Gemma has published book reviews, blogs, news stories, live gig reviews and photographs, often working within a niche specialism of jazz journalism, and is also an adept editor, proofreader and publisher. Her work has been published by Jazzwise magazine, Serious, and other publications. She charges fair and appropriate rates for her work.
Breaking Free from OCD: My Self-Directed Journey (breakingfreefromchronicocd.blogspot.co.uk)
A blog launched in January 2016, which documents Gemma's fight to overcome OCD.
Gemma Boyd: Busking - My Story (buskingmystory.blogspot.co.uk)
A popular ongoing blog written by Gemma about her experiences and encounters as a busker on the London Underground and in Paris.
Grand Bal Swing: The Esprit Jazz Big Band swing the Irish Cultural Centre, Paris - 31 May 2015
On their arrival at the Irish Cultural Centre in Paris for the penultimate afternoon of the Saint-Germain-des-Prés Jazz Festival 2015, every attendee sported a wide smile: In the courtyard of this unique venue playing host to 'Grand Bal Swing' for the third year running, palpable excitement was mounting for the swing jazz extravaganza that was to come.
The Esprit Jazz Big Band comprises 13 musicians: Director, Jean-Pierre Solvès on saxophone and flute; Joël Chausse, Tony Russo and Yves Le Carboulec on trumpets; Jean-Christophe Vilain, Jean-Louis Damant and Damien Verhervé on trombones; Roland Seihes and François Chambert on saxophones and flutes; Stéphane Chausse on saxophone and clarinet; Claude Terranova on piano; Marc-Michel Le Bévillon on double bass, and François Laudet on drums.
They were joined by French crooner Marc Thomas and Irish guest, Peter Browne on accordion for a slick gambol through jazz standards from the 1930s and 40s made famous by the American orchestras of Count Basie, Duke Ellington and Glenn Miller.
From the dramatic opening bars of 'Sweet Georgia Brown', it was obvious that we were in the presence of a superlatively tight big band: There existed an easy rapport between big band specialist drummer, Laudet and Le Bévillon, who kissed the scroll of his double bass in a show of sheer exuberance.
George and Ira Gershwin's 'I Got Rhythm' featured Vilain's solo trombone melody above a slidey sea of brass accompaniment and Le Bévillon's solid walking bass. These contrasted pleasingly with Solvès's more twittery baritone saxophone solo and Terranova's Count Basie-style riff on a single note.
A regular performer in the jazz caves of Paris, Marc Thomas's voice sounded like a cross between Frank Sinatra and Louis Armstrong on favourites such as 'Mack the Knife' and 'You Make Me Feel So Young'. He got everyone clapping during 'All Of Me', and the floor began to fill with costumed dancers spanning the generations doing the Lindy Hop, in spite of the rain.
'Caravan' was an arrangement packed with humour and grace, with its quirky discordant close harmony supported by syncopated stabs by Solvès on the baritone saxophone that were then taken up by the double bass.
Peter Browne made an all too brief appearance. Originally from Dublin, he has toured the world working with top musicians. The sweet sound of his accordion combined well with the harsher tone of the saxophones and added an 'Edith Piaf era' Parisian flavour to 'Take the 'A' Train' - the signature tune of the Duke Ellington Orchestra. After the interval, he and the band played a traditional Irish folk song, which provided a refreshing twist.
By the Glenn Miller hit, 'In The Mood' encore - following more classics from the inexhaustible band and singer, Thomas, the dance floor was teeming, new friends, and great memories were being made.
Curtis Stigers Swinging and Sublime at Ronnie Scott's - 14 December 2014
At the pulsating core of beautiful Ronnie's stood slick Curtis Stigers intoning his moving tribute to American jazz pianist, Gene Harris, entitled 'Swingin' Down at Tenth & Main': The packed crowd behind rows of beacon-like red lamps were his wings, tipped with the photographed presence of others of jazz's glitterati who have graced this stage.
As a youngster, distinctive vocalist, saxophonist and songwriter Stigers attended jam sessions led by Harris at the Idanha Hotel in his home town of Boise, Idaho and it was here he developed a passion for jazz that has remained with him throughout a 23-year career as an Emmy-nominated and platinum-selling soul and rock artist and since 2001, an award-winning jazz singer.
If tonight's fabulous gig was anything to go by, it was this inspirational grounding in jazz that has ensured his informed and intelligent transition from rock to jazz star. Joining him for two sets which showcased many of the tracks from his latest album, Hooray for Love released in April 2014, plus unexpected numbers such as John Lennon's 'Jealous Guy', were his top-notch touring band, Matthew Fries on piano, Cliff Schmitt on double bass, Paul Wells on drums and James Scholfield on guitar.
All of them were on smokin' form: Stigers' tenor saxophone growled played up close to the mic on opener, 'I'll Be Home' by Randy Newman, during which Fries and Scholfield immediately got deep down on piano and guitar. Pleasing to the ear was Wells' execution of the 'Pionciana Beat'; a quasi-rhumba beat invented in the 1950s by American drum legend, Vernel Fournier, in accompaniment to 'Have Yourself A Merry Little Christmas'.
Superlative use was made of dynamics throughout with some dramatic fade-outs, and Schmitt's melodious, quiet sections during his double bass solos demanded a closer listen, varying the overall musical texture of the highly charged show.
Stigers wittily described his pop record from 1992, 'You're All That Matters To Me' as being "from the late 1800s; one of Prince Albert's favourites." It was performed with a contemporary twist, however, with Stigers beatboxing convincingly over the introduction. The rocky middle section was felt sensitively by all, punctuated by Fries' neat staccato stops on piano and Wells' delicate work on cymbals.
Scholfield's compelling guitar playing was by turns exceptionally gentle, for example his rhythm guitar on standard, 'Love Is Here To Stay' and red-bloodied: On 'My Babe' by Chicago blues man, Willie Dixon, the audience went wild for his blues guitar solo. Here also, Stigers and Schmitt were unknowingly swaying together in unison as if they were cut from the same cloth.
