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Monday, March 05, 2012

Great North Big Band Jazz Festival. Saturday March 3. Part Two

The extent to which this event has grown allowed little time to pause and reflect as the demands of a tight schedule that had the first band in the Open section on stage in no time at all. The University of Warwick Big Band (MD Matthew Clare) had the privilege (unenviable task?) of kicking-off proceedings and some did wonder if the band would be nursing sore heads having experienced a Friday evening of Mackem hospitality! Trumpeter Andy Hewitt’s solo effort stood out during a varied programme. Durham Alumni Band (MD Shaun Eland) boasted some established names on the northern jazz scene – Steve McGarvie (alto & soprano saxophones), Judd Down (trumpet) and Jonathon Dunn (trumpet & flugelhorn) – and an outstanding solo (Dunn, flugelhorn) on The Perfumed Garden brought the house down. Huddersfield University Big Band (MD Sean Miller) had it all to do and to their credit delivered a varied programme (including Portrait of Louis Armstrong and Norwegian Wood) with impressive trumpet playing from Teesside lad Toby Donnelly. Lancaster University Jazz Orchestra (MD Rhian Davies) featured vocalist Richard Weatherill on Moondance and  a Gordon Goodwin chart – Samba del Gringo – was in the pad. Trumpeter and MD  James Dunn assembled a good set for the Sheffield University Jazz Orchestra competition entry. Kenny Wheeler, Gordon Goodwin, Sammy Nestico and Victor Lopez were cast iron selections and from the ranks Alex Baker (alto) impressed, so too pianist Jonathan Gleek. Doncaster Youth Jazz Orchestra (MD John Ellis), for some odds on favourites to take the title from last year’s winners (Durham University Big Band), tackled Strayhorn (Take the ‘A’ Train, arr. Alan Baylock), Goodwin (Hunting Wabbitts) and Les Hooper ( Back in Blue Orleans). South Tyneside’s Customs House Big Band (MD Peter Morgan) like to swing it and their competition performance proved to be no exception. That man Goodwin featured once more as a favourite composer of big bands the world over with a rousing take on High Maintenance (good alto from Jill Brett) and vocalist Ruth Lambert hit the spot with At Last and a swinging Mack the Knife. Long distance travellers Cardiff University Big Band (MD Jeremy Meddows-Taylor) received a warm welcome as they launched into Sammy Nestico’s The Blues Machine. Well-drilled sections clearly enjoyed the occasion, that man Goodwin (Count Bubba) earned yet more royalties and vocalist Omar Kamal took on the daunting challenge of My Way and emerged unscathed! Title holders Durham University Big Band (MD Florian Cooper) closed the competition knowing that they had it all to do. The heavyweight saxophone section was ready for a Cruisin’ for a Bluesin’. Would this prove to be the knockout blow? Would the champs retain their crown? A killer rhythm section weighed in. Would the opposition throw in the towel? Jones and Donnelly retired to consider their verdict. Never one to miss an opportunity for a refill, a Guinness and a curry courtesy of the hard-working students’ union staff killed a few minutes. 
The stage transformed to accommodate the prize-giving (thanks to the tireless efforts of the stage crew), Mick Donnelly thanked all the participants and made constructive comments about their performances, no doubt endorsed by Paul Jones. Two special awards were made – Doncaster Youth Jazz Orchestra for Hunting Wabbitts and Sheffield University Jazz Orchestra for their work on Fiesta Bahia. Best Section was awarded to the saxophone section of the Durham University Big Band (for the record – Angus Law, Tom Munro, Sam Newbould, Anthony Ridley and Matthew Sulzmann).  The Best Soloist award went to Jonathon Dunn (Durham Alumni Band). The title of Best Band 2012 went to Durham University Big Band. A winners’ concert followed featuring, of course, Durham University Big Band and at the invitation of the adjudicators Durham Alumni Band and Doncaster Youth Jazz Orchestra.  So, Durham University Big Band retained their title. Well deserved too. The outstanding solo performance – Jonathon Dunn (flugelhorn) - would have won the prize at any event, anywhere it was that good. Day three of the Great North Big Band Jazz Festival will feature the Schools’ section of the competition.

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