Today I’m trying to recover from four consecutive days of playing double bass in rehearsals and last night’s Vaughan Williams concert with EMG Symphony Orchestra in Exeter Cathedral. We rehearsed on both Thursday and Friday evenings and most of yesterday afternoon too with just a couple of hours break before the evening performance so now I’m feeling shattered. The programme was the gorgeous Fantasia on a Theme by Thomas Tallis played by the string orchestra followed by A Sea Symphony played by the full orchestra, a large choir and two soloists. We have been working on the two pieces since the start of the year and as a double bass player of only about nine months standing when I started with EMG, it has certainly been a challenge for me: as well as dealing with the instrument itself and the new skills of bowing, pitching and sound production, I have also been trying to read the music, come to terms with the nuances of orchestral string parts, bowing with the rest of the bass section, following the constantly changing tempos dictated by conductor Marion Wood and also keeping an eye on the section leader. Well anyway, somehow I got through it, even played some sections quite well, bluffed and fudged a bit …..well maybe quite a lot actually but really enjoyed it and there were even some times where I seemed to be playing along with the section on some sort of strange auto-pilot where I didn’t really feel like I was in charge of what I was doing.
There was a good deal of uncertainty about exactly where the basses would be located in the Cathedral because of problems with pillars, eye lines to the conductor and where to place the two soloists and it was only when we arrived in the evening, dickie bowed up and facing a totally packed cathedral, that we found out that for the Fantasia, three of us were to be on narrow raised platforms allowing us to see the conductor over the top of the soloists. Two of our number were in the smaller, separate second orchestra specified by Williams for this piece. This left me feeling somewhat exposed being on full view but I did feel more confident with this piece than the other. It sounded great to me and I found it very moving: the music is beautiful and it felt like a great privilege to be part of such a large group of excellent musicians working together to make it happen. I can’t deny feeling a bit relieved to be able to slip into the back row of the basses along with Jim Rintoul when the section reassembled in full for the the Symphony. Much longer and more difficult to play, there were some sections I just had to let go by as beyond me but even at this late stage there were others I found myself being able to play correctly for the first time.
The orchestra played brilliantly and the performance along with that of the choir and soloists seem to go down very well indeed with the audience. I’m a definite convert to orchestral playing and hope that I’ll be getting the opportunity to do more in the future. I’m also totally impressed with the musicianship, humour and energy of conductor Marion Wood. The fantastic photo of me was taken at a rehearsal by Nigel Chffers-Heard.
We had another good turnout at the Bridge Jazz Club this week (2nd April), something I was very relieved about because I am now running the club alone and have to make sure that there is enough money each month to pay the house band and pay the room hire at Exeter Phoenix. With the help of donations from a small group of Friends of the BJC and the continuing support of Exeter Phoenix, we just about broke even this month. It was also the third birthday of the club, making it my longest running jazz venture outliving the Jolly Porter Jazz Club my previous monthly event in Exeter, by sixth months.
The house band featured the excellent Max Turnbull on piano, someone I haven’t played with since about 2005. Max had travelled up from Falmouth with fine double bassist Claudia Colmer, veteran of the famous all female Ivy Benson Band. The rhythm section was completed by top drummer Coach York. We played a couple of my originals in the opening set: Bicycle from my most recent album Lightflight and The Ride from the previous album Ununbium. Despite the apparent semantic link between the two titles, the tunes have very little in common: Bicycle is a slow and dramatic ballad built upon melodic minor harmony while The Ride is an up tempo swing passing through several modal harmonies including phrygian. We also played Wayne Shorter’s Witch Hunt, MJQ’s Afternoon in Paris, Horace Silver’s Summer in Central Park and Duke Jordan’s Jordu (a tongue twister to be attempted only when sober).