Stigers totally inhabited the song, 'Valentine's Day' by Steve Earle; his slidey vocal inflections here lent believability to the pathos of the lyrics, indeed following his tender rendering of Jerome Kern and Dorothy Fields' 'The Way You Look Tonight', he said that great songs are "the kind you get lost in."
A consummate artist, Stigers elegantly brings to his work an amalgamation of everything he has learnt from his musical heroes and from working within the genres of jazz, rock and pop to create something original, which along with his own fine modern jazz standards such as 'Hooray for Love', propel his music beyond 'interesting' to the echelons of the sublime.
Georgina Jackson Quartet Take Requests at 606 Club - 28 September 2014
Fresh back from guesting with the BBC Big Band at the Lockerbie Jazz Festival on 26 September, Wigan-born jazz singer and trumpet player, Georgina Jackson, exuded a warm, down-to-earth stage presence as she spoke of her obsession with the Great American Songbook, from whence she'd selected the majority of the numbers for this Sunday lunchtime set.
Dave Chamberlain on bass, Matt Skelton on drums and Matt Regan on piano joined Jackson and her sonorous vocals on bouncy opener, 'I Can't Give You Anything But Love', after which she invited song requests from the audience, reminding us that this gig would be "a one-off thing: The music is never going to be played in the same way again."
Next up came a song Jackson described wittily as "a fusion of jazz and nagging", entitled, 'Why Don't You Do Right' from her 2013 album, Peggy, Duke & Benny - Georgina Jackson and the Peter Long Quintet. It featured the fluidity of Regan's discordant phrasing on piano, which lent to this standard a welcome piquancy. Chamberlain's clean, long-tone pizzicato sound à la Duke Ellington double bassist, Jimmy Blanton, worked well on bossa nova, 'Change Partners'; the title track off Jackson's 2012 album, Watch What Happens.
Unfortunately, sometimes the drums and tinny upright electric bass were slightly out of sync, and Skelton's monotone hitting of the cymbals with sticks, too 'big band' in style for such an intimate venue. Jackson's zesty vibrato on trumpet during Bunny Berigan classic, 'I Can't Get Started', however, demonstrated exactly why she is a characterful force to be reckoned with in her fronting of large ensemble groups.
The introduction to 'Sweet Georgia Brown' was rhythmically most unusual and interesting, with Jackson singing in tempo rubato accompanied by Skelton's subtler drumming with mallets, and Eydie Gormé's 'I'll Take Romance' was performed with more energy, driven by Chamberlain's bass pedal point. Mixed in with the standards were some unexpected arrangements, including 'Pure Imagination' from the 1971 movie, Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory.
Jackson's heroine, Peggy Lee's 1957 version of 'The Folks Who Live On The Hill' is backed by a rich string section. Likewise, Jackson's vocals (particularly well-suited to ballad singing) on her takedown of this song for quartet, filled the room as effectively as any orchestra could, and judging by the glut of CDs she sold at the end, the audience left feeling happy.
Scott Hamilton Quartet Grooving Hard at Pizza Express Jazz Club - 23 August 2014
Dave Green on double bass's walking bass in thumb position cut scintillatingly through Scott Hamilton's Ben Webster-style tenor saxophone during the head of chirpy opener, 'I Just Found Out About Love' by Nat King Cole, drawing whistles from the crowded floor. Hamilton listened to John Pearce's playful piano solo with a blissed-out expression on his face as drummer, Steve Brown smiled cheekily on: This quartet have been playing all over Britain and Europe for 14 years and perform together like a well-oiled machine.
American jazz tenor saxophonist Scott Hamilton has been a regular at Pizza Express Jazz Club, Dean Street, Soho since the late 1970s and tonight treated us to a set of classic jazz standards including tracks from the quartet's 2014 album, Dean Street Nights, recorded live here on 4 January 2012.
'Dream Dancing' by Cole Porter contained intriguing minor to major and vice versa key changes combined with an expressive use of dynamics, and Hamilton played just behind the beat, lending the music a sultry laid-back appeal. Pearce's imitation on piano of Hamilton's melodic saxophone line segued neatly into his solo of syncopated chords and intonation-perfect Green manipulated the rhythm in pleasing, glitchy ways supported by Brown's soft drumming.
The tone of Hamilton's tenor saxophone was pregnant with emotion throughout Johnny Mandel's heart-melting jazz waltz, 'Emily', followed by fast number, 'Fine and Dandy', executed with plenty of attack by all. Green inventively bent the fabric of this tune by 'skipping' notes and the melody could be deciphered in Brown's solo, throughout which he skilfully managed to make the drums sound like a saxophone.
Ballad, 'Spring Can Really Hang You Up The Most', had an unanticipated Count Basie big band feel to it, with Hamilton riffing on a single note, filling out the sound, and quoting from 'Splanky', composed and arranged by Neal Hefti for the Basie band. After an equally interesting version of 'The Girl from Ipanema' which was heavily disguised with chromatic chord substitutions, Hamilton welcomed onto the stage gifted alto saxophonist, Allison Neale.
Neale is currently bandleader of a quartet featuring London-based jazz musicians Leon Greening, Steve Brown and Julian Bury. The musical affinity she shares with Hamilton was palpable when the pair traded fours on 'East of the Sun (and West of the Moon)'. Playing more 'on the beat' than Hamilton, Neale possesses a light tone akin to that of West Coast jazz alto saxophonist, Paul Desmond. Technically speaking, Neale is superb, however it was the depth of feeling present in Hamilton's playing that left a lasting impression on the listener.
Barry Harris Trio bring Bossa and Bop to Pizza Express - 15 August 2014
Beloved Detroit-born jazz pianist and educator Barry Harris, who has worked with such luminaries as Coleman Hawkins and Miles Davis, was flanked by clapping as he settled snugly onto the piano stool from which location for over 80 years he's worked legendary bebop-shaped enchantment with his huge nimble-fingered hands, and imparted musical insights to his legions of disciples worldwide. His tastefully stirring solo piano interpretation of gorgeous ballad, 'A Nightingale Sang in Berkeley Square' evolved into a dance as a beaming Dave Green on double bass locked in tight with an up-tempo walking bass line of real finesse, and Steve Brown responsively swung on brushed cymbal.
