I consulted my programme to see what the next gig for the afternoon was and to my delight it was the band Tipitina, a band I remember seeing last year and immensely enjoying and the offering under the bridge didn’t really grab my fancy, so I opted to remain within the confines of the Jazz City quagmire. I nipped over to the facilities to go through my switch of jackets, this was a different tweed jacket, on slightly longer in the sleeve compared to the previous one and I believe it was slightly lighter to wear as well. Instead of the bow tie and Fez, I donned an equally awesome saxophone tie and my trilby, so I still had awesome head gear on. I returned to the bar and purchased another pint before venturing over to Fat’s Place where the gig was about to begin. This particular performance was a quintet consisting of drums, bass, guitar, piano and a vocals/guitar, the general appearance for the male members of the band seemed to be something of a continuation of the speakeasy/duke-joint dress code as presented by 52 Skidoo. Only in this case it was slightly more refined and dare I say it, even mildly Chicagoan gangster-esque, with the spats, jackets and hats all ready on display. The band was fronted by the very glamorous Guitarist/Vocalist Debbie Jones dressed in a rather fetching (and short, not that I’m complaining) dress depicting what I think were either Roses or Poppies, red flowers anyway. Again, it was somewhat disappointing to see that the crowd was on the thin side again, but never mind, the show must go on and so it did. I must admit I can’t recall the exact order the numbers were played in but I shall endeavour to list as many as I can, at this stage I had abandoned my note pad keeping an eye on events due to a combination of too much beer probably making my handwriting worse than normal, the lack of a surface to writing clearly on, a desire to stick with the show and the fact that my pen had ran out of ink and the replacement I picked up was luminous green! So it was hard to read what I wrote, anyways whatever the reason from now on I am relying on memory so I apologise if I incorrectly recall some of the details of the numbers. My attention was brought to attention by some melancholic chords riffing on the piano and Debbie began to explain the number they were about to perform, from the chords I’d heard I mistakenly thought that they were going to play a Nina Simone number called “I Think it’s Going to Rain Today”, which would of been somewhat ironic as the song is about drought and the weekend was a muddy quagmire due to the large amount of rain. Debbie went on to explain that she was going to perform a Randy Newman number which was written about a major flood in the late nineteen twenties and had subsequently gone on to become something of an anthem for New Orleans after the tragic consequences and devastation caused by Hurricane Katrina, the song was Louisiana 1927 a very powerful and emotional piece which had a great sense of resonance for me. Debbie sang the piece beautifully and the band laid out some great support with a notable piano solo by Justin Randall and there was much appreciation from the audience, the band followed this up with a few more lively number and then went to perform a tune from a very recent artist whose somewhat erratic behaviour and personal problems were unfairly utilised by the press to over shadow her immense talent. This sort of sensationalist and in my view somewhat sadistic method of journalism is a prime example of the decadent, corrupt and depraved ideology which has been bred into the news paper world by moronic individuals such as Rupert Murdoch who are intent on dragging everything down to gutter level, but that’s a whole other entry for the blog. The artist I am of talking of is the late great, Amy Winehouse. The number in question was one of Winehouse’s own compositions called “You Know That I’m No Good”, the second track from her chart topping album Back to Black. With the power of hindsight it seems the song has a somewhat melancholic edge about the lyrics, reflecting her own observations of herself and the life she was living. This was performed once again very finely by Debbie, I recall that she also performed the song at last year’s festival along with the Billy Taylor number “I Wish I Knew How It Would Feel to be Free”, a number made famous for UK audiences as it was the signature tune for the long running Film series presented by Barry Norman and later Jonathon Ross. Anyway back to the present, the number to me proves what a talented lyricist the late Amy was and goes on to show what a loss to the music world her untimely death was. Well sad as it is it is a semi-familiar story in the Jazz world, with artists such as Bix Beiderbecke, Jaco Pastorius and Clifford Brown all dying at tragically young ages, the former particularly close to Amy due to his drink problem. The performance of this number produced a somewhat bizarre remark from a member of the audience that it was disgusting that the band was performing music by an alcoholic drug addict… okay that’s a really interesting attitude to take at a jazz festival isn’t it? Because we all know that the jazz world is whiter than white on this front don’t we? The person in question then went on to say how they should be looking into the discography of Billie Holiday if they wanted more vocal material! Part of me really wanted to believe this person was being ironic but couldn’t help be feel they were being one hundred percent genuine, so I bemusedly gave a polite nod with an expression I think I could best describe as “the Henry Waldo look”. Henry Waldo