Being short of a chord player apart from Max, I set off the jam session without one: setting keen young bloods Andrew Richards on double bassist and Matt Evans on drums the job of backing tenor sax veteran Godfrey Talbot for a blues which came off very well indeed. The jam proceeded in its usual meandering and highly entertaining way with more excellent contributions from Godfrey and Sam Windsor on tenor sax, Tansy on vocals, a rendition of Loving You from a pair of young singers who refused to use a microphone, a blues from John on alto sax and top trumpeteering from Andy Stark. We ended with a mass rendition of Coltrane’s Blue Train including scatting from a couple of the vocalists present and a final blast of Blue Bossa.
The next club night is on Wed 7th May when the house band will be myself on some species of saxophone, incredible drummer Gary Evans, home briefly from his cruise ship work, the excellent Jim Rintoul on bass and a pianist yet to be confirmed. For the following month on 4th June I am going to risk playing the drums again at the club: the house band will be Remo in an attempt to finally do the gig we intended for last December when the lurgee struck among the ranks of the frontline. Remo is a good time jazz quintet from the funky and latin jazz end of the spectrum featuring Tony Kaye on tenor sax and Gill Baker on flugelhorn. The highly rhythmic and musical James Clemas will be on keys and the band will be completed by Remo’s original bass player Jon Wilson who we haven’t seen for a couple of years.
Hope all the regulars and more new faces will find their way to the Bridge Jazz Club for these and many more great nights of jazz in the future. Something else I’m thinking of trying out at the club is a short 10-15 minute poetry slot between the two sets so that the house band gets a proper break before the jam session starts. If anyone knows any poets able to bring snappy, jazzy, maybe funny wordsmithing to bear please ask them to get in touch. No money on offer unfortunately but a good receptive audience.
Last week’s gig of free and guided improvisation with Get Rich Quick and the Festival Scratch Orchestra turned out to be very successful. It was a Vibraphonic Festival gig in the Top Studio at Exeter Phoenix with 10 assorted musicians drawn from the local jazz, classical and contemporary music scenes. We had managed to sell about half of the available seats before the night and with some walk ins too, the room felt lively and full. With a single stage light on a stand to one side and a couple of uplights, what is normally a pretty bland art studio was given some atmosphere. We did two sets, each beginning and ending with an 8-10 minute free improvisation with more score-led guided improvs inbetween. The scores had been submitted by local composers and included two computer led pieces, a couple of graphic scores and a more conceptual piece. Simon Belshaw’s Music Machine 1 is a deceptively simple traffic light system of randomly generated red and green screens: green means choose to play your instrument or not as each musician chooses; red means don’t play but if you want you can move about, clap, sing shout etc. Space constraints ruled out any movement but grunts, sighs, moans and other noises combined with the frantic attempts of the musicians to stay in sync with the sometimes rapidly alternating screen made for an entertaining and amusing performance. This was followed by Suspensions by Jane Carrington Porter which combined responding to sketches and conduction by the composer: pre-arranged hand signals denoted changes in pitch, volume and tempo. It was difficult to respond to both but my feeling is that there is a lot of potential in the conduction approach which has been used widely by large improvising ensembles such as the London Improvisers Orchestra who have developed an elaborate set of signals for this purpose. The final guided piece in the first set was the conceptual piece Damage Limitation by Emma Welton in which an analogy is drawn between the spending of notes and the burning of fossil fuels. Apparently the world can afford to burn no more than 565 gigatonnes to avoid raising the temperature by 2 degrees C so the musicians were allowed to use no more than 565 notes in the 5 minutes allocated for the piece. Furthermore we were allowed only the 2 minute set up time between pieces to decide as a group how we would do this. We opted to play 50 notes each leaving some to spare. Perhaps someone can count how many we actually played when I get around to posting the recording! In the second set there were two guided improvisations: Let’s Throw Some Shapes by Anna Matthews, a piece in which we had to respond to a series of geometrical shapes presented using Powerpoint something that became increasingly difficult as the shapes became more complex and my own Steady State, a semi graphical score combining some conventional musical notation but no actual pitches and photographs and non-musical symbols. The idea was to find and establish a sort of ostinato or steady state for the first minute, develop it for 3 minutes and then return to it. I’m not sure how successful this was and I’m thinking that I should have been more specific in terms of a time signature and tempo. The musicians all played really well and the only down side for me was that I had to keep stopping to blow my nose as I was suffering the latter stages of a lurgee. Many thanks to Patrick Cunningham at Exeter Phoenix for providing the room and for including us in the festival and to the admin and technical staff there who helped us with promotion, lighting etc.