High-spirited jazz standard, 'I Want To Be Happy' featured Green's simple but striking solo of alternating octave leaps that also slotted in well beneath the melody and Harris's insistent scat-humming. The lush spread of Harris's chords, backed by Green's heart-warming low notes contrasted brilliantly with Brown's rat-tat-tat drumming during ''Round Midnight' by Thelonious Monk, and Harris's intricate runs in double time studded with tinkling star-like touches and an ascending chromatic break, captured some of the wit present in his close friend and major influence, Monk's playing.
Harris was totally immersed in the music and there was rhythm in even the minutiae of his falling phrases during Dizzy Gillespie's 'Woody 'n You' which had a Brazilian bossa nova beginning and ending, marked by Brown's electrifying high-pitched, dry, cross stick technique. After the interval, Harris cleverly linked a diverse selection of songs, including 'Isn't She Lovely' by Stevie Wonder and popular song, 'When Johnny Comes Marching Home', with his amusingly risqué story of Gloria and James (an elderly couple with 14 children who eventually divorced, knocked each other out, and passed away).
Up in heaven, James asked God why he's black and white in colour. The angel Gabriel had the answer; the punchline to Harris's joke he chucklingly refused to reveal until his next engagement here. Harris's drive for actively involving people in the music he loves came to the fore when, after teaching the audience a charming song lyric, he invited individuals up on stage to sing it. Gingerly a man approached the stage and hunched over the mic and sang. The sold-out house cheered. Harris, however, was incredulous that people hadn't been lining up to have a go and quipped, "Sometimes you have to come to a jazz club to have a good time, too!" Well, Dr Harris, you certainly succeeded in bringing joy and energy to the club tonight!
Sunday Fusion featuring Joe Leader - Pizza Express Jazz Club, Soho, London - 20 July 2014
"Please welcome onto the stage, UK jazz sensation, Mr Joe Leader," boomed a voice-over during the other-worldly-sounding opening of this intimate lunchtime gig at Pizza Express Jazz Club, Soho. Presently working within the smooth jazz genre as a solo recording artist, saxophone virtuoso, Leader, exuded a self-assured hubris, further bigged up by a curly-edged band banner above the stage containing links to his social media.
Joined by Andres Garcia on guitar, Alex Bennett on keyboards and Phill Arnold on drums for this, his new Sunday Fusion show, Leader fused soulful jazz, R&B, classical music and pop, anchored strongly throughout by the funky bass lines of magnetic bassist, Yolanda Charles. 'Caruso' is about the love that Italian operatic tenor, Enrico Caruso felt for his music. Here, the subtle decorativeness of Garcia's acoustic Spanish guitar provided the perfect base for Leader to emotively communicate his own passion for music through the satiny tone and purring phrasing of his alto saxophone. This gave way to rocky drums and Bennett's keyboard solo which sadly broke the spellbinding atmosphere with its distorting loudness. A final upwards modulation into a renewed ecstasy elicited Leader's signature trick: a sustained super-high note which duly impressed the near-capacity audience.
We all need to be reminded of the importance of love in our lives, but in introducing songs such as 'Searching For Love', Leader overstated his desire to 'spread the love' through his music: Surely if played from the heart, music should simply speak for itself? The most moving part of the gig came when Leader and his mother, South African concert pianist, Lucille Leader, performed an acoustic piano and saxophone duet of 'Lavender Rose'; a lullaby written by Leader for his manager, Jacqui Taylor. This was followed by the pair's powerful rendition of 'Reminiscence' nocturne by Chopin.
Unfortunately, the shrillness of the soprano saxophone melody on 'For All We Know' zapped the romance out of this tender jazz standard, which is more suited to the darker depths of Johnny Hartman's vocal interpretation. It sounded too smooth, but contained some pleasing syncopation and chord substitutions. Paradoxically, the over-promotion of this gig gave it an air of inauthenticity and it wasn't until the encore; a sweltering hot 'Soul Medley', that the band really 'let go' and the love flowed, earning them a standing ovation.
Kit Packham's One Jump Ahead Jiving at the Hideaway, London - 29 June 2014
The ultra-stylish Kit Packham's One Jump Ahead is now 30 years old. For this Sunday afternoon gig at the award-winning Hideaway, they performed a rollicking set of songs ranging from 1940s and 1950s jump/jive, R&B and classic rock 'n' roll, to jazz standards and originals, featuring the band's core seven-piece line-up: Bandleader and composer, Kit Packham on saxophones and lead vocal, Steve Knight on guitar, Perry White on piano, Alex Keen on double bass, Kenrick Rowe on drums, Tracey Mendham on saxophones and vocals, and Simon Da Silva on trumpet and flugelhorn. Striking in a blue pinstripe suit and fedora, Packham resembled Frank Sinatra, and he introduced numbers in a clear and informative way. They opened with one of the band's original tunes, 'Swing It', which immediately propelled people to the dance floor.
Endearingly, many of Packham's songs are inspired by people close to him, such as jump/jive number, 'When I Was In France With Frances' with its infectious energy heightened by White's standout twirly fills on piano. The gemstone stood at the centre of the band was the very entertaining sole female, Mendham. Her tenor saxophone solo during swinging jazz standard, 'Alright, Okay, You Win', had a stirring, unshowy ease about it, supported by the ramped-up attack of Keen's walking bass. Knight's electric guitar sounded unusual played on a jazz standard, but it worked. In their seriously cool dance shoes and fascinating ties, the band demonstrated their neat dance moves throughout Fats Domino rock 'n' roll number, 'My Girl Josephine', with its brass riffs and White's bluesy piano singing over the top.
They slowed things down with popular song, 'Manhattan' by Rodgers and Hart, for which Packham had written some alternative lyrics and based it closer to home, in South London. The audience belly laughed at comic lines such as, "At Crystal Palace, we'll spray a phallus on the wall," offset by the sophistication of Da Silva's flugelhorn solo, and were startled by the realistically simulated gunshot by otherwise quietly professional Rowe on drums. The happiness emanating from the whole room was palpable during Louis Jordan song, 'Is You Is Or Is You Ain't My Baby', to which ardent fans danced in ballroom formation.
