Review: Whitley Bay Classic Jazz Party 2012

Jerry Brown reports on a packed north of England gathering that included appearances by Tom ’Spats’ Langham, Martin Litton, Bent Persson and Keith Nichols in music by Eddie Lang, Jelly Roll Morton, Louis Armstrong, Red Nichols and others. Photos by Jerry Brown

Cecile McLorin SalvantI cannot think of anywhere else in the UK, or maybe elsewhere in the world where over the course of three days one could be treated to the music of The Missourians, Jimmy Bertrand, Graeme Bell, King Oliver, Eddie Lang and songs associated with Lillie Delk Christian, Blanche Calloway and Julia Lee all excellently performed with skill and an obvious love of the source material. This extravaganza took place in the Village Hotel and Leisure Centre on the Cobalt Business Park on the outskirts of Newcastle over the last weekend in October.
Over a total of around 28 hours a very attentive audience of 250 listened to a about 35 musicians from a multitude of countries perform 34 sets of jazz from the classic era. There were also three late night sessions in the hotel bar which developed into open jam sessions. To some that might sound to be too much of a good thing but the great majority of the audience sat tight throughout in a somewhat overcrowded and warm room and enjoyed everything although it did hear one lady complaining that the 1930s work from the pen of Benny Carter was "far too modern"!
To review in detail every one of the sets would produce an article of gargantuan length so I have concentrated on what to me were the highlights of a really excellent programme which had been compiled by Party Director, Mike Durham with considerable assistance from the musicians involved. Just because I have maybe singled out an individual musician for praise does not mean that I was in some way not impressed by the others!
The first set I managed to catch on the first afternoon was Martin Wheatley and Tom "Spats" Langham performing the guitar duets of Lonnie Johnson and Eddie Lang and their performance of Hot Fingers certainly lived up to the title of the piece. They were followed by a short set devoted to Lovie Austin with Thomas Winteler admirably taking the role of Jimmy O'Bryant and Johnny Dodds and Martin Litton the leader's chair.

The next hour was taken by the music of Jimmy McPartland and the Whoopee Makers the set being led by Chicago cornetist, Andy Schumm and very lively it was too with the versatility of the musicians being demonstrated by the fact that Schumm and Australian alto player Michael McQuaid swopped instruments for one number and the results were very good. The afternoon was rounded off by Martin Litton leading an handpicked team of "Red Hot Peppers" through a collection of music associated with Jelly Roll Morton. For me it was a delight to hear some of the more unusual tunes such as Oil Well and Monrovia rather than the more usual titles.
After the dinner break there were six more sets starting with Bent Persson recreating the "Hot Choruses" recorded by Louis Armstrong in 1927 and followed by Spats Langham celebrating the rather eccentric talents of Cliff Edwards. For me the highlight of the evening followed when French-American singer  (pictured above) sang half a dozen songs from the repertoire of Julia Lee with accompaniment from a octet led by Rico Tomasso performing arrangements by Matthias Seuffert. Cecile also shone considerably throughout the weekend with other sets featuring the songs of Eva Taylor, Blanche Calloway and others. Judging by her website and the fact that she won the prestigious Thelonious Monk award in 2010 coupled with her vocal talents being used for Chanel perfume adverts I think that this young lady is destined for great things.
The rest of the evening was taken up with a small group covering the recordings of Jimmy Bertrand in a 30-minute set, an hour-long tribute to Red McKenzie with Andy Schumm doing the blue-blowing and the aforementioned Cecile joining Spats Langham for a set of torch songs which included her giving an excellent performance of I Get Along Without You Very Well with simple but completely appropriate accompaniment by Spats on guitar and Henri Lemaire on bass.
Saturday morning started with Martin Litton "playing Teddy Wilson" which included a remarkably fast rendition of Air Mail Special and a very gentle Body And Soul. This was followed by more music of the 1920s with Matthias Seuffert leading a septet playing the music of Lil Armstrong's New Orleans Wanderers / Bootblacks with the leader capturing the spirit of Dodds without completely copying. It was then on to an hour of Red Nichols from an ensemble led by Keith Nichols and featuring Andy Schumm on cornet.

