Gail Brand writes:
Henry Lowther’s 70th birthday celebration at The Vortex Jazz club, organised by Stan Sulzmann and Nick Smart, wasn’t just a birthday party, it was a great night of Henry’s music and the music of some his favourite fellow Jazz composers, performers and friends. It was also a gift to the National Society for Epilepsy which will receive the proceeds from the gig.
Three bands performed: a quartet, his signature ensemble ‘Still Waters’ and a ‘birthday big band,’ with Henry at the centre of the action in all three sets.
The opening quartet, featuring Jim Mullen (guitar) visited some classics, including a tender ‘I love you Porgy’. A short set from ‘Still Waters’, included ‘Lights’, named after the lights on the North Circular Road, that north London thoroughfare which is often the road in and out of Dodge for many jazz musicians.
Henry self-effacingly claimed to ‘do nothing, as usual’, as he introduced one of the Big Band charts. The audience chuckled; not just at his modesty (which is genuine) but at the plainly ridiculous notion that Henry ever ‘does nothing’! Some of his most beautiful pieces were showcased, along with shining examples of his lyrical, artful and melodic improvising that draws you in and keeps you there.
The North Circular made another appearance in the birthday big band, with ‘Veneer of the Week’ (Lowther), a chart dedicated to the hoarding on a now defunct factory on that well trodden route.
Alongside the light-hearted, there was also genuine beauty –notably ‘Shropshire Glad’ (Lowther), ‘Time to Evolve’ (M Speake arr. Saberton) and Golovech (Lowther). Jim Mullen gave Phil Robson a tune off as he returned to the stage to play his infectious ‘Don’t Ask’ (arr. Lowther) with the big band. Pete Hurt’s ‘Balls Pond Road Bossanova’ is still grooving around my head, as I type.
But, it wasn’t all about Henry. Many long standing important musical, creative and personal relationships were celebrated as well as the birthday.
The Vortex audience played its part beautifully too, providing an affectionate ear, including Henry’s dear friend Kenny Wheeler, Jazz Services’ Chris Hodgkins & even Henry’s trumpet maker.
Extra slices of birthday cake to: Steve Watts (bass) for spot on sight reading (and playing of course), Scott Stroman for great MD-ing and the entire trombone section for sounding solid and beautiful.
Interesting gig fact #1: The birthday big band contained four Heads of Jazz studies courses: Frank Griffith (Brunel), Nick Smart (Royal Academy), Jeremy Price (Birmingham Conservatoire) and Martin Hathaway (Guildhall School of Music).
Interesting gig fact #2: Stan Sulzmann, co-organiser was there in spirit as he found himself on a plane to Italy a day earlier than expected, but I think they saved him some cake.
The night was completed by a surprise big band roar-up of ‘happy birthday’ with the presentation of not one but two cakes and evidence of that powerful diaphragm as Henry blew the candles out at an impressive distance!
Happy Birthday to you, Henry.
HL – trumpet /Jim Mullen – guitar / Dave Green – double bass/ Stu Butterfield- drums
2) Henry Lowther’s ‘Still Waters’:
HL- trumpet/flugelhorn/ Pete Hurt – tenor sax/ Pete Saberton- piano
Dave Green – double bass/ Paul Clarvis – drums
3) Birthday Big Band:
Scott Stroman (Director). Sammy Mayne, Martin Hathaway, Frank Griffith, Pete Hurt, Mick Foster (reeds). Henry Lowther, Noel Langley, Derek Watkins, John Barclay, Nick Smart (trumpets). Gordon Campbell, Jeremy Price, Robbie Harvey, Sarah Williams (trombones). Phil Robson, Pete Saberton, Steve Watts, Paul Clarvis (rhythm)
DONATIONS TO Epilepsy Society