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IT IS ADVISABLE TO CHECK IN ADVANCE WITH THE VENUE THAT THE GIG IS ON

SUNDAY 20

Vieux Carre Hot 4 - Spanish City, Spanish City Plaza, Whitley Bay NE26 1BG. Tel: 0191 691 7090. 12 noon. Free.

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Vieux Carre Jazzmen - The Holystone, Whitley Road, North Tyneside NE27 0DA. 0191 266 6173. 1:00pm. Free.

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Tuesday, October 23, 2018

Guitar Lessons: James Birkett & Bradley Johnston @ Blaydon Jazz Club – Oct. 21

Bradley Johnson, James Birkett (guitars); Irene (vocal)
(Review by Jerry)

My last gig chipped away at my general ignorance of jazz trumpet: this time out it was jazz guitar and who better to enlighten me than Messrs. JB & BJ? James Birkett promised us a selection of guitar tunes from different decades and, with a set-list from Eddie Lang to Pat Metheny, every decade from the 20’s to the present was covered. As Lang pretty much invented jazz guitar (the banjo was the instrument of choice before him) I guess you could say that’s the entire history? The selection included one which was, according to Birkett, “a little corker” and another which was “a gas to play”. For the listeners they were all “corkers” and “a gas” to listen to: as history lessons go, it sure was lively!

The evening started and finished on Django favourites, Swing 39 and Dark Eyes. I’d not heard the former played live before and the latter, far from being “a moment of madness” is always a great finale. Also from Django’s canon were: I’m Confessin’ that I Love You; Nuages and Artillerie Lourde. This last was very dramatically performed with variations of pace and volume which I don’t recall from the version recorded on my Djangologie CD. All were beautifully played and it was a particular pleasure to see Bradley Johnston whizzing through Dark Eyes with much aplomb. I first saw him at the age of about 17 with Jambone, and Roly reminded us of his first Blaydon gig at about 14: how far he has come in those few short years!

Eddie Lang was also well represented with Perfect, Blue Room and Stringing the Blues, on which Bradley got to play Joe Venuti’s part. Blue Room was probably my favourite tune of the evening (my weakness for blues again!) as this (1929?) collaboration with Lonnie Johnson sounded purely Delta! I’m not sure why Salvatore Massaro had to become Eddie Lang for professional purposes but his billing as Blind Willie Dunn on collaborations with Johnson speaks volumes about 1920’s America.

“When you get two guitarists in the room there’s always a bossa nova” and so we had the quiet, gentle, Benny Carter tune, Only Trust Your Heart which kept reminding me, simultaneously and perhaps obscurely of I’ve Got You Under My Skin and the Beatles’ And I love Her. Sorry if that’s heretical! I recognised (and enjoyed – especially the snap ending) Chicken-A-La-Swing but could not, before, have named Carl Kress and Dick McDonough.

I also enjoyed the next unannounced tune but could not, for the life of me, figure out (as Birkett suggested we should) that it was All the Things You Are: “jazz standard re-worked by Bach” was as near as I got to a working hypothesis! Clearly, there is still much to learn!
We then had a “surprise guest”, Irene, adding vocals to the evening on Louis Jordan’s 1944 hit, Is You Is or Is You Ain’t My Baby? Loved that, too! The first set closed with Ray Noble’s Cherokee, a slow-burner which starts quietly and oddly dissonant then builds to a strummed frenzy contrasted with moments of lullaby calm. Intriguing!

In the second set, and as yet unmentioned, we had an unannounced opener and the beautiful ballad, Polka Dots and Moonbeams (no lyrics here so no kissing “the pug-nosed dream”!). The “little corker” mentioned earlier was by Luiz Bonfa but a debate over the correct pronunciation of his forename meant that I missed the title of the tune! It was, however, lyrical and lovely and was very well received by the audience. Which leaves Always and Forever, by Pat Metheny, one of the few living practitioners from tonight’s Hall of Fame. Versions on YouTube came up with cloying graphics and mawkish (in my opinion) lyrics, but the tune itself is spellbinding. Pure gold! Bradley Johnston took the lead throughout showing that he can do slow and sensitive every bit as well as fast and furious stuff like Dark Eyes.
Thanks to both musicians (and Irene) and to Roly Veitch for a fine evening.

Jerry

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