The band's perky theme tune, 'One Jump Ahead', contained one of Packham's signature, impactful abrupt endings and deadpan Knight added even more colour to the act by performing a nose flute solo on The Blues Brothers classic, 'Minnie the Moocher'. White nailed a stunning boogie- woogie piano solo punctuated by thrillingly deep bass notes from Mendham on baritone saxophone on 'Choo Choo Ch' Boogie', and they even managed to squeeze in a world premiere featuring Vera Lynn's World War II song, 'We'll Meet Again': Loosely named 'The Last Song Of The Set', it cleverly welded an old song onto a new one. Eventually the two tunes overlapped, bringing the gig to an impressive end. The time flew; a sure sign that Kit Packham's One Jump Ahead with its thoroughly well-written arrangements and heartfelt blend of comedy and music, had done a fine job of bringing this classy joint to life.
Father's Day Lunch Special: Trudy Kerr and Mornington Lockett at the 606 Club, London - 15 June 2014
Flickering candlelight on tables in the enveloping dark with the great Duke Ellington smiling down on proceedings from the back wall; the 606 Club in Chelsea delivers a seductive atmosphere, even at 1.30 in the afternoon. This Father's Day lunchtime, club owner Steve Rubie heartily welcomed onto the stage Trudy Kerr on vocals and her regular working trio, Tom Cawley on piano, Geoff Gascoyne on double bass and Sebastiaan de Krom on drums. They were joined by special guest, Mornington Lockett on tenor saxophone for one set which included some rarely-heard jazz standards.
It was obvious from the outset that these guys have fun playing together: Ponytailed Lockett's chatty tenor dexterously hit the high notes during rousing opener, 'Alone Together'. Here Cawley's unusual solo of slightly discordant tumbling phrases was reminiscent of American jazz pianist, Phineas Newborn's florid playing. This worked well in combination with Gascoyne's more melodic walking bass line, and de Krom's military-sounding bass drum and cymbal alternations added even more colour. Kerr then joined them, statuesque in sparkling white jacket for 'On A Clear Day (You Can See Forever)'. Delicate 'black soul' inflections could be heard in her singing, which infused a yearning sincerity with grittier swing.
During bossa nova 'Where Or When', this time the atonality of acclaimed composer Cawley's piano solo jarred with the song's harmonic progression as if he was trying to break free of a 'jazz standard' straitjacket, wheras Kerr's sense of humour (she confided that her husband, Gascoyne, "got a remote control cushion" for Father's Day), endeared her to the sizeable audience. She'd chosen the Nat King Cole hit, 'L-O-V-E' for all the children present, which involved an arm-waving element of audience participation; well-placed at the peak of the gig to keep the energy flowing.
A rhythmically vibrant, cutesy performance of jazz waltz, 'Up Jumped A Bird' by Kerr's musical hero, American songwriter, Bob Dorough followed, with all the band shouting, "Woo!" in unison throughout. By this time, though, the 'head-solos-head' song arrangements had become too predictable and Gascoyne craning his neck to read a wad of chord charts he'd plonked unceremoniously inside the grand piano, looked unprofessional. Significant silences then occurred between the remaining numbers while the band discussed what they were going to play next. Sadly, this level of unpreparedness from world-class jazz musicians playing at a major venue in front of a paying audience doesn't do jazz any favours, and separates out the good enough from the truly great.
Kaz Simmons, Burton Bradstock and Fini Bearman at Smile Acoustic, Rich Mix, London - 1 June 2014
Hosted once a month by charismatic pianist and singer-songwriter, Arthur Lea, June's free singer-songwriter showcase session, Smile Acoustic at Rich Mix, featured three very different English acts who are all heavily influenced by jazz. It was a very 'Sunday', laid-back affair, and a veritable feast for those of us who love words. Lea's cleverly catchy opener, 'Take A Seat' included an element of audience participation which, though ear-splittingly loud, had the desired effect of bringing more people in to listen.
Kaz Simmons' hero is the American-Canadian singer-songwriter and composer, Rufus Wainwright. Many of his compositions are opaque with references to opera, classical, pop and ragtime genres, and his influence can be clearly heard in Simmons' tricky work: Belying her cute exterior is a hugely talented songwriter whose quirky songs are full of surprises. Accompanying herself on fingerpicked guitar, Simmons has a voice similar to Kate Bush and the story-telling abilities of Victoria Wood, displayed through her highly amusing song, 'Staying In', about Internet dating. 'Signs' from her most recent album, Signs, contained an intriguing Kurt Weill-like twist, and her jazz roots were audible during a scat section in a song that personified London, entitled, 'For the Love of the Big L'.
The most thought-provoking music of the evening came from Burton Bradstock, comprising of Jimmy Cannon on vocals and Dorian Ford on vocals and keyboard. Taken from their album, All Upon A Lovely Summer's Day, their unusual jazz-folk style combined the simple but memorable scalic melodies of English folk songs such as 'Salisbury Plain' with foot-tapping rhythms and compelling bassy vocal harmonies built up in a round. There was a refreshing rawness about 'John Barleycorn' with its bluesy bass figure and Cannon's staccato inflections, and the audience particularly got into the groove of 'Train Song' with its yummy lyric, "Love is a basket of light."
Fini Bearman's tribute to a friend of hers who passed away, 'See the Sun', was greeted with whoops from the audience. It had an emotional intensity about it that was heightened by the beauty of her multifaceted, soulful voice. Infused with wisdom and honesty, her lyrics enthralled, and her polished (albeit at times, self-conscious) offering - aided by an easy chemistry between herself and gifted acoustic guitarist, Rob Lamont, was unique in the way that it amalgamated contemporary jazz strains, the poetry of E. E. Cummings and a cover of a pop song by Justin Timberlake. Bearman's new album, Porgy and Bess: Revisited is due for release this summer.
