Ronnie Scott's – keeping jazz away from the fans since 2006…

So today I went down to the marvellous Institute Of Contemporary Music Performance in Kilburn, to watch a masterclass by guitarist Mike Stern and bass legend Anthony Jackson. It was a mixture of stories, advice, practice tips and inspirational musings, as well as some amazing playing. Anthony was certainly the most animated I’ve ever seen him (which is not a huge amount, but more than just having seen him in magazines…) and was on rare form with his answers to questions.

All if which made me want to go and check them out at Ronnie Scott’s tonight or tomorrow. However, tickets are £36. For one set. And there’s no longer a reduction for MU members. None at all.

There was a time, not as long ago as you might think when it was – I gather – a pound to get into Ronnie’s with your MU card. That made it the defacto musician’s hang in central london. Given that it goes on a lot later than many other gigs in town, it was the place to go once your gig had finished – catch the second set, hang out with some other musos, get a drink, and give Ronnie’s the air of being THE place to be. It’s what Ronnie himself specifically intended for the club.

That all changed last year when the club changed hands. No more reductions, no more staying all night to watch both sets by an act you really love, and no more sensibly priced tickets. Now, I know Mike Stern is going to charge a pretty penny to come and play – he ain’t cheap, but he’s not sodding Coldplay either! Certainly nothing that forces the club to charge such high dollar ticket prices, or to split the evening so you can only go to half the gig. Add to that the disappearance of the best gig in the country which I’ve blogged about before (click the link), and you’ve got yourself one crappy cabaret night out for rich peoples.

Bollocks to Ronnie’s.

The disappearance of the best gig in the country…

Ronnie Scott’s is one of the most famous jazz clubs in the world. It’s legendary. The late saxophonist who gave his name to the club was clearly a tireless campaigner for jazz music in London, and for as long as most jazzers can remember, Ronnie’s was a place to go and hang, to meet other musicians, hear some great tunes.

They’ve always done really cheap tickets for MU members, and best of all, they always booked a local band to play opposite the big names. It was pretty much the only serious venue around that booked UK jazz acts for week-long residencies. the money wasn’t great, but it was fabulous exposure, a chance to shift a load of CDs, and a great one for the CV. Without doubt, one of the best gigs that any UK jazz band could get booked for. I’ve seen some great stuff there – Ben Castle’s quartet opposite The Yellowjackets, Christine Tobin opposite Gary Husband….

well now, they’ve refurbed the building, but made a right arse of the booking policy and now have a house band. The James Pearson trio play every night, with a different guest. Yup, just like a regular restaurant gig. There are lots of these kinds of gigs around – house trio, hired in front person, plodding through the Real Book, sometimes playing lovely versions of standards, often sounding a bit bored. It makes a really nice accompaniment to dinner and is a great way to spend £4 if your local pub has put a gig on like that in the back room.

But, it’s not what I’d expect if I’d just paid £45 (£45!!!!!!!!!!) to see Chick Corea or Wynton Marsalis or whoever.

I’ve not heard James Pearson play. This isn’t about him or his trio. It’s just that the format isn’t an art gig. It’s not fair on the front person to not have their own band there – Theo isn’t going to sound anything like his records with some generic trio behind him. You can’t turn up to a blowing gig and expect them to play Schizoid Man. Ben Castle couldn’t go in with the chart for Mousecatcher General. They’ll just end up playing Satin Doll and Don’t Get Around Much Anymore, and it’ll be like any other restaurant gig in London.

So, if you feel moved by this, feel free to boycott Ronnie’s. email them and tell them why, if you like. I just think it’s sad, and will take my custom and my gig money to The Vortex, or the 606 or just about anywhere else instead.

Two nights at the vortex.

Been to two gigs at The Vortex in the last week – last Monday, I went to see the launch of Ingrid Laubrock and Liam Noble’s album ‘Let’s Call This…’ – I’ve heard Ingrid play before, in a quartet, but wasn’t familiar with Liam’s playing other than through MySpace. The music was exquisite, whether improvising or playing Monk tunes, the interplay between the two was gorgeous, with Ingrid switching between squeally extended range techniques and lovely lush full melodic stuff, with Liam providing entirely unpredictable but completely logic accompaniment – a really really interesting piano player.

The album is released – like so many great UK jazz albums – on Oliver Weindling’s Babel Label, home to such artists as Polar Bear, Acoustic Ladyland, Christine Tobin, Huw Warren… definitely worth investigating.

Then this saturday, Lianne Carrol was booked to play but fell ill, so the lovely and ever-so-slightly mad Estelle Kokot was booked to fill in, and did a fab job. It was also a rather nice London jazz hang, with JazzShark over from NYC, Orphy Robinson calling in, Huw Warren visiting from north west Wales, Christine Tobin nursing a nasty cut in her leg from a bike accident, and the aforementioned Oliver Weindling from Babel Label.

The Vortex is a lovely place to hang out – if you see something on their Programme that you’re going to, drop me a line and I might meet you there if I’m not playing myself.

Dalston feels like it’s a bit out of the way, but if you’re driving from north london it’s really easy to get to, and it’s just round the corner from Dalston Kingsland BR station… Go on, go out and support some homegrown jazz instead of wasting your time and money on an overpriced trip to Ronnie Scott’s.

A very fine Big Idea

never let it be said that Britain doesn’t have a vibrant and burgeoning jazz scene.

Mark Lockheart is one of the busiest and most respected sax players in the country, and for his current tour he’s assembled a fantastic group featuring four marvellous saxophonists with a killer rhythm section. It’s pretty rare to see four sax players in a contemporary jazz setting in the UK – it’s not often that anyone can afford to take that kind of project on the road, but Mark has managed it.

