|Tutors Clockwise from top left: Alison Rayner, Buster Birch,
Dave Wickins, Liam Noble, Malcolm Earle-Smith, Dave Cliff
Steve Watts, Nick Smart, Nia Lynn, Lee Goodall
This Thursday March 26th at the Vortex is a concert featuring the Faculty of the Original UK Jazz Summer School. In anticipation of the School’s 50th Anniversary in 2016, tutors past and present have written about the unique significance of this course for the UK jazz scene, and share personal memories, starting with the current co-directors Dave Wickins and Buster Birch:
DAVE WICKINS: Brian Waite invited me to teach on the summer school in the mid eighties and I took over running the jazz course at the end of that decade. By that time it had moved from Trefforest (South Wales Poly) to Nottage Primary in Porthcawl and the numbers were very low: we had no more than 20 students. My solution was to enlist the support of the Welsh Jazz Society whose director, the late Jed Williams, formed a team with myself and Doug Jones, an inspirational head of the education department in Mid Glamorgan. Between us we revitalised the course and rekindled the spirit of it’s ancestor, established in 1966 by Pat Evans, known as the Barry Summer School.
|Dave Wickins in 1991. Photo credit: Iain Forbes|
This revitalisation enabled me to invite new people onto the staff including Simon Purcell. Simon and I developed a course which maintained the old ‘spirit of Barry’ (the minimal organisation, maximum experimentation of Tony Oxley and Gordon Beck) whilst at the same time meeting the needs of a broad range of students, for whom a flexible framework balanced against lots of support ensured a more fulfilling time on the course. As one of our regulars said, “I know that it takes a lot of organisation to appear to be this disorganised and yet achieve so much”.
I have been fortunate to have not one great partner but two for when Simon decided to bow out of summer school to focus on running the jazz course at Trinity Laban, I was able to develop another highly successful working relationship with my present co-director Buster Birch. Apart from being a superb musician and educator, Buster has considerable business skills which have enabled us to achieve more independence and form our own company: Thanks For Listening Ltd. We decided to re-name the course The Original UK Jazz Summer School so as to reflect its role in the history of jazz education in Britain.
I am proud of how the summer school has thrived within a culture of democracy and sharing whilst maintaining certain core principals. We never assume we’ve got everything right and we’re not afraid to make changes. We create an atmosphere where everyone feels welcome, whatever their level or previous experience. We bring together professionals, music college students and adult learners, and for that one week we all have a common purpose. It’s a magical process that, unless you’ve experienced it, is difficult to describe.
BUSTER BIRCH: There is something special about our summer school which is hard to put in to words. I don’t think it is just the great sense of community that one feels when people from so many different walks of life (and nations) join together for a week, bonded by the shared fascination with this great music and the challenges of trying to play it. Although that is one of the many great things about it. I think there is something special in the long and deep history that the course has and the very long standing personal relationships that have been built around it. When so many of the participants have been coming back for 20 years or more there is a wonderful familiarity about the event and the people who share it. And far from becoming a clique these people help to promote the supportive ethos and nurturing spirit that runs right through the course. One of the many comments we get from new participants is how friendly and welcoming everyone is and what a great sense of community they feel. This is of course very important when taking your first tentative steps towards improvising for the first time on stage in a jazz club environment and the warm reaction from the crowd helps enormously. And knowing that they will soon be in your place, performing for you, makes for a very shared experience. And of course the diversity of the people is also represented in the diversity of the music, with all the many different styles and approaches to jazz that are covered in the week.
|Simon Purcell (left), two unnamed students, Chris Batchelor (right) in 1992
Photo credit: Iain Forbes
For me personally it all started 17 years ago in the summer of ’98, when I was invited by Simon Purcell (teacher, mentor, friend and someone I am enormously grateful to for all the opportunities he has given me) to come on the summer school as an AT (assistant tutor) having just finished a post-graduate jazz course at The Guildhall School of Music. It was an amazing experience and one I’ll never forget. I was of course completely in awe of the tutors, and still am. I remember the incredible sound of the samba band Dave Hassell and Chris Batchelor ran, Pete Churchill’s fantastic choir and the amazing tutor mega-band playing Stevie Wonder tunes. I was put in Alison Rayner’s group and I thought she was fantastic. Not only a great bass player but also such a good teacher who created a lovely atmosphere in the room for the students and was always very encouraging, which is something I’ve always tried to copy in my teaching ever since. I wouldn’t have believed it back then, but all these years later I find myself now touring and recording in her band. Some years after this I had a call from Simon and was invited to come and help him and Dave Wickins with organising some things for the course and I was only too pleased to have an excuse to come back and experience it all again. The following year Simon stepped down from running the course and with some trepidation I stepped in to the enormous boots he left behind, leading to a great working partnership with Dave Wickins, one of the UKs finest drummers and educators. Between the two of us we deal with all of the many things that go in to making a course like this happen. Since then another 10 great summer schools have flown past, with far too many wonderful experiences and funny stories to recount here. Dave and I have become good friends and for me personally, getting to know all the tutors and returning students over that time has been the best bit. I really look forward to coming back every year and seeing everyone again. After two venue changes we are now firmly back home in south wales at The Royal Welsh College of Music & Drama, which has both the fantastic facilities of a modern conservatoire and also the old spirit of summer school with the nightly jazz concerts in the SU bar.
