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Tuesday, March 03, 2020

Great North Big Band Jazz Festival 2020 (Day 2) - Feb 29

(Review by Russell)

Logistical issues necessitated a change to the advertised starting time to the second day of this year's Great North Big Band Jazz Festival. A noon start, rather than 11:00am, meant the stage crew would be working harder than ever and that's saying something as they never stop! As musicians and audience sought refreshment it was all hands on deck for Bill Watson's willing band of helpers. Chairs and music stands were taken on and off stage at a rate of knots readying the scene for one band then another and another.


Logistics and tradition determined Newcastle University Jazz Orchestra (MD Tom Alcorn) open proceedings. As adjudicators Mick Donnelly and Marcus Brown took their seats NUJO got the competitive action underway with Pure Imagination (comp. Bricusse/Newley). The Open Section (college/university/regional/semi-pro bands) comprised nine bands and without question the Newcastle outfit laid down a marker for the other eight bands. An interesting programme always catches the eye and NUJO's did just that with Little Girl Blue and Bud Powell's marvellous Parisienne Thorofare (Bud Powell spelling) completing the orchestra's twenty minutes in the spotlight/under the microscope. It should be said that it was somewhat disconcerting to see Alcorn suited and booted! Gone were the jeans and trainers in favour of a suit and tie but, make no mistake, the MD's attire didn't affect his own blistering trumpet solo contribution as part of a fine ensemble performance.    

The keen observer would have noticed a number of familiar faces in the ranks of the Bold Big Band (MD Simon Hirst). And that's because the Newcastle based band is comprised  of some of NUJO's student musicians. Indeed, following on immediately after NUJO's performance MD Simon Hirst pressed Tom Alcorn into action with yet more impressive trumpet playing on Brass Machine. Two Newcastle bands done and dusted, just another seven from around the country to be examined. 

In the heart of Northumberland lies Dave Hignett's big band empire. The Tyne Valley Big Band (MD Dave Hignett) rehearses week in week out at the Phoenix in Hexham readying itself for away days like this. A slimmed-down version of the TVBB (just the twenty four of them this year!) did what it always does - it entertained the audience, giving 100% into the bargain! Bob Curnow's arrangement of Live and Let Die featured two of the band's rising stars - Sophie Speed (tenor sax) and Ben Haslam (trombone) and Coconut Champagne illustrated the talent in the sections and across the generations with young guns Sam Armstrong (trumpet) and David Johnson (drums) more than a match for the established names Niall Armstrong (alto sax) and tenor saxophonist Andrea De Vere. The irrepressible Barbara Hignett concluded the TVBB's set singing - as Frank Sinatra could never have imagined! - Ray Chester's arrangement of New York! New York! 

BwD Big Band made its debut here at Park View Community Centre. All the way from Blackburn to Chester le Street, the band's set list looked interesting, to say the least. Thelonious Monk's Well, You Needn't and Don Ellis' Turkish Bath suggested this was an accomplished outfit. Conductor Richard Halliwell's band - its full name being Blackburn with Darwen Big Band - made new friends this end of the M6 and, hopefully, will return in 2021.      

MD Isaac Williams and Assistant MD Sam Walker adopted a far from conventional programme for Manchester University Jazz Orchestra's tilt at the title. On paper Sammy Nestico's Joy of Cookin', Britney Spears' big hit Toxic and ABBA's Gimme Gimme Gimme looked like a fun twenty minutes or so and so it proved. Energy, enthusiasm, the coach journey from Manchester to Chester le Street and back again likely as not would have been an 'experience' with some lively characters on board. 

Edd Maughan first put together a big band as a student at Leeds College of Music. Here at Chester le Street guitarist Maughan explained he was looking to move away from standard big band fayre. Was it a gamble to front Big Band Theory as guitarist and vocalist playing material by the likes of Arctic Monkeys and The Killers? 

