This Saturday was World Zombie day, where 250 people dressed as zombies took to the street to terrorise the general public and raise money for St Mungo's charity.

I decided to put together a marching band of the dead to help our shuffling masses through the streets.

You can hear the band at 3:40. 

The song we're playing doesn't have a name as we made it up on the spot to fit in with the zombie vibe. 

After a thoroughly good time I've decided I must put together a marching band, or even zombie marching band for other events.

So if you're a Sousaphone, trumpet or trombone player interested in getting involved in a jazz marching band then get in touch.

Similarly if you're looking for a jazz marching band to play at your event then let me know!
 
 
"I've never seen so many copies of the Telegraph in one place before in my life." - The Time Miser

In an effort to seek revenge for the time misers wanton disregard for my casual mornings I set out to return the favour by moving the getting up time backwards from a balmy 9am to a brutal 7am.

Unfortunately, being a time miser, he was used to early nights and earlier mornings leaving me to toss and turn until 4am and bolt up at my alarm set just three hours later.

Men with Ven

The van arrived soon after driven by our trusted wheelman MacStally Culkin. Before he had even parked outside our flat both the Time Miser and I had shouted "shotgun" out of the window, as there was something we had yet to reveal to the other band members. 

Once we had finished loading the van it dawned on Michael! and Jim that they would in fact be spending the two hour journey in the back of the van, in the dark.

After an hour we stopped at Burger King for a second breakfast, but didn't feel the need to tell Jim and Michael! as we thought they probably weren't hungry or something. So we just banged on the side and told them to "BE QUIET!" and "DON'T GET OUT!" 

An hour later

After some terrible directions from the Time Miser we finally arrived at the Regatta, greeted warmly by the organisers. 

We were two hours early, which felt like a small victory to myself. But I soon realised that the Time Miser was more than happy with the situation. 

We set up our equipment only to find both of the keyboard pedals we brought with us didn't work. And jamming a screwdriver into one of them didn't fix it. 
So in the end Michael! mustered his musical brilliance and defiantly managed to make it work.

Glamping at Henley

As a reward for Michael! I decided Jim and himself could share my one man tent, while I bunked with the Time Miser in his four man tent.

My assumption being that Jazz musicians like extreme proximity and confined spaces.

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The Gig

Went off without a hitch, I even managed to get a coffee in a rendition of "All of Me" during the redoubtable Michael!'s solo.

I think we can all agree that the best gig moment was working "play that funky music white boy" into the bridge of "Work Song" by Nat Adderley. At the request of an enthusiastic gentleman in an elaborate leg-brace.

The After Party

We stayed inside the Courtyard enclosure for most of the night, which was surrounded by a one half meter high white picket fence. And several large security guards in nice suits.

As often happens when there is a fence separating two groups of people, people kept trying to get over ours. Often to be thwarted by said large men in nice suits.

The best attempt made was by one young man who decided to use the music of Lady Gaga as a disguise for his entrance attempt, incorporating leg-lifts in time with the melodies. His one error was staring directly into the eyes of two of the large men in nice suits, albeit while shrugging as if to say "Hey, I'm just dancing here fellas"

Interestingly, while during the day there was a large gap between the fifty or so parties along the Thames in terms of the quality of music, food and guests attire, by midnight everyone was dancing precariously to the same generic club music, eating whatever was warm and greasy and had adorned their lovely outfits with mud and sweat. I found this odd synergy quite comforting.


The Serious Bit

We were genuinely very well looked after by the nice people at the Copas partnership, something that can be quite rare at gigs. 

We were fell fed, watered, boozed and cruised. So a big thank you to them for helping us put on a great night. 
 
 
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On Saturday the 2nd July the Max Holloway quartet will be playing in the Courtyard Enclosure from midday til 4pm.

This year the Courtyard Enclosure will be featuring Jamie Oliver's Fabulous Feasts

A fantastic place to enjoy the Henley Royal Regatta. Opening at 12 noon, you will be greeted on arrival with a glass of bubbly and escorted to your party's reserved table. We will be playing vintage jazz and swing throughout the day providing the perfect Regatta ambience. A DJ takes over as evening approaches and the music plays on until the close at midnight. Not to be missed is the traditional firework display over the River Thames, which takes place at dusk.