In 2012 we set up a limited company to run the course independently. We couldn’t have done it without the loyalty of our tutors and students who have been coming back year after year and to whom we are very grateful. With such a long history it seemed the obvious choice to name it “The Original UK Jazz Summer School”. Next year will be the 50th anniversary of this great institution and I don’t think it is overstating it to say that the connections made on this summer school and the ripples from it have had a huge impact on the UK jazz scene. Long may this great tradition continue!
DAVE CLIFF: I think the Summer School is well balanced between freedom and discipline,also it’s very egalitarian,no favouritism.The more reserved students get the same opportunities to shine. The tutors are from a varied background with differing approaches but seem to all blend in and co-operate with each other,
DAVE HASSELL: With reference to the course… I have been doing it for approx 20 years and it’s one of the first things I block out in my diary. There have been many changes over the 20 years, personnel and venues, however, i am always amazed at the enthusiasm of both tutors and students it’s the most professional run summer school I have worked on; and i have taught on many in the past.
Lets look forward to another 50 years of Jazz education!!!
|Geoff Simkins at the Glamorgan Summer School circa 1991
Photo credit: Iain Forbes
GEOFF SIMKINS: My first experience of teaching at the Summer School was 1986 when the venue was the University of Glamorgan at Treforest. The course organisers then were the late, and much missed, Brian Waite and Gordon Beck. I’ve taught every Summer School since then and look forward to this year’s course as much as ever; partly because of the enthusiasm and commitment of the students, many of whom themselves organise gigs and workshops around the country, but also (selfishly) for an opportunity again to spend time with the other tutors, whose extraordinary creativity as musicians and educators continues to inspire me, and whose friendship I value enormously.
|Julian Nicholas in 1991. Photo credit: Iain Forbes|
JULIAN NICHOLAS: 2000 ish : Err … Tom ….on his Pumpin’ organ – doing Stompin’ At The Savoy (?) on his 79th (80th?) birthday night with a big band of half of the course (50-strong!!!) 2000 ish: Arnie and Alex McGuire’s double act presenting the club – edgy, but brilliant! 1990 – 2008: night after night of magical performances from students lifted to new heights; tutors finding inspired combinations and playing out of their skins!!
LEE GOODALL: Well it was way back in the mid 80’s when drummer Dave Wickins, altoist Geoff Simpkins, bassist Dave Good and myself (playing guitar) would meet at a school in Newbury once every two weeks in order to teach the young students the joys of jazz music. I remember giving a big ‘thumbs up’ to those lovely Greenham Common ladies as they steadfastly remained camped out in protest against the American military base with it’s evil missiles! Hats off to those ladies.
Fast forward to 1989 when I received a call from Dave asking me to participate in, what was then, the long standing Barry Jazz Summer School, now in Dave’s hands from the great pianist, Brian Waite (RIP) who ran it until admin got the better of him.
The summer school was to be held in Porthcawl, South Wales, Dave informed me. Fast forward again to the present and I have now been a tutor every year but one making this year my 25th anniversary. It has been longest working relationship I have, or will ever have I would imagine. I have made so many dear friends through my association with this incredible summer school. There have been so many great times over the years and some incredible, one off ‘all star’ bands performing in the evening jazz club. Amazing student bands playing a huge diversity of material generated in the main by the dedicated tutor team.
The age range of the students is as wide as is possible and it is just wonderful to see very young musicians playing music with seasoned amateur and professional players. Many friendships, bands and even marriages have sprung from this summer school and even changing venues have not discouraged the core of attendies or tutors.
This is certainly always a highlight of my year and truly hope that it may continue.
LIAM NOBLE: The Original Jazz Summer School has been hugely important to me over the years. It was the first place I got a chance to coach groups, from beginners up to advanced levels, and so it has been invaluable seeing the other tutors and their varying approaches to teaching. I’ve seen many successful young musicians come through the ranks too, but mainly it has been very rewarding to see the community spirit of the music in action, with many people giving freely of their time outside the classes as well as during teaching hours. And of course, the hang is legendary! A great opportunity for musicians who often don’t cross paths at other times of the year to get drunk and exchange notes.”
