Last year, Sam Leak wrote a Jazz Musician’s Guide to the festival (link below) in which he played the role of ‘in-the-know’ tour guide, helping readers to navigate their way through the programme. Well, the tour guide is back! He’s been through the listings, and come up with his personal picks (*).
What a strange year for Jazz. With a third of British musicians considering a career change, venues closing or struggling to stay afloat, the 10pm curfew in full force, and various parts of the country re-entering more strict lockdowns, the outlook is bleak. We have many more difficult months ahead of us. We remain to see if the scene will be able to rise phoenix-like from the ashes, but the creativity and resourcefulness of the responses from promoters and musicians alike have been both encouraging and heart-warming. If this evidence is anything to go by, then we will overcome all of this somehow. No small achievement among these efforts has come from ‘Serious,’ which has managed, against the odds, to programme a 2020 edition of the London Jazz Festival.
Here are some of my picks from the impressively extensive programme:
Friday 13 November
As if to tempt fate, the festival kicks into action on that most superstitious of days… Friday the 13th. All going to plan, this year will be more Jason Yarde than Jason Voorhees. The opening day sees the brilliant James Davison and Rory Ingham pay tribute to the Art Blakey 1960s sextet with Freddie Hubbard at Soho’s ‘Spice of Life.’ Joining the trumpeter and trombonist will be saxophonist Alex Hitchcock, pianist Matt Carter, bassist Misha Mullov-Abbado and drummer Sebastiaan de Krom. The bandleaders promise “hard-bop with a frighteningly fresh feel…wildly high-energy and unbelievably swinging” – sounds good to me!
At Camden’s ‘The Green Note’, multi-award-winning Empirical saxophonist Nathaniel Facey will bring together a group of long-time collaborators to showcase his original compositions. Nathaniel is a terrifyingly good saxophonist, and well worth a watch.
Saturday 14 November
This year has, unsurprisingly, become the year of the online concert. While these can never replicate the feeling of being in a venue with a band, they interestingly do offer a slightly different kind of live experience that has its own excitement and feeling of connectedness to it. Another thing that they offer is the opportunity to watch musicians perform to you from different countries. One such musician is Armenian pianist, and rhythmic virtuoso, Tigran Hamasyan. On Saturday 14th, he will be performing music from his new album, The Call Within (Nonesuch), about which we’re told: “The album takes inspiration from Hamasyan’s interest in maps from different eras, along with poetry, Christian and pre-Christian Armenian folk stories and legends, astrology, geometry, ancient Armenian design, rock carvings, and cinematography – blurring lines between historic reality and the imaginary world.”
If you’d prefer a non-online experience, then look no further than Cadogan Hall, where you can watch the jazz stars of the future perform as part of the BBC Young Jazz Musician 2020 Final, alongside a trio led by Nikki Yeoh.
Sunday 15 November
The first Sunday of the festival is jam-packed with amazing gigs. Why not start your jazz day at the ‘Spice of Life’ with Gareth Lockrane and his all-star quintet, featuring “sideman to the stars” (Jazzwise) Alex Garnett on saxophone, Ross Stanley on piano, Jeremy Brown on double bass, and Tim Giles on drums. Peter Vacher has described Gareth as “an exceptional soloist with an improvisatory confidence that’s quite startling,” and he’s not wrong! If you can’t get enough of the ‘Spice’, then you’ll be happy to know the evening band is pretty special too. Vibraphonist Jonny Mansfield will lead a contemporary sextet featuring young superstars: James Copus on trumpet, Tom Barford on saxophone, Will Barry on piano, Conor Chaplin on bass, and James Maddren on drums. Brad Mehldau drummer Jorge Rossy has described Mansfield’s work as “really beautiful music” – high praise indeed!