Decked out in traditional Henley (smart) dress code, enjoying a glass of bubbles with friends by one of the most iconic stretches of water, in an exclusive enclosure …the perfect quintessential English summer’s afternoon! Prepare for strings of beautiful bunting, gorgeous delights to feast on and much merriment by the river!


You can buy tickets to the venue here Henley Regatta tickets
 

 
 
Roller blading in a suit
Roller blading in a suit
I've been roller blading between 2 - 20 km every day in London for nearly a year. I find it a good way to exercise and generally faster than public transport, with my average speed being 16 km/h. 

They’re easier to store than a bike and you can legally skate on the pavement, which is one over bicycles. However, this makes rollerblading very dangerous for you and others.

Below are some rules and tips I’ve discovered for a safer journey.

Personal safety
Wear a helmet. I don't go over often, but once I did I smashed my head on the pavement and got a lovely concussion. Now I wear a helmet.

Wrist guards, up to you. I've heard stories of them saving wrists. In my opinion the slippery plastic on the guards themselves is a hazard. I fell over on a ramp once and put my hands out in front to save my fall, but the plastic made both hands slip way out to the side and I ended up breaking my nose.

The plastic also makes it harder to grab things like barriers and lamp-posts to stabilise with your hands. So for the novice, yes. Intermediate, don't bother. 

I DO wear leather gloves, however. This adds extra grip and stops me getting grazes on the palms. It also keeps your fingers warm in the cooler months.

If you fall down, stay down (provided you're not on a road) for at least 10 seconds. It can take that long just for the adrenaline to go away and for the blood to start going around your brain again. Better to find out you broke your femur while lying down, you dig?

There's no "one" way to fall on the blades and be OK. The things that I've found work for me are:

1. Get your bum to the floor ASAP. As soon as you know you're going down sink your bum to the floor and put your legs out in front of you slightly to one side. This way you don't fall on your face and you spread the impact over your whole body, not just your hands. Doing exactly this saved my face, although I did mess up somebodies fence…

2. When you trip or start to fall, relax. Don't make a quick jerk movement (you have to train yourself to not freak out) as you will often over compensate and go over another way. You'll often find you have longer to correct a trip or fall than you think, so take a brief 200 ms to contemplate the best correction for balance. This is how I avoid 95% of crashes.


The hazards
Your biggest hazard is other people; Cars, bikes and pedestrians. 

Cars: Won’t always stop for you at zebra crossings, so stop and use your arms to indicate.

Buses: Will never stop to let you pass.

Taxis: are almost as bad as busses. One actually crossed the zebra crossing after I got on it, rest assured he was informed of his error.

Pedestrians: Wildly unpredictable, some move, some don't, some go one way, some the other. In general people are more likely to move back along a path they just came from (so walking left to right they will jump to the left over the right even if going right is a safer option) 

The obvious things are; slow down when you reach a junction, don't pass people unless there's enough room and if you crash into them it’s always going to be your fault. So be polite and apologise profusely.

The not so obvious ones; children up to about age 10 no matter what will always run into your path if they see you coming. I'm not sure why, probably because they are so intensely focused. So, if you see kids just slow down to a dawdle. 

If you bump into someone force yourself to skate slow for 5 minutes. The idea is to associate making a mistake with something really annoying, going slow. I turn it into a game, the objective is to never make contact with other people or the floor. If I do, I lose!

Finally, look where you’re going. You want to be looking about 10 – 15 meters ahead. You will find that about half of the people on the street will not be looking a lot further than their two feet (or iPhone). Looking ahead is how I avoid 99.9% of collisions. 




Stopping
A quick note here. At speed or in wet conditions I always go for a T-stop, it keeps my weight evenly distributed and I can easily move to change direction and avoid something. However, this will mess your wheels up. When you can, use the back brake to avoid this. Bear in mind the back brake can be a bit unpredictable and might let you down at speed.