The famous quartet of Muggsy Spanier and Sidney Bechet was evoked next with Jean-Francois Bonnel and Rene Hagmann taking the lead roles, supported by Roly Veitch on guitar and Manu Hagman on bass. Then it was half an hour of Al Bowlly's greatest hits followed by what was for me one of the weekend's highlights. Michael McQuaid provided the arrangements and leadership for an hour of the music of Graeme Bell and Humphrey Lyttelton as recorded by the combined bands in 1951 with a 10-piece band featuring Duke Heitger, Kristoffer Kompen (trombone) amongst others with the leader providing a very good tribute to Lazy Ade Monsborough. It was an unusual sound and certainly rarely heard tunes including Open House, Midnight Creep and Take A Note From The South. The set ended with a rip-roaring rendition of Hoppin' Mad which would have been very difficult to follow!
However the final set before tea was an hour of the music of McKinney’s Cotton Pickers by a 11-piece led from the drum chair by Josh Duffee with vocals from Mike Durham, Spats Langham and Keith Nichols, the last also taking the piano chair. I have a very soft spot for 1920s hot dance music and this was provided aplenty.
The evening programme was opened by a short and unusual recital by Martin Wheatley and Spats Langham dedicated to the early masters of the banjo including the British virtuoso and composer for the five-stringed instrument, Joe Morley. Good introductions by Martin added to the knowledge of those listening!
After a not totally successful and maybe a little unprepared set led by Kris Kompen dedicated to Jack Teagarden it was a too short set with Cecile performing the tunes associated with Lillie Delk Christian that followed and then back to the bigger bands for the rest of the evening. With Martin Litton filling her chair it was then a 15-piece with the music and arrangements of Mary Lou Williams for Andy Kirk's Twelve Clouds Of Joy and others. Maybe the introductions between numbers were slightly too long but the music was excellent with Emma Fisk on violin being featured together with Alistair Allen on trombone and Stephane Gillot on reeds. The evening ended with an exuberant set of the music of the Missourians and Cab Calloway conducted (and sung) by Keith Nichols. Full audience participation was demanded and supplied particularly on Minnie The Moocher. The standing ovation was well deserved!
Matthias SeuffertMartin Seck opened the final day with 30 minutes of superior boogie piano followed by a very interesting set from a septet led by Matthias Seuffert (pictured right) in which the band performed eight of the leader's original compositions which sought to illustrate "Forty Years of Jazz" from the Hot Five through to bop. All were very good and captured the moods of the subjects admirably with the leader evoking very well the feel of Coleman Hawkins, Johnny Dodds, Frankie Trumbauer and other members including Martin Litton (Teddy Wilson, Fats Waller and Count Basie) and Rico Tomasso (Bix and an unnamed bopper). Certainly a set worth hearing again.
After Bent Persson's celebration of the Clarence Williams small groups it was another set from the talented leader Matthias Seuffert which examined the 1930s work of Benny Carter with Rene Hagman, Alistair Allen and others. Josh Duffee then brought on a 12-piece to celebrate the orchestra of Frankie Trumbauer with alternatively Michael McQuaid, Stephane Gillot, Norman Field and Matthias Seuffert acting as the subject of the set. The afternoon was completed by the music associated with Lil (Hardin) Armstrong and Blanche Calloway which again featured the excellent vocals of Cecile McLorin Salvant and was led by Bent Persson with the Calloway arrangements being provided by Jean-Francois Bonnel.
The final four hours of formal music after the dinner break started with a group led by Bent Persson looking at the work of Louis Armstrong and the Savoy Ballroom Five with Louis's role being taken by either Bent or Rico Tomasso. Good as it was the particular set of recordings have never been my favourite Armstrong performances for some reason. It was then on to King Oliver's Dixie/Savannah Syncopators with the recreation in the hands of Keith Nichols. Another really excellent set which featured Andy Schumm and Duke Heitger in the trumpet chairs.
Following a return to the 1920s hot dance music of the Halfway House orchestra presented by Michael McQuaid it was an all-out finale with the music of the 1930s Benny Goodman Orchestra presented by Keith Nichols with Matthias Seuffert as Mr. Goodman. The offical final number was not unsurprisingly Sing Sing Sing which featured a long Krupesque solo from Richard Pite with King Porter Stomp as an encore to send the audience to bed happy after a weekend of excellent music performed by a bunch of players from the UK, Europe, USA and even Australia.
A third Whitley Bay jazz party is already scheduled for the weekend of 1-3 November 2013 and if your taste includes the music of the 1920s and 1930s without the background hiss of a scratched 78 record then this weekend is probably for you. The original musicians may not be present but the compositions and arrangements are there to be heard in their full glory.
Critics of classical music do not turn up their noses at a performance of 16th century madrigals so why should many jazz critics deride and sneer at performances of early jazz music?


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