The Con Cellar Bar is one of our favourite venues; we’ve been regular visitors since its early days. It’s a rare and special space where you hear the music in all its purity: no need to mic up horns or the kick, just play as you are. It’s a secret you have to know about to get to, it’s slightly out of the way; you always bump into somebody you know, it’s always rammed, and the music is always, and I mean always, great. We’ve never heard a bad gig there.
So much is due to the faithful work of the late Rich Turner – whose dedication and passion for live music spread through a community of young jazz musicians, to make the Con a favourite of musicians and audiences of all generations. Now George Crowley, Dan Nicholls, Sam Jesson & Tom Challenger run the monthly Friday night. Remarkably, they’ve managed to get a double bill of the best jazz musicians in the country, for only a fiver each month. They do a great job. Perhaps this really IS London’s best kept secret. And we’ve just blogged it. Oh well, don’t tell too many people. It’s OURS!
So we’ll keep this brief. First off was Joe Wright’s Nightjar (see below for musicians/links/set). Set alight by Alice Zawadzki’s hauntingly beautiful vocals, the folk influences in harmony and rhythms were evident in Spencer’s writing before he told us one of his tunes was based on the 15th Century folk song, the Bonnie Banks of Fordie. The writing really is exquisite. The dovetailing of the vocal and sax lines was aurally mesmerising, and there is just so much space! Jeff Spencer on bass was a great example of the old cliché ‘less is more’. Grounding the group effortlessly, yet giving the sound time to breath was Spencer’s gift to the group. Playing around with tempos appears to be a Nightjar speciality. Several times they pulled back the tempo like a steam train, gradually grinding to a perfect halt. On the other end of the spectrum we really enjoyed Laura Stands Tall with the repeated firey opening line ‘A total lack of respect’ crying out throughout the song. Spencer’s electronic effects with tenor sax brought an other-worldness to the already dreamlike folk vibe, and James Maddren on drums brought spacious complexity to the mix. We were excited to find out that you can watch Nightjar’s Strange Placeshere.
After the traditional raffle (who could resist the chance of winning Sainsbury’s wine, a firework, or top prize, a toffee apple?) Freddie Gavita’s Quartet emerged (again see below for musicians/links/sets). A group of friends who clearly play together often (much laughing, conversation & in-jokes whilst playing) this was a night where Gavita pulled out many of his old well-loved tunes. Our favourite was the more groove based Turnaround featuring a storming piano solo by Tom Cawley, with fierce playing from James Maddren to finish it off. Maddren’s playing so captured performers and audiences alike – that Gavita immediately commented ‘Thanks James – that’s fabulous mate’. Last up was The Buffalo Trace – which holds a very special connection to us. Fred toured with us to Kentucky, and this song is named after a beautiful whiskey produced at a distillery we visited. Fred played beautifully over this tune, the lilting melody reflecting the southern-American state. Mick Coady on bass brought out some stellar sounds to the chilled out last song. It was a great second set. Fred’s natural charm and humility had the audience eating out of the palm of his hand.
Two things stood out. Firstly: whilst we went to listen to the music of the films we may have seen, in listening the result was mirrored: it inspired us to see the films (again). It is a great thing that the visual and aural complement each other so well.
Secondly: despite the first point, the music still stands in its own right without any need for the visual: Psycho and Tom & Jerry are case in point.
The perfomance was fantastic. The 1950s Hollywood sound was generated with full horn, saxophone, trumpet, trombone and rhythm sections, alongside the great sweeping and warm tones of the strings.
Herrmann’s Psycho invoked one of the most bizarre responses we have ever seen in a live music audience. As soon as the repeated violin lines with full harmonics emerged – there was a physical lurch and bizarre involuntary murmur. The question really is whether the ‘screeching’ violin timbre invoked the response, or whether the association with the film is so vivid that it is that which raises the hackles. Either way – the JW strings played this wonderfully. It was also interesting to watch the orchestra ‘breathe’ during the ‘stabbing’ patterns. They literally lent in and out of their instruments with their bow movements giving us a visual stab pattern.
