Mark McKergow has been contributing reviews to London Jazz News since 2014, and we recently published his 100th piece. Here, Mark looks back on some of his personal highlights, and also reflects on being part of the community of London Jazz News contributors. Mark writes:
Mark McKergow. Photo credit: John Cassidy / The Headshot Guy
I’ve been a jazz performer and enthusiast since our school jazz band tackled Clarinet Marmalade some four and a half decades ago (and I was the only one to improvise – everyone else played the written out solos). Having written some student reviews about early-80s Birmingham jazz gigs including Dudu Pukwana and Lee Konitz (promoted even then by the redoubtable Tony Dudley-Evans, also part of the LJN circle), my jazz pen was put away until the 2014 Highgate Jazz with Soul Festival arrived. This event featured a whole weekend of top-class London jazz, promoted with huge verve and modest resources by tenor saxophonist Brandon Allen. I went along to several of the gigs and thought the whole event deserved wider coverage, so wrote it up and sent it to LJN editor Sebastian Scotney who, having ascertained that I didn’t mind him editing it, put it online.
Seb was kind enough to ask if I’d like to have a go at a CD review, and sent the Scottish National Jazz Orchestra’s Culloden Moor suite with Bobby Wellins. I’m very glad that he did – not only was the music excellent, but it started a continuing enthusiasm for the SNJO, one of Europe’s top large groups, which has only grown since I moved north to Edinburgh in 2016. I’ve been pleased to write about their concerts and recordings, as well as covering Tommy Smith’s forays into small group work – his Embodying The Light CD honouring John Coltrane was a highlight of 2017. There is so much great music in Scotland, and I’ve covered Tom Bancroft’s In Common and Luca Manning with Fergus McCreadie, amongst others.
Although most of my pieces have been CD reviews, there have been some memorable live performances too: the very final appearance of the Dedication Orchestra at the 2014 London Jazz Festival, Abdullah Ibrahim solo at the Barbican, Polly Gibbons (and George Benson) at the Royal Albert Hall and, on a smaller scale, pianist Toshiko Akoyoshi’s London club debut at the age of 86 at Pizza Express. Some favourite recordings covered include several from the Kansas Smitty’s stable including their debut album (10 tight originals in under 40 minutes!), Gary Smulyan’s baritone sax gymnastics on Alternative Contrafacts, and Mike Garrick’s 1992 concert from Catania featuring a youngish Alan Barnes.
One of the great things about writing for LJN is feeling part of a community of folk who both know their jazz and are prepared to put in some work to share it with others. We all bid for the latest releases on a Monday morning (thanks Kate!), and all kinds of people and products float across my inbox; Brian Blain, who knew and worked with the likes of Tubby Hayes in the London jazz scene in the mid-1960s, now in his 90s and still going strong. Then there’s Peter Jones, biographer of male vocalists including Mark Murphy and Jon Hendricks and no mean singer himself (his Utopia album was my record of the year in 2016). Our editor Sebastian Scotney is often to be found gadding off to foreign parts, as his review from the Reykjavik Jazz Festival of 2019 shows. Closer to home, I am delighted to be in touch with Patrick Hadfield and Rob Adams, forming LJN’s ‘friends in the north’ and paying particular attention to developments in Scotland and elsewhere.
100 pieces in about six years is an average of about one every three weeks. I am hopeful of keeping going – it’s good discipline to write, good sense to explore new music, and good for the soul to spend time in such close collaboration with the music. Onward!
(Mark, massive thanks for your wonderful contribution to the site. Ed.)