Ronnie Scott's - Street Of Dreams

On 30 October Ronnie Scott’s is fifty years old, a remarkable feat for a jazz club set deep in the heart of a great, throbbing, constantly changing, capital city. Since 1959 when the club opened its doors for the first time in a tiny basement in Gerrard Street, Chinatown before moving six years later to bigger premises in Soho, the world has come to Ronnie Scott’s and kept on coming back. While Ronnie himself died in 1996, Pete King, the constant presence by his side and heart and soul of the club faced up to the responsibility of running the club until his retirement, eventually handing over the torch to the current keeper of the flame, Sally Greene, who embarked on a new phase with a major refurbishment three years ago. To mark the milestone, Jack Massarik remembers the good, the bad and even the ugly times, on Gerrard Street and Frith Street, and celebrates an institution musicians and fans can call their very own.

To run a jazz club, indeed any stable enterprise, for half a century is something to marvel at. Governments topple by the dozen in that time. Countries change names and even populations. Certainly Britain has changed immensely in the last 50 years. Back in October 1959, when the Queen’s head was not yet on banknotes, London had no supermarkets or fast-food chains. Bombsites, used as car parks, still reminded people of the war that would keep Britain in debt for decades. But that year a £500 runabout, the Mini, was launched in Birmingham and Britain’s first short stretch of motorway opened. The Prime Minister, Harold Macmillan, told voters they’d never had it so good and they believed him. In October his Tory party was re-elected with an increased majority. That month Eamon de Valera also became the Irish president, singer Mario Lanza and film actor Erroll Flynn died and the Soviet spaceprobe Luna 3 sent back the first pictures of the far side of the moon. Bobby Darin, giving his Sinatra impression on ‘Mack the Knife’, was top of the pops. Sarah Ferguson, Duchess of York, TV pundit Simon Cowell, bluesman Kelly Joe Phelps, singers Kirsty MacColl, Youssou N’Dour and Marie Osmond all drew their first breath. Nottingham Forest held the FA Cup and Burnley (an omen?) were reigning league champions. A Chicago publisher named Hugh Hefner opened his first Playboy Club, and in a small basement in Soho’s Chinatown, two jobbing saxophonists, Ronnie Scott and Pete King opened a jazz club. They called it Ronnie Scott’s.

This is an extract from Jazzwise Issue #135 – to read the full article click here to subscribe and receive a FREE Blue Note CD

Keith Jarrett - Down But Not Out In Paris And London

Towards the end of last year and without much notice Keith Jarrett announced that he would perform two solo concerts in Paris and London. They were very special appearances charged with heightened emotion and both were recorded and have now been released less than a year on, in a special three-CD package. What audiences in France and England had no means of knowing at the time was that Jarrett was going through a personal crisis in his life and these concerts took place amid considerable turmoil for the great pianist following the break-up of his marriage. They also came less than 18 months after the huge controversy that surrounded his outburst at a concert at the Umbria Jazz Festival in Italy which caused considerable offence at the time. In a remarkable interview Jarrett bares his soul to Stuart Nicholson.

At 64 years of age, Keith Jarrett has embarked on journey of self discovery. But he didn’t exactly plan it that way. After a series of solo concerts in Japan in 2008 which, in his own words, “Seemed to hit a technical high-note in the history of my solo events,” he admits he wasn’t sure what might happen next. He didn’t have to wait long to find out. His wife of 30 years, Rose Anne, left him for, “the third time in four years.” Divorce proceedings are currently underway.

It had a profound effect on Jarrett. “A lot of people thought I would fold into a little ball,” he says. “There was such a team thing going on with Rose Anne and me and it was pretty hard to imagine not being with each other, so that was a crisis, it still is.” By his own admission he “scrambled to stay alive.” His manager, Steve Cloud managed to book two solo concerts, one on 26 November 2008 in Paris and another on 1 December in London at short notice.

 
This is an extract from Jazzwise Issue #135 – to read the full article click here to subscribe and receive a FREE Blue Note CD 

Empirical - Take It Out

Empirical burst out of the gate just two years ago when out of nowhere and featuring a group of complete unknowns, their debut album won the coveted title of Jazzwise album of the year and a clutch of other awards. Gaining respect in America following some successful early appearances and with a tide of word of mouth approval the world was Empirical’s oyster. But with high profile departures last year and fears at one stage that the group would simply implode, success could have been the ruin of Empirical. However, the reverse has proved to be the case and this month the group releases its second album. A carefully measured tribute to Eric Dolphy which sees Empirical extend the very concepts and musical motives that started the band in the first place. Kevin Le Gendre picks up where Empirical last left off and with them goes out to lunch.

