(Pizza Express, Thursday October 21st, Review by Jeanie Barton
Photo: backstage at the Toronto Jazz Festival, watching Charlie Rouse, by William Ellis)
Jay Phelps warmly greeted the crowd at Pizza Express to his CD launch party. An intense yet charming young trumpeter originally from Vancouver in Canada; Jay truly brings out the fun in his instrumental jazz. His face, so thoughtful at rest contorted it’s self at play to reveal multiple layers of pure happiness. This band takes their music very seriously but their equal priority was to have a good time!
Phelps and his band opened with the title track “Jay Walkin’” a perky bebop-inspired composition that truly spirited the band and audience back to the heady days of the New York clubs of the 1940s. Not only did the call and exchange within the solos create a buzz but likewise the band’s shared wit and joy bought the room to life.
Jay, looking dapper in his poppy coloured gingham suit jacket and large striped bow tie (somehow channelling Michael Crawford in Hello Dolly), was not the only charismatic man-child who liked to clown around; Shabaka Hutchings on tenor sax, clarinet and bass clarinet shared centre stage, and played with a cool hue of swinging phrases and a child like cheeky grin. Karl Rasheed-Abel on double bass also shared the mischievous glances and giggles while playing with faultless accuracy and nimble dexterity.
With Jonathan Gee at the piano and Gene Calderazzo on the drums, Jay pointed out that the ensemble was made up of various generations who challenged and inspired each other (although saying Gene was old just made everyone fall about laughing) we knew what he meant. Together they pushed the boundaries of the form of each song, stretching it as far as they could before snapping back simultaneously to the through line.
A particularly moving number was “I Love My Mama” for which Jay enlisted the showmanship of singer Michael Mwenso, whose sharp yellow suit almost eclipsed Jay’s poppy effort “I thought this was my night!” he protested. Michael or Ola as they like to call him is indeed a character, cool and comic but most of all sincere.
Through thick and thin
She saved my skin
Time and time again
She gave me unconditional love!
Swapping between swing and Latin grooves this number really is a celebration, a song of thanks. We were quite choked up. Family was a big theme of the whole evening, with lots of friends gathered together; Jay read out a card from his chums who teased him that they were confused as to how he’d ‘made it’ (this of course was ironic as everyone could tell how hard he has trained to reach this level of musicianship.)
Brian Edwards on tenor sax was another “Uncle” to join them on stage. He appeared quite meek but with a glint of worldliness in his eye matching the sparkle in his mellow tone. These featured artists were all members of Jay’s adopted family from Uncle Sam’s late night jazz club (now called the Haggerstone) in Dalston where he has been hanging out since he moved to the UK aged 17.
I really relate to Jay’s experience of being taken under the wing of these kind beboppers as I am lucky enough to have been adopted by a similar crowd at the King’s Head in Crouch End. They bought their club atmosphere to Dean Street for the night and we all shared in the pride felt for Jay’s 11 year journey, mapped out in music – I’d say the party has only just begun.
Jeanie also mentions these gigs: Jazz at Uncle Sams in Dalston
Downstairs at the Kings Head Crouch End