After a hectic November finishing my Nonet tour, embarking on a tour with Yazz Ahmed’s Polyhymniathen playing in the Cambridge, Hull and London jazz festivals with various bands, I’m looking forward to focusing on some practice and writing during a quiet December. It was a real pleasure to be a part of Yazz’s tour, not least because of the amazing musicians involved including a few I had long admired from afar but hadn’t met before.
I was very sad to hear the news that singer, banjo player and robotics engineer Nick Singer passed away a couple of weeks ago. I met Nick over a decade ago playing in London’s trad scene (in which he had been an evergreen presence for about half a century). He was a real sweetheart who was always very kind to me. A highly intelligent yet open hearted man, I doubt there are many who knew so many old jazz songs (including the lyrics and the verses) AND how to design robots. I cherish the conversations we had in between sets over (probably a couple too many) pints. He once told me the thing he was most proud of in his life was caring for a dying loved one, and that one of his greatest regrets was that some of his early work in engineering was used for military purposes. He balanced all this with a childlike sense of humour, with plenty a rude song and double entendres in his extensive repertoire. I was always very pleased to see him and now I’ll miss him very much. Here is a touching tribute from the Shadow Robot Company (of which he was the Director) which offers some more insight into his warm personality and includes a little snippet of him singing.
Coming up this month
7thDecember – Andrew Linham Jazz Orchestra @ Vortex, London
14thDecember – Joy Ellis Album Launch @ Vortex, London
Things I’ve been checking out
One of my favourite things about my job is getting to work with so many musicians who are extremely passionate about the music and who always have suggestions of albums to check out. A car journey to Folkstone may not have been the most obvious of learning opportunities, but when the driver is Leon Greening there’s a very good chance you’re going to discover a few incredible albums from the bebop and hardbop idioms. For those unfamiliar with Leon, he’s a fantastic piano player obsessed with Bud Powell, Wynton Kelly and Bobby Timmons (amongst many others I’m sure). I asked Leon for some recommended listening and I got a brilliant list of albums by Art Blakey and Cannonball Adderley. There are too many to check out in one month, but two albums I’ve really enjoyed are Blakey’s Free For All (Freddie Hubbard, Curtis Fuller, Wayne Shorter, Cedar Walton & Reginald Workman) recorded in 1964, and Paul Chamber’s 1959 album Go (Cannonball Adderley, Wynton Kelly, Philly Joe Jones/Jimmy Cobb and Freddie Hubbard). It’s interesting comparing Freddie’s playing on these two. On the Chambers album I hear Clifford Brown’s influence and Freddie is sort of halfway between Clifford and what we know Freddie sounds like in the sixties, which is in full evidence on the Blakey album. Besides the playing, there are some really fun compositions on these albums that I’ll be pinching!
George Crowley is a musician I’ll always lend an ear to whether he’s playing or talking about music. His tastes are wide ranging and he has a serious appreciation for the tradition. Whilst we were on tour with Yazz Ahmed’s project he introduced me to some live recordings of Sonny Rollins from a 1959 European tour. Henry Grimes is on bass for all, but the drum chair is shared between Pete La Roca, Joe Harris and Kenny Clarke. I love these recordings! Rollins sounds so strong and it’s interesting to compare the three drummers especially in this trio context, given how rhythmically playful Rollins is. I’d never heard of Harris and I was only vaguely familiar with La Roca, whose playing I particularly enjoy here.