Those of you who like your music a bit more ‘space-age’ should head across to Oliver’s Jazz Bar in Greenwich, to watch futuristic jazz-rock fusion guitar trio Preston-Glasgow-Lowe. Their music is virtuosic and beautiful in equal measure. They’ve been writing and performing together since 2012 and have developed a very unique and memorable sound. This gig is also one of a series of London Jazz Festival gigs at ‘Oliver’s’ promoted by none other than yours truly (‘Sam Leak Presents’).
If you’re looking for an online gig, then I recommend Jonathan Chung’s ‘Glasshopper,’ who will be broadcasting a pre-recorded performance as part of Serious’ ‘Take Five Presents’ series.
Monday 16 November
You’re also spoilt for choice on the Monday. Pizza Express, in Holborn, will present the Mercury Prize-nominated, BBC Jazz Award-winning pianist Kit Downes, performing with fellow ECM-artist, Korean experimental drummer SooJin Suh. They’ll be joined by Melt Yourself Down electric bassist Ruth Goller for what looks to be a very special concert which is also part of the K-Music Festival.
Over at Chelsea’s ‘606 Club’ you have rising star pianist Deschanel Gordon leading a trio featuring Will Sach on bass, and Will Cleasby on drums. He’s a brilliant young musician, described by Sussex Jazz Magazine as “simply jaw-dropping.”
At Wood Green’s Karamel you can find legend of the UK jazz scene, trumpeter Henry Lowther. Joining him are Pete Hurt on saxophone, Barry Green on piano, Dave Green on bass, and Paul Clarvis on Drums. Lowther describes their music as “free-wheeling modern jazz… ranging from straight-ahead to free improvising.”
I’ll have my promoter’s hat on again at Oliver’s, this time presenting the George Crowley Trio, featuring BBC New Generation artist, guitarist Rob Luft, and drummer Tim Giles. Crowley is known for his work with Melt Yourself Down and Yazz Ahmed. On the music, he writes: “featuring melodic writing, ambient textures and interactive group improvisations, Crowley’s trio immerses you in a world of grooves from a broad range of influences – augmented with the use of electronic effects.”
Online you can watch a trio concert from superstar Pat Metheny/Kenny Barron/bassist Linda May Han Oh, broadcast live from Centrestage Recording Studios in New York City.
Wednesday 18 November
Hampstead Jazz Club will be presenting an interesting event on Wednesday, in association with Jazz FM, as part of their ‘Classic Album Playback Series.’ Journalist Jonathan Wingate will be hosting a show dedicated to Charlie Parker’s 1950 album Quintet of the Year. This will feature a performance from saxophonist Leo Richardson, who will also be on a panel alongside Jazz FM presenters and journalists, as they discuss tracks from the album.
Kings Place will be hosting a performance from Three Trapped Tiger’s and Strobes guitarist/composer Matt Calvert. Moving away from his usually electronics-driven sound, he will be showcasing his entirely acoustic album Typewritten with a 9-piece ensemble of guitars, strings, drums, tuned percussion and keyboards.
Talking of phoenixes rising from ashes, drummer Sam Jesson will be launching a new residency at ‘The Post Bar’ in Tottenham, with his band Magpie Trio. Alongside saxophonist George Crowley and bassist Tom Farmer, he will present a musical celebration of the forefathers of jazz history, with a particular focus on the arrangements of Ahmad Jamal.
My ‘Sam Leak Presents’ series at ‘Oliver’s’ will feature the amazing Rachael Cohen on saxophone, playing in quartet with vibraphonist Lewis Wright, drummer Shane Forbes and bassist Joe Downard. She is a highly respected figure on the UK jazz scene, and her 2013 album Halftime (Whirlwind Recordings) received a great deal of critical acclaim.
Thursday 19 November
Two gigs have taken my eye for Thursday 19th. Up first is Jason Yarde’s ACOUTASTiC BOMBASTiC – a large ensemble featuring the likes of Eska, Ivo Neame, Seb Rochford, Orphy Robinson, Neil Charles, and Julian Siegel. They’ll be performing at Kings Place (Hall 2). This is a stunning array of UK musicians, and Yarde is a brilliant saxophonist, composer, and arranger.
