The Jazzlines Month: December 2013

The Christmas period is traditionally a quiet time for Jazzlines as audiences have other priorities which somehow don’t seem to fit with jazz.

I often thought that jazz could light up the dark days between Christmas and New Year and remember that the late Willem Breuker used to run a very successful festival in that period in Amsterdam with the splendid name Klap op de Vuurpijl, which translates as ‘the Grand Finale’.

But that is certainly not going to happen this year.

It is, however, a time to reflect on the autumn programme, which we consider to have been very successful with some excellent concerts. By and large audiences are holding up quite well apart from a couple of disappointments. We are thus able to maintain a very full programme of events with both ticketed and free events in Town Hall, Symphony Hall and venues around the city, as well as the very popular and regular free events.

Birmingham deservedly has a reputation of having a thriving jazz scene that players from round the world all want to play in.

Particular highlights from 2013 have been the continuing excellence of the Jazzlines Trio and the Jazzlines Ensemble. The trio has been very active and its pianist Reuben James seems to be touring the world with many different musicians. The larger ensemble, which emerged from the 2012 Jazz Summer School, has continued to meet every month and were excellent at the Mostly Jazz Funk and Soul Festival in the summer.



A number of really strong bands of Birmingham Conservatoire graduates have established a strong reputation this autumn; Young Pilgrims have begun to perform regularly, Toby Boalch’s Sextet have launched a CD as has Jonathan Silk with his Big Band.

Matt Gough’s Dectet were excellent in Symphony Hall Cafe Bar recently, and Lluis Mather’s Noose gained credit with a performance at the London Jazz Festival. Chris Mapp has performed his solo electric bass set three times this autumn and is becoming more and more engaging. The four Jazzlines Fellows, Percy Pursglove, Dan Nicholls, Lluis Mather and Jonathan Silk are thriving and we look forward to their showcases in 2014.



Gig of the autumn? Close competition between Liam Noble’s Brother Face at mac, Young Pilgrims at the Hare & Hounds, David Murray Infinity Quartet and The Notebenders, or Arnie Somogyi’s Scenes in the City, The Double Trio and Stan Sulzmann’s Neon Orchestra, all at the CBSO Centre. Perhaps because it is so fresh in my memory, I am going to plump for the Stan Sulzmann concert; a wonderfully fitting tribute to Stan on his 65th birthday.

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We were very sad to hear of the passing of Stan Tracey over the weekend. In his early career Stan took on board the new sounds and harmonies of modern jazz and was a brilliant house pianist at Ronnie Scott’s in its Gerrard Street and early Frith Street days, accompanying visiting American soloists such as Dexter Gordon, Lucky Thompson, Stan Getz and Zoot Sims. Sonny Rollins with whom Stan composed and played on the theme tune for the film Alfie famously asked “Does anyone here realise how good he is?”.

Stan was strongly influenced by the piano styles of Duke Ellington and Thelonious Monk, but he was also one of the very first British modern jazz players to develop a truly original voice, both as a soloist and as a composer. His musical version in 1965 of Dylan Thomas’Under Milk Wood with his then quartet with Bobby Wellins on tenor sax is one of jazz’s greats recordings. Other jazz suites followed in the 70s and 80s, e.g._ The Salisbury Suite_ (1978), The Crompton Suite (1981) and The Poets Suite (1984).



Stan had a strong relationship with Birmingham and with the founder of Birmingham Jazz, George West. For a number of years Stan would always open the autumn season at the Strathallan Hotel with one of his many ensembles. I can remember several wonderful sessions with his quartet with Art Themen on saxophone and a great big band session.

In later years Stan returned to Birmingham first to the Adrian Boult Hall with a new suite marking his 75th birthday entitled Continental Drift, co-written with Clark Tracey, his son and regular drummer, and then in two memorable concerts at the CBSO Centre, one with his Octet and the second with his six piece Hexad. These two bands were particularly good ensembles for Stan’s later writing with the range and subtlety that groups of this size bring to the music.

Stan Tracey was a true great of British jazz and will be widely missed.

– Tony Dudley-Evans, Jazzlines Adviser