An interesting statistic, I've been blading about two, five kilometre journeys nearly every day for a year. Let’s take off the weekends and call it 341 days. In that time I can only think of two crashes where I got hurt (maybe 5 where I got a little bruise or scrape and 15 little falls)

So, per kilometre, my chance of getting hurt is 0.03%

For getting a minor bruise its 0.10%

And for hitting the floor its 0.34% 

The only other thing to say is be safe and enjoy your ride!


 
 
Most people choose to hire a jazz band for a wedding, corporate event or birthday party. And the large majority of them haven't hired a jazz band before, or even know how to go about it!

Here are the steps I think you should follow when hiring a jazz band.

  1. Have a listen. Does the band have some jazz songs you can listen to? No point of hiring a band if you don't like what they play.
  2. Are they versatile? A large proportion of function bands can only play 30 or so songs. A real jazz band should be able to play pretty much anything!.
  3. Give as much context as possible, especially a list of jazz musicians  you already like. If you can't think of any, head over to Youtube and search "Jazz" 
  4. Communication, are they helpful when you're hiring them? A good jazzer should be suggesting bands to fit your event based on your brief. When I was starting out performing 5 or so years ago a played a number of gigs where the set-up or the band wasn't the right fit. It's something you need to work with the band on to get right and avoid disappointment.
  5. Price, I am biased here but hear me out. Jazz musicians have generally spent the best part of their lives (15 years for me) practising, playing, honing and expanding their sound. It is one of the most qualified jobs around, so the price tag should match. The London standard rate for a jazz musician is £120 per hour, but that doesn't mean you shouldn't try to negotiate. 


I hope this information helps you find a perfect jazz band for your event, and as always feel free to contact me about hiring a jazz band in London
 
 
A good jazz jam is worth its weight in Real Books so here are some of my favourite jazz jams around London.

Jazz Jammin' at UCL - Tuesdays
This is the first jazz jam I went to, back in 2007 where I remember nervously blaring out C minor blues after 10 pints of Guinness. 

I must say the quality of music there has massively improved from generic blues to chord-change rich be-bop executed at break-neck speeds! 

It starts at 8pm, every Tuesday during term time. On the 3rd floor bar of the UCLU union (25 Gordon Street) 


Ronnie Scott's Jazz Jam - Wednesdays
This is every Wednesday in the upstairs bit of Ronnie Scott's. £5 - £10 to get in and the quality of musician is very high. 


The jam doesn't start in earnest until about 11pm - midnight as there's a house band (usually very good)


The jam itself is well run, kind of a free for all but with slightly more organisation than usual.


Little Bread Big Jam - Wednesday
A little too far afield for me to go often, but the times I have its been spectacular. Hands down it is the best run jazz jam in London


The house band plays for an hour then the floor is opened up for a jam, generally a good mix of talents and abilities there. However one time I went there was a tap dancer... I will allow you to draw your own conclusions. 


http://lbbjam.wordpress.com/
 
 
Now this is something I've considered for a long time. And ultimately I don't think there is a finite answer, but here we go.


Technically Good Jazz
This would be your Tubby Hayes's and (early) John Coltrane's of the world. Every note is played. Their technical ability on their instruments shine through as they play nonuplets at 200bpm; while their harmonies and phrasing are perfectly precise. 


Unfortunately for these greats they leave many-a-jazz listener in the dust as they blaze a trail to the nth modulation of C#-7flat5 13. And there is a fine line between knowing what you're doing here, and doing what I call "Typewriter playing" (flying your fingers round the sax with little direction so fast that no-one can really hear what you're playing)


So hear we have immense skill, but only for those worthy enough to be able to hear it; many of the intricate and delicate harmonies being hidden away in hemi-demi-semi-quavers. I remember when I was younger I would listen to these guys and leave with a headache. But I kept going back, because every time I did a new harmony was un-earthed, a new level to their solo was unlocked.


I could listen to the same piece, Giant Steps for example, for 10 years straight and still find new things to enjoy and hear about it. I know this because I have!


Ethereal Jazz
Now this would be every band that lays down a dorian minor chord and plays vertical solos relying on one or two sweet notes or blue tones.


