"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.

Picture
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. 
 
 
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
 
 
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.

 
 
I recently started reading "Jazz Anecdotes - Second Time Around" by Bill Crow A great collection of stories from when Jazz was all the rage - and its proponents honoured with whimsical stories, anecdotes and jokes. 

Here's some of the best:

African Drums
Deep in the African jungle, a safari was camped for the night. In the darkness, distant drums began a relentless throbbing that continued will dawn. The safari members were concerned, but the native guide reassured them. "Drums good. When drums stop, very bad"

Every night the drumming continued, and every night the guide reiterated. "Drums good. When drums stop, very bad."

Then one night the drums suddenly stopped. The guide look frightened. "When drums stop, very, very bad!" he exclaimed

"Why is it bad?" asked a member of the safari.
"Because when drums stop, bass solo begin!"


The Vocalist
A vocalist hired a pianist to accompany her at an audition for a night-club job. After listening to a couple of songs, the owner said, "Can you sing 'When Sunny Gets Blue'? Its my favourite song. If you can sing it, you're hired."


The singer whispered to the pianist "I don't know it all the way through." The pianist said, "I know it. Go ahead and start, I'll prompt you." 


Reluctantly, she began: "When Sunny Gets Blue..." She looked at the piano player for help, He whispered confidently, "B flat minor ninth."


The Salesmen
Two salesmen were having a drink at a bar. One claimed he was successful because of his ability to relate to anyone. "Whatever their IQ I can talk to them on their own level." His friend wanted a demonstration, so he tapped a stranger on the shoulder.


"Excuse me, what is your IQ?"
"It's about 200."
The salesmen immediately engaged him in a discussion of nuclear physics.


The next candidate admitted to an IQ of 100. The salesman launched into a discussion of politics and ecology with him. 


Finally the man at the end of the bar was asked his IQ. He said "Oh, I suppose its about 34."


The salesman said "What kind of reeds do you use?"


Big Band Drummer
A big band drummer was having time problems. He kept pulling the tempos down - playing slower and slower. The rest of the band urged the leader to get rid of him. 


The leader talked it over with the drummer, who made frantic efforts to keep the tempos up where they belonged, but he couldn't seem to stop dragging. Even his fills and accents were late. Finally the whole band threatened to quit, and the leader reluctantly fired the guy.


The poor guy was so despondent that he went down to the railroad tracks, and threw himself behind a train. 


Frustrated Jazzer
A musician who had spend many years trying to break into the big time was feeling very depressed. He'd been turned down by every record company in the business. Seeking a perverse revenge, he booked a recording studio and told the engineer to record exactly what he would say, then copy it onto a thousand compact discs and send them to all the recording executives in the country. 


In the vocal booth, once the red light came on, he ranted. "This is a message to all you sycophantic, talent-less bastards who have ignored me all these years. I dedicated my life to writing beautiful, emotive, soul-touching music, and all you idiots do is bin my tapes and sign pretty boy-bands and the Spice Girls. Well, I've taken all I can of your puerile, shallow industry, and it's YOU who've driven me to it! Goodbye, murderers of art!"


And with that he pulled out a gun, and blew his brains out. The sound engineer said from the booth "Okay....that's fine for level. Want to go for a take?"