This is a rough summary of the bands I have seen over since just before Christmas.
First up was the Wabash Jazz Four which incidentally was the last gig at the Harp under Dave and Donna, who had run the pub for many years after the sad demise of Donna’s father Terry who had been the landlord at the pub for many years and pretty much installed the live music ethos in the pub. So it was fortunate that the last band under their reign was one of the better ones. The Wabash Jazz Quartet (not to be confused with the Wabash Jazzmen who have the distinction of being only on of two bands I have taken one of partners too see), is fronted by Mark Challanor and is always good fun, but as is my tradition I was a little late arriving and arrived late, just as the first set closed. Now tis was because the band decided to split the night into three acts and have two fifteen minute breaks as opposed to the usual two sets and thirty minute break. So my first number of the evening was a Dixie/Trad stable called the “Tishamingo” Blues which is one of my favourite Dixieland numbers, sadly it lacked the little heard lyrics but that is only a small quibble and this was followed by what I first thought was “Over in the Gloryland”, the so called ever present tune played by Trad bands but in 13 years of going to the Harp and six at Upton I don’t need a second hand to count how many times I have heard it, but was in fact a number called “Sing It”. I wonder if it was based slightly on the chord sequence of “Gloryland”, a not-tto-uncommon occurrence in Jazz, though more common in Bebop. After that came a nice little tune I am not really overly familiar with called “Too Busy”, which was kind of an appropriate tune for me as it was one of the reasons I failed to visit my good friend Kathy before Christmas. One a more cheerful note the next number was that ever green classic “When You’re Smiling”, which has been covered many times by many artists. Trivia: This was the last song to be recorded by British Jazz legend Nat Gonella, he recorded it in a small session a few weeks after his 90th birthday way back in 1998 and it, along with the rest of the session were included on a retrospective album called Nat Gonella: Through the Years 1930-1998, it is well worth a listen if you can track down a copy. Up next was a number I had not heard before called “There’s A Rainbow Around my Shoulders” and I have yet to hear it again, so it evidently isn’t a commonly played tune, its name suggests to me it may have been part of the repertoire of the dance bands of the 1930’s and 40’s. This was followed by a triumvirate of well worn Jazz standards namely; “Some of the These Days”, “Making Whopee” and “Fidgety Feet”. The first hast been covered many times by artists such as Ella Fitzgerald, Acker Bilk and Humphrey Lyttelton, but my favourite version still has to the version recorded in the late 1920s/early 30s by the Paul Whiteman Orchestra which featured a little known vocalist by the name of Henry Lilis Crosby who to prefix his surname with his nickname instead of his real names. His nickname was Bing, I wonder if anything ever became of him…. Making Whoopee is another song which has done the rounds and for me the definitive version was done by George Melly, I find the version by Ol’ Satchmo is a bit stilted to my ears and the Melly version is some much more cheeky in tone which accurately reflects the lyrics. The final number is one which harks back to the very beginning of Jazz wand was composed by members of the Original Dixieland Jazz Band and is one of the few numbers from that band which is still played in Jazz circles today. Off the top of my head the other numbers are “Original Dixieland One-Step”, “Jazz Me Blues” and the legendary “Tiger Rag”. There may be a few others but that is all I can think of at the moment. I failed to make any notes beyond that point, so the final numbers will have to be listed as lost in the passage of time.
The week after was the Harp’s Jazz Club Christmas Party, which was so crowded I couldn’t get into the lounge and as such I made no notes. It was pretty much my own fault as the Carl Sinclair boogie band packs out the large tents at Upton let alone the modest lounge bar of the Harp! Any way at least I got to hear the music, even if it was from next door!
My first gig of 2015 was the Phil Probert Trio, a semi-acoustic guitar trio who can tend to be victim of the endless chit-chat from the Harp’s patrons but rather unusually this indignity did not happen to them. Perhaps my whinging in past blogs has paid off, or more likely John has had received complaints from both sides of the band stand and made a polite request. I joined the band a few minutes after the first number and was greeted by a very familiar tune. The tune in question was the Harry Lime Theme, the theme from one of my favourite Film Noirs (and films in general), the Third Man. So already I knew I was in for a good night, in total contrast to classic film scores the next number was a song by Leadbelly which I failed to catch the name of. Interestingly enough, I had never realised that Leadbelly had spent some time doing porridge and apparently this a contributing factor to the number’s composition. Again another change of style as we headed back to our side of the pond for a number composed by Battersea’s most famous blind Jazz pianist, George Shearing. Unsurprisingly, the number was his most famous composition “Lullaby of Birdland”, named after the infamous jazz club which was named after the legendary Charlie Parker. This lead to a nice connection with the next number which was a Bird associated number called “Don’t Blame Me”, though it is not a number I am familiar with myself, knowingly at least. Another number new to me followed and it was called “Did He? Why Did He?” and it was pretty good, the set concluded with “I Wish I Was in Dixieland”. Nothing like a bit of a civil war echo to lead into a break is there?
The second set kicked off with more traditional Jazz territory with “It Had to Be You” and “Pennies from Heaven”, both of which featured the rarely sang opening verses. I think I only own one recording of Pennies from Heaven which has the opening verse in it, which is on A Portrait of Bing Crosby. The next number was featured in a film I missed at cinema (which I had intended to see) called Inside Llewellyn Davies and it was rather good, irritatingly I failed to catch the tunes name. Now, there was a bit of detour from the usual tone of the club as we drifted into a brace of Elvis numbers, Teddy Bear and Mussi Den (or as it is called on the Elvis record, Wooden Heart), a fun diversion which went down well, something which apparently doesn’t always happen at a lot of venues. After the Elvis interlude we had some more traditional Jazz material with “Can’t Help Lovin’ that Man O’Mine” and “It’d Don’t Mean a Thing”, both of which were swung like the clappers. Again these were followed by a brace of numbers I am unfamiliar with called “Can’t Do It All By Myself” and “Let Us Be Brave”, which were okay I guess. More diversion followed with the band side stepping into Johnny Cash territory with “Fulsome Prison Blues” and “(Ghost) Riders in the Sky”, both expertly performed but I feel I must favour the cover of “Fulsome” by Mike Yorke’s mate Martin (see below). The night closed of with the band going into rock n roll territory with “Roll Over Beethoven”. All in all a fun night with plenty of texture to make the night interesting, more please.
My last gig was the New Washboard Syncopaters which as the name suggests was a return to Dixieland and Chicago Jazz with a set consisting of older numbers such as “Carry Me Back to Old Virgini”, “Sweet Sue”, “The Sheik of Araby” complete with the audience call and response of “ain’t got no pants on”, “Old Miss Hannah” and “While We Danced at Mardi Gras”. A fairly engaging band but nothing to write home about, but to keep the jazz club going I still support these lighter bands otherwise there’ll be no Jazz Club 90 and that would be a tragedy. The evening had some added texture with the inclusion of a Skiffle interlude which was fun but was a bit predictable in number choices which were “Take This Hammer” and “It Takes A Worried Man”, oh well at least they didn’t do “Rock Island Line” or “My Old Man’s A Dustman”. A few classic Ellington numbers were included at the end, “It Don’t Mean a Thing” and “Stevadore Stomp” but this one was more for your early jazz fan audience.