Nearly a year ago now I posted on this blog with an identical title outlining how people could support the Bridge Jazz Club which meets so succesfully in Exeter Phoenix on the first Wednesday each month. At that time we we were announcing an increase in the ticket prices and calling for people to come forward as “Friends of the Bridge Jazz Club” and pledge a small monthly sum to keep us solvent. That call was in response to the loss of the corporate sponsorship from Glanville Robinson we had been enjoying ever since the inception of the club 2 years earlier. That corporate sponsorship was replaced by regular donations by a small group of Friends including my co-founder of the club Mack Robinson. This has enabled us to continue paying the house band each month, buy wine for raffle prizes and pay Exeter Phoenix for the room hire. Mack has now moved away from Exeter and with new work and family commitments has decided to hand over the running of the club to me. I am sure that everyone who has played at the club or come to listen will want to join me in thanking Mack for his work over the past three years in helping me to get the club up and running and as partner in Glanville Robinson for organising the sponsorship in the first place.
His departure does mean that the club has lost one of the Friends who continue to make their valuable regular donations that keep us afloat. If anyone is interested in becoming a Friend and making a small donation each month (£10 or £15), please do get in touch with me. Meanwhile, here are a number of other ways in which you can help your local jazz club, many reproduced from the earlier post:
1. Come to the club at Exeter Phoenix on the first Wednesday each month and enjoy an evening of great jazz in a friendly atmosphere. With good audiences, all the club’s financial problems will evaporate.
2. Tell your friends about the club and get them to come along too.
3. Donate a prize for the raffle: a bottle of wine or a jazz CD. CDs don’t have to be new. Previous raffle prizes have included books about jazz and a Christmas pudding.
4. Buy extra raffle tickets at £1 each.
5. Become a Friend of the Bridge Jazz Club. This is a small group, presently 3 people, who make regular small donations to help keep the club afloat. We are talking a very modest £10-15 here and the more people who become Friends the smaller this amount will be. You can donate as an individual or as a company, with or without public acknowledgement of your support. I now look after the club’s finances and occasional doorman Tony Kaye will be acting as an auditor. We can set up a standing order or take one-off donations. We will be making regular reports to the Friends on the state of the club finances.
6. Volunteer to help out with setting up and dismantling of chairs, tables, curtains and lighting. There is a lot of lugging around of furniture before and after the gig presently done by me and whoever I can talk into helping me.
7. Without Mack I am increasingly going to need help with covering the door.
Do get in touch if you would like to help in any of these ways.
Yet another great evening at the Bridge Jazz Club here in Exeter last night. The Voodoo Lounge in Exeter Phoenix was rammed for the third month in succession as listeners and jamming musicians assembled for the regular first Wednesday of the month club night. The house band were piano supremo Craig Milverton, excellent double bassist Kevin Sanders and young up and coming drummer Matt Evans along with myself on tenor sax. As usual the first set was from the house band and took in compositions by Wayne Shorter, Wes Montgomery, Charlie Parker, Herbie Hancock, Bobby Hutcherson as well as my own original Ununbium. This went down well with the audience and then in order get young double bassist and Trinity student to be Andrew on stage before he had to catch his bus back to Budleigh, we immediately got Neil Burns up on guitar along with Alex on drums while Craig and Kevin retired to the bar. The jam session built from there with sax players Tony and Marius perfoming several numbers together and separately. They were joined by Andy on trumpet and flugelhorn, who although he says he doesn’t really play jazz gave a good impression of sounding like he knew what he was doing! Tom and Ronnie had sessions at the kit and with Craig and Kevin back in the rhythm section and Ronnie on bongos, the jam session worked up to raucous, chaotic and very enjoyable ensemble renditions of several standards. Remember this is all for just £5 on the door or a mere £3 for musicians playing in the jam session. The next Bridge Jazz Club night is Wed 2nd April.