is the anagrammatic nickname of a good friend of mine whom I had the pleasure of working twice during my career at the Horseshoes., we became good drinking mates and have stayed in touch since he left and regular meet up with the best intent of doing written and musical collaborations together… I‘m sure one day we’ll make good upon this promise. Well, by now I’m sure you want me to expand upon what I mean by this “Henry Waldo look”, well it is basically very simple: a look he would often give me during a brainstorm/anecdote/work–shift where upon I would say something which was either something completely absurd or if I had tried to apply logic to an illogical course of action which had taken place. This would usually consist of a Roger Moore-style raise of an eyebrow and a shift the eyes and the facial features which were part bemusement, amusement and pity, usually it would be followed by a shake of the head with a polite smile. After this bizarre little chat and the aforementioned person trotted off towards the bar, no doubt with the intent of finding some sap having a drink to lecture them on the evils of alcohol and then tell them they should listen to Janis Joplin, the band started up with a piece I believe was where the band got their name from, this was an instrumental piece with Debbie picking up her guitar for a few bars. I believe this drew to the first set to a close and Debbie announced that she had CD’s on sale, so I proceeded to the stage to purchase the CD, inquiring first as to whether it featured the Amy Winehouse number which it did. I purchased the CD and it will no doubt become part of my car playlist once the CD player eject button decides to work again and I can put a new CD in. I went to the bar and purchased a beer while listening to Claire go through her routine again, I was fortunate enough while in the bar to have a quick word with Debbie and the band promising I’d put some details about the gig on my blog. Better late than never I say hehe, but to make up for the delay I am delighted to inform my readers that Tipitina has been nominated in this year’s British Jazz Awards, follow the link here and you can vote for them http://t.co/EXa6QG2D, also while you are at it put a vote in for Jamie Brownfield in the rising star category as well. I returned to Fats Place for the second set which was as fantastic as the first set, a particular highlight for me was the rendition of another Randy Newman number called “Feels Like Home” which I believe has been covered by Norah Jones as the title track for her second album. Well I’m sorry Norah, but Debbie and Tipitina walk all over your version and has been uploaded on to my MP3 player which I use when going abroad. You’re in good company, you’re alongside greats such as Ella Fitzgerald, Billie Holiday, Diana Krall, Bing Crosby, Howlin’ Wolf and Nat Gonella to name but a few. I stayed for the rest of the gig and gave hearty applause to all the numbers and I may even of strutted my funky stuff once more but I can’t quite recall now. If any member of the band thought one of the audience was having an epileptic fit it stands a good chance that I did…. After that successful gig I nipped out to use the facilities once more and noted with a pang of melancholy that the end was drawing near as the purple dust of twilight began its descent upon Jazz City and the various stall holders were beginning to dismantle their pitches, what does one do in this circumstance? One goes to the bar of course!
While I visited the bar and purchased a pint of the ale “All That Jazz”, I started having a chat with one of the stewards who must of been around sixty and appeared to be donning what could best be described as a dark blue Compo hat and we had a long chat over the course of events at the festival. One of the subjects which arouse was the area of what could be deemed appropriate repertoire for the festival. Now, using the previous band Tipitina as an example who utilised composers like Amy Winehouse and Randy Newman for their act, is it right to use the term Jazz for them. While it may be true that Randy Newman is by no means a Jazz composer, with Amy Winehouse I think there is a strong argument to classify her as Jazz, but if you think about it a lot of standards were not written by ‘Jazz composers’. People have no problem listening to Charlie Parker play ‘Summertime’ or Coleman Hawkins play ‘Body and Soul’ and call it jazz, which if you think about is pretty much the same scenario. ‘Summertime’ was written as an operatic lullaby by Gershwin for “Porgy and Bess”, where as ‘Body and Soul’ was a pop song introduced in a Broadway revue called “Three’s a Crowd”. So as far as I’m concerned the origin of the source material is unimportant, it is the treatment given which makes it important, after all you can have a Polka version of ‘Smells Like Teen Spirit” if you really wanted to… Bands like Tipitina clearly embody the spirit of New Orleans and bring that bearing into jazz which is very much the child of the music of New Orleans and has developed ever since it left Louisiana and journeyed northwards to Chicago, to have a set idea of what material can be used is very limiting for a music style and would only result in stagnation. As the old Jazz standard goes there’s gonna be some changes made, this year I noted how there has been a decrease in the level of Traditional and New Orleans style Jazz and increase in more Swing, Mainstream and Chicago style acts. Like death and taxes, change is one of the few certainties in this world. Realising this conversation was probably getting a tad heated we changed the topic to what