FEATURE: Jazz in New York: The 1930s. (The Jazz Repertory Company, Cadogan Hall, Saturday 22 September)

Richard Pite
celebrates ten years of the Jazz Repertory Company at Cadogan Hall with a re-run of his sell-out concert of 2015 featuring the music of Billie Holiday, Fats Waller, Louis Armstrong, Duke Ellington and more. Below Richard relates some of the artistic ups and nail-biting downs of being a jazz concert promoter for the last decade

For the Jazz in New York show he’s gathered together a line-up of musicians who specialise in recreating the music of the era with the utmost in excitement and authenticity. The evening will be presented by Alyn Shipton and feature:

Enrico Tomasso: trumpet/vocals
Keith Nichols: piano/vocals
Julia Biel and Joan Viskant: vocals
Matthias Seuffert and Michael McQuaid: clarinet and saxophones
Ian Bateman: trombone
Thomas “Spats” Langham: guitar and vocals
Dave Chamberlain: double bass and guitar
Anthony Kerr: vibraphone
Martin Litton: piano
Richard Pite: drums

Over to Richard:

Back in 2008 I was at the National Hall in Dublin performing in a show called “Artie Shaw with Strings”. Mark Crooks played the role of Artie and we had a big band augmented with a string section and, most remarkably of all, an audience of around 1,500 enthusiastic Dubliners.

Some of the band commented on what a shame it was that we were just doing this show once and then James Langton, the band’s director, would go back to the USA and that would be that.

So that’s how it all started. If no-one else would bring a sure fire sell-out to London then I would and the Artie Shaw with Strings show came to Cadogan Hall in September 2008 and I lost thousands as only 300 Londoners bothered to buy tickets (and I think I recognised every one of them!).

Fortunately, I also put on the recreation of Benny Goodman’s 1938 Carnegie Hall concert a few weeks later and made back all the money I’d lost on Artie Shaw. I’m sure if Benny was still around in 2008 (he would have been 99) he would have been delighted at the news of how his music had trounced his arch rival in London 70 years after they were both superstars of swing.

So two concerts in and the profits were a nice round number (or more accurately a row of round numbers: 0.00). I was hooked and over the next two years put on four more concerts – all of which lost money. One of them – “The Blagger’s Guide to Jazz” – sold so badly that our bacon was only saved by selling the show to the BBC. Once the money had been divvied up we looked at the final spread sheet and discovered we had made £1.00 – so a major improvement on Artie and Benny the year before.

After a short break to lick our wounds we came back in 2012 and since then we’ve been putting on four or five shows a year with varying degrees of success. Back in 2015 we put on a Paul Whiteman show for the London Jazz Festival and just reached the break-even point a few hours before the matinee performance.

Over the ten years we’ve learnt a hell of a lot about marketing jazz – we certainly made some clunking mistakes along the way. We’ve tried desperately and with hardly any success to get a younger audience to come. Never mind teenagers, a few under 50s would be good. Come on, you youngsters how can you not give us a try, particularly when today’s pop music is so bloody awful. Give us a go – we may be as old as your dad (or grandad) but by crikey this music is good!

Jazz in New York – The 1930s will be the Jazz Repertory Company’s 30th concert at Cadogan Hall. We’ve had no sponsorship, no grants, no eccentric jazz-loving billionaires, so I’m pleased that we’re still hanging in there. Performing in the concerts has given me a great deal of pleasure and going from the reactions we have got and the following that we have developed over the ten years a lot of pleasure has also been dished out.

As Dick Laurie, editor of Hot Jazz News International said: “Go and hear them the next chance you get, whatever age you are. Its memory will add joyous years to your life.” (pp)

For Richard Pite’s interview with Alyn Shipton for the 2015 Jazz in New York concert click here

LINK: Jazz in New York – The 1930s – more information and tickets

Categories: Features/Interviews

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