Tom and Jerry was hilarious. The audience were laughing and cheering. The orchestra itself plays cat and mouse. The muted trombone had his line stolen by the flute; the clarinet came and surprised us then stole the melody again; the trumpets and cymbals argued with one another as to who could play the shortest and loudest. Then of course we had the literal humour: water splashing around, bubble wrap being crinkled, snoring. It’s so refreshing to listen to this without seeing the cartoon: the quality of the music is high, and it was so well performed. It was clear the JW orchestra were enjoying themselves and therefore so did we.
The audience adored Venera Gimadieva with her rendition of Citizen Kane and Howard McGill’s sax playing in A Place in the Sun was wonderful. His pure tone resonated beautifully. Playing alone in the great Royal Albert Hall he had the audience in the palm of his hand. Too rarely does the RAH hear solo sax fill that great space. Jane Monheit and Matthew Ford did a fine job with the Movie Medley and it was great to hear the orchestra come alive and burst into full on Big Band sounds. Mike Lovatt did a top job on trumpet.
The night finished with Ben-Hur, a tale of a man whose life changes when he sees Christ’s crucifiction and the forgiveness that brings. It was a genius way to end a great night. What more could you want than that great RAH organ on full whack – with 15 of the best brass players going full blow.
Great programming, great spectacle, spectacular playing. Don’t miss it on BBC Four – August 30th.
Alfred Newman: 20th Century Fox Fanfare
Alfred Newman: How to Marry a Millionaire / Street Scene
Bronislau Kaper: Forever, Darling / Confetti
David Raksin: Laura / Suite
Bernard Herrmann: Psycho / Suite for Strings
Bernard Herrmann: Citizen Kane / Salammbô’s Aria
Erich Wolfgang Korngold: The Adventures of Robin Hood / Suite
Jerome Moross: The Big Country / Main Title
Max Steiner: Casablanca / Suite
Move Theme Song Medley: An Affair to Remember / Something’s Gotta Give / Young at Heart / It’s Magic / The Tender Trap / My Foolish Heart / Three Coins in the Fountain / Love is a Many-Splendoured Thing / That’s Amore / Que Sera, Sera / All the Way
“We’re now halfway through our first UK tour with this band. Despite some of the pre-tour set backs with venues pulling out, it’s safe to say that the tour is going well and we’ve been having a great time! We’ve been absolutely knocked out by the amount of people who’ve come out to the gigs, bought CDs and the support that the promoters and venues have given us along the way – so thanks everyone!
We’ve got three more dates left for the diaries. The first is tonight (25/6/13) at Charlie Wright’s in London and then we hit the road again playing at Dempsey’s in Cardiff on Wednesday 26th before finishing up at Soundcellar on Thursday 27th. If you’re local to London tonight will be only date on the tour with the whole octet, featuring the last minute addition of mega-dep guitarist Alex Munk. For those who cannot make tonight, we have another London gig next month appearing at the 606 Club on Tuesday 23rd July. Thanks again to everyone who has come out and supported the gigs and we’ll hopefully see more people over the next couple of days!”
But you know what? It was just fantastic. There was an audience sing-a-long for ‘We’ll meet again’ (I went with three singers, we loved it, don’t tell a soul!), with the rest sung beautifully by Laurie Ashworth. Another great soloist, Pianist Victor Sangiorgio performed Addinsell’s Warsaw Concerto with unhindered dexterous flyingly fast fingers.
The Walton (Henry V: a Shakespeare Scenario), complete with fabulous British actor Samuel West, was all an over eager audience member could want. A ridiculous (that’s a positive thing) brass section, a massive and fabulous percussion section, and something wonderfully novel: melodies you could hum afterwards. West was effortlessly musical in his role as narrator with such timings, slight nuances and charm that had an audience, who only moments before had been singing joyfully along, in silent awe, wrapped in the words of prayer to God, with thanks of a battle won.
The Hertfordshire Chorus sung well and Keith Lockhart was master at the reigns – bringing every cymbal crash, tuba blast and string vibrato line together with delightful energy.
