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Friday, September 01, 2017

Tom Sharp Jazz Orchestra @ Ushaw Jazz Festival 2017 - August 27

(Review by Russell/Photos courtesy of John Cogan)
In 2016 the Leeds-based Tom Sharp Jazz Orchestra walked off with the National Glass Centre-commissioned trophy as winners of the Great North Big Band Jazz Festival. The adjudicators at the Sunderland University Students’ Union venue were in no doubt that the quality of the band’s performance was deserving of the coveted title. Eighteen months later Tom Sharp’s tremendous big band closed the 2017 Ushaw Jazz Festival.
Eighteen-strong, the orchestra assembled on the Exhibition Hall stage, stretching from right to left, rhythm section at one end, the five-strong saxophone section at the other. Bandleader Tom Sharp, cutting a debonair figure right out of a ’30s jazz orchestra, appeared business-like, ready to go to work. Sharp’s musicians are the crème de la crème of the burgeoning Leeds jazz scene. The sections boast familiar faces; local County Durham heroes Tom Hill and Will Howard, Ben Lowman (alto) erstwhile sideman to Matt Roberts, and Danny Barley, making a second visit in three days to Ushaw having proved a more than able trombone dep for Chris Hibbard with the Paul Edis Sextet.

A fast moving show featured an array of soloists (not a weak link in sight) working through a varied and entertaining pad. Illustrious arrangers, composers and musicians were in there; Bob Florence, Bill Holman, Rob McConnell, Lennie Niehaus, Gordon Goodwin, Harry James, Basie, to name just a few. Twist of the Wrist for starters, Basie’s Kid from Red Bank with barrelhouse piano from Chris Bland. Gordon Goodwin’s arrangement of Beauty and the Beast heard from Rose Perry, tenor, and Alex Fisher on baritone. Lennie Niehaus’ arrangement for Stan Kenton of I’ve Never Been in Love Before showcased the ’bones – Tom I’Anson, Chris Burge, Danny Barley and bass bone man Pat Martin.

Bandleader Tom Sharp stood out front for a bravura trumpet performance of Harry James’ theme tune Ciribiribin. Wow! Lots of technical stuff going on there! Time for our first singer of the evening.  Ms Helena Debono first convinced the hall that Diamonds are a Girl’s Best Friend before going on to claim My Heart Belongs to Daddy. More from Ms Debono later. Jack Chandler (alto) doubled up on baritone to feature on Bob Florence’s Pumpkinette followed by Bill Holman’s arrangement for Stan Kenton of Malaga which heard from bassist Sam Jackson.            

Second set there was no let up with a tumultuous West Side Story featuring drummer Josh Smart. Impressive, exhausting stuff! Time to introduce James Hudson. Tall, suave, a debut performance, Chaplin’s Smile by way of introduction. Fine and dandy until all hell broke loose as Sharp’s full-on fast and furious solo upped the tempo. Hudson departed singing Cheek to Cheek. We would hear more of JH later. Guitarist Will Powell stepped up, metaphorically, on McConnell’s arrangement of Horace Silver’s Strollin’ deservedly winning applause. Just Friends featured a slew of soloists; Tom I’Anson, trombone, Chris Bland, Perry on tenor and Lowman on alto, and to close it out, Tom Hill did what Tom Hill does, the trumpeter well and truly nailed it. Debono and Hudson returned to sing I Won’t Dance. Both vocalists were making their first appearance with the orchestra. You wouldn’t have known it. The Tom Sharp Jazz Orchestra made a big impression at the Ushaw Jazz Festival and Tom Kubis’ Alexander’s Big Time Band just about summed up this amazing big time band. 
Russell.                    
Tom Sharp Jazz Orchestra:
Trumpets: Tom Sharp (MD), Joe Roughton, Dan Coulthurst, Stuart Wilson, Tom Hill,
Saxophones: Ben Lowman (alto), Jack Chandler (alto & baritone), Rose Perry (tenor), Will Howard (tenor), Alex Fisher (baritone)
Trombones: Tom I’Anson, Chris Burge, Danny Barley, Pat Martin
Will Powell (guitar), Chris Bland (piano), Sam Jackson (bass), Josh Smart (drums)

Vocals: Helena Debono & James Hudson

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