KennyWheelerMemorial MG 5184

The great and the good of the metropolitan jazz community came out in their droves to pay a final tribute to Kenny Wheeler on a bright October day at St James’s Church, Sussex Gardens in London, at one in their admiration for this hero of the music. Organiser Nick Smart had assembled a stellar cast, all of whom were happy to donate their services, the result a feast of music for ensembles large and small, in a setting whose magnificence fully matched the scale of the occasion. Of course, there were prayers and readings, but there were anecdotes and memories too.

Stan Sulzmann spoke of the essential humanity in Ken’s writing and his melodic flair while happily recalling his amusement at Kenny’s otherworldly persona, emphasising his modesty, his reticence and his self-effacement. “I knew Ken and yet I didn’t know him,” Stan mused.

Four hours of practice daily and then the rest of the day devoted to composition seems to have been Kenny’s norm. Meanwhile his devoted wife Doreen [too unwell to be present] kept the domestic ship afloat, Evan Parker describing how he suggested to Kenny he make a cup of tea when Doreen was unwell and watching Kenny floundering around the kitchen. “Doreen makes the tea”, Kenny explained.

KennyWheelerMemorial MG 5226

Trombonist Dave Horler spoke about their friendship, remembering trombone-piano duets at Kenny’s Leytonstone home, where Kenny turned the tables and they became piano-trumpet exchanges. John Taylor’s comments brimmed with emotion as he emphasised how much Kenny had inspired him. “He set himself the highest possible standards in the quietest way,” John reflected.

KennyWheelerMemorial MG 5251

But above all, there was Kenny’s music. From a sublime opening trumpet chorale through to the richly contoured big band pieces with Norma Winstone’s (above centre) vocal line soaring on top and on to a brass ensemble, followed by Norma’s quartet, a sextet piece and finally the great sweep of the London Vocal Project (above), master-minded by Pete Churchill, proper honour to its scope and range was done. Memories cherished and renewed, admiration expressed, every player at their heartfelt best, and too numerous to credit here. The last word? To Kenny himself, his trumpet echoing like a clarion call through this wonderful space on his recording ‘Solo One’. Timeless and eloquent, that’s Kenny’s music in a nutshell.

Peter Vacher

– Photos by Roger Thomas

Original trad-jazz entertainer, clarinettist Acker Bilk, best known for his best-selling instrumental ‘Stranger On The Shore’, has died aged 85 after a long illness. A key figure in the trad jazz boom of the 1950s and 1960s and known for his trademark goatee, waistcoats and bowler hat, he learned how to play clarinet in the army – his Acker moniker taken from the Somerset slang for ‘mate’.

Taking up the clarinet while doing National Service in Egypt he formed a band called the Egyptian Stompers, and continued on his return, playing with a local Bristol band the Chew Valley Stompers. Heading to London and working with Ken Colyer, Bilk decided the city wasn’t for him and he returned home to Somerset and formed the first incarnation of his Paramount Jazz Band.

His signature tune came about after Bilk composed a piece for his daughter after she was born, entitled ‘Jenny’, soon after which he was approached by a British television company who wanted to use it – renaming the piece ‘Stranger On The Shore’. It went on to become the title of an album and a single that stayed in the British charts for 55 weeks. The tune went to Number One on both the UK and US Billboard Hot 100 charts going on to sell over a million copies.

Bilk went on to tour and perform with Paramount Jazz Band and as a featured artist alongside other stars from the Trad scene in the 1960s including George Melly, Diz Disley, Chris Barber, Kenny Ball, Ken Colyer, Mick Mulligan and many others. He enjoyed further success in the US while his other hits included ‘Summer Set’, ‘Buona Sera’ and ‘Evergreen’. He continued playing up until last year and his last live performance was at Brecon Jazz Festival in 2013 – he is survived by his wife Jean, daughter Jenny and son Pete.

– Mike Flynn
– Photo by Tim Dickeson

Although the narrative of the meteoric rise of Gregory Porter from the basement jazz club of Soho’s Pizza Express Jazz Club to the gilded institution that is the Royal Albert Hall in the space of just four years is somewhat irresistible there is a bigger, more important story that needs to be told. It is that of the decade’s worth of tireless graft in off-Broadway musical theatre, and, perhaps more importantly, the childhood spent soaking up both his mother’s sermons and praise songs in a church in Bakersfield, California. So when the singer enters the stage to rapturous applause his great sense of authority can be said to have roots that run deeper than that sensational recent success.