The solos are long, as are the notes within. Often with overtones, large variations in pitch and often sticking to one night a playing it over and over.


There is nothing to miss here. And often I find there is nothing here. The pace is so slow I often find myself thinking "Are they really amazing and playing the subtlest of intervals...or are they just shit?" 


When this music is played right it provides you a window into the soloists soul. You really can feel their music and connect to the musician. This accessibility is largely why it is popular. 


This is the kind of music you would want to relax to, however. Something you'd smoke a pipe to, or perhaps some other shag. Whilst relaxing in a big chair; surveying the bustle of London. Like a big pretentious nob.


Now I think there are some real gems in this genre, and some absolutely fantastic musicians who can spin a whole story in just 3 notes (Think Miles Davis) but the nature of the beast allows far too many talentless pretenders to have a go, because at it's core this jazz is easy. 


Earning a Crust Jazz
This is the jazz all musicians hate to play. Its your straight blueses, your Autumn Leaves your long winded vocal numbers from 1920 and your Oh When The Saints!


But, this is the music that we all get asked to play. Ten times more often than any other type. 


We don't really mind playing this music, but jazz is about the pursuit of new sounds; new feelings, new rhythms, harmonies, intervals and melodies. So re-visiting the same tired 2-5-1's every week quickly becomes tiresome.


And the thing we hate the most about this music. Is that sometimes, we enjoy it. You'll find yourself singing along, tapping your foot and enjoying your wanky 12 bar blues solo comprised entirely from the pentatonic minor! Then after you will feel dirty, and ashamed. You see this kind of jazz is like a riding a mo-ped; great fun while you're on it, but you'd never want your friends to know about it.


Conclusion
Someone's experience of jazz is entirely subjective, this is why there will never be a definitive answer. I find the technical jazz exhilarating and exciting - others find it to be an exercise in mathematics and showing off how big your nob is.


Jazz comes down to a listeners experience. If they enjoy it, and get value from the music be it by a connection the the musician or music itself or by an intellectual gratification of the music or simply by hearing a tune you know and love; then it is good jazz!
 
 
I went to see some acclaimed LJF jazz at the green note last night. I remember excitedly telling the immediate company that "this was the band that played with ronnie scott" and "I've seen the pianist John Critchinson before with Simon Spillett" so you'll understand how shocked I was when the band started with what could only be described as a mix of minimal tech, trance and synth-jazz.

You see there is the Green Note, in Parkway. And the Green Man, on Euston Rd. The stalwart John Critchinson was at the Green Man...sadface.

After my initial reaction that I was listening to three wankers who didn't have a clue about music I realised there was some talent and skill in there. Mixed in with three and a half kilograms of pretentious noodling. I've always been of the opinion you have to get really good, before you can play really bad. Think 1960's John Coltrane i.e. post Giant Steps era.

There were a few good tunes in there, but there was little refinement and little technical skill. I must say their use of the loops and synths was an interesting addition and I could see it working.

Or to put it better, you would have to be really, really high to enjoy their music.

I was pleasantly surprised and relieved by the second band, headed up by pianist and composer Sam Leak, featuring tenor saxophonist James Allsopp.

Their music was truly beautiful to listen to. Heavy on modal and modulations mixed with an ethereal time feel and it all worked. Everything was tied together, even by the tiniest thread at times.

It was also obvious that these people lived their music. They were engaged with what they were playing, sometimes so much you could almost see the tears. 

A real pleasure to listen too!

If you haven't been to the Green Note before they run a jazz night on the first Sunday of every month which ends in a Jazz Jam. Well worth checking out.

 

Movember

16/11/2010

0 Comments

 
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It's that fantastic time of year again, where I get to grow a moustache and feel good about myself for doing it!


November is hi-jacked each year by men all over the world who grow a mo' and it's all in the name of raising money and awareness for men's health. Specifically testicular and prostate cancer.


If you feel that's a worthy cause then chuck in a few pounds on the donation page http://uk.movember.com/mospace/120131/


This time last year I wrote a blog about the ups and downs of having a moustache on the Twin and Tonic blog, here.