If you’d like to listen, the concert will be broadcast on BBC Radio 3 in ‘Afternoon on 3’ on Tuesday 25th June at 14:00. (This was announced. Programme suggested broadcast date of 24th)
John Ireland: Epic March for Orchestra
John Ireland: Music While You Work medley (March ‘Calling All Workers’ Eric Coates, Bank Holiday from ‘Cockney Suite’ Albert Ketèlbey, Waltz ‘Nights of Gladness’ Charles Ancliffe, Merrymakers’ Dance from ‘Nell Gwyn’ Edward German)
Songs made popular by Vera Lynne: The White Cliffs of Dover, Yours, We’ll Meet Again.
Clifton Parker: Seascape from ‘Western Approaches’
“On the evening of Friday 22nd March, we were deeply saddened with news of the death of the great British trumpet player, Derek Watkins. Derek had been fighting Sarcoma, a rare form of cancer for a couple of years, however Friday evening he sadly lost his battle.
For the next Spice of Life gig, we would like to pay tribute to Derek and the great legacy the he has left behind. The whole band will be wearing his “Super-C T-Shirts”, of which thousands of people across the world are wearing in support of Derek. Also, all money from ticket sales will go to his charity Sarcoma UK.
If you have not heard of Derek Watkins before now, I can assure you that you will have heard him play at some point. He was lead trumpet on every James Bond movie sound track, of which he started recording when he was just 17 years old. Not only has Derek recorded on every film score imaginable, he played with the BBC Big Band for decades and also performed/recorded with some of the world’s most famous musicians, including Dizzie Gillespie, Clark Terry, Maynard Ferguson, Buddy Rich, Benny Goodman, Gil Evans, Frank Sinatra, Tony Bennet, Sammy Davis Jr, Ted Heath, John Dankworth – the list goes on. Derek helped to shape the sounds of big bands for generations, such as the Kenny Wheeler Big Band for whom he played lead trumpet for over twenty years, defining the sound of Contemporary British Big Bands. Do take a look at his website, where you can find out more about Derek and the remarkable impact he has had on generations of musicians.
As a trumpet player myself, I can say with ease that he was my biggest hero, and I personally have been deeply saddened by the loss of this great player, as have the rest of the London City Big Band, as well as musicians across the world.
It would be mine and the London City Big Band’s proudest moment to have the Spice of Life packed with people on the 31st March. We hope to raise £500 for Derek and his charity. We would love nothing more than to see you there with friends and family. I appreciate that the 31st is Easter Sunday, however let us not forget, The Spice of Life also does a fantastic Sunday lunch which you, your family and friends can enjoy too!
Thank you very much, and I do hope to see you on Sunday 31st March, to help celebrate the life of the great British Trumpet player, Derek Watkins.”
Surely you can only get three notes out of a trumpet? Why did you go with that instrument?
Well that is a common misconception! The number of notes available on the trumpet does not correspond to the number of valves, or buttons, as I like to call them. There are seven combinations, each one lowering the pitch a semi-tone from the open note (no buttons) and the harmonic series is available on each valve. So to play a scale, you are in fact accessing a note from a different fundamental’s harmonic series. Hope that clears that one up! As far as your second question is concerned, I thought the teacher said ‘trombone’ when we were asked which instruments we wanted to play in primary school. You can imagine my surprise when I was handed a Bach 6c trumpet mouthpiece.
When and how did you know that your profession in life was to be a musician?
Well I can’t really do anything else, so it was the only option! I guess it was a gradual thing for me, I never really believed I would be good enough to do it. Step by step from getting in to the Junior Academy, then the senior course, doing NYJO, actually getting work whilst at college, and still being alive nearly four years after graduating. Then you start to realise you might just about be okay!
What’s the best thing you ever learnt whilst studying at RAM?
