Returning for the third in their series of orchestral jazz concerts for the EFG London Jazz Festival at Cadogan Hall, Richard Pite’s Jazz Repertory Company presents another exciting programme of iconic music with the 40-piece Pete Long Orchestra. Preview by Peter Vacher:
Back in 2019, in those carefree pre-Covid days, Richard Pite’s Jazz Repertory Company staged its most ambitious Cadogan Hall concert yet as part of the EFG London Jazz Festival. It was entitled Swingin’ with Strings. They continued the ‘with strings’ theme for the 2021 Festival with a tribute to the genius of Antonio Carlos Jobim. This time it was Bossa Nova With Strings. Now, building on that collective success, they have conceived a wholly new and exciting multi-part programme for the 2022 event, again at Cadogan Hall, to be called Cool Jazz, Bossa & Bebop With Strings.
And yes, it will include more of Jobim’s Latin specialities and yes, it will again involve the Brazilian singer/guitarist Gui Tavares as Jobim. And Tavares is just one of an array of gifted individualists each to be supported by Pete Long’s superb 40-piece concert orchestra directed by BBC concert master Charles Mutter. In this unique collaboration, Long and company will be using the original orchestral arrangements as heard on the recordings, courtesy of trombonist Ian Bateman’s library of transcriptions.
Bossa means Jobim. It is his hugely influential Brazilian signature sound that will again be heard with a new selection of beautiful songs from his fertile pen. The UK’s Denny Ilett, also a brilliant singer and guitarist, will join Tavares as they replicate several more of the delightful Jobim/Frank Sinatra duets that were featured in last year’s concert.
To many observers, Cool Jazz was epitomised by the extraordinary if doomed US trumpeter Chet Baker. He played in an intimate, reticent style, never above the middle-range, and vocalised in a delicate, almost vulnerable manner. Sadly, he became notorious for the trail of distress he left everywhere in the USA and in Europe during his enforced exile from his homeland. His drug addiction made him a pariah, a problem for those who sought to employ him and a man whose relationships were fragmentary at best. However beaten up he may have been, however unreliable and un-business-like he may have seemed, his playing always retained a quality described by his biographer James Gavin as ‘heroic but tender, bruised by love yet still ruled by his heart’.
Gavin was writing about Baker’s leading role in an album entitled Chet Baker and Fifty Italian Strings, recorded in Milan in September 1959 for the Jazzland label. Aside from his lyrical trumpet work, Baker also ‘crooned songs of eternal love and sweet heartbreak’ according to Gavin. It is this very collation of classy instrumental performances and sweet-sounding vocals that will be revived for this concert. The fine British trumpeter Ben Cummings, known for his versatility and command of traditional-to-mainstream jazz styles, is the JRC’s choice to emulate Chet. Cummings will perform songs from that vintage album, again with Pete Long’s perfect orchestral accompaniment. He has the right good looks, the cool-sounding vocal style, and the instrumental presence to recall and refresh the romanticism of the Baker tracks picked from that alluring recording. Consider it a treat in store and something of a debut triumph for the Jazz Repertory Company.
In the 1950s, once Chet Baker had left Gerry Mulligan’s quartet, he teamed up briefly with the great bebop innovator Charlie Parker on the West Coast. Sadly, they shared the same self-destructive habits and suffered some of the same consequences, their lives inevitably bruised by tragedy. Even so, alto-saxophonist Parker created a body of work that stands comparison with the greatest 20th century music, of whatever form. There were small group recordings aplenty but there was also Bebop With Strings, the third element in JRC’s ground-breaking concert presentation. Parker’s extraordinary success with his 1949 and 1950 ‘with strings’ recordings for Norman Granz’s Mercury/Clef labels made many jazz musicians hanker for the spurious respectability of recording their improvisations in a string-based orchestral context. But Parker’s recordings set an almost unachievable high standard. He considered these sessions his favourite recordings of his career and they feature some of the most sublime readings of these songs that have ever been recorded.
It is into these daunting shoes that they have asked the brilliant saxophonist Sammy Mayne to step. And who better, for Mayne is known as one of the finest contemporary exponents of Charlie Parker’s bebop style and it is his virtuosic command of that alto-saxophone style that will be portrayed in this concert. Stand-by for some masterly performances, the very essence of Bebop With Strings. Once again, Richard Pite’s ever-inventive team is poised to recreate some vital moments of recorded jazz history. These cleverly devised keynote concerts, each a one-off, have become a highly valued element in successive EFG London Jazz Festivals. Never more so than this year with Cool Jazz, Bossa And Bebop With Strings. Enjoy!