No clearer sign of the impact Porter has made on UK fans is the recognition that greets the introductions of material taken from his three albums cut between 2009 and 2013, Water, Be Good and Liquid Spirit, and chief among the ‘hits’ is ‘1960 What?’, whose electrifying gospel backbeat potently reinforces its urgent, if not angry call for justice for victims of political assassination and police brutality alike.

A superb transatlantic band has original Porter collaborators, pianist Chip Crawford and alto saxophonist Yoske Sato, marshalling a three-piece rhythm section and 4-piece horn ensemble respectively, the latter bolstered by the presence of British tenor titan Jean Toussaint who might well be Wayne Shorter to Sato’s Jackie McClean given the sharp contrast in their improvisations.

Indeed there are moments when the combination of the hard bop strain of the arrangements and the gospel-fired soul of Porter’s voice suggests a virtual union of Art Blakey and Donny Hathaway.

Therein lies a huge part of Porter’s appeal and an explanation of the balance he has stuck between credibility and accessibility. ‘On My Way To Harlem’, ‘Real Good Hands’ and ‘Hey Laura’ exude both the joy and romanticism that have the possé of middle aged bleached blond ladies in the row behind me singing to their heart’s content, yet at the same time there is a rapt concentration in the auditorium when the horn players push their solos, none more so than Sato, to daring technical heights.

As much as the evening is defined by the dual force of singer and band, there is no doubt that Porter’s baritone, with its ocean deep low register and laser beam precision in the high, is the star of the show. When he audaciously stands several feet from the mike to sing an a capella prelude of ‘Worksong’, he can be heard with the utmost clarity, and the dramatic effect of the gesture as well as the sonic feat of an unamplified voice filling such a big space proves to be the ultimate cameraphone moment of the evening. Then again word of mouth, so instrumental in Porter’s rise to fame, remains a key form of social media, especially for one who believes the blues, in the image of a heartbroken guy ‘sitting on his own on a barstool’, is still the greatest story ever told. There are many who appear to share his point of view.

– Kevin Le Gendre        

A Who’s Who of British jazz musicians are set to pay a heartfelt and exceptionally musical tribute to revered expat Canadian trumpeter and composer Kenny Wheeler who died on 18 September, at a Memorial Service that will be held this Friday 31 October at 2.30pm at St James's Church, Sussex Gardens, Paddington, London W2 3UD. It will be open to the public although the church only has capacity for 400 people so space will be limited inside.

It’s testimony to Wheeler’s influence and the respect in which he is held by multiple generations of British jazz musicians that so many are performing in tribute to him, choosing to play a wide variety of his compositions. The order of service has been organised by Nick Smart (who is Head of Jazz at the Royal Academy of Music) and has stated: "The music will be interspersed with speakers; as well as the vicar there are a few old friends and colleagues of Kenny's, all distinguished musicians, as you can imagine."

Order of Service is as follows


Entrance Music – Trumpet Quartet Movement 1 & 2
Tom Rees-Roberts – trumpet
Reuben Fowler – trumpet
Robbie Robson – trumpet
Yazz Ahmed– trumpet

Big Band – Opening of ‘Sweet Time Suite’
Saxophones – Ray Warleigh, Duncan Lamont, Stan Sulzmann,
Evan Parker, Julian Argüelles
Trumpets – John Barclay, Noel Langley, Richard Iles, Nick Smart
Trombones – Dave Horler, Mark Nightingale, Barnaby Dickinson
Bass Trombone – Sarah Williams
Piano– Gwilym Simcock     Guitar – John Parricelli
Bass – Chris Laurence     Drums – John Marshall
Voice – Norma Winstone       Flugel – Henry Lowther
Conductor – Pete Churchill

