Friday, 4 December 2009

The Croydon Reading Room Jazz group

P1000566, originally uploaded by jassray.

This is a group I play in every week. It is only an amateur band but it is great fun and the emphasis is on learning.

I have learnt a great deal playing with them and this photograph is taken at our first concert.

Tuesday, 14 July 2009

Jazz Workshop

We had a great night at the Royston Jazzworkshop last night. I am not sure if it was the heat or the music but everyone seemed to be in the mood for a good blow. As we play our repertoire alphabetically we are currently ploughing through song starting with the letter 'S'. Last night was Satin Doll, Straight No Chaser, Song for My Father and Sidewinder.

I think I did fairly well. Satin Doll I have played a couple of times now and slowly getting the feel of how to change the rhythms so that they are interesting. I had never played Straight No Chaser before so just fell back on playing the blues scale. I would prefer to play something different but until I know the songs better it will do for now.

Song For My Father is a song I played for hours with my jazz teacher so am confident with it but still have lots of work to do.

Side winder was a new one too and just struggled through.

All in all I had a great night and felt very high afterwards. this is the music I want to play. The Harlow Concert Band is alright but it does not compare with improvising and jazzing like this. It may only be at an amateur level but it will do for me.

Tuesday, 7 July 2009

At the Jazz Workshop

Last night I attended the jazz workshop that I have recently joined and I had had another great night. I have been messing about with playing jazz for some time now but never had an outlet for my playing. I have a huge amount to learn but had nowhere to put my theory studies into practise.

This workshop has solved that. Don't get me wrong I am still struggling with the chords and sales but each week getting more and more confident to be experimental.

Last night we played, Summertime, Now's the Time, St. Thomas and Sister Sadie. Summertime I tried to play just the b minor pentatonic scale (I play alto sax) and it sort of worked but I did not quite like what I was playing. But it felt like good experience not just messing the melody.

Now's the Time was for my instrument a d blues which I am familiar with and had a good time with he d blues scale. But now I understand what others have said about too much use of the blues scale can get boring. I will find other scales that I can use to make it more interesting. Both St Thomas and Sister Sadie were a bit of a disaster for me as I had no idea what to play over the chord progression. But that is the value of a workshop like this. It shows your weaknesses and gives you something to work towards.

I drove home with a real buzz and sang along to the Miles Davis CD ' Kind of Blue'.

I love jazz.

Friday, 3 July 2009

Adam Glasser

On the 25th June we went to GoogliesJazz to see jazz harmonica player Adam Glasser. We had a fantastic night and I thoroughly enjoyed his music. The chromatic harmonica is a rare instrument to be heard and even rarer in the jazz world. But this guy created great sounds and deserves a wider audience.

His repertoire was a mixture of jazz standards and South African jazz. In fact a particular South African number was the highlight for me. The tenor player Bill Yeomans of the house band had obviously never seen some of the chord charts before that night but this did not put him off. After the melody which, had a very african taste to it, he got down to improvise. He done a great job and it was clear that he did struggle at first but once he got the harmonies in his head he hit the right notes.

The whole audience errupted at the end as did Adam Glaser himself.

A night to remember.

Tuesday, 23 June 2009


One day whilst browsing the web I googled the keywords jazz workshop and came up with one not far from where I live. after a couple of e-mails to the organiser I got an invite to join them and last night I attended my first jam with them.

I have to say from the outset that i had a fantastic night. The people were very friendly and of about the same ability as me. There was a nice range of instruments being played with tenor and alto saxophones, clarinets guitars and a trumpet. The rhythm section was good with a very enthusiastic drummer.

We played a good range of standards and I think I improvised well on most. The songs I did struggle with were 'The A train' and 'Blue bossa'. But that is the point of a workshop, learning. There was no pressure to play a solo, it was left up to you and everyone was supportive.

This will be a regular thing for me and I hope that my jazz education will now flourish.

Monday, 16 March 2009

The White Hart Jam jazz

Well I have finally done it. After all the practise, studying and lessons from various people I have at last performed some jazz in front of an audience. This important event in my musical education took place last night at the White Hart Public House, Wimbish, Essex. To get there has been a long journey, rather like the trip we had trying to find the Pub. My jazz journey started a couple of years ago with a lot of enthusiasm but very little direction. After a while I started to find my way although very slowly. It helped to have a good map. I used the Jamey Aebersold play-a-long books a great deal and read them over and over again. I learnt how to practise my scales and arpeggios with a purpose in mind and with every turn and new road began to understand more and more. I played tunes at home and struggled to improvise over the chords. I studied jazz theory and tried to get my head around dominant 7th’s and ii-v7-1 sequences. I also attended a couple of jazz workshops at the Benslow Music Trust which were fun but really only highlighted my ignorance and what I needed to know to progress further.
Eventually I recognised the need to stop and ask someone the way. After a lot of searching I found a great teacher in Hannah Horton who has helped me enormously. She has given me better directions and taught me exactly which roads to take during my improvisation. I still have a great deal to learn but last night I was able to exorcise a ghost of the past (See Half Moon link) and now feel that I am on the right road to continue my mission.
The White Hart PH is in the wilds of the Essex countryside. It took us ages to find it. We seemed to be going round in circles in the dark looking for a sign. Backwards and forwards we travelled until eventually we gave up looking and asked someone the way. We discovered we were just yards away. This is just like my music; I was close but not close enough. But now I feel I am in top gear and on my way.

