The London Jazz Festival - keep on listening!
Keith Nichols's Hot Tamales, with Alyn Shipton on bass. Photo: Les Pratt
The frantic activity of last week's London Jazz Festival in association with BBC Radio 3 is now beginning to recede into the past.
With three broadcasts in three nights, then two live events to chair and a concert to review last Saturday I seemed to be as busy as ever, but sadly had to miss hearing Sonny Rollins on the final weekend. Nevertheless, what I managed to see and hear of the festival as a whole suggests that it was one of the most enjoyable editions in recent years.
And in particular, this is because as well as many of the musicians at the cutting edge of jazz, innovators and experimenters alike, there was a concerted attempt to look back as well, and connect to the jazz tradition. There were several 'Hear Me Talking To Ya' events, with musicians reflecting on their careers, and if my broadcasts with Gary Burton and Geri Allen were typical, then these offered the younger members of the audience (of whom there were more than ever) the chance to find out about an earlier era. But there were also concerts that looked back too. Frank Giffiths's octet turned back the clock to Billy Strayhorn and Ellington's small groups, and Richard Pite's Jazz Repertory company explored the legacy of the Benny Goodman quartet.
Right at the start of the festival Guy Barker's Jazz Voice event picked repertoire that had anniversary connections - such as the centenary of songwriter Frank Loesser, and the birthdays of Sonny Rollins and Herbie Hancock. But last Friday on a recording for Radio 3's Discovering Music at the Royal Academy of Music, Keith Nichols, Philip Martin and I were looking back even further, to the 120th anniversary of the birth of Jelly Roll Morton. Philip presented the piano music of Louis Moreau Gottschalk written in the 1840s and 50s which Morton would have heard as a small boy in New Orleans around 1895, and he also played pieces by Scott Joplin that Morton himself discussed in 1938 as part of his oral autobiography for the Library of Congress. Then Keith Nichols and his 'Hot Tamales' took the stage in the David Josefovitz Hall, and turned it into 1920s Chicago, with a rousing rendition of music by Morton's legendary 'Red Hot Peppers'.
We also looked at the direct influence of Morton on Charles Mingus's work in the 1950s and 60s. I had the fun of playing bass in the band, and contributing to the jazz festival in a slightly different way from usual! The programme goes out on 20th February 2011, and it maybe takes some sort of record for the longest chronological span of any event at the LJF, covering over 120 years of music!