Live review

Electric Lady Big Band at Ronnie Scott’s

Denny Ilett’s Electric Lady Big Band play Jimi Hendrix
(Ronnie Scott’s, 6-7 January 2023. Review by Lavender Sutton)

Denny Ilett, Cheltenham Jazz Festival 2022. Photo copyright John Watson/

Jimi Hendrix always expressed an interest in writing music for a big band but sadly passed away before he could make this dream a reality. Gil Evans was intending to work on this project and eventually did record an album of Jimmy Hendrix’s compositions in 1974. 

Fast forward to 2018 when Bristol-based guitarist and life-long Hendrix supporter Denny Ilett started his own Jimi Hendrix big band with the goal of releasing an album to commemorate the 50th anniversary of Hendrix’s 1969 release Electric Ladyland

The success of this project saw them produce another album in 2021, Up from the Skies, and headline at the Cheltenham jazz festival with great success. Now, with four shows at Ronnie Scott’s, it’s clear that this project is more than just a Jimmy Hendrix ‘experience’. 

The 16-piece big band was set up in-the-round with the horns surrounding the rhythm section which created a fantastic bursting sound that enveloped the audience.

While the room was probably packed with Hendrix fans who had bought tickets based on the name alone, the ‘jazz’ element was more strongly represented. There were moments of psychedelia and wah-wah guitar from Ilett, and definitely elements of funk and blues being driven by rock-solid bass lines from Lawrence Cottle and drummer Daisy Palmer whose interactive, expressive playing stole the show. No matter what she played, she was immersed in the music and her energy radiated throughout the room. 

But instead of having someone try to emulate Jimi Hendrix’s guitar playing and singing (which would be sacrilegious and impossible), the instrumentalists in the band were given featured solos that showed off the hefty amount of talent within the group including Iain Ballamy on tenor sax, Mark Armstrong on trumpet and the three trombonists Winston Rollins, Ian Bateman and Daniel Higham who had a terrific solo battle on Long Hot Summer Night. There was a special surprise visit from vocalist Ian Shaw to sing Angel; the only ballad of the evening. He, of course, put his own unique spin on it, using every corner of his vocal range to match the impressiveness of the band. 

Denny Ilett's Electric Lady Big Band, Cheltenham Jazz Festival 2022
Denny Ilett’s Electric Lady Big Band, Cheltenham Jazz Festival 2022. Photo copyright John Watson/

Ilett shared tidbits of Hendrix’s life and antics, including his love of the planet and desire to impact climate change with songs like 1983 (A Merman I Should Turn to Be) and Up from the Skies. He recalled that Hendrix’s last appearance before he died was at Ronnie Scott’s (16 September 1970). What a fine way to conjure up the memory of his genius. A fabulous salute to such an iconic artist.  


Guitar/Vocals/Arranger: Denny Ilett
Trumpets: Simon Gardner, Noel Langley, Mark Armstrong, Tom Gardner
Trombones: Winston Rollins, Ian Bateman, Dan Higham, Mark Frost
Saxes: Ben Waghorn, Iain Ballamy, Ruth Hammond, Kevin Figes
Bass: Laurence Cottle
Keys: Dan Moore
Drums: Daisy Palmer

LINK: Photo-Essay by John Watson of the ELBB the 2022 Cheltenham Jazz Festival

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