Ooh tricky! Martin Speake taught me not to apologise for my playing. Perhaps the most useful teaching was Pete Churchill‘s composition course, learning about voicings and harmony. Barak Schmool’s world rhythm classes are pretty amazing, and very applicable to a lot of music that you end up playing in the professional world. And of course the more enjoyable artistic projects. I think the best thing about college is that all that analysis and theory teaches you to think about every part of your playing, from sound and time to repertoire, stylistic things and your own approach. Being versatile but always sounding like yourself is the ultimate goal I think, as a freelancing jazz player.
What’s the best thing you’ve learnt since you’ve finished your studies?
In a professional sense, take every gig you can, turn up on time, be smart, and be really nice to everyone and you’ll get gigs! On a more musical level, and maybe this is something I need to address more, decide what you really want to be and go for it! It’s hard to work out whether you want to be the best at the thing you’re good at (say playing standards or fusion etc), or work on your weaknesses and become an all-round better player. It’s a tough one, the balance between making the music you love and paying your rent!
Tell us about the most bizarre gig you’ve ever played?
It was a concert at the Barbican theatre playing the music of Scott Walker (lead singer from the Walker Brothers). He writes incredible music, but the subject matter was very dark! There was a song about Mussolini, which involved the singer being hung upside down singing the song, whilst a man in a boxing outfit punched a dead pig that was suspended from the ceiling with a microphone in it, so the thuds were amplified through the theatre. The song I was in was called Flugel Man, and was about herpes!
Any Blue Flamingo memories which stick out?
Well there are too many to mention! The Kentucky trip was obviously an excellent experience, meeting some fantastic people, playing great music with my friends and discovering bourbon and stetson hats. Your [Leah] sister’s wedding was fun too!
Are you a coffee or tea man?
Depends. Coffee in the morning, tea in the afternoon, hot chocolate at night. So now you know what to buy me and when!
As usual, here’s the open floor. Anything you’d like to rant about? Arts cuts? Jazz? Beer? Plans for the weekend?
Have they cut arts? I thought it was always this bad. Yes we need more money, yes jazz is underfunded, no I don’t want to do my accounts, and I would love some theatres to put even just a bottle of water backstage for the band! Can’t think of anything else that particularly winds me up at the moment, apart from people who stop JUST at the top of an escalator.
Anything else you’d like us to know (gigs/bizarre hobbies/randomness?)
Gigs: Hmm, it’s my birthday on 12th December, and I’m playing at Ronnie Scott’s with the house big band, so come down after and buy me a hot chocolate!
Hobbies: include thumb twiddles, collecting loose change, buying vintage trumpet mutes, thinking of daft things to write on twitter, collecting quotes from footballers that make no sense, such as “there are people all over the country waiting to put custard in my eyes…” – Steve Evans, Crawley Town manager.
Randomness: All the animals that live in my back garden are themed on footballers, and Newcastle United. Even though I’m a Norwich fan. There’s Ruel (the) Fox, Mike Ashleigh (an actual magpie), Sir Bobby Robin and Squirrel Regis, and his two baby squirrels Shola and Sammy Ameobi.
Can I interview you next please? [Yes Fred, of course you can]
Freddie Gavita is a first class trumpeter and has degree in jazz from the Royal Academy of Music to prove it. Freddie is a favourite of the British Jazz Scene – playing with the Ronnie Scott’s Big Band and the John Dankworth Orchestra. We can’t wait to hear his own Big Band perform at the London Jazz Festival, and then he’s off on tour with superstars Empirical next year!
However, Freddie is just a boy from Norwich (we checked on a map. It’s in East England) and is…how should we put this? Very much into Norwich City Football team.
When we asked him what he was looking forward to in Kentucky, he responded ‘Trying not to eat chicken all day, hanging out with the band, meeting some new people, looking at some horses.’ We should also tell you, that Freddie’s dead pan face is so good, most people can’t tell if he’s joking or not. Classic British humour if you ask us.
Freddie has a collection of model vintage cars, a phobia of crumbs and all the meals he can cook involve minced beef. He also enjoys Xbox 360, football (there’s a surprise), and swimming.
Freddie’s deep jazz roots ground Blue Flamingo Jazz in British sounds. With soulful improvisation, a unique sense of humour and utmost professionalism, Freddie is a guy to look out for on stage!