Tuesday, 6 January 2009

No more Ray's Jazz Cafe

Yesterday was a sad day for me. I went to one of my favourite places in London and found that it had gone. At least in the form that I loved.
Ray's Jazz cafe was a CD and Cafe located on the first floor of Foyle's Bookshop, Charing Cross Road, London. Whenever I descended the stairs from the street the smell of roasted coffee greeted me like an old friend. After passing through the grey double doors into the cafe the wonderful warm sound of jazz hit my ears. The combination of both of these delights seemed to transport me to heaven on earth.
Ray's was an independent record shop selling Jazz, Blues and World music. It was a great place to browse and look for discs that the mainstream shops like HMV did not stock. It sold jazz books and magazines, in was a place that if you looked carefully you always thought you might rub shoulders with a jazz great.
But sadly yesterday all I found was a larger cafe selling coffee but without the music. Signs on the walls directed me to the third floor for the CD's where, I found CD's but no coffee. The record store had been turned into a grey lifeless Cd's store. No warmth, no music playing and no place for me.
I left and will never return.

Monday, 13 October 2008

Concert at Orton Longueville School, Peterborough

Have you ever heard people say that when they listen to beautiful music, it can move them? Well, I can report that on Saturday 11th Oct music moved me to the core.
You see I was playing in a concert that brought together the City of Peterborough and Harlow Concert Bands. This is an annual get together held at alternate venues and this year it was Peterborough’s turn to play host. Because of the large amount of players (over 60) the stage at Orton Longueville School, where we sat, was a little crowded.

I was positioned, with my tenor saxophone, directly in front of the drummer. We were so close there was not even room for a piece of sheet music between the back of my chair and his drum kit. I did not think anything of this until the first time he put the pedal down on the bass drum. The vibrations were so intense they caused the portion of succulent roast beef I had eaten only an hour before to dance in my stomach. When he violently beat four beats to the bar on the tenor drum the bread and butter pudding that had earlier followed the beef, followed it again only this time jumping up and down in the double helping of custard. Another reminder of how that deadly sin ‘greed’ should be avoided at all cost.

During our rendition of that upbeat tune ‘All that jazz’ from the show Chicago, The air around my ears swirled like a tornado each time he hit the symbol immediately behind my head. But whilst blowing a high note, I happened to lean too far back in my chair and my head inadvertently went under the shivering circle of brass. Just at that precise moment, the now uncontrollable percussionist hit the bloody thing. As a result, instead of a beautiful piercing sound which fully enhanced the effect of the music, it sounded like someone hitting a dustbin lid with a piece of raw haddock.

So by the end of the evening I was exhausted. I had bruises on top of my head, I was in the early stages of chronic indigestion and my ears were developing a severe case of tinnitus.

I look forward to Christmas and some nice quiet carols.

Friday, 10 October 2008

A Tight Sqeeze

The Papaya fruit is a yellow coloured fruit grown in Mexico. If cut open its core reveals a tightly packed cluster of seeds. So What! I here you say. Well the reason I mention this is because not only did the tune ‘Papaya’ feature in Harlow Concert Bands latest musical feast, but also because of the tight space with which we had to sit and play. It was so close that most of the band members felt like the seeds inside of the aforementioned fruit.

The venue was a very pretty 14th century church at Watton-on-Stone, Hertfordshire dedicated to St. Andrew and St. Mary. However, this is a place of worship and not designed to house 30 or so instrumentalists who require various amounts of space for their large lumps of brass and elbows. There was no stage. Why should there be? We just squeezed where we could into the area around the choir stalls. The brass section managed to find space towards the Alter, the saxophones sat under the pulpit and those that were left such as clarinets, oboes and flutes sat where they could fit in. Of course the conductor was alright. He had plenty of space around him to swing a cat, let alone a baton. I suppose that’s the privilege of being in charge.

Any way the music went down well and the audience was very appreciative. The highlight? It has to be our rendition of ‘Papaya’ and Paul Cutler who played the trombone solo so exquisitely. Because of where he stood I had the full benefit of his sound inches from my right ear. But it was by no means unpleasant. He produced a wonderful warm tone which seemed to fit the beguine/Cuban style of the composition. Close your eye and you could just imagine yourself sitting by the warm sea drinking a rum and coke.

And as a final thought. The church apparently was used by the Cromwell’s army to house Royalist prisoners during the Civil war. As I sat there squashed up against the choir stalls on one side and a fellow saxophone player the other, I wondered who else sat in that space over 400 years earlier. He probably have more room to move than I did.

