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Monday, March 05, 2012

Great North Big Band Jazz Festival. Sunday March 4

Day three of the big band marathon. Noon. A fantastic opportunity for students to participate in a workshop with experienced practitioners of the art of playing jazz. This educational work is invaluable in coaching the jazz musician of the future. It is thanks to the numerous funders of the festival that such events are possible. The Schools’ section featured four bands (three regular participants and a band new to Sunderland making the journey from North Yorkshire).
County Durham’s Tudhoe Grange School (MD Chris Smith) competed for the last time as Tudhoe prior to a change of name brought about by a proposed amalgamation of schools. A band of young players with an all female trumpet section hit the ground running – perhaps that should be swinging – with It Don’t Mean a Thing.  Audience participation is, as a rule, the cue for this reviewer to head for the bar but on this occasion a round of ‘Tequila’ didn’t hurt and if it helped the band that’s fine by me. Satin Doll then T.W.A. –Trumpets with Attitude completed an enjoyable programme. Alex Lewis,  MD of Prudhoe Community High School Swing Band called in the Jazz Police (that man Goodwin again) and the trumpet section found itself up on a charge of being pretty damn good. Guitarist Thomas Rees was taken in for questioning and was bailed on the serious charge of being too good at such a young age and a date in March next year has been set when he will appear at the Great North Big Band Jazz Festival. Girl From Ipanema and Chameleon highlighted the first rate rhythm section with rock-steady bass playing by Johnny Drake.  Newcomers St.Aidan’s Swing Band (MD Vicki Elliott) from Harrogate were an unknown quantity to the Sunderland audience. Well, within a couple of bars of their opening number – The Caboose (Wynton Marsalis) – it was game over. What a band! A kaleidoscope of colours cascaded over North Shore. This was Stan Kenton, George Russell, Voice of the North and of course, the Lincoln Center Jazz Orchestra. Best of all, this was St.Aidan’s Swing Band. Musicians in a school band this good? I don’t know how MD Vicki Elliott has done it but whatever the formula she should patent it! Field Holler (Jordan Smith), ensemble call and response, foot-tapping – this was as near to the ‘real deal’ as you’ll get. Jordan Smith the vocalist was the star turn on alto saxophone with a mature solo on Body and Soul. Edgar Winter’s underground rock band had a surprise chart hit with Frankenstein and it was a surprise to see it listed in the band’s set. Surprise or not it was great! The band’s two drummers (yes, two) - James MacCallum and Jake Fireman -  traded for all they were worth. Fantastic!
The final band to take the stage on this memorable weekend was from DarlingtonThe Queen Elizabeth 6th Form Band offered an excellent programme – Goodwin’s Count Bubba, When I Fall in Love (Victor Young), Mike Smukal’s Mind Your P’s and Q’s and Amazing Grace. Goodwin’s chart ensured a good beginning and the standard was maintained with Robert Smith’s trumpet on the Victor Young ballad. Amazing Grace revealed brass band precision before switching to up-tempo funk.
Adjudicators Paul Jones and Mick Donnelly had listened to an awful lot of big band jazz over three jam-packed days. Nevertheless they offered constructive advice and a considered opinion. Once more two special prizes were awarded. The Harrogate drummers – James MacCallum and Jake Fireman – were called to the stage to be congratulated by the Mayor of Sunderland. Similarly, the Queen Elizabeth 6th Form
Band’s  trumpet section took to the stage to receive a well-deserved award. Prudhoe Community High School Swing Band took home two awards. One for Best Programme and another for Best Section (the band’s rhythm section). The Best Soloist prize was deservedly awarded to Jordan Smith (alto saxophonist) of St. Aidan’s Swing Band. Finally, Best Band. There could only be one winner – St. Aidan’s Swing Band
The Great North Big Band Jazz Festival is now in its ninth year. I for one haven’t heard a better band in the schools’ section than St. Aidan’s Swing Band. It is a little early to draw up a short list for Gig of the Year 2012 but as things stand St. Aidan’s performance is right up there. Festival Director Bill Watson and his team of unsung workers together with a host of supportive sponsors deserve a vote of thanks for making the 2012 event a resounding success.

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