|Jacqui Hicks and John Critchinson|
Pianist JOHN CRITCHINSON (universally, fondly known as Critch) has been an integral part of the London jazz scene for four decades. He worked with Ronnie Scott from 1979 to 1995, and at the club welcomed visitors such as George Coleman, James Moody, Joe Henderson and Chet Baker. He also had a trio with Dave Cliff & Alec Dankworth. Now in his 80s, he is not in the best of health, so musician friends have got together to put on this very special night as a tribute to one of the UK’s jazz greats.
The organisers are Art Themen and Mornington Lockett. Also appearing in support of this worthy cause will be Jacqui Hicks, Henry Lowther, Mark Nightingale, Dave Cliff, Gareth Williams, James Pearson, John Horler, Dave Green, Andy Cleyndert, Tim Wells, Spike Wells, Trevor Tomkins, Dave Barry and more.
Vocalist Jacqui Hicks has worked with John since 2002, and discusses her musical partnership with the great pianist. Interview by Sebastian:
LondonJazz News: When did you first hear Critch, and what were the circumstances?
Jacqui Hicks: It was probably with Ronnie Scott’s quintet at the club, when I first moved to London about 30 years ago.
LJN: When did you first work with him, and what were the circumstances?
JH: We started doing duo gigs together about 20 years ago – I think Steve Rubie recommended me to him – and we hit it off straight away, both musically and socially, always good fun but very rewarding for me.
LJN: You made two albums with Critch – what’s the story?
JH: Critch had been working quite a lot with The Ronnie Scott Legacy Band and when Pete King asked him to do another week at Ronnie’s he said he fancied doing something different, so suggested we form a quartet with Dave Green and Tristan Mailliot. We did several successful weeks at the club and all agreed it would be great to record some of the songs we played there. It was quite a natural process and something we all wanted to do.
LJN: What distinctive about his playing?
JH: John is a very instinctive player, constantly listening, reacting and throwing different things in your direction which makes you do the same and keeps you on your toes. I always feel he accompanies me like he would a horn player, takes no prisoners. I love that.
LJN: And his melodic gift?
JH: He loves a good tune and I think his improvising reflects that. His sense of melody is second to none.
LJN: And other things that mark him out?
JH: I remember, on a duo gig years ago, someone asked us for I’m Afraid the Masquerade is Over. I didn’t know it very well and Critch hadn’t played it for years but we picked a key and decided to have a bash. As he played an intro he looked at me said: “This doesn’t have a bridge, does it?” I laughed and said the bridge was the only bit I really knew! “Don’t worry,” he said, “I’ll follow you!” And he did. Perfectly. A real life lesson on using your ears, the most important tool for being a musician. We’ve done it on every gig together since and recorded it on our first album. It might be quite a sad song but it always makes me smile.
LJN: He is also a popular and genuinely liked figure, right?
JH: He’s a lovely, lovely man and very dear to me. He’s always got a gag for you – no matter how rubbish it is – and he likes to inflict his repertoire on the audience! I’ve never done a single gig with him that has felt like work, just lots of fun with lots of laughs and always an education.
LJN: What did you learn either directly or indirectly from working with John that has served you best in your career?
JH: I’ve learnt so much from John, I’m not sure where to start. He’s never been anything but encouraging, especially with regards to my arranging. A lot of the charts we’ve recorded have been mine and that’s all due to Critch giving me the confidence to believe in my abilities. Through him I’ve been privileged to work with people like Art Themen, Bobby Wellins, Allan Ganley and, of course, Dave Green – always wonderful. Also, nobody is too old to be open to new ideas and there’s no generation gap when you’re playing great music.