The Manchester-based Royal Northern College of Music is celebrating its fiftieth anniversary this year. As part of the festivities, northern-based musicians Dave Hassell (drums) and Andy Scott (saxophone) have been invited to direct the big band for a night of Latin jazz inspired by the great Tito Puente. Preview by Charles Rees
In 2016, then director of jazz at the Royal Northern College of Music Mike Hall invited Dave Hassell and Andy Scott, both longtime educators there, to direct what turned out to be a very well-received Latin jazz concert with the college big band. Many guests have been invited to direct such concerts over the years, a tradition which Hall’s successor, bassist and founding member of Loose Tubes Steve Berry, has continued: As recently as last December, saxophonist Iain Dixon was featured with trumpeter Percy Pursglove (previewed here). Now Hassell and Scott are returning to direct their Latin big band project, one with a long history that has led up to this point…
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Drummer/percussionist Dave Hassell began teaching at the RNCM in the early ’80s, a role which he took on in addition to his busy studio career. Here he would go on to meet a saxophone student by the name of Andy Scott who had asked him to coach a session with the now award-winning Apollo Saxophone Quartet, of which Scott was (and still is) a member. Hassell would return the favor by inviting the saxophonist to dep with his 11-piece Latin band Apitos, later hiring him in that role.
Formed in 1984 and still going strong almost 40 years later, Apitos has existed in three iterations: The first, 11-piece lineup, a smaller 5 to 6-man Descarga band, and a 19-piece big band by the name of Apitos the Big Un. Hassell explained; “At the end of the ‘90s, the arts council were being very generous and I remember getting a grant for about £5,000 so we could write some big band arrangements.” Those arrangements will form the bulk of the set at the upcoming gig with the RNCM band.
‘The Big Un’ was formed in part as a tribute to Tito Puente, one of the great pioneers of Latin jazz who had his own influential New York-based big band for many years. “There was nobody at that time playing these arrangements and I managed to source a load of them pre-arranged from America”, said Hassell. The band’s library evolved from there to also include music by Dizzy Gillespie as well as more modern exponents of the Latin big band sound like Michel Camilo. Not to mention Andy Scott, a prolific composer in addition to his work as a saxophonist, has penned several charts that are to be featured; most notably a piece called “Early Hours”, one of the earliest contributions to The Big Un’s pad.
Whatever shape the overall set ends up taking, Hassell certainly gave the impression that the ultimate goal is to capture the atmosphere from the famous New York Palladium days of the early ’60s with artists like Tito Puente and Tito Rodriguez. He made it abundantly clear: “Tito Puente was arguably my biggest inspiration.”
The concert is after all part of the RNCM’s fiftieth-anniversary festivities, a fact which Hassell is well aware of: “We’re playing music that, shall we say, will not intellectually challenge the audience. That Latin Tito thing… it’s street music! So it seemed the right sort of music to be playing for a celebration.” To help get that message across, Scott and Hassell have invited special guests Clark Rundell, Steve Berry and Mike Hall to take part in the evening. The perfect way to mark this historic year for the RNCM.
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