Eddie Harvey Celebration
(Duke’s Hall, Royal Academy of Music, London – 10 November 2013. Review by Peter Vacher)
Sunday’s remarkable concert had a two-fold purpose. First, to celebrate this gifted composer-educator’s many musical accomplishments in a variety of settings. Second, to launch the Eddie Harvey Award for Jazz Arrangement in his memory. Eddie clearly felt that jazz arrangers are unsung, too often confined to the shadows and in need of encouragement. Good thinking, and thanks to a benefactor, the Award is up and running, with submissions sought from 6 January and a closing date of 31 July 2014.
Harvey’s was a benign presence on our musical scene over many years as instrumentalist, arranger, composer, and educator and his oeuvre is both wide-ranging and impressive. Small-group jazz was well-represented in an opening set from the Way Out West collective, that’s four saxophones and rhythm, the latter sparked by the tireless veteran Tony Kinsey at the drums. Neat writing, perky themes and clever voicings on four Harvey originals gave these expert players something pertinent to bite on, with front-man Pete Hurt on tenor and Tony Woods on soprano the standouts.
The English Chamber Choir (Eddie’s wife Peggy Hannington is a member) followed, their three pieces including an EH arrangement of Benny Carter’s ‘When Lights Are Low’, although their greater glory came with Parry’s I Was Glad, with organ accompaniment. More organ followed with the début performance by Chris Stanbury of Eddie’s ‘Homage to Fats’ played on the newly installed Duke’s Hall instrument and written in tribute to Mrs Waller’s ‘harmful little armful’. Enterprising and well-played, even if the jazz jury might need a second hearing to register approval.
Fellow-educator and pianist Phil DeGreg flew in from Cincinnati especially and wowed us all with a spacious trio set, one long-time friend’s tribute to another, the virtuosity of his improvisations ably supported by bassist Dave Green and drummer Steve Brown. Could have done with more from Phil.
The National Youth Jazz Orchestra directed by Mark Armstrong made the second half their own with some assistance from top-pro guests, altoist Jimmy Hastings starring on Eddie’s arrangement of ‘Of Thee I Sing’, a holdover from the Dankworth book before DeGreg appeared again, on ‘Hotel DeGreg’, Eddie’s piece recalling a stay at Phil’s place, the pianist in romping form, much aided by Scott Chapman’s nifty drumming. Let it be said, this is an excellent NYJO edition, the band’s collective swing top-notch, and the section blends just right, with lead trumpeter Adam Chatterton rightly earning a nod from the boss. Great stuff. As is often the way, some arrangements, all penned by Eddie for the band or taken from his varied suites, scored more heavily than others, with ‘Lavender Hill Blues’ allowing the excellent pianist Chris Eldred to open up and Chris Ballantine to produce the kind of ripe, assertive trombone solo that Eddie would undoubtedly have liked to hear. Perhaps he did.
This was the first of two concerts in honour of Eddie Harvey, placed exactly symmetrically around what would have Eddie’s 88th birthday on November 15th. The poster for the second concert is above.