This year I've gone for the "cowboy" look by sporting a handlebar moustache. And the results are equally chilling (see above).


Once again its a very worthy cause and if you have a spare british pound, please donate it to Movember!
 
 
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The Time Miser. Resembles a clock-watching coal mine owner...coincidence?!
Now before I start I should point out that anyone who makes me get up early for no good reason is the Devil.

Time
1. A nonspatial continuum in which events occur in apparently irreversible succession from the past through the present to the future.
2. The one comodity you will never get back

Miser
1. One who lives very meagerly in order to hoard money.
2. A greedy or avaricious person.

Its Saturday and its 8am. Jimmy, who will now be refered to as the Time Miser, sends me a BBM to remind me that I need to be at his by 9 to catch the train to Yorkshire.

I hate him.

Once there I see him having a leasurely coffee, and saying that we've got ten minutes before we have to leave..."Well if we've got time for relaxing and coffee surely I could have spent that time in bed?!?!"

We arrive at King's Cross to meet David (the pianist) and Immie (our friend/groupie/nose picker) where upon I find we're not only early for our train, we have 20 minutes until it even arrives!

My hate for the Time Miser grows, like an un-yeilding field of invading brambles.

I seat myself opposite the Time Miser and fix him with a stare. He knows what i'm thinking and affixes a pleasant smug smile to his evil, child-like face.

You see me and the Time Miser go way  back. Having played in many bands together. My philosophy is very much: We're all good musicians and can play pretty much anything that's put in front of us, therefore rehearsals and 'being early' is a luxury we need not afford. While the Time Misers is more along the lines of: We need to be there with hours to spare, even if our saxophonist can only snatch four hours of sleep from the cold night. Everything is planned down to the second with many, other, seconds comfortably padding its sides.

Once we arrive in Starbeck, Yorkshire we meet our bassist. 16 year old Alasdair. This is the first time any of us have met him, let alone played with him. Suddenly we are gripped with fears; "What if he can't play the pieces?" "How can we play All Blues without a bass?!"

These are rapidly put to rest when we start to rehearse, for which we have 5 hours....3 more than we needed. Alistair is not only a competent bass player, he is a great bass player. Certainly a match for those we've played with who are 6 years his senior!

During rehearsals we are met by the rather overly-enthusiastic priest of Starbeck church. Who is sporting a bicycle helmet despite being inside, and no-where near a bicycle. He then proceeds to exclaim "How fit!" the Time Miser is looking. "Isn't he fit!" He exclaims.

The mood lifts as the Time Miser squirms with slight dis-comfort. I hate him and he should not be allowed near clocks as his crimes against time are heinous. 


The Gig
This goes ahead very, very well. Not only are the levels perfect, we can hear eachother, we're all in tune and there's no dodgy echo. Despite it being a church!

I was pleasantly surprised by the whole gig, and would go as far as to say its the best stand-alone jazz gig we've done to date. The audience is having a good time too, with some good wine and gentle chit-chat.

Ordinarily I find talking during music rude, but for this gig it fit well; the place had a more jazz club feel, rather than a rigid jazz concert where everyone must sit in silence and listen to me play C# minor 9 over Bflat7, among other awkward side-slips.

Fortunately this gig was recorded by our excellent sound man, so we may get some CD's to flog to our loved-ones, co-workers and lovers. 

Its not often I find reason to congratulate a sound man. This is one of those times where the sound man genuinely contributed positively towards an excellent sound!


Homeward Bound
After a long night I decide to rest my head upon Immie, our friend and groupie. Who then proceeds to stick her fingers up my nose for the next 30 minutes.
I 1. am too tired to prevent this nasal invasion and 2. quietly enjoying the Time Misers clear displeasure upon witnessing the event.


Wrap Up
All in all it was a great gig, and an enjoyable trip up to the grim North.

However, upon some final calculations I have determined the following.

Time spent on the trip: 12 hours + 2.5 hours at the gig

Time used on the trip: 7 hours + 2.5 hours at the gig

Therefore time I could have slept in by: 5 hours.

Time miser; you are the bane of my existence.