acts we’d seen and I bought up a tale of how about ten years ago I went to see Acker Bilk at a club called the Sands up in Gainsborough, by a rather bizarre coincidence I was staying in the same hotel. I was up in the gallery for the gig and shared the table with the chap who I assumed was either his driver or agent, after the gig was over I was returned to the hotel and got mobbed by the dog and ended up having a drink with the hotel owners and Acker Bilk himself, who even bought me a pint, Banks’s Bitter I think. Well we got talking first about watercolour paintings and then somehow onto the subject of TV Chef Fanny Craddock, I recounted that while a lot of children used to hide behind the sofa from Doctor Who I used to hide from Fanny Craddock, she was scary! This made Acker bring up an anecdote about how one show Craddock had made some doughnuts and at the end of the show, as was the tradition, her husband would come on and try the food. He tasted them and addressed the camera stating “We hope you enjoyed tonight’s show and for those of you baking, I hope all your doughnuts end up looking like Fanny’s.” Quite!!!! Whether this is true or just a television urban myth I do not know, but never let the facts get in the way of a good anecdote eh? Well from this discussion of TV chefs we somehow got onto the subject of the young lady I was courting at the time, a nice dark haired Christian girl named Hannah, after a brief talk about how long I’d know her Mr Bilk seemed to get a little rather too interested her and started to inquire about… well let’s say her lady parts. I think this was my cue to fake a yawn and retire for the night so I did. Talking to the steward who had met Bilk on many occasions apparently after a few drinks he can get a bit like that, he then went on to tell a few tales about Terry Lightfoot and Chris Barber. It was at this moment we were joined by Claire Taylor and we had a very long talk about various music artists we liked and how she chose her material. I noted the time and had to make a choice of where to go, I could either go to Fat’s Place and see Fat Sam’s Band again or brave the shuttle bus to Hanley Castle School to see Bev Pegg’s Good Time Jazz Band, a familiar staple of Jazz Club 90 at the Harp. Bev Pegg’s act is always very good, he plays guitar and banjo and adds vocals, it is usually a quartet or quintet and he peppers his act with plenty of tongue in cheek humour. The jokes may be corny but they are always very entertaining in a Carry On sort of way, the jokes are a good sign to show how drunk you are as the more you drink the funnier they get. Well, consulting the times it became a moot point, I had a taxi booked at 10:30 and by the time I’d got to Bev Pegg’s gig it would be the end of his first set, then it would be 10 before he was back on and I’d have to get back to Upton for the taxi so Fat Sam’s it was. This occasion he was wearing a purple suit in place of the red or the white one. The gig was good as ever, as I arrived he was playing the Lionel Hampton number Airmail Special and followed it up with that a Glenn Miller Medley consisting at least of “In the Mood”, “Chattanooga Choo-Choo” and “I Got A Gal in Kalamazoo”. Kalamazoo, being sung with an English ‘Zed’ as opposed to an American ‘Zee’ which while geographically accurate inferred with some of the rhymes. Next up was East of the Sun, quite a common big band number which I think was definitively done by Tommy Dorsey with vocals by the then wet-behind-the-ears Frank Sinatra. The Dorsey theme continued with his signature tune “I’m Getting Sentimental Over”, then a change of pace with “Jump” a tune which made its big band debut on the rather cringe worthy Paul Anka album “Rock Swings”. Well, it was better than that version at least with those of able frame in the audience jumping on cue. Sadly by now the crowd was very thin on the ground and it looked like the festival was ending with a whimper, oh well. With the set complete I returned to the bar and big Laura and the steward adieu for this year, polished off a pint of Mild and headed into town for my taxi. Upon arrival in my hotel I realised that somewhere along the way my hat had gone AWOL, I checked the taxi company in the morning to no avail and checked around where I was dropped off. Bummer, one hat gone but least I still had my Fez.
So what are my thoughts now looking back upon the festival? Well, I certainly had a good time and it was a shame that the weather did cause so much disruption to the gigs. I’m thinking that they won’t be able to afford another year like that so here’s hoping for a sunnier festival next year, although I’ll invest in some Wellington boots just to be safe. Personally, I think they need to spread the gigs around the town a bit more, in previous years the memorial hall, the primary school and the sports club have all contributed to hosting events and I feel this would aid the town a lot. I also think that the festival could do with a gig by the Oxford based band the Original Rabbit Foot Spasm Band, who would be worth it just for the name, despite the fact that their music is excellent. Also some proper gigs for Jamie Brownfield and the Blue Monday jazz Quartet, by all means have them in the youth tent but I think it’d be inspiration for aspiring youngsters to see these guys have a proper gig. One think I would really like, please bring the Bill Bailey Jam Session back into Tommy’s bar. The audience would be greater and people I think would be much more willing to contribute as it would be slap bang in the middle of the festival, so Upton Jazz Festival until next year…. Be seeing you.