new material for the big band… he has some big shoes to fill on that score.

We have played some of Dave’s pieces in the past and they have been great, but his new tune is a real gem.  Really looking forward to playing more of Dave’s compositions in the future.

In the mean time please have a listen to the live recording of Dave’s new piece:  Nuance

 
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Posted by on September 29, 2014 in Gigs, Recordings

 

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Love Supreme

Love Supreme

What a fantastic weekend of music at Love Supreme jazz festival!

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I hadn’t managed to make it down to the last year, but we managed to somehow sneak Straight No Chaser onto the bill for this years event and I am so glad we managed to hustle for the gig!

Lots and lots of lovely music from so many musicians. It was all too much in a way because you start to choose not to listen to some bands that normally would have been an amazing night out on their own, but then again there is only so much jazz that you can take in one serving…

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I’m really pleased with our big band set. The guys played amazingly with some blistering solos and finely tuned ensemble sections, despite the wind gusting and blowing sheets of music around before us. I know there were several videos being made of our playing so I hope to share them soon. I’ve already seen one of Susanna Alce singing with us and she was being a star as always, perfectly underplaying the soul in the music.

We chose a set of quite complex arrangements including several of Simons charts, which was a good decision. The crowds seemed to be drawn to the interesting and intriguing music… I’m so glad we didn’t sell ourselves out with a standard repertoire of Gordon Goodwin and Nestico. We did ourselves proud and I think waved a good flag for local Brighton talent at this prestigious event.

So what was the highlight of the event?

Well Jamie Cullum it has to be said was immense. I didn’t think I would have ended up watching him but he played like a complete star with a band to match.

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Who else, well there was Laura Mvula with her soul diva voice, but a band she has taken in different direction with strings, harp and arrangements to die for. And of course Courtney Pine, who must have been put on this planet to play festivals in the sun like this. (I’m sure he physically made the sun shine with his music today!)

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Snarky Puppy was also up there at the top of my list, complex and soulful but intensely funky. And Slowly Rolling Camera who provided me with the perfect hangover cure.

Really looking forward to this event again next year, definitely hope we can get the band there again too!

 
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Posted by on July 6, 2014 in Gigs

 

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Frank Holder

Yesterday I had a very nice phone call from local pianist / hammond player Nick Crawford.  He was short a musician for his jazz trio playing the next day and asked if I could help out.  Guitarist Shane Hill had been booked but had gone into hospital.  It is unheard of for Shane to miss a gig so I really hope that he is ok.

Anyhow I was free so I was very happy to come along and help out.  I don’t normally enjoy performing in duo or trio settings with my sax.  There is always the question of what you do when you’re not soloing.  It always somehow feels unbalanced when you play with a piano or guitar and they basically have to leave the music over to them whilst they are soloing…. Occasionally you can weave into their solo, or add bass lines, but it always feels a bit contrived to me…. maybe I’m just not good at it!  But as I said I was happy to help, and it was a nice local gig so no problem at all really.

However when I arrived I realised that the trio was with Frank Holder.   Frank is a living legend, having performed with so many great names through his life time, he is part of the UK jazz history.  But performing alongside him is an absolute pleasure.   He is now 89 years old, but he sings and plays conga with amazing energy and enthusiasm.  Continually playing with melody, rhythm and his audience!  The music he performs is always creative and expressive, and full of spontaneity but what really makes him special is his ability to draw in the musicians around him and his the listeners so that the whole room becomes part of his creativity.

I first played with Frank at a similar gig about a month ago and it was just the same, each tune taking on his energy with him weaving improvised melodies and rhythms around the band, always playing around the tune, without every touching it, whilst fully implying its presence.  It has been a really honour to perform alongside him and I’m really looking forward to the next time.   (Mental note:  must ask Frank to come and sit in with the Big Band!)

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Posted by on June 28, 2014 in Gigs

 

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