Rachel Coombes previews this year’s Soho Jazz Festival:
This year the Soho Jazz Festival pays homage to the legacy of Pizza Express founder Peter Boizot, who passed away in November last year at the age of 89. The casual-dining revolutionary was famously also an avid jazz fan, opening his first jazz club – the Pizza Express Jazz Club in Soho – in 1976, (with the restaurant on Dean Street having opened in 1969) and subsequently founding the Soho Jazz Festival in 1986 which ran until 2002. This is the first time the festival has run since then. The jazz club has played host to innumerable jazz stars from Benny Carter and e.s.t. to Gregory Porter and Amy Winehouse; the festival ‘reboot’ in July boasts a stellar lineup that pays tribute to the calibre of musicians that have been attracted to Dean Street over the years – from bona fide jazz legends like Benny Golson and Lew Tabackin to stars of the next generation like Joel Ross and Melissa Aldana.
Opening the Festival on 5 July is American flautist and tenor saxophonist Lew Tabackin with his trio (Phillipe Aerts on bass and Mourad Benhammou on drums); Tabackin’s playful and ambitious style, which fully exploits the potentialities of both instruments, has earned him respect the world over. On the same evening, and across the following two nights, the club welcomes the London-based Blue Harlem, respected as one of the country’s finest swing/jump-blues bands. Known for their energetic party vibes, the group (led by Al Nicholls on tenor sax and featuring the vocalist Sophie Shaw) regularly receive invitations from top society establishments across the UK, from Buckingham Palace to Annabel’s.
The Giles Thornton Jazz Orchestra kicks off its 2019 summer tour on 6 July, performing original compositions and arrangements written by Giles Thornton for his album Be In Today. Showcasing her African Jazz roots on 7 July is the Australian-based vocalist and violinist Fem Belling, who has made a name for herself as a West End leading lady as well as an innovative interpreter of the great American songbook. Chilean-born tenor saxophonist Melissa Aldana, a double recipient of the Altazor Award, Chile’s highly prestigious national arts prize, brings her quartet to the club on 8 and 9 July, revealing her enviable musical heritage (she was taught by her saxophonist father Marcos Aldana, son of saxophonist Enrique Aldana).
The ambitious young vibraphonist Joel Ross, recently signed to Blue Note, will prove why he is so in-demand across the US with his show ‘Good Vibes’ on 10 and 11 July. At the tender age of only 23, Ross has already performed with seasoned legends including Herbie Hancock and Christian McBride. Celebrating his 90th birthday this year, illustrious tenor sax player and composer Benny Golson shows little sign of slowing down, taking to the Soho stage on 12 and 13 July with his well-established quartet (Joan Monné (piano), Juan Ignacio González (bass), Joachim Krause (drums)). Also on 13 July, the Denmark Street Big Band perform their new show ‘The Gene Krupa Story’, which honours the showmanship of the legendary American jazz drummer and band leader; the band will be joined by the velvet-voiced Jo Harrop with the Anita O’Day Vocals.
French guitarist Alex Grenier and his trio (Franck Durand (drums), Hervé Moquet (electric bass)) perform at the club on 14 July, bringing their idiosyncratic blend of 60s soul, Latin jazz and late-90s electro jazz. The group have been gaining accolades worldwide, making a name for themselves with international tours across Europe, USA, Japan and Canada. Bringing the festival to a close with performances on 14 and 15 July is an all-star trio who has been performing together since 1991: Hammond organist Larry Goldings, guitarist Peter Bernstein, and drummer Bill Stewart. Hailed as “the best organ trio of the last decade” by the New York Times, the musicians have also performed individually with the who’s-who of the soul and jazz world, from Tracey Chapman to Sonny Rollins. For their Soho Festival performance they will perform music from their latest – twelfth – album Toy Tunes, which includes original compositions by all three musicians. (pp)
The Festival runs from 5 – 15 July at PizzaExpress Jazz Club (Soho).