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Review: Does it Swing?

Does it Swing?
(Concert for primary school children, Barbican Theatre, June 15th 2010)

This was by no means your typical English summer audience. It wasn’t Henley. People weren’t standing drinking and chatting with their backs to the river, completely ignoring world-class rowing. And it wasn’t Glyndebourne either, where people snooze their way through opera with thoughts of cold soup.

This was an audience full of life. Six hundred completely attentive London primary schoolchildren were at the Barbican Theatre for a show entitled “Does It Swing?” Trying to describe this audience in a phrase, attempting to answer the rhetorical question of the title, I keep coming back to the same words.

They are what Galileo allegedly muttered in 1633 to the papal inquisition, which had been on his case for twenty years, telling him to repent, to admit to them that the earth stands still.

“It moves.”

Yes, this is an audience which sways, claps, smiles. It’s uninhibited, it joins in, it clicks its fingers in time on the backbeat, it heckles, it laughs. Nobody’s told it to do otherwise. It understands jazz. The teachers will have undoubtedly prepared the children. But the way the kids were responding to the music, to the atmosphere of good humour, the sense that getting into this music can be fun, surely some part of all that must be instinctive, no?

Trumpeter Abram Wilson played well. He was also playing the crowd well, doing the hard yards, MCing the show, but keeping it nice n simple for each and every one of six hundred children. He explained to them how a rhythm section works. “It’s like a car. The engine (Yuriy Galkin) is the bass, the wheels are the drums (Graham Godfrey) . And the piano (Peter Edwards): “That’s my paint job.” Discuss.

The interplay of recorded video material and live performance was very professionally and well done, and created a seamless storyline. Perry Louis got all of us – yes every single one – on our feet trying dance steps.

But above all it was trombonist Wycliffe Gordon (above) who caught the children’s attention. He was zipping through his repertoire of multiphonic effects on the trombone as if they could be learnt by anyone. Yeah right. He was getting every member of the audience – and the band too- laughing at the range of rude sounds he can get with a plunger mute. And, finally, he sent everyone home happy with a heartfelt rendition of Hoagy Carmichael’s Stardust. An astonishing performer.

I don’t think I will see a more heartening sight all year than this young audience and its sincere response to the performance.

And yes, the answer. It did swing.

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