Most of the audience present admitted that they didn't often go to see singer-songwriters perform, and so the fact they came at all and were entertained, was testament to Lea's commitment to the event, and of course free cake during the interval gave it that extra pulling-power!
Irene Serra - 606 Club, London - 25 May 2014
Waif-like beneath a honey-coloured spotlight, Irene Serra - Italian jazz vocalist and finalist at the Shure Montreux Jazz Competition in 2009, looked at home at the 606 Club in Chelsea, to which she is no stranger. Here pianist John Crawford joined her for a lunchtime set, with Richard Sadler on double bass and Chris Nichols on drums.
This tight, authentic-sounding quartet performed an eclectically interesting mix of tunes; from jazz standards, bossa nova and originals from the band's other project, ISQ, to Serra's moving cover of pop tune, 'Wrecking Ball' by Miley Cyrus. Opening number, 'If I Were A Bell', from the musical Guys and Dolls, lifted the mood instantly, with Sadler's unswerving walking bass line effectively underpinning the velvety timbre of Serra's considered, seamless singing.
Tastefully-placed accented fills from Crawford on piano were reminiscent of Count Basie's one-finger swinging solos during bossa nova, 'O Pato', for which, in an inclusive gesture, the band were joined by 606 owner and flautist, Steve Rubie. Charlie Parker's blues, 'Billie's Bounce', with vocalese by Jon Hendrix, featured an astoundingly fast-spoken scat solo by Serra. Her energy here was sapped a little by the overly understated performances of the instrumentalists behind her, though, unaided perhaps by less warm vibes than usual coming their way from the tiny audience (the sunny bank holiday had unfortunately enticed people away).
In imaginatively plucking the strings of their respective instruments, Sadler and Crawford built up ringing rhythmic and harmonic textures accompanied by scampering drums, creating an edgier feel in 'This Bird Has Flown' - a single off ISQ's first album, ISQ. Inexhaustibly charming Serra and band's gig made for an enjoyable afternoon of surprising and intelligent arrangements. Their next ISQ album, is due for release in the autumn of 2014.
Gabrielle Ducomble Band - UK Tour (May 2014)
Rising star, Belgian jazz vocalist, Gabrielle Ducomble, whose repertoire ranges from contemporary jazz to French popular song, plays UK dates commencing in May to showcase her latest album, Notes from Paris which launched at London's Pizza Express Jazz Club in February. Ducomble's band features guitarist Nicolas Meier, accordionist Dan Teper, double bassist Nick Kacal and drummer Saleen Raman, and their performances will include new arrangements of well-known French classics by Edith Piaf and Serge Gainsbourg. Dates at: Colchester Arts Centre, Essex (4 May); Ye Olde Smack, Essex (6 May); St James Theatre, London (10 May); Wakefield Jazz at Wakefield Sports Club, Wakefield (30 May); Fleece Jazz, Suffolk (6 June); North Devon Jazz, Devon (16 June); St Ives Jazz Club, Cornwall (17 June) and Cleethorpes Jazz Festival, Cleethorpes (27 June).
Playing (Less) Hurt - An Injury Prevention Guide for Musicians
United States of America: Hal Leonard Books, 2010
Paperback: 236 pages
Calling all musicians playing any instrument in any genre, music teachers, doctors, therapists, parents of musicians, plus non-musicians working for an orchestra! It would be well worth taking time out to read Playing (Less) Hurt - An Injury Prevention Guide for Musicians by associate principle cellist of the Minnesota Orchestra for three decades, soloist and award-winning advocate for injury prevention, Janet Horvath.
Eye-opening and complete, this book could potentially save your life in a musical sense: I cringe at the stresses and strains I've unthinkingly put my body under as a professional musician for eight years (which has included dragging my double bass around the terraces of Montmartre, Paris, then switching to playing solo violin for hours without a proper break as a licensed busker on the London Underground). It really is common sense that musicians should be as mindful of their bodies as they are of their performance, but sometimes people need things spelling out, and this book does just that.
Featuring balanced advice from a wide range of specialists, physical therapists, sports medicine professionals, nutritionists, chiropractors and massage therapists in the field of injuries affecting musicians, Horvath speaks from personal experience of pain and therefore with authority on the subject, which in turn inspires confidence in the reader.
Well-researched statistics from sources such as the Occupational Safety and Health Administration support the true extent of the problem of injury among musicians, combined with medical images helping one to visualize what's happening inside the body while playing. Horvath's in-depth analysis of the extreme physicality which goes into playing classical works (she reveals, 'The Bruckner Symphony No. 4 has 565 bars of tremolo for the violins!") bring the very real dangers of overuse, starkly to life.
Repetitive action, excessive force and poor posture can cause overuse injuries: Utilizing snappily memorable statements, for example, "Your body should feel fluid" while playing, Horvath clearly references physical aids and their suppliers for instrumentalists which saves the reader the task of having to search for items themselves, together with practical tabled guides for working musicians, for example, '10 Do's For Injury Prevention'. Invaluable guidelines for teachers, important exercises for children learning to play an instrument, vivid descriptions of the physical effects of too much noise, templatable ways of working for conductors and managers and arguments for using certain drugs to alleviate pain are also covered.
Jon Kabance, co-founder of the Institute of Health and Human Performance says, "The bottom line is, every musician, amateur or professional, young or old - MUST warm up before they play their instrument." Horvath details what constitutes a warm-up and makes reference to a useful DVD of therapeutic exercises demonstrated by Richard Norris, M.D., available on her website: www.playinglesshurt.com
I could relate easily to Horvath's and other musicians' candid personal accounts of having sustained injuries, their rehabilitation and how their approach to playing has had to change as a result. These are imbued with humour and hope for a positive outcome for those suffering from even the most debilitating of conditions.
Exercises with drawings of how to do them, tailored to specific physical complaints and how to alleviate or prevent them break up the text and Horvath repeatedly stresses "...the importance of keeping muscles, tendons, ligaments, nerves and discs fed with oxygen-rich blood." Remembering to breathe deeply during performance has increased my stamina and reduced my performance anxiety.
