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Surprises for Big Band Britannia- Barbican, Saturday 19th


Jazz is supposed to be the sound of surprise, but people keep telling me stories and sending me press releases about “Big Band Britannia: Inspirations and Collaborations”. It doesn’t feel like spoiling: Saturday’s extravaganza organized by Guy Barker in the Barbican Hall – part of the week of residency at the Barbican of the Jazz at Lincoln Center Orchestra – is bound nevertheless to have all sorts of unexpected revelations.

The basic idea is to showcase eight decades of British big band music, with a host of guests. Those announced previously were Norma Winstone, Stan Tracey, Peter King, Bobby Wellins, Denys Baptiste, Henry Lowther and Jason Yarde. Music to be played is by Ted Heath, Kenny Baker, Vic Feldman, Tubby Hayes, Stan Tracey and Kenny Wheeler, Brotherhood of Breath.….Benny Carter ’s charts for the BBC Dance Orchestra, and Jack Hylton ’s for Coleman Hawkins….

But the additions seem to keep coming in – maybe they’re not all surprises, but all four were new to me:

1) Mark Nightingale has arranged a tribute to the late Sir John Dankworth, in which the band will be joined by Dame Cleo Laine. This is her first major appearance since the 40th anniversary concert at the Stables when she announced that John had died from the stage.

2) And then something really last-minute: George Foster wrote to me a midnight last night: “The score for Neil Ardley’s masterpiece “Le Dejeuner sur l’Herbe”, the title track of the superb but out of print album by the New Jazz Orchestra was tracked down as recently as last weekend. The piece has not been performed for many years but many consider the recorded version to be the finest piece ever of British big-band jazz

The original 1968 recording for Verve had Ian Carr, Derek Watkins, Harry Beckett and Henry Lowther on trumpets, Mike Gibbs, Detrek Wadsworth & John Mumford in the trombone section George Smith on tuba. Reeds and woodwinds were Barbara Thompson, Dave Gelly, Jim Philip and Dick Heckstall-Smith. Jack Bruce and Jon Hiseman were the rhythm section, as regular bass player Tony Reeves was in the control booth. Other members of the orchestra not on this recording included Norma Winstone and Kenny Wheeler.

Solos on the original recording were by Barbara Thompson, Ian Carr (one of his best ever), Dick Heckstall-Smith (playing 3 saxes at once) and Derek Wadsworth.

3) There will be an after-the-show set on the Barbican’s Clubstage by Jazz Jamaica

4) There will also apparently be a bus taking revellers who want to catch the late night jam at the Vortex. Like everyone else I’m dead curious if any forty-eight year old trumpeters with the middle name of Learson will be turning up for the jam….

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