Sometimes in music, a performance captures the moment. Once such event was the appearance on the jamming stage at 1am Monday 9th March in Bristol, when Lillian Boutté duetted with Pee Wee Ellis, to reprise their Louis Armstrong show rendition of It’s a Wonderful World. Jazz can be the most international of music genres.
Over 50 years ago, Whitney Balliett, the American Jazz Critic, reported on the First International Jazz Festival, in Washington USA*. As in Bristol this year, albeit on a grander scale, that Festival sought to spread the appeal of jazz to a wider public. Back in ’62 there were performances for young audiences, a brass band from New Orleans, dancers, swing bands, the most popular jazz singer of the previous decade, Dinah Washington, and some good old fashioned blues from Howlin’ Wolf. Anyone would have thought that the Bristol Artistic Director, Denny Ilett, was producing back in the day.
What Balliet did not like about the Washington Festival was the lack of enough “good journeyman jazz.” For him, in the capital of the USA, that meant absences of the likes of Hawkins, Mingus, Teagarden, Coleman and Taylor (although any line up which included Monk, Webster, Peterson, Rollins and Ellington was hardy that ropey). Some visitors to the Colston Hall raised similar questions about whether there was enough pure jazz on the Bristol show list this year but, perhaps with the bar slightly lower compared to the heart of America, the local so-called journeymen were in good supply, and for many who passed through our exhibition it was them who made the Festival such a roaring success.
Whilst not the only city outside of London with a thriving jazz scene, Bristol does seem to be going from strength to strength. Ilett, Ellis and Andy Sheppard are at the heart of this when it comes to the now annual festival but, as with any urban centre, it is the week in week out shows that draw in the public and grow local talent, at the likes of the Old Duke, Bebop Club, Hen & Chicken and Future Inn.
From a Sinclair Jazz perspective, Andy Sheppard deserves special thanks for his solo performance to open our exhibition ahead of the Festival. As well as his main weekend performance with Michel Benita, Eivind Aarset and Michele Rabbia, Andy also packed out the Foyer with the Pushy Doctors for a free show. But so did many others, with local acts led by Andy Hague, Kevin Figes and Andy Nowak, amongst others, all being well received, and James Morton’s The Rawness and Katya Gorrie getting the greatest post performance plaudits from our exhibition visitors. Dr John, Evan Christopher and Pee Wee Ellis got the most mentions of the main acts. Seeing the likes of Gary Crosby and Nathaniel Facey popping into the late night jam sessions with numerous local young players just added to the mix.
Setting up to open the exhibition
Sure Bristol is not yet at Cheltenham or Gateshead standards. But the city plans to twin with New Orleans, and with the irrepressible Lillian Boutté championing their joint future, International Jazz & Blues Festival collaboration looks to be on the up and up.
PS to all I met at the Festival, musicians, photographers, jazz fans and potential collectors, thanks for your kind words and encouragement. After the glowing feedback on so many of the photographs, we will be exhibiting more and developing the new website as the centre of what we do. Oscar Peterson was the first to leave the wall, Pee Wee Ellis not far behind. Andy Sheppard and Amy Winehouse the most generally popular pictures, with hardcore jazz fans particularly liking the individual shots of Elvin Jones, Freddie Hubbard, and McCoy Tyner, and the group shots of the Kenny Wheeler Quintet and the Jason Moran Trio.
Malcolm Sinclair March 2015
* Whitney Balliett (2001), A Journal of Jazz 1954-2000, Granta, London
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