Big Band – Enowena
Saxophones – Ray Warleigh, Duncan Lamont, Stan Sulzmann,
Evan Parker, Julian Argüelles
Trumpets – John Barclay, Noel Langley, Richard Iles, Nick Smart
Trombones – Dave Horler, Mark Nightingale, Barnaby Dickinson
Bass Trombone – Sarah WIlliams
Piano – Gwilym Simcock     Guitar – John Parricelli
Bass – Chris Laurence     Drums – Martin France
Voice – Norma Winstone       Flugel – Henry Lowther
Conductor – Pete Churchill

Brass Ensemble – Opening movement of ‘Long time ago Suite’
Trumpets – John Barclay, Noel Langley, Tom Rees-Roberts, Reuben Fowler
Trombones – Dave Horler, Mark Nightingale, Barnaby Dickinson
Bass Trombone – Sarah Williams
Piano– John Taylor     Guitar – John Parricelli
Flugel – Henry Lowther
Conductor – Nick Smart

Quartet – Vital Spark
Norma Winstone – voice
Glauco Venier – piano
Jim Vivian – bass                 
Klaus Gesing – soprano saxophone

Sextet – Mark Time
Saxophones – Stan Sulzmann and Evan Parker
Piano John Taylor         Guitar John Parricelli
Bass – Chris Laurence       Drums – Martin France

Big Band – Canter No 1/Old Ballad
Saxophones – Ray Warleigh, Duncan Lamont, Stan Sulzmann,
Evan Parker, Julian Argüelles
Trumpets – John Barclay, Noel Langley, Richard Iles, Nick Smart
Trombones – Dave Horler, Mark Nightingale, Barnaby Dickinson
Bass Trombone – Sarah WIlliams
Piano– Gwilym Simcock     Guitar – John Parricelli
Bass – Chris Laurence     Drums – John Hollenbeck
Voice – Norma Winstone       Flugel – Henry Lowther
Conductor – Pete Churchill

London Vocal Project – 'Breughel' from Mirrors Suite
Choir – London Vocal Project
Voice – Norma Winstone     Saxophone – Mark Lockheart
Piano– Nikki Iles     Guitar – John Parricelli
Bass – Steve Watts     Drums – John Hollenbeck
Director – Pete Churchill

 

– Mike Flynn

– Photo by Tim Dickeson

 

Jazzwise can exclusively announce that Troyka, the progressive jazz Hammond/keys/guitar/drums trio of Kit Downes, Chris Montague and Joshua Blackmore, are set to make a dramatic return with their fourth album, Ornithophobia, which will be released on 26 January on the Naim Label, followed by an extensive UK tour throughout February.

Joining the label’s roster that also includes Neil Cowley Trio, Sons Of Kemet, Empirical and Get The Blessing, the new album came together over a two-year period with most of the recording done at Eton College, where guitarist Montague teaches, with the producing duties taken care of by Swedish bassist Petter Eldh, who’s known for his work with Django Bates Belov
èd Bird Trio.

In contrast to their Parliamentary Jazz Award winning Troyk-estra big band album Live At Cheltenham Jazz Festival 2013, Ornithophobia features the trio creating an imaginative multi-layered sound-world inspired by the idea of a fictionalised post-apocalyptic London under attack from an avian flu that’s turning people into human-sized birds – with the title based on Montague’s genuine fear of birds. This sci-fi comic theme is taken to its logical conclusion with the album coming complete with its own comic. Early listens suggest it’s the band’s most ambitious and fully realised album to date that dives into beat-fuelled Flying Lotus-style jazztronica – listen to some samples of the music on our exclusive soundcloud stream below.

The band follow the release of the album with an extensive UK tour at the following venues: Leeds College of Music, Leeds (9 Feb); North Devon Theatre, Barnstable (10 Feb); The Stables, Milton Keynes (11 Feb); Rich Mix, London (12 Feb); RWCMD, Cardiff (13 Feb); RNCM, Manchester (20 Feb); MAC, Birmingham (25 Feb); Capstone Theatre, Liverpool (27 Feb); Morecambe Hothouse, Morecambe (28 Feb); Sheffield Student’s Union, Sheffield (12 Mar); Moving On Music, Belfast (26 Mar); and Spin Jazz at the Wheatsheaf, Oxford (2 Apr).

– Mike Flynn

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