Ronnie Scotts Jazz Orchestra
(Sunday 7th November, Ronnie Scotts. Review by Fran Hardcastle, Photo Credit David Redfern)
On a typical Sunday in London, fans of big band jazz are completely spoilt for choice. There are gigs at the Bulls Head, Ruislip Manor and the Spice of Life. The 606 often has Gareth Lockrane’s band at lunchtime. The Vortex features a 4pm gig by the London Jazz Orchestra.
Ronnie Scott’s offering is the Ronnie Scott’s Jazz Orchestra, led by the multitalented and irrepressible clarinetist, saxophonist, arranger and wit, Pete Long, universally known in the trade as Plong. He attracts an all-star cast of players, they promise a treat every time. Sunday night was no disappointment.
The band presented a mish mash of charts from various big band eras, which only went to convey their exceptional versatility. One of the highlights of the first set had to be Maynard Ferguson’s Cruisin for a Bruisin, a great vehicle for some of the killer soloists. Long’s spirited and joyful clarinet playing was thrillingly pitted against the vibrant offerings from Mark Armstrong on trumpet. A real shining star was the ‘baby’ of the saxophone section, Richard Shepherd on tenor, producing the most velvety of sounds. He was sensitively supported by Tony Barnard, on guitar.
Pete Long’s stonking arrangement of I Love Paris, showcased the fantastic singer Ian MacKenzie’s deft pacing and charming delivery. The chart began with a very sexy funky groove, flitting into tight swing in all the right places. Easy to see why Long has arranged for some of the biggest names in music.
Singer Georgina Jackson’s powerful rich voice was well suited to the Diane Schuur/Maynard Ferguson arrangment of We’ll Be Together again. The audience appreciatively discovered she was equally as impressive when duetting on trumpet with Ian MacKenzie in a humourous ‘I Got Rhythm’.
The second set opened with a harmonically delicious piano solo from Jim Watson. Mark Armstrong was lauded for plucking a missing lead trumpet part out of his head on the 1920’s trad jazz Happy Feet. The man is Professor of Jazz at the RCM for a reason.
In a band with individual musicians of such a high calibre, it seems criminal not to mention every player by name for a stand out performance. This added to the witticisms from the bandleader and singers frequently provoking laughter from a loudly appreciative audience, certainly made it a memorable evening. I spotted many tourists in the crowd and whilst that is something to be encouraged, I would definitely urge the locals to book their place at the next gig too.