Due to my having a gig on the same night, I won’t be able to make it to the London gig next thursday, so last night, Orphy and I headed out to Oxford to see ‘Mark Lockheart’s Big Idea’ play at The Spin, a weekly jazz gig at The Wheatsheaf in Oxford. I’d heard a lot about the gig from friends who’d played there, so was looking forward to checking out the venue too.

The gig was fantastic – playing mainly music from Mark’s latest album Moving Air, with Mark, Julian Siegel , Steve Buckley and Rob Townsend on saxes and bass clarinets, Martin France on drums John Parricelli on guitar and Dudley Phillips on bass.

Mark has a very distinctive writing style, that can be traced all the way back to the tunes he wrote for seminal british jazz outfit, Loose Tubes in the mid 80s. The horn arrangements are stunningly beautiful, and he made full use of the dynamic possibilities of having four horns on stage. Parricelli was on rare form, playing beautifully and blending with the sound of the horns magnificently.

Fortunately, the room was packed, and the audience were hugely appreciative. It’d be mad to suggest that Britain was in any way deficient in the jazz world – I guess the problem, as it is in most parts of the world, is a lack of places to play anything other than standards. The main jazz gigs in London are restaurant gigs, with venues like The New Vortex and Ronnie Scott’s doing their bit to promote interesting vibrant music. It’s still tough to find a gig, moreso now that the foyer gigs are the Festival Hall are on hold while the renovate the building.

So, in the spirit of last night’s gig, I’m going to offer you a beginner’s guide to the British Jazz scene – a handful of essential CDs that prove our place alongside the Americans and Scandinavians, while still all sounding uniquely British…

– The obvious place to start is with Theo Travis – his last two quartet CDs, Heart Of The Sun and Earth To Ether are both outstanding.
– Next up would be Ben Castle – his last album Blah Street is marvellous – clever, funny and intelligent in all the right ways.
– Of course Mark Lockheart who inspired this list in the first place – his latest, Moving Air is fabulous.
– And then there’s Mo Foster – any of his records are worth getting, but particularly Time To Think is gorgeous.
– Another one featuring Mark Lockheart, the Works is Patrick Wood’s amazing quartet – what Weather Report would have sounded like if they’d grown up in London. Beware Of The Dog is one of my favourite instrumental albums from any part of the world, not just the UK.

If you were to buy that lot (and I think you should), you’d have a pretty decent representation of why I’m excited about the future of British music, rather than wallowing in the despair that would ensue from burying yourself in the world of X-Factor, Pop Idol and the lame faecal mountain that is the pop charts.

Soundtrack – some tracks that I’ve been recording over the last three days with american fretless guitarist, Ned Evett – some really really cool stuff (to add to the stockpiles of other really really cool stuff that are sitting here waiting to be released!) – hopefully I’ll have an MP3 taster or two for you soon from this lot…

For the second time this week…

…I went to see Gary Husband’s play at Ronnie Scott’s last night. It was their last night at the venue, and it seems like they saved the best til last. Another breath-takingly good set – incredible levels of musicianship, some beautiful writing, and the most marvellous interplay between the musicians. Definitely one of the finest instrumental groups I’ve ever seen anywhere.

Tonight they were in Gainsborough, so only Manchester and Gateshead to go – PLEASE GO AND SEE THEM PLAY!!

Before the gig last night I was supposed to be going to Jonny and Jenny’s joint 40th birthday, got part of the way there and heard an announcement on the radio the whole of the Hammersmith area was gridlocked by a traffic accident. Turned round and went home, only to be told that it cleared up a lot quicker than radio-lady made it sound. Bugger.

Life affirming music

So last night I went to see Gary Husband’s Force Majeure band play at Ronnie Scott’s. Unbelieveable. Truly marvellous, energising, inspiring, life affirming music. Very dense and complex and spooky at times, but never less than awe-inspiring. The quality of the musicians is one rarely seen on one stage – Matthew Garrison was obviously a big draw, being one of my favourite bassists in the whole world, a great player and a lovely guy. He played really really well, and the rest of the band, made up of some of America’s finest fusion musicians were all on top form.

The audience was chock full of lovely bassists, including Mo Foster, Dave Swift, Nick Fyffe, Oroh Angiama, Michael Mondesir, Nathan King, Dave Marks – it’s rare that we all get to meet up, so much fun was had.

If you can get to any of the gigs, please please do – it’s not easy listening, it’ll demand your attention and energy, but it’s a band not to be missed, playing Gary’s beatiful compositions.

Go on, go and book tickets!

More great live music in England

…and I don’t just mean my upcoming gigs! :o)

is probably best known as drummer extraordinaire with Level 42, Alan Holdsworth and a whole bunch of other people. He’s also a stunning piano player, and has assembled a remarkable band under the name , featuring one of the finest bassist on the planet, , along with Jim Beard, Randy Brecker, Elliot Mason, Jerry Goodman and other top level fusion cats.

I saw them play last year at Turner Simms theatre in Southampton, and the gig was outstanding – very challenging complex music, but marvellous and uplifting too.

They are back on tour starting this Saturday in Milton Keynes, and I urge you to go check them out – click here for the tour dates, which include a week at Ronnie Scott’s in London, and gigs in Manchester, Gainsborough and Gateshead.

Chances to hear music this great outside of the major London concert halls doesn’t come along to often, so please support it. There’s been a thread on the forum about great bassists often bypassing the UK on their European tour dates – if tours like this don’t get supported, it just proves why we’re so often overlooked.

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