An extensive Resource List including 'International Centers and Practitioners' and experts trusted by Horvath are comprehensively listed, together with up-to-date information regarding performing and medicine-related articles that clinicians, investigators and musicians can access without charge at the Performing Arts Medicine Association's website: www.artsmed.org
I believe that the teachings in this book should be compulsory learning for all musicians at the beginning of their musical training: Throughout my musical education, I was never taught about how playing a musical instrument impacts on the body. If I had, my present ongoing battle with tendinitis might have been averted.
Playing (Less) Hurt - An Injury Prevention Guide for Musicians leaves musicians, and indeed anyone with a physically demanding job, with no excuses as to why they shouldn't start listening to, and working with their bodies, instead of against them.
Brian Culbertson - Pizza Express Jazz Club, Soho, London - 1 May 2014
American smooth jazz multi-instrumentalist and composer, Brian Culbertson and band, featuring a stellar line-up of Culbertson on keyboard and trombone, Derek Nash on tenor saxophone, Otto Williams on bass, Mark Jaimes on guitar and Chris Miskel on drums, erupted onto the stage during the first night of their sold-out run within the intimate surroundings of Soho's Pizza Express Jazz Club on 1 May.
At the age of 20, Culbertson self-produced his debut album, Long Night Out. 20 award-winning and chart-topping years of touring the world later, 2014 saw him complete his 14th album on his own BCM label - a re-make of that initial offering entitled Another Long Night Out. During a performance of title track, 'City Lights', Nash shook a tambourine in double-time over a galactic guitar solo by Jaimes, and the joy the band exuded at playing together was infectious.
'Always Remember' from Culbertson's 2008 album, Bringing Back The Funk contained a memorable melody carried through intense interplay between trombone and saxophone and punctuated by the spot-on timing of Culbertson's glissandic dives on keyboard, unison brass stabs and spirit-lifting key changes.
Drummer, Miskel, threw out thunderous fills on the cymbals, driving the band with everything he had as the music built to an exciting screaming saxophone climax in 'Beautiful Liar', but the high point of this heart-ringing spectacular was during 'Long Night Out' when Culbertson leant into the audience and walked around his keyboard until he was playing otherworldly off-beat syncopated notes on it upside-down. He then laid his head down on the keys as if in full communion with his art.
Influenced by the pure sex and solidity of 1970s band, Earth, Wind & Fire, the quintet created an open jazz- funk sound that faded in and out like molten lava; so smooth that Culberton's playing morphed into his slick body movements which elicited whoops from his adoring fans.
Robert Mitchell and Randolph Matthews - Front Room, Queen Elizabeth Hall, London - 25 April 2014
In a brand-new collaboration, British leading edge improvising musicians, pianist and composer Robert Mitchell and vocalist Randolph Matthews, played to a large and diverse audience on 25 April at the free Friday Tonic session in the Front Room, Queen Elizabeth Hall.
"Have you ever seen a bird turn into a helicopter?" Matthews asked an intrigued audience, in his introduction to an extended version of the 1965 Beatles song, 'Norwegian Wood', which incorporated Matthews' story of walking down a familiar London street, then finding himself in a wood fetching bread from a cottage wherein he found the beautiful Diana. This question serves as a good metaphor for how Mitchell and Matthews took an eclectic mix of numbers - from jazz standards such as Thelonious Monk's 'Round Midnight' from 1944 to folk-rock and pop tunes from the 1960s and 1980s, and put their own imaginative, modern stamp on them.
The duo gave an inspired interpretation of The Stranglers hit baroque-pop tune 'Golden Brown' with Matthews' beatboxing making a refreshing change to the harsher percussion of a drum kit. Quickly switching from soulful falsetto to bass registers which created a Bobby McFerrin-like polyphonic effect, he then built up more vocal layers using a loop pedal, providing a complimentary accompaniment to Mitchell's attentive piano playing of palpable emotional depth.
Matthews effortlessly set up the groove of the well-known bass line to Miles Davis' 'All Blues', but his simulation of double bass pizzicato was unconvincing and his repetitively loud, distorting vocals detracted from Mitchell's extraordinary finger-whirling solos and tapping of the wood inside the open grand piano to conga-like effect. The natural sound of a real double bass would have been preferable here, and the music started to sound slightly mechanical and predictable (the 'bird' had flown).
At a free event such as this in a room full of countless distractions, it can be difficult to pick up on the subtleties of any performance, but this charismatic duo's set was assured, rhythmically tight and fun, highlighted by a mother and her young son dancing in the background.
Charlotte Glasson Band - UK Tour (April 2014)
Contemporary jazz and fusion multi-instrumentalist, Charlotte Glasson and band, embark on a Jazz Services supported UK tour to promote their sixth album, Festivus, at the end of April. The band features Charlotte on saxes, flutes, violin and saw, Mark Bassey on trombone, Chris Spedding on guitar, Mick Hutton on bass and steel pans and Sam Glasson on drums / percussion. Repertoire will comprise of Charlotte's originals which embrace a broad spectrum of influences, from New Orleans and ska to world music. Glasson has performed all over the world and received the Best Newcomer Award at the 2009 Marlborough Jazz Festival. Dates at: The Verdict, Brighton (29 April); Cambridge Modern Jazz at Hidden Rooms, Cambridge (4 May); Live Jazz At The Crypt, London (16 May); The Woodman, Sevenoaks (21 May); The Red Lion, Birmingham (23 May); The Jazz Cafe, Newcastle Upon Tyne (28 May) and Ropetackle Arts Centre, Shoreham-by-Sea (30 May).
The Mavericks + Declan O'Rourke - Royal Festival Hall - 19th May 2013
Oh what a thrill! This, to use the title of a signature Mavericks hit, just about summed up this dramatically varied party of a gig; the last night of The Mavericks tour, supported by Irish singer-songwriter, Delcan O'Rourke.
