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Remembering ...

Roland Kirk died on Dec. 5, 1977.

Friday, October 30, 2020

Remembering The Connaught Hall, Newcastle.



Those of us for whom the "sand in the glass" is well past the halfway mark may, I hope, be excused for indulging ourselves in the occasional look back at the way things were "when we were young (ish)" In particular, I'm thinking about those early JNE gigs at The Connaught Hall, which, if memory serves me right, was part of the YMCA.

It is, of course, long gone. Demolished to make way for the Eldon Square Shopping Centre. However, back then, I attended seven concerts featuring seven jazz legends, accompanied by a few British jazz legends.

It all began in 1966 and surely there could have been no one better qualified to kick-start Jazz North East's first ever concert on March 30 of that year than American pianist Earl "Fatha" Hines. Accompanied by the Alex Welsh Band, I remember floating home in a dream as I did after most, although not all of these concerts. At this late date I can't remember if it was a set by the Welsh band followed by Hines and the rhythm section or if they all mucked in together. I suspect it was the former - what a learning curve for the Welsh Band's pianist Fred Hunt that must have been!

On April 22, Bill Coleman turned up with the Bruce Turner Jump Band and the session really did jump! Turner was on form and so was Bill. Probably one of those most underrated mainstream trumpeters of all time he had a beautifully lyrical style.

A month later, May 20, saw former Ellington cornet player, Rex Stewart and, once more, the Alex Welsh Band. This was a let down, the only disappointment of all of the seven concerts. Rex was obviously past his best and the half-valve trademarks that had worked so well with Duke some 30 years earlier didn't quite cut it. Or maybe Bill Coleman had been too hard an act to follow - for me anyway!

Later that year, on November 18, Edmund Hall appeared with the Alan Elsdon Band for another memorable night - a true master of New Orleans' clarinet playing and much more. He came across as a dignified senior citizen - until he cut loose!

In 1967 (November 23) Coleman Hawkins was the attraction backed by the Mike Carr Trio. A frail, bearded old man said to be living on cognac he looked anything but the man we knew on record as having the biggest saxophone sound in jazz - and then he blew! The walls reverberated and we knew we were in the presence of greatness the like of which we'd never know again - he died two years later.

When it came to big sounds Hawkins' closest rival was Ben Webster and Ben duly arrived on April 28 along with the Pat Smythe Trio. Another great session, it was incredible to think we were hearing and seeing these amazing musicians in a small venue on our doorstep!

Teddy Wilson and the Dave Shepherd Quintet re-created Teddy's time with Benny Goodman and, with Shepherd on clarinet and Ronnie Gleaves (or was it Roger Nobes?) on vibes, he could have had no greater aides this side of Carnegie Hall.

So far, all the American musicians I've mentioned have been mainstreamers but that all changed when Johnny Griffin came to town. I was privileged to shake his hand in the nearby Eldon Grill so, if we are ever allowed to shake hands again you will be able to boast that this is the hand that shook the hand of Johnny Griffin! Mike Carr was supposed to provide the backing but, on the night, it was Damian Robinson. I'd never heard of anyone called Damian at that point in my life although these days there are probably more Damians around than, say Georges! Still what's in a name? He did the business and Griffin blew up a storm.

Talk about happy memories - these were my "Swinging Sixties"!

Lance

PS: If anyone has fliers or tickets from the above concerts I'd appreciate if they could scan them to me just to make the article complete.

3 comments :

Ron Ainsborough said...

Lance you have really brought memories to me about the revered Connaught Hall. First concerts of jazz icons in the 60's.
I went to see every concert you listed other than the Edmund Hall one. Starting with Earl Hines which to this day it is one of the best concerts I ever had the privilege to attend. Incidentally I think he played with rhythm section only, Lennie Hastings on drums I recall?
Not to underestimate the other concerts of course. Johnny Griffin, Wow! He beat me into the bar at half time by some distance, True.
Great days!!!!!
Regretfully I don't have any memorabilia for you but thanks for a great blog.
Hope you are well
Ron

Cormac Loane said...

On the reverse side of my Teddy Wilson ticket you can see a few autographs I got after the gig. This confirms that it was Roger Nobes on vibes. I can’t read the second autograph and don’t recollect who was on bass and drums. I presume