On the same evening, you can see the incredible pianist Gwilym Simcock (Pat Metheny) present his ‘Tribute to Jaco Pastorius’ at the 606 club. He’ll be performing alongside Laurence Cottle (Van Morrison, Bill Bruford) on electric bass, and Ian Thomas (Eric Clapton, Sting) on drums. Chick Corea has described him as “a creative genius,” and as his one-time piano student I’m also happy to describe him as “a creative genius” (although I doubt that my own quote will be making it onto his website any time soon).
Friday 20 November
I am not the only promoter presenting music at Oliver’s Jazz Bar for the festival. The club owner, Olivier Revault, has also scheduled several events throughout the week. One of his events that particularly interests me is the ‘Alex Bryson Trio’ on Friday 20th. Bryson is a fantastic pianist who has worked with Grant Stewart and Chris Cheek, and as a member of the Marie-Claire Giraud Quintet alongside Dwayne Clemons, Murray Wall and Luke Decker. For this gig, he will be playing with Matt Fishwick on drums, and Jeremy Brown on bass. They are rooted in the tradition, performing arrangements of standards and reviving compositions from the songbooks of Tommy Flanagan, Walter Davis, and Ray Bryant (alongside some originals).
Saturday 21 November
On Saturday 21st, trumpeter Chris Batchelor’s quartet Pigfoot will perform at Karamel. The band features Liam Noble on piano, Paul Clarvis on drums, and James Allsopp on baritone sax. Of the band, Jazz Journal have written: “Talk about originality; Pigfoot have absolutely nailed it – you really do have to hear the music because it’s just so damned different.” Batchelor initially formed the band to “apply an open and original improvised approach to classic 1920’s New Orleans themes, to transform, re-construct and revitalise the material.” Since then they have taken on a wide range of music, including dedicating gigs to Opera, Motown, Elvis, Bacharach and the hits of 1972.
At Oliver’s I’ll be presenting the fantastic drummer Dave Storey’s trio as they launch their latest album Jouska. The trio features bassist Conor Chaplin and saxophonist James Allsopp, and is a joy to watch. Storey describes their approach as “the jazz tradition brought to life for the 21st century – communication with love, humour and fire!”
Sunday 22 November
Other online events, besides gigs, will be taking place too. For example, on Sunday 22nd November, BBC New Generation Artist guitarist Rob Luft will conduct an online masterclass alongside Swiss-Albanian jazz singer and composer Elina Duni (ECM records). This will be an excellent opportunity to learn with two very well-respected musicians.
In the evening ‘Sam Leak Presents’ will present… Sam Leak. It’s probably frowned upon to mention your own gigs in a rundown like this, but… I’m going to do it anyway. I’ll be joined by UK jazz scene heavyweights Nicholas Costley-White on guitar, and Joel Barford on drums, and will play a set of Hammond organ trio arrangements inspired by Larry Golding’s classic album Light Blue.
Last, but certainly not least, is the Kansas Smitty’s House Band, who will be performing at the Jazz Café. The band will feature saxophonist/clarinettist Giacomo Smith, pianist Joe Webb, bassist Ferg Ireland and drummer Will Cleasby, and they will “astutely bridge traditional and modern jazz forms in seamless and sublime fashion.” They are a fantastic, and hard-working, band who have previously performed at the North Sea Jazz Festival and Love Supreme, and who have sold out shows at Ronnie Scott’s and The Jazz Café.
So there you have it. Somehow, despite the many hurdles, we have a London Jazz festival in the time of Coronavirus. Thank you to Serious, and all of the various club promoters, for making it happen. I’ll see you there!
(*) As Sam discloses in the article, he has a personal involvement in the festival as curator of the “Sam Leak Presents” series at Oliver’s