Every word could be heard of O'Rourke's intriguing, poetic lyrics, such as the line, "See the stars remove their hats out of respect," from the quality love song, 'We Didn't Mean To Go To Sea'. The huge range of his voice with all its timbres, contained an American jazz singer, Johnny Hartman - like depth, backed up by the driving, rhythmically accented, acoustic accompaniment of his guitar.
Nine-piece, snappily dressed, Grammy award-winning country outfit, The Mavericks, were on fire. Their massively fun set included numbers penned mostly by lead singer, Raul Malo, from their latest February 2013 album, 'In Time'. Throughout 'Born To Be Blue', serious-looking Michael Guerra's button accordion sang scintillatingly over the top of Malo's goosebump - inducing, distinctive, Roy Orbison-esque vocals. By contrast, Jerry Dale McFadden on keyboards, executing Hammond organ licks, threatened, at times, to overshadow the whole band with his jokey, rubber-legged antics. Twangs of country, reggae and ska strains (reminiscent of the UK band, Madness), Spanish music and rockabilly could all be detected, underpinned by Elio Giordano's strong, bluesy, walking double bass lines. 'There Goes My Heart' bounced along with brass punches, followed by the hit single, 'Dance The Night Away' which got the packed auditorium dancing. Malo interacted lovingly with his UK fans, then stripped it down, momentarily, to sing solo, the country ballad 'Sweet Dreams'. Encore dazzler, 'All You Ever Do Is Bring Me Down' featured screaming tenor saxophone trills from Max Abrams. An audience member shouted out, "They're top of the world!" They were.
Charles Lloyd Quartet with special guest, Maria Farantouri - The Barbican, London - 28th April 2013
In an interview by Sean J. O'Connell for the May 2013 edition of DownBeat, American jazz colossus, Charles Lloyd, 75, explained, "Each time I play it is always my dedication to tell the truth… All of my musicians have understood that we have stood on the shoulders of those who have passed, yet we have tentacles into the sky because that's what they want us to do… My thing is always about going forward"; a fitting preface to this indelibly memorable concert which featured Charles Lloyd - tenor saxophone, Jason Moran - piano, Ruben Rogers - double bass, Greg Hutchinson - drums, and "the soul of Greece" as Lloyd introduced her, Greek contralto singer and activist, Maria Farantouri.
Lloyd's instantly heart-flipping tenor saxophone melodies interweaved romantically with Moran's fresh, playful references to ragtime and blues piano during the introduction to Duke Ellington's 'Mood Indigo'. Here Lloyd looked like a lithe tree; bending with, and feeling the music throughout his entire body.
A revisitation of the acclaimed 2010 album, 'Athen's Concert' included songs by Mikis Theodorakis, suites of Greek traditional music, and Lloyd originals: Farantouri and Lloyd were indistinguishable in close harmony, as she offered the achingly resonant, falling cry of her song to him, like a gift, with her expressive hands. Socratis Sinopoulos on human voice-like lyra displayed outstanding musicianship, and Lloyd on taragato combined with Rogers' menacing arco bass line produced an edgy sound. A quickening of blood came with the change of tempo as Lloyd's repetitive motifs were echoed (aided by a deep listening to each other), throughout the whole ensemble. Unison passages emanated joy, and a yearning to communicate this.
The overall effect was simultaneously lulling and spiritually transforming; prompting the packed audience of different nationalities to rise to their feet as frail-looking couple, Lloyd and Farantouri left the stage, arm-in-arm.
Barry Harris Trio - Pizza Express Jazz Club, Soho, London
"One of the most truest people to his art that I've ever met in my life," was how American jazz drummer, Eddie Locke, paid tribute to internationally celebrated jazz pianist, teacher and exponent of bebop, Barry Harris in the 1985 film, 'Barry Harris: Passing On' by David Chan and Ken Freundlich: The Barry Harris Trio at Pizza Express Jazz Club, Soho (Barry Harris - piano, Dave Green - double bass and Steve Brown - drums), ultimately succeeded in taking a near-capacity audience of a mixture of ages, with them, full steam ahead on a pleasurable cruise through a variety of mainly ballads and more up-tempo 1930s and '40s jazz standards.
The sound balance between the instruments was perfect, but the presence of world-class, rather cocky double bassist, Dave Green's lone music stand holding jazz charts, and his inability to synchronise with the piano during an opening number, 'I'll Keep Loving You' by Bud Powell, slightly spoilt things. By contrast, Harris played this tune, written by one of his bebop influences, in a considered manner, from the heart.
Green relaxed and the band gelled during the next spine-tingling up-tempo standard, 'I Want To Be Happy'. His walking bass lines effortlessly didn't miss a beat, and Harris began the tender story of a couple with fifteen children, which he used to link the songs and captivate the audience throughout.
Ever the passionate educator, Harris involved us all in clapping, and singing a melody before the interval.
The humorous phrasing of the unison passages during the head of Charlie Parker's 'Barbados' were underpinned by the non-intrusive, swinging drumming of Steve Brown, who utilized the endless range of his kit's noises.
Overall, this gig confirmed that the wise, lady-loving, smooth Barry Harris, is best placed to keep aflame, and pass the jazz torch on, to future generations.
Clare Connors & Red-Angel: 'Big, Small And Sideways' - Royal Academy Of Arts, London
British award-winning composer / violinist, Clare Connors, led her trio, Red-Angel, featuring Thomas Toms (violin) and Chris Allan (cello) in playing her own compositions to a mainly middle-aged audience. Connors' top matched the golden décor of the room, but she lacked stage presence, unaided by the compare's rushed introduction of her.
Toms played with scratchy rhythmic emphasis and energy beneath Connors' melodic lines and repetitive siren-like motifs during opening number 'Circus Dreaming', to which the introduction of the cello added rich depth.
Same-sounding 'Blaze' inspired by the use of chords and brass in Carla Bley's big band music, sadly failed to translate for small string ensemble: Though playful in tone, none of Bley's subtle use of voicing to build thrilling crescendos in her arrangements on, for example, her 1996 record, 'The Carla Bley Big Band Goes To Church' could be heard; indeed Connors' work seemed steeped in composer, Michael Nyman's minimalist music of rolling phrases with droning quaver accompaniments and switching time signatures (Connors played in the Michael Nyman Band as lead violinist for some years).
