Oliver Weindling writes:
Tony Dudley-Evans celebrated his 80th birthday at Symphony Hall in Birmingham on Saturday afternoon 8 April, with a stellar bringing-together of many of the musicians whom he has encouraged over recent years.
For, he, as a voracious and curious lover of such a wide range of jazz, has translated that with so much supportive activity in Birmingham in particular. Starting from gigs at venues such as the Strathallan Hotel, which is now an active strand at Symphony Hall, thus giving the impetus to a thriving and diverse local scene.
Meanwhile, there is also his involvement in the creation of a world-class jazz course at the Conservatoire and his long-lasting role as artistic director of Cheltenham Jazz Festival, where his final year as a ‘consultant’ will be celebrated at the end of the month with a new commission.
The choice of programming for the afternoon’s celebration was very appropriate. It started with a quartet led by local superstar saxophonist Chris Bowden, whose friendship with Tony goes back 40 years. The quartet, including Torin Davies on guitar, James Owston on bass and Jim Bashford on drums, played three new originals written for the gig, with energy, drive and gusto. The last included us all joining in to sing about Tony’s birthday!
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It set up the rest of the afternoon – of three shortish sets of free improvisation, which Tony explained to have become a particular passion, all masterfully anchored by Mark Sanders on drums and Chris Mapp on bass. The first, with Liam Noble (piano), and Xhosa Cole (tenor sax) was very fiery and energetic. Xhosa proved his status, equivalent to a young David Murray, and Noble particularly responded with endlessly inventive contrapuntalism.
Next up were Sarah Farmer on violin, Percy Pursglove on trumpet and Rachel Musson on saxophone. Starting much more gently and intricately, their set built steadily allowing space for all three to have ‘solos’.
Finally, Soweto Kinch (alto), Paul Dunmall (tenor/ about to celebrate his own 70th birthday in both Birmingham and London) and Laura Jurd (trumpet) were totally persuasive, similarly balancing insightful interactions, with strong interludes. Kinch and Dunmall were fine examples of the exciting scene in Birmingham, in which Tony has been the most effective catalyst for making things happen for decades.
This set morphed into a set where the others then all rejoined for a joyous large group improvisation. Due to the great acoustic, each musician could be heard clearly yet they all merged together. Gradually, first most clearly identifiable with snippets from Liam Noble’s piano, it evolved into a raucous and open version of ‘Happy Birthday’! No such event would have been complete without a few words from the host, before we all left, looking forward to Tony’s next 40 years on the scene.
LINKS Tony Dudley-Evans writes regularly for London Jazz News and his own site TDE Promotions.