Returning after an absence of a few years the University of Lancaster Music Society Big Band (Conductors Andy Walker & Emily Hinks) renewed acquaintance with Sammy Nestico's arrangement of Strike Up the Band, Welcome back, Lancaster! In the Mood, competition staple Skyfall and a Stevie Wonder medley did more than enough to see the band return next year. Scribbled notes read: Good drummer. The name - Toby Smith.

The Infinity Jazz Orchestra (MD Mike Turner) from the Wigan area can be heard at the GNBBJF most years. The selections this year went down a treat, from Sing, Sing, Sing to Hunting Wabbits to Over the Rainbow (a trombone feature for Pete Williams) and music from the film animation The Incredibles composed by Michael Giacchino, arranged by Stephen Bulla. Notes read: Good drummer, good ensemble.

We were getting to the pointy end and didn't everyone know it?! Two bands were left in the call room - first time entrants Edinburgh University Jazz Orchestra and the reigning champs from Bolton, Ben Shepherd's Managers Big Band. The hall began to fill up with musicians, supporters and big band fans. Could the north of the border outfit dethrone the Bolton mob? 

As Edinburgh University Jazz Orchestra took to the stage GNBBJF Director Bill Watson commented: I've been looking forward to hearing this band's programme. No stated MD, no conductor, the presence of a double bass suggesting they meant business, the first of three pieces (a John LaBarbera arrangement of So What) dispensed with any notion of knocking 'em dead with unbridled power, very much in keeping with the now legendary sound of Kind of Blue with excellent solos from Brendan Sargent (trumpet) and Oskar Jones (tenor sax). Jones followed up on John Coltrane's Central Park West (arr. John Fedchock). The Riverdance phenomenon, now in its twenty fifth year, shows little sign of fatigue and this - Riverdance - was Edinburgh's final selection. It worked a treat, a tremendous finale. Had Edinburgh done enough?

The Managers Big Band arrived in good time...the night before! MD Ben Shepherd told a packed, expectant hall that on Friday evening he and his Bolton based bandmates sank a few pints in the Butcher's Arms just off Front Street. Were they overly confident? Had they prepared properly? We were about to find out...

The Managers Big Band (MD Ben Shepherd) strode onto stage suited and booted, looking like, well, managers. Dee Barton's Turtle Talk for the Kenton band opened their title defence. Three of the band's big hitters were featured - Emily Burkhardt, flute, Tim Williams, guitar, Kyran Matthews, tenor sax. Wow! The Managers meant business! Ellington's Single Petal of a Rose arranged by Ben Shepherd scored heavily and the killer closing number - Maynard Ferguson's Give it One (arr. Alan Downey) - featured the Bolton band's secret weapon, powerhouse trumpeter Jay Shepherd. They had done enough, hadn't they?  

And so to Messrs M Donnelly and M Brown. What would our adjudicators make of it all? A total of nine bands, all giving of their best, could anyone, could Edinburgh, depose the big band kings from Bolton? Festival Director Bill Watson announced the winning band: The Managers Big Band! Yes, that's three in a row for the unstoppable band from Bolton.   

GNBBJF 2020 - Open Section:

Best Band: The Managers Big Band

Best Section: Rhythm section (Edinburgh University Jazz Orchestra)

Best Soloist: Jack Looman, trombone (The Managers Big Band)

Most Interesting Programme: Manchester University Jazz Orchestra

Adjudicators' Award: BwD Big Band for Turkish Bath

Adjudicators' Award: Ifede Osiyemi, bass guitar (Newcastle University Jazz Orchestra & Bold Big Band) see photo

Adjudicators' Award: Caroline Guirr, bass guitar (Tyne Valley Big Band) see photo  
Russell        

1 comment :

Patti said...

Yes indeed - a superb day of big band jazz. I reckon a further prize should have gone to adjudicator Marcus Brown, for his multi-coloured crocodile pattern shoes!

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