Review: Theo Jackson at The George in Rye

Trevor Twohig finds plenty of fun and vibrancy in the opener to Rye Jazz Festival from singer/pianist Theo Jackson and his trio

It was a real pleasure to arrive in the George, spiritual home of the Rye Jazz Festival, for the Theo Jackson trio on Friday 22 August. The festival mantra here is relax and enjoy. The ballroom is splendid, adorned with bright chandeliers and white linen table tops. Theo Jackson calmly mills about at the back of the room before the show and exchanges pleasantries as the stragglers clamber to find a seat for the show.

Festival director Ian Bowden introduces the show; in fact, Theo Jackson introduces him, epitomising the relaxed atmosphere and bonhomie between artist, audience and management. A moment later Bowden has whizzed off to attend to other business and Jackson is in full flow.

It is easy to see how the 27-year-old Durham music graduate is raising eyebrows. He has an assuring presence and opens confidently with just piano and voice, much to the amazement of the full house in the ballroom. It is not long before the beat has quickened and his fellow musicians join the fray in the opening gambit, a song which changes pace and style, taking many twists and turns, leaving the traditional jazz contingent already in awe of his skills.

It's easy to notice a solid understanding between the trio. A system of head nods, winks and knowing glances ease each musician into a number of impressive solos and jam sessions, Jackson at one point leaving his trusty piano to scat. “Impressive,” said one punter; “interesting,” stated another; “self-indulgent” was the opinion of one lady, much to the disagreement of the event organisers and I must say a majority of the crowd.

Jackson ended his first set with the jazz classic My Foolish Heart which he played solo. The song really showed the range of voice and skills Jackson has at his disposal. His “twitches”, as he calls them, are testament to the fact he is really into what he is doing. This is, after all, a man who wants to take over the world through the medium of jazz and after this effort it is safe to say he has a bright future.

In the second set Jackson engaged the crowd with a series of spoken interludes, proving himself to be a witty and intelligent young chap. His trio offers something new that the genre has been missing for a while. Despite his affable demeanour he takes his music seriously; the songs are impressive and show a wide musical and vocal range. His 2012 album, Jericho, is critically acclaimed and is well worth checking out.

As the evening ended and we descended the stairs into the calm Rye evening, there were murmurs of discontent from some of the middle-aged diehards. The general consensus, however, was that we had witnessed a genuine jazz talent at a steal of a price. A welcome and fitting start to the festival in an elegant and impressive setting. Long may it continue.

Photo by Ben Amure

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