Mike and Kate Westbrook have created a remarkable and continually expanding archive of films, The Westbrook Jazz Moving Picture Show. The latest addition is Toad’s Washerwoman a brand new animation to a recording from from 2001, with a prominent role for alto saxophonist Peter King (below). Jane Mann explains:
What are jazz musicians, composers and lyricists to do in the pandemic? All gigs have been postponed or cancelled, social distancing puts a stop to normal life, and the isolation is particularly dispiriting when your previous life was filled with rehearsals and performances with your various bands. Well, you can trawl through your collection of recordings to discover un-released gems. You can carry on with composing and arranging and you can work on online remote recording. This is what Mike and Kate Westbrook have been doing in recent months.
They have the good fortune of an extensive archive and they have been sharing films and recordings of live performances on their website – for free. Welcome to The Westbrook Jazz Moving Picture Show.
I spoke to Mike Westbrook last week at home in Devon. He is in the enviable position of having access to many years of footage of live shows, TV appearances and festival gigs in Germany, Poland, Italy, Czech Republic, France, Slovenia and Switzerland, among others, and of course, Britain. He told me he was often presented with a VHS tape after a TV appearance and said: “We were lucky to go through an era when jazz was much more featured in mainstream media.”
There is a fantastic array of films to watch on the Westbrook Jazz Moving Picture Show with useful and thoughtful notes for each one. New pieces are posted weekly and are left up to watch whenever you feel like it.
Music in Progress is a charming Arts Council documentary from 1978, all long hair and beards and brightly coloured clothes.
Apart from TV shows, there are various films, including an actual feature film – E.A Dupont’s1928 silent classic Moulin Rouge, with Westbrook’s score played by the Matrix Ensemble. There is even dance, like Pierides (1986) commissioned and performed by Extemporary Dance Theatre.
For me, it is a particular treat to be able to revisit fondly remembered jazz cabarets. Hotel Amigo from 1983, which I enjoyed at the Tricycle in Kilburn, is up there. It was a pleasure to watch Platterback, two versions of which I saw on stage 20 years ago. The 2002 production, with Wills Morgan as the soldier, is on the Moving Picture Show and the 1999 version with John Winfield is due next week. Westbrook tells me that sadly they have no film of the fabulous big band show Bar Utopia, which toured the country in 1995 to rave reviews, including mine. If anyone knows of an extant film of Bar Utopia, or indeed any other shows, do let the Westbrooks know.
Westbrook says he treats the Moving Picture Show like a composition – some pieces are three minutes long, others an hour – how do you sequence such a disparate set of pieces? There are 29 films posted so far – and there are plenty more to come. He says that the process of choosing from the back catalogue, and making new films to old recordings, in which Kate and Mike work closely with friend and webmaster Chris Topley, is extremely rewarding. There are new films planned too. “This is helping us through this lockdown, and we hope it is helping others….” It’s certainly helping me.
This week’s offering is a brand new animation for a tune called Toad’s Washerwoman: song for a be-bop diva, which first appeared on Kate Westbrook’s album Cuff Clout in 2004.
It’s a bebop retelling by the Washerwoman of the story of Mr Toad’s escape from Jail (see The Wind in The Willows by Kenneth Grahame). Who better to play it but bebop saxophone specialists Peter King and Alan Barnes, and what a splendid job they make of it.
Westbrook later wrote:
“The only time I worked with Peter King was in 2001, recording the song Toad’s Washerwoman on Kate’s album Cuff Clout. We met occasionally over the years, and Kate and I took any opportunity to hear him play. With his passing jazz has lost one of its most stylish improvisers. I never heard him play a run-of-the-mill solo.”
The vocalist is long time Westbrook collaborator John Winfield, scatting away à la Annie Ross, as the diva – and he is on terrific form. The rest of the band are Mike Carr (Cargo, John McLaughlin) giving a bouncy performance on the Hammond organ, and energetic drummer Steve Brown (Scott Hamilton, Junior Mance).
“You can’t hold back your music, but sometimes years pass before it is noticed. It’s a struggle if you want to do something different”.
Well if this delight passed you by in 2001, here’s your chance. The song is a joyous thing, extremely catchy and the film looks great. All the characters are beautifully rendered in shades of grey and white gouache and watercolour, with the occasional pop of colour. It includes charming portraits of each of the musicians, Mr Toad as a handsome bearded red-head and the resourceful and knowing Washerwoman in her floral dress. The animation is based on a set of paintings, made during lockdown, by Kate Westbrook, who is also a brilliant painter.
Watch it, it’s delightful, and you’ll find yourself humming the tune all day. Well fancy!
Toad’s Washerwoman– Credits
John Winfield – vocals
Peter King – alto saxophone
Alan Barnes – alto saxophone
Mike Carr – Hammond organ
Steve Brown – drums
Kate Westbrook – lyrics, paintings and backing vocals
Mike Westbrook – music
Chris Topley – film editing and production