THE THOUGHTS OF CHAIRMAN BRUCE
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The redoubtable Spats Langham and his two stalwart sidemen shrugged off the snow (they do live in the Cotswolds), a flat tyre, extreme cold and sundry gritting vehicles looming out of the darkness to make it to the Rugby Club in plenty of time for their recent gig. In fact (and this may interest current and future visitors) they had enough time to enjoy a meal in the lounge bar before playing, which they reported as being excellent and reasonably priced.So relaxed were they that they even kicked off with 'Smooth Sailing' ( definitely not a description of their journey), followed by an old Spats favourite called 'Old Man of the Mountains'. But anyone expecting a re-run of much of the material he has brought to Kendal on previous visits would have been disappointed, because the programme was notable for containing a generous portion of novelty - in both senses of the word. 'Ever Since I Kissed Her on the Volga' and 'Sing-Song Gal' were examples of that, as was 'A Cup of Coffee, a Sandwich and You': does anybody else remember hearing that played by Carl Spencer and the Washboard Kings in the original Kendal Jazz Club at the County Hotel circa 1970? There were also two or three jazz standards I don't remember hearing from this band before - 'Patrol Wagon Blues', ' Russian Lullaby', and ( a brave choice for bass clarinet, banjo and tuba) 'Black and Tan Fantasy'. Adding to the variety there were a couple of slower numbers: a beautiful version of the obscure 'Blue Evening', during which I scribbled down in my notes two words I never thought I'd use together - 'sensitive banjo' - and the better-known, but still touching after all these years 'Brother , Can You Spare a Dime'.So, a terrific repertoire, played with unbounded enthusiasm and skill, particularly by Tom himself, whose singing and solos on both banjo and guitar were world-class, vying with his introductions and anecdotes for top spot. What more could you ask for?
If the answer to that (rhetorical) question was 'a trombonist', we can set that right on the 9th of January, when we start the New Year on a bright note with a man recognized as one of the best-ever exponents of the instrument, Roy Williams. Still on scintillating form and touring regularly, he is supported by the local High Society Jazz Band, an outfit which is fortuitously trombone-less and whose style will undoubtedly take Roy back to his roots and the days when he played with Terry Lightfoot and Alex Welsh. As Roy is one of the most highly-rated Dixieland trombonists ever, right up there with Abe Lincoln and Cutty Cutshall, he's just the man to pick up the local lads and take them along with him. We hope he tells them where he's going.
Trading riffs with a British Jazz legend might faze lesser hearts but not the doughty sidemen of the High Society Jazz Band. On his first Club visit since 2012, trombonist Roy Williams urged them to excellence throughout and en passant, treated us all to some tales of celebrity gigs past.
'Don't Mean a Thing' and 'Ain't Misbehavin' set the tone- in more ways than one- for an evening of genial music making. But the first set really hit its stride with 'Royal Garden Blues.' No copyright in song titles, of course, so 'Once in a While' wasn't the 1937 standard but an Armstrong Hot Five instrumental from a decade earlier. Roy chose another Louis' favourite- 'Blue Turning Grey Over You'- for one of two reflective solo spots showcasing his eloquent artistry: the other being Arlen and Ted Koehler's 'As Long as I Live.' Both numbers also featured Gerry Clayton's bass and Dave Bateman, by turn on guitar and banjo. Dave Linguaphoned his way through 'Everybody Loves Saturday Night'- among many of his spirited vocals- which originally celebrated a weekly curfew-lifting in colonial Nigeria. For 'Rent Party Blues', Bruce donned his bass clarinet: 'squeaky clean' you might say with this 'treacherous beast' of an instrument. Fine trumpet work here-as ever-from Peter Boswell followed by a rousing 'Buddy's Habits' which closed the first half.
More of the same in the second set and then some: sprightly in 'Savoy Blues' and 'Fidgety Feet' gentler in 'The Gypsy', the latter rarely heard these days, one of a series of international hits from the pen of British accordion band leader, Billy Reid. Arguably, however, like all good showmen, they left the best until last: an extended peroration founded on 'I Got Rhythm'-with Robin Andrews' drums to the fore- succeeded by a manic encore, 'Crazy Words, Crazy Tune.'
While it wasn't quite a scrum at the Rugby Club, attendance was far better than at the corresponding fixture last year : a 'Traditional' audience who would almost certainly also enjoy next month's debut visit from 'Frog and Henry' on February 13th. These remarkable young musicians recreate the sounds of jazz pre-history via some unusual instruments and astonishing virtuosity. Check them out at www.frogandhenry.com.
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