I’m really looking forward to tomorrow night’s gig with Eclipse at Hope Hall in Heavitree. Old buddy James Shipway comes in on guitar instead of Jesse Molins who unfortunately is experiencing an RSI problem. James Rintoul will be on double bass and we will be playing two sets of my originals and choice standards from 8pm. Hope Hall is in Hope Rd, Heavitree, Exeter, EX2 5JN and is an old chapel now used as an artist’s studio. The acoustics are fantastic and this will be an intimate gig in a very special atmosphere. Entry is £8 or £5 for concessions. Advance booking is advised through email@example.com. It is a bring your own booze evening though soft drinks and snacks will be on sale. Eclipse has played there twice before and it has been a really nice evening on both occasions. The fantastic photo comes from our last time there and also shows the migration themed installation created by our host for the evening, artist Naomi Hart. It is of course Jesse on guitar in the photo.
I am out again on Monday evening (10th March) playing with my trio at the Clifford Arms in Shaldon. Matt Johns will be on keys and Jim Rintoul will be on bass. Music there starts at 8.30pm and there is a special jazz menu.
Preparations foror the Vibraphonic Festival gig with Get Rich Quick + Festival Scratch Orchestra are going well. The last time I counted we were up to 10 musicians recruited for this evening of free and guided improvisations at Exeter Phoenix. The first tickets have been sold and scores are coming in to guide the improvisations. Tickets are limited to 40 in number so talk to me if you want one in advance. They are just £5. More details at www.getrichquickmusic.wordpress.com
The Lightflight tour ended up being a great success despite the terrible weather and was marred only by pianist Matt Johns writing off his car after the gig at Peter Tavy on Valentines Day. This was one of the stormier nights and swerving to avoid a fallen tree coming off Dartmoor, he managed to put his car into a spin, ending up in the ditch. Fortunately Matt was fine but his keyboard and amp ended up in a garage for the next couple of days and we had to bring in James Clemas as a dep for the final night of the tour at Sampford Courtenay. Despite the weather we had good audiences at all three gigs and were well looked after with home cooked food before the gigs, complementary drinks and a great response from the audiences. Peter Tavy was a particularly memorable night. This was the smallest of the three village halls and we were literally a couple of feet from the people at the closest tables making for a very intimate atmosphere indeed. The band of Matt on keys, Jim Rintoul on bass and Ron Jones on drums and percussion played really well throughout and James Clemas did a great job filling Matt’s shoes on the last night in the spectacular old schoolhouse at Samford. Lightflight has subsequently been booked to play more latin jazz at the Double Locks Ciderfest in August.
I’ve just heard the bad news that guitarist Jesse Molins has had another flare up RSI and will be unable to play the trio gig with Eclipse at Hope Hall in Exeter on March 7th. Old friend James Shipway comes in on guitar to join Jim Rintoul on bass and myself on saxes and I’m sure it will be another great night in the very special atmosphere of Hope Hall in Heavitree. Advanced booking definitely advised for this one through our host Naomi Hart at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Other gigs coming up include my trio gig at the City Gate Hotel on Friday (28th Feb) when I will be playing with James Clemas on keys and Jim Rintoul on bass. Music starts at 7.30pm in the conservatory and we may be joined again by sitter in Tom Wright on the most minimal drum kit you’ve ever seen: a snare drum and two brushes! Next Wed 5th March is Bridge Jazz Club night at Exeter Phoenix when the house rhythm section will be the amazing Craig Milverton on keys, Kevin Sanders on bass and Matt Evans on drums. The jam session will follow the first set from me with the house band. Music from 8.30pm in the Voodoo Lounge. £5 on the door or just £3 for jammers including a free raffle. Bass players need to bring your own bass for this one though you will be able to go through Kevin’s amp. Following that I have two gigs with wonderful pianist Matt Johns: firstly a private function down on his patch in Falmouth on Sat 8th March and then a trio with Jim Rintoul on Monday 10th March at The Clifford Arms in Shaldon near Teignmouth. Music starts at 8.30pm at the Clifford and remember there’s a special jazz menu and good beer to be had.