NIA LYNN: When I think of this Summer school, I have lots of great memories, but one in particular; when I was there as a student at the end of my first year at music college, there was a regular viewing spot where us students would stand to study our legendary teachers more closely! ‘We’ were made up of Dave Smith, Barry Green, Brigitte Beraha, Patrick Davey, And the late lovely Graham Fox… Watching the ‘Tutors’ who were made up of Dave Wickins, Liane Carroll, Dave Hassell, Steve Watts, Pete Churchill and the late great Pete Saberton to name but a few. It was and still is fifteen years later, a place of inspiration for me. Its ethos and content reminds us that jazz education can be about sharing experience and knowledge in the lineage of mentorship, encouragement and hard work in the aim to create a new language in the conversation of a common vernacular for the greater good of art! It’s a creative re-boot and kick up the arse all at the same time! I love it and feel honoured to be part of its history!
NICK SMART: If I explain how important this summer school has been to me it will sound like over-sentimentality or plain old exaggeration, but it really isn’t, this was an amazing period for me and its echoes continue to be part of my life. I first went as an assistant tutor in the summer of 1998 after graduating from the Guildhall Postgrad, a bewildering seventeen years ago. I was an assistant tutor to Steve Berry, a wonderful jazz musician and educator with whom I am still friends – we had two pianists in the band, but one was a youngish lad who despite being fantastic was incredibly humble, so he would always let the older player take the lead and say “I play a bit but I’m more of a singer really”…. I wonder what he’s up to now… his name was Jamie Cullum!
At this time the Summer School was being hosted by Glamorgan University and being run by Dave Wickins and Simon Purcell – to whom I am forever grateful not only for his teaching and friendship, but for getting me involved with Glamorgan. As well as getting some valuable teaching experience and playing with some wonderful graduates of other colleges, the most lasting impression was the staggering array of tutors we “AT’s” would get to listen to, and hang out with. I get my years confused but I remember early courses with Bobby Wellins, Stan Sulzmann, Chris Batchelor, John Parricelli, Julian Arguelles, the dearly missed Jeff Clyne and Pete Saberton, Geoff Simkins, Liam Noble, Julian Siegel, Alex Maguire, Nikki Iles, Pete Churchill, Liane Carroll, Dave Cliff, Steve Watts and far too many more to mention (with apologies to those I missed). But for a young musician who was into the music being made by these people, it was almost unbelievable to be a part of that.
The friendships made throughout the years on that course have been the relationships that shaped most things I’ve done since. Through Chris and Nikki I began to teach at Middlesex, I got to know John Parricelli and Stan Sulzmann well enough to ask them to be on my first album, I got to know and play with Geoff Simkins and Lee Goodall – beautiful musicians and people that I might not have met so easily in other circumstances. And so many other memories, many of the best of which, I have to say, are either unrepeatable or half forgotten! I remember the concerts in the bar each night over the years, which interestingly enough was the era when mini-disk recorders would start increasingly appearing on the ledge in front of the stage until it was almost covered with them, and us tutors having a meeting about whether or not we could control it – laughable now when you think how common place bootlegging is, but not then. Dave Hassell, Chris Batchelor and I used to take mega-band type brass and percussion projects, we’d plan them for months in advance. Even outside of the summer school the things we did there occasionally resurfaced, I remember one surreal function gig that came through Buckley/Batchelor I think, we played a Bar Mitzvah doing Pete’s arrangements of Stevie Wonder tunes, the band included John Parricelli, Simon Purcell, Pete, Steve Watts I think, and the horns I’m pretty sure were Chris, Steve Buckley, Julian Arguelles and me, I may have forgotten others, but I’d like to see that band live again! I could go on and on… the rain, the hill, the Otley beer… but enough of all that. It is with the greatest of thanks to Dave and Buster that the course and it’s unique spirit live on – now rightfully hosted back in its native Wales at the RWCMD – Happy 50th Anniversary to this extraordinary and special institution. I thank you and I owe you, big time.”
|Steve Watts in 1992. Photo credit : Iain Forbes|
STEVE WATTS: My memories of the summer school are many: The camaraderie, laughter, fun, and numerous musical memories, from the sublime to the surreal. Meeting lots of interesting characters and forming some lasting friendships.
This year’s Original UK Jazz Summer School is at RWCMD in Cardiff and runs from July 26-31. WEBSITE