Scott Hamilton makes a big noise at Small's, Brighton

While it's gratifying in the extreme to see the amount of attention that's starting to coalesce around the current crop of young British jazz players, the bedrock of the music shouldn't be overlooked. Across the country a network of small clubs, often run by volunteers on miniscule budgets, exist to maintain the verities that underpin whatever it is that jazz is becoming as it evolves into the 21st century. Such qualities as immaculate swing, effortless flow of creative language and a sincere and passionate reading of the standards repertoire may not inspire excited headlines, but they are at the heart of what it's all about and deserve to be nurtured.

Such a club is Small's in Brighton (not to be confused with the venerable NYC institution, and held at The Verdict jazz venue), run for the last eight years by the indefatigable Dennis Simpson. It's a friendly and relaxed affair, running fortnightly in season, but like many of the best things in life it operates within a strict set of limitations. No-one uses amplification, not even the guitarists or bass players. The headline performers are drawn from an international pool of mainstream talent, adhering to the classic values of Golden Age jazz: Ken Peplowski, Matthias Seuffert, Rico Tomasso or Jo Fooks might be found leading the band, though you might also come across Alex Garnett or Freddie Gavita taking it back to the tradition, while the likes of Steve Brown, Craig Milverton and Charlie Watts' old schoolfriend Dave Green regularly appear in the supporting cast.


Tonight it's the doyen of traditionalists, Scott Hamilton, playing to a packed room of appreciative connoisseurs. He cuts a picture of rumpled elegance, all silver hair and fine patrician profile. His tone is full, burnished and pure, his timing immaculate. His fund of perfectly turned phrases seemingly inexhaustible, whether on the classic easy lope of 'The More I See You', the boppish minor key swagger of Carl Perkin's 'Grooveyard', or the spacious, achingly sincere 'What's New', the writer Bob Haggart was a personal friend.

Despite the lack of any amplification, his big tone fills the room, and there's a perfect aural blend that shows the eminently simpatico Small's House Band to fine advantage. There are outstanding solo moments from Mark Edwards on the piano and Steve Brown on drums, but really it's all about the empathetic support they create, together with Steve Thompson on bass, allowing the leader to blow at will, pause, then blow some more, without any lessening of the cogency of his creative flow.

Benny Golson's 'Sock Cha Cha' gives an indication that the players are perfectly capable of ranging further afield in search of repertoire, but choose to set their own limits. Self-restraint may be said to define the gentleman, but there's no ignoring the emotional sincerity evident in every note, illustrating how this music still has much to say, even if it isn't shouting loud.

– Eddie Myer

– Photos by David Forman

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