I am also busy organising the Vibraphonic Festival gig on Wed 19th March at Exeter Phoenix. This is a development of the free improvisation gigs I have been doing with Get Rich Quick. On this occasion, GRQ will be joined by a specially recruited Festival Scratch Orchestra in a series of short improvisations, both free and guided by “scores” submitted by contemporary composers. Unfortunately Jesse will miss this one too. The line up so far is Marcus Vergette double bass, James Clemas keys, Tim Sayer trumpet & flugelhorn, Gill Baker Eb horn, Ruth Molins flute & alto flute, John Welton bass clarinet, Tom Wright minimal drum kit and myself on soprano sax. I’m still looking for improvising string players if anyone is interested in joining the orchestra. Also do consider submitting a score. More details at www.getrichquickmusic.wordpress.com
Meanwhile I’m persevering with learning the double bass and hanging in there at weekly EMG Symphony Orchestra rehearsals. We are preparing for a Vaughan Williams concert in Exeter Cathedral on 5th April. The programme consists of his Sea Symphony and Fantasia on a Theme by Thomas Tallis. The concert will be spectacular even if one of the double bass players is struggling a bit!
And finally the contemporary composers group which I co-founded with Anna Mattews nearly two years ago finally has a name, “Echoes” and Anna is working on a new website. We will be welcoming new members who are interested in composing and playing contemporary music and will be organising performances so watch this space.
Last week’s gig with my Latin jazz quartet Lightflight at the Drewe Arms in Drewesteignton went really well. We had a good turnout for a wet Sunday evening in February and the music went down very well. There was a raised stage which presented a few problems in terms of fitting us all on it particularly as I was playing soprano, alto & tenor saxes as well as congas. Nevertheless the gig was a blast. We have three more Lightflight gigs this week supported by rural touring scheme Villages in Action.
We also had a really good turnout on Wednesday for the Bridge Jazz Club at Exeter Phoenix, again despite severe weather warnings here in the Southwest. There was a whole new batch of jammers who came along to play in the second half. These included two young guitarists sharing one guitar belonging to student Constantin, a promising young tenor player, also studying at the University and a sax and trumpet pairing from Crediton who are starting yet another jazz club along the lines of the Bridge JC out in their village. Along with Sidmouth Jazz Club rub by club regular Mike Sayers that will make three in the area following the model of house band then jam session forged by the Bridge. We also had tunes from Mike on alto sax and Charlie on guitar. Most unusually there were no singers and not one, but two trumpet players, both called Andy. The house band was John Cartwright on keys, Mike Thorn on bass and Tom Wright on kit. Other jammers were Alex on drums and Mike Sayers on bass. Next club night is Wed 5th March when the house band will be Matt Evans on drums, Kevin Sanders on bass and top pianist Craig Milverton on keys. Thanks to Steve Edwards for covering the door for this one.
I’m pretty excited about the Vibraphonic Festival gig with Get Rich Quick and the Festival Scratch Orchestra on 19th March at Exeter Phoenix which as well as free improv will involve improvisation guided by “scores” submitted by external composers. The plan is to have a total of about 10-12 people on stage from different musical backgrounds as well as the core improvising group GRQ. I have recruited bass clarinet player John Welton, old friend Gill Baker on Eb tenor horn and drummer Tom Wright to add to the GRQ quintet of Tim Sayer on trumpet and flugelhorn (maybe electronics), James Clemas on keys, Marcus Vergette on bass, Jesse Molins on guitar and myself on soprano sax. I’m relinquishing playing drums myself for this one because I think I will have enough to do organising the band and getting through the series of guided pieces some of which might involve sound tracks, distributing written scores or other paraphanalia. We are also up an extra flight of stairs in the Phoenix for this one! I know that there several people from the composers group I belong to who are working on scores and I will also have a few of my own ideas ready to go. I’m still looking for string players and a flautist or two to take part in the event. More details about this and the call for scores via the above link.