Opening up for the Branford Marsalis Quartet at the Bath Music Festival earlier this year, A group that had until Jeff “Tain” Watts’ recent departure been together for over a decade, was the young British ensemble Empirical. They struck an immediate and obvious contrast given the fluctuations that they have had in their line-up during their relatively short existence. Within the past year pianist Kit Downes and trumpeter Jay Phelps have departed to be replaced by George Fogel and Freddy Gravita respectively, two young, largely unknown but impressive quantities. Double bassist Tom Farmer came on board as Neil Charles exited in 2007 after the debut album was recorded, leaving alto saxophonist Nathaniel Facey and drummer Shane Forbes as the two constants in the outfit, their presence reaching right back to its genesis a year prior to that.

There is an argument that says that Empirical might possibly have benefited from a lack of reshuffles, the stability of the Marsalis unit being one of the key tenets of jazz, namely that a band can achieve a great deal creatively by way of the advanced understanding between members that may arise from long hours logged in the studio and on the road. Perhaps the contemporary jazz industry doesn’t favour this scenario.

This is an extract from Jazzwise Issue #135 – to read the full article click here to subscribe and receive a FREE Blue Note CD 

 

Omar Puente - Motherland Pulse

Omar Puente is a fighter. He has had to be as a violinist and jazz musician, best known for his extensive work with Courtney Pine, relocating from Cuba to Bradford and finding his own artistic path on the creative jazz and latin circuit in the UK. On his debut From There To Here he draws together all the strands of his ideas so far, from charanga to the furthest possibilities of jazz violin. He has also had to fight hard to support his wife Debbie Purdy, who suffers from multiple sclerosis, as her high profile case went to the Law Lords for clarification on the rights of the partners of those seeking self-administered euthanasia abroad following terminal illness.

Kevin Le Gendre talks to Omar a week before the Law Lords ruled in Purdy’s favour. References to Africa abound in the jazz canon. Some reach a long way back. Whether he had edged through Sandaga market or trekked to Touba, Clarence Williams hailed a Senegalese Stomp in 1927 and others, from sainted John Coltrane to his blessed protégés Pharoah Sanders and Archie Shepp, would also write epistles to the continent and its many countries in the years that followed, perhaps with Langston Hughes’ words ringing in their ears. He who “raised the pyramids above the Nile”.

One might also mention dozens of majestic compositions by Randy Weston that pay tribute to a continent whose resources human and cultural have decisively shaped the New World. The pianist has had a direct engagement with terra firma, the soil itself, having spent several years living in both Morocco and Nigeria. For Cuban violinist Omar Puente a similar emotional and creative spark was lit when he visited the latter country a few years ago. This, in turn, inspired his composition ‘Motherland Pulse’.

This is an extract from Jazzwise Issue #134 – to read the full article click here to subscribe and receive a FREE Blue Note CD


Claire Martin - The Things I Miss The Most

Claire Martin follows on from her Shirley Horn-inspired album from two years ago with A Modern Art featuring songs by Rodgers and Hart, and Cy Coleman which sees her build ever more strongly on her reputation as a classic jazz singer steeped in the traditions of Ella Fitzgerald, Sarah Vaughan and Carmen McRae. Yet Martin also includes recent songs by Donald Fagen, Michael Franks and the late Esbjörn Svensson. She speaks with candour and looks back with a measured eye as she talks to Stuart Nicholson about her career so far and pulls no punches

“It’s a bloody hard way to make a living, but I love it,” says vocalist Claire Martin. With jazz an endangered species on television, radio and in the mainstream media, few would disagree with her. “There’s this whole thing about celebrity culture, sad reality shows like the X-Factor and dumbing down,” she says in an exasperated tone you don’t want to argue with. “I had all this going on in my head and all those people that seemed to be at every gig except jazz gigs, and I was just thinking, well I’m sorry. I’ve just got to stand up and be counted.”

The result was her very own protest song ‘A Modern Art’ aimed fairly and squarely at celebrity culture and the dumbing down of standards in popular music. It’s also the title track of her latest album, which she firmly believes is her best yet. “As the lyrics say ‘we’re trying to get the music heard’ and yes, we are trying, we just need a few more doors to open and people will go ‘jazz is great, it’s terrific’,” she says. There are few more passionate advocates for jazz than this fortysomething from east London. Since The Waiting Game from 1992, her critically acclaimed debut album, her star has been in steady ascendance, and on her new album Claire Martin does more than stand up and be counted, she emerges as a world class artist.

This is an extract from Jazzwise Issue #134 – to read the full article click here to subscribe and receive a FREE Blue Note CD

 

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