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Alyn Shipton hails a feast of classic jazz

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Alyn Shipton Alyn Shipton | 13:00 UK Time, Tuesday, 15 November 2011

Photo of Alyn Shipton (l) with Buck Clayton

Alyn Shipton (l) with Buck Clayton

The first weekend of this year's London Jazz Festival in association with Radio 3 involved a Saturday at the Purcell Room with two back-to- back concerts celebrating the centenaries of two very different giants of the swing era, trumpeters Roy Eldridge and Buck Clayton.

For good measure, it was also 30th anniversary of the death of Charlie Shavers, another pugilistic trumpeter who would have been a mere 91 this year.

For me it was a mixture of celebration that the music of these fine players is still being heard live in a concert setting, and of nostalgia. Back in the 1980s, I got to know Buck Clayton when I published his life story, and on his death he arranged for me to receive a box of his music in his memory. In 2004, with the German saxophonist Matthias Seuffert, I put together a band to play this music, most of which had never been recorded. After talking to John Cumming of the London Jazz Festival at that time, we decided to see if it would be possible to home in on Buck's actual anniversary to celebrate his centenary.

So November 12 was not just the London concert hall premiere of Buck's original compositions, but his actual 100th birthday. I got a lump in my throat watching a short film of Buck beforehand, seeing the man I'd got to know almost 30 years ago, and hearing his voice. We had become friends and met regularly in New York and London, so after that it was a special privilege to bring his music to life again.

The Roy Eldridge story is even more poignant for me. Roy had been a fearsomely combative trumpeter until blood pressure problems led him to abandon the trumpet for singing, playing the drums, and the piano.

Buck told me Roy had also started writing his life story, and I ought to try to publish it. Roy's friend, the UK trumpeter and author John Chilton also urged me to get in touch, so finally I wrote to Roy at his home in Hollis near New York. Sadly the letter was returned unopened. Roy had died while it was in the mail from the UK to America. John eventually went on to write an excellent biography of Eldridge, which I did manage to publish. But it was a real thrill to hear the excellent trumpeter Rico Tomasso playing Roy's music, at the Purcell Room, and bringing him back to life even more forcibly than words on a page.





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