For ten years the Adrian Boult Hall was the main venue for Birmingham Jazz and it must have presented something like 50 concerts in the hall in that period. Its successor organisation Jazzlines in Town Hall Symphony Hall has continued to use it on an occasional basis since then. It’s a great venue and I would like to share some great memories of concerts presented there in the lead up to our last ever concert there with Julian Argüelles and Tetra featuring Percy Pursglove on Friday 10th June.
The first concert in the Hall presented trumpeter Don Cherry on a Contemporary Music Network (CMN) tour with his Nu band featuring Carlos Ward on alto saxophone, Mark Helias on double bass and Nana Vasconcelos on drums and percussion. This was a wonderful concert in which Don Cherry drew on both his experience with Ornette Coleman and his forays into African music and his use of the West African dosongoni string instrument. It was also the first time Brazilian Nana Vasconcelos played Birmingham, the first of many productive visits. It was also the first of many excellent collaborations with the CMN to present world class jazz and contemporary music that attracted large audiences to the hall. A particular memory of the gig is that Don spilt a cup of coffee in the dressing room leaving a large stain. That stain survived for many years and provided a fond memory of the concert.
The CMN concerts that came included a wonderful double bill with two solo pianists: contemporary classical pianist Roger Woodward playing music by Xenakis and others, and Cecil Taylor playing a totally improvised set. I remember Roger Woodward talking afterwards of how he was fascinated by Taylor’s improvisations on the piano and that he had that night finally worked out how Taylor set about his improvisations.
Other great CMN concerts presented in the hall include concerts celebrating various ‘big’ birthdays of Kenny Wheeler’s, including his 60th in January 1990, a concert that took place on the same day that they recorded the Music for Large and Small Ensembles on the ECM label. Pianist John Taylor was part of those ensembles and also appeared in the Towards The Millennium festival recreating the music of Azimuth with vocalist Norma Winstone and Kenny Wheeler.
Record producer and jazz pianist Don Grolnik brought Randy and Michael Brecker to the hall with his Weaver of Dreams line up and the Brecker Brothers returned in a band led by percussionist Don Alias that also featured four Latin percussionists, Don Alias himself, Alex Acuna from one of the early versions of Weather Report, Steve Berrios from the Fort Apache band and Giovanni Hidalgo, who worked in Dizzy Gillespie’s United Nations Big Band. Hermeto Pascoal’s Anglo-Brazilian Jazz Orchestra also presented a wonderfully blend of jazz and Brazilian music to a sold out audience.
We also launched our policy of developing and encouraging new work in the Adrian Boult Hall. We commissioned Tim Berne to write Impacted Wisdom for his Caos Totale group with special guest Django Bates on piano. This was the beginning of a strong relationship with Tim Berne that continues to this day. Django Bates was also a fairly regular visitor to the ABH; he came with his The Third Policeman project based on the novel by Flann O’Brien and with the Delightful Precipice Big Band.
Mike Gibbs performed both with his own large ensembles and with the sadly missed Creative Jazz Orchestra. With the latter ensemble he presented, as part of a weekend devoted to the music of composer Mark-Anthony Turnage, organised jointly with BCMG, his arrangements of various of Turnage’s pieces. Mark confessed that he preferred Mike’s arrangements to his own!
I have a particular memory of the concert with John Lurie’s Lounge Lizards in 1998. It was a great band sometimes accused of playing ‘fake jazz’, but in fact turned out to have great material that really captivated a large audience. But my strongest memory is how the band turned off the smoke alarms in the dressing rooms so that they could smoke. This was just after the ban on smoking in public buildings had been introduced, but the band was determined to have their smoke before the gig. The result of turning off the alarms was that the whole alarm system in the Conservatoire was liable to go off at any moment during the concert. Fortunately it didn’t and the concert went ahead without problems.
More recently, Jack DeJohnette brought a great band to the Hall featuring Don Byron on tenor saxophone and George Colligan on piano and keys and gave a demonstration of why he is one of the world’s finest drummers.
The Adrian Boult Hall worked well as a jazz venue and musicians mostly liked the acoustic of the Hall. In it we were able to develop an ambitious programme taking touring projects from the CMN and specially created projects of its own. It thus became established as one of the UK’s key venues on the touring circuit.
The Hall was great, but access for the band equipment and the PA was difficult; one had to unload down in the car park under the Conservatoire and use the rather ancient lift. A certain restaurant owner in Fletcher’s Walk often used to park his van right in front of the entrance of the lift and we were advised not remonstrate with him as he carried a knife!
Julian Argüelles who appears as part of the final season on Friday June 10th (https://www.thsh.co.uk/event/julian-arguelles-tetra-with-percy-pursglove) has played in the Hall a number of times; he was a member of the various Kenny Wheeler ensembles that played there. He was brought up in the West Midlands, and was a member of the Walsall and Midlands Youth Jazz Orchestras in his younger years. He was also, with his drummer brother Steve Argüelles, one of the Birmingham representatives in a Twin City Jazz project developed as part of the Sounds Like Birmingham Year of Music. A special octet was formed with two players from each of four twin cities, Birmingham, Frankfurt, Lyon and Milan.