Toms' clapping the rhythm at the beginning of 'Neat And Tidy' added interest, though it felt out of place as disappointingly, there was no recurrence of this, and intonation problems proliferated (especially Toms') throughout, ruining the already dissonant harmonies.
'Sideways', with its swinging pizzicato cello lines, and distinctive vibrato-less tone, emphasized by the harsh lighting in the room made for a welcome change, but Connors' cover of German techno band, Kraftwerk's 'Robot' was the highlight, where the transfer from electronic music to acoustic strings really worked with Toms making his violin sound like a snare drum. Overall, though, the trio failed to pull the performance off convincingly.
Robert Glasper Experiment - Royal Festival Hall, London
A rich mix of African-American music in all of its guises, including jazz, hip hop and R & B, blasted open the 2012 London Jazz Festival.
Phantom Limb made their festival debut, performing numbers from their 2012 album, 'The Pines'. During opening number, 'Laugh Like You're Mad' lead singer, Yolanda Quartey coupled a huge voice with intensely moving lyrics. The performance overall however, was somewhat lacking, in that Matt Jones on drums was absent but his drum kit was not, and the double bass was too loud. The atmosphere was restless, but during the big crescendo, 'The Angel Of Death', genres of gospel, country and R & B were clearly heard to good effect.
Looking cool, the Robert Glasper Experiment elicited instant, whooping adoration from the packed mixed-age audience, and cranked up the energy for an electrifying performance of covers and original material from their latest album, 'Black Radio'. The musically adept band featured Robert Glasper - keyboards, Casey Benjamin - vocoder and saxophone, and Derrick Hodge - electric bass. Drummer Mark Colenburg was outstanding, and locked in tight with Glasper on keyboards. Complex, danceable rhythms were built up beneath simple, trance-like melodies based on a single note: The 'Cherish The Day' by Sade cover, featured deliciously discordant piano and saxophone lines in unison, and seamlessly blended synthesized vocals and live vocals provided by Vula whose impeccably sung high notes, wowed. Hip hop rapper, MF Doom made a 'masked' guest appearance, and barked unclear-sounding words.
Glasper thrilled us with snippets from 'Take The A Train' and 'Send In The Clowns' but at times his over-long, showy solos sounded more suited to a jam session. The music never veered off into a mash-up of musical styles, though, and retained a cohesive, singular, beautiful mathematics.
The below book review, written in January 2012, can also be read on Amazon.co.uk:
The Poconos In B Flat - The Incredible Jazz Legacy of the Pocono Mountains of Pennsylvania
United States of America: Xlibris, Corp., 2011
Paperback: 122 pages
ISBN - 10: 1469134598
ISBN - 13: 987 - 1469134598
Debbie Burke is at the heart of today's jazz scene in the Pocono Mountains of Pennsylvania: She lives in the Poconos, co-founded ArtSmash of the Poconos, created the Pocono Jazz and Poetry website and plays in three community bands. Therefore, she was brilliantly placed to be able to write 'The Poconos In B Flat - The Incredible Jazz Legacy of the Pocono Mountains of Pennsylvania'. In Burke's words, her debut book comprises of "a series of observational narratives on the very unique and wonderful Pocono Mountains jazz scene derived from personal interviews with musicians, historians, educators and hospitality professionals." Burke writes with an enormous love for her subject matter which is contagious.
Initially, in flicking through the book, I was unenthused when I saw biography upon biography of musicians that I hadn't heard of and didn't care about, but then I was drawn in by the intriguing definitions of jazz in the 'Introduction'. This, coupled with Burke's passionate, proud and friendly tone, help to make this book instantly accessible to 'jazzers' and 'non-jazzers' alike.
The content is readable, focused, informative, varied and interesting: Burke vividly brings the Pocono Mountains of Pennsylvania to life and manages to capture charmingly detailed descriptions of 'jazz characters' during her in-depth interviews with musicians: Ralph Harrison recalls, "I remember John Dangler, one of the last wooden frame renters, on the third floor at the Deer Head… John was drinking from a beer stein and lecturing about Dixieland jazz while throwing chicken livers to his cat. John said 'nobody sleeps when I'm lecturing about jazz'".
As a jazz musician myself, it's been great to be able to read 'straight from the horse's mouth' accounts from musicians about their backgrounds, musical influences and careers, which ultimately inform and give meaning to the music.
The spirit of community in the Poconos is emphasized with regards to the annual Celebration of the Arts festival, and anecdotes of the paradisiacal, magnetic hub of the jazz community, the Deer Head Inn, remind me of my favourite bar, Chez Adel in Paris which owner Adel calls, "a house for musicians."
I found the surprise of the 'Cool And Pithy' section of quotes, profound and inspirational, for example, Lydia Liebman's, "Don't go into music looking for a career in music, go looking for a life in music." Quotes like these help me to feel less alone in my craft.
The photographs towards the centre of the book, which showcase the talents of a range of different photographers, are of an excellent quality.
Nuggets of insightful advice for fellow musicians abound: Multi-instrumentalist Jay Rattman explains, "I value spontaneity over anything else. If I feel myself about to play something I've played before, I'll deliberately change course. Since you are surprising yourself, it will engage the other musicians and inspire different contributions."
This book is inclusive and mindful of the futures of young and up-and-coming jazz musicians, which is so important with regard to the continuation of jazz in a climate where live music, in general, is under threat.
The publication of this book was well-timed: In England right now, drastic funding cuts to the arts are being made, and it's encouraging to read this book which is in essence for me a celebration of the very much alive and kicking jazz culture of the Pocono Mountains of Pennsylvania: Rick Chamberlain (co-founder of the Celebration of the Arts festival) says "It's a shame the powers that be don't want to realize the arts drive culture, which defines a society."
A diverse group of people with connections to the jazz of the Pocono Mountains have been represented here, and I will continue to refer back to this book, and listen to the music of the musicians from the Poconos that Burke has introduced me to.