Thursday, 1 May 2008

Concert at Royal British Legion, Harlow

The Royal British Legion provides financial, social and emotional support to millions who have served or are currently serving in the British Armed Forces, and their dependants. They have social clubs up and down the country that provide a venue for social events and a place for members to meet.

Last night the Harlow Concert Band played at the Royal British Legion club, Harlow. Despite the fact that this was the same night that Chelsea was playing Liverpool in the semi-final of the Champions league there was a good crowd. There was a big screen showing the football in an adjoining room so those that were interested in the score could keep one eye on the match.

Mike Pearce, our conductor, chose film and show music as our theme and our repertoire included tunes from The Sound of Music, Paint your Wagon and the Big Country. Also included were Amparito Roca, The Radetzky March and Rod Stewart’s, Sailing (what does that Morse code rhythm mean?). I may be biased but I thought that we sounded very good. Everyone played very well and it was a great night. My highlight was when we played ‘Moonlight Serenade’. This tune just makes me tingle and to be able to play it whilst sitting in the middle of a concert band is just a fantastic feeling. I wish we could play more Glenn Miller music.

Chelsea eventually beat their opponents and all the blue shirted supporters went home happy. Judging by the demand for an encore and the standing ovation we got, our crowd went home just as happy. The Blues are off to Moscow now to play the Reds. We, on the other hand, will remain in Harlow and rehearse for our next concert. They play for Champions League gold, we play for ABBA Gold.

Tuesday, 8 April 2008

License plate from New York City

Saw this license plate during my sojourn to the
Big Apple.

A Times Square Busker

The Brill Building

This is the Brill Building at 1619 Broadway, Manhattan.
It's musical connection is with the music publishers that
had offices here during the 1940's. 50's and 60's.
Songs that were published here were played by 'Big Bands' such as
Benny Goodman, Glenn Miller and the Dorsey Brothers.

Wednesday, 2 April 2008

Strawberry Fields

This is the memorial to John Lennon. It is situated in Central Park, New York. Close to where he lived which can be seen above.

Monday, 24 March 2008

B.B.Kings, Times Square

BB Kings blues bar and grill Times Square, NYC
It looks too touristy for me.

Sunday Jazz Brunch

This is the North Square restaurant at
Washington Square, New York City.
On Sundays they have jazz playing in the lounge.
We saw the Roz Corral Trio with James Shipp on vibes
and Paul Gill on double bass.

Friday, 14 March 2008

Simon Spillett

Simon Spillett is a fast energetic bebop tenor sax playing of the highest order. He plays at the speed of Lewis Hamilton behind the wheel of his formula 1 car. But speed is not at the expense of his music. His notes do not blur and disappear into each other. His articulation is clear and precise. He is very good to listen to. His gig last night at Googlies Jazz Club was very enjoyable and made for a good comparison with the sax players of the last two weeks. Like Clatworthy, Spillett played lyrical phrases which were intriguing to hear. Like Barnes he interspersed his playing with comical chatter and jokes. But Spillett has his own jazz personality and any further comparison with others is futile. He has his own style. He plays quick and frantic with the upbeat tunes, calm and sensitive with the ballads.

During the night he confessed to his love and admiration for Tubby Hayes. Hayes was a young British jazz player who in the words of Spillett’ was the best tenor saxophonist this country has ever produced’. Spillett’s new album, ‘Sienna Red’ is collection of tunes composed or connected in some way with Tubby Hayes; indeed part of the line-up includes ex Hayes drummer Spike Wells.

So, this was another excellent night of top quality jazz in this wonderful warm friendly jazz club. I often feel privileged to be able to go here week after week and see the best of British jazz. Indeed Simon Spillett indicated last night that according to the bulk of British jazz artists, Googlies is fast becoming the gig to play. This is good news for us jazz loving punters. The more the word gets around the more great jazz we get to listen to. Bring it on!

Thursday, 13 March 2008

Sleepy Lagoon

I had not been to a Harlow band rehearsal for a couple of weeks and it was nice to get back. Although towards the end of the second half my mouth started to get tired and I consequently found it hard to blow. Thinking back I had realised that I had not played much over the last few weeks and this illustrates the need to practise. I remember when I was learning to play clarinet that if I did not play for been a few days my embouchure would suffer. A wise old man once told me that if you don’t practise for one day no one would notice, for two days you will notice, if you don’t practise for three days everyone will notice. I find that this is less important with the saxophone as there is less need to tighten the mouth on the higher notes. But last night proved to me that you have to keep playing to keep the mouth strong.

We had a good rehearsal taken by Paul Cutler as our regular MD was sick. We played a medley of Beatles songs and a Toccata for band which was interesting. We finished off with an old favourite of ours ‘Sleepy Lagoon’ written in 1930 by English composer Eric Coates and used for the BBC Radio 4 programme Desert Island Discs.

Monday, 10 March 2008

Hurricane Smith

Have just learnt of the sad news that Norman Smith died last week. I met him a few times during the time my father worked with him in the 70's and remember him to be a friendly man. He has always been a major part of my life due to the connection with my dad and 'Oh babe what would you say'.

There is a very nice obituary on timesonline.