Currently celebrating their 50th anniversary as a major music venue, the Fairfield Halls, Croydon, last Friday played host to BBC Radio 3’s Jazz Line-Up and Radio 2’s Big Band Special with a special concert featuring the BBC Big Band performing music associated with the many great big bands that have appeared there in the past half-century, ranging from Harry James, Duke Ellington and Woody Herman to Buddy Rich and Maynard Ferguson.
The opener, Bill Holman’s brilliant and witty arrangement of ‘Happy Birthday’, written for the Stan Kenton Band, marked the occasion with a reminder that Kenton’s Mellophonium Orchestra performed there in 1963. In its ranks was a talented young trombonist from Cleveland, Ohio, Jiggs Whigham, who shared with the audience his amazement that he was now directing the BBC Big Band on the same platform 49 years later.
Two more charts from Holman’s pen followed, ‘Limehouse Blues’ – an up-tempo, hard-swinging showcase for altoist Sammy Mayne - and ‘Polka Dots and Moonbeams’ – interpreted with elegance and sensitivity by Jiggs Whigham who dedicated it to the memory of fellow Kenton trombone alumnus, Carl Fontana, for whom it was originally written. In 1980 Whigham was to perform again at the Fairfield Halls, this time with the Bert Kaempfert Orchestra. Its rollicking version of the Nat King Cole hit ‘L-O-V-E’ by the great British arranger Steve Gray allowed BBC Big Band’s trombonist Andy Wood some well deserved solo space and spotlighted the BBC Big Band’s saxophone section – Graham Blevins, Martin Williams, Paul Jones and Claire McInerney – in an exhilarating but challenging tutti section, which they romped through with no visible sign of strain.
When the Count Basie Orchestra visited the Fairfield Halls in 1963, two great singers augmented it: Jimmy Rushing and Sarah Vaughan. The MC for the evening, Clare Teal, stepped into the spotlight to sing ‘Lover Man’, one of Ms Vaughan’s songs at that concert, and Duke Ellington’s ‘I’m Gonna Go Fishin’’, co-written with Peggy Lee. The trumpet section – Andy Greenwood, Nathan Bray, Craig Wild, Stewart Brooks and Martin Shaw – excelled on Harry James’ ‘Trumpet Blues and Cantabile’ while Greenwood and Shaw contributed several fine solos during the evening.
Other highlights included Duke Ellington’s ‘Rockin’ in Rhythm’, Woody Herman’s ‘Hallelujah Time’ featuring the twin tenors of Graham Blevins and Martin Williams and the concert finished with the classic West Side Story Medley of the Buddy Rich Band. Underpinning the enterprise throughout was the tight, hard swinging rhythm section of pianist Robin Aspland, guitarist Chris Allard, bassist Sam Burgess, drummer Sebastian de Krom and Anthony Kerr on vibraphone and percussion, keeping the fire burning under this great big band all night.
You can hear music performed by the BBC Big Band at this concert, on Big Band Special on Radio 2 on Monday 5 November and on Monday 12 November, both at 9:30pm.
Both before and after the BBC Big Band concert, Radio 3’s Jazz Line-Up presented the Alan Barnes Quartet (pictured above),on stage in the foyer of the Fairfield Halls, performing Alan’s personal selection of music associated with jazz artists who had appeared there, including Art Pepper’s ‘Straight Life’, Dave Brubeck’s ‘In Your Own Sweet Way’ and Gerry Mulligan’s ‘Line For Lyons’. This music will be featured on BBC Radio 3’s Jazz Line-Up on Sunday 4 November at 11pm.
On Wednesday 14 November members of the BBC Big Band will perform at the Graham Collier Memorial Concert at BBC Maida Vale Studios alongside members of the late jazz composer Graham Collier’s bands, including Geoff Warren, Art Themen, Steve Waterman, Roger Dean, Ed Speight, Roy Babbington and John Marshall. This concert is presented by BBC Radio 3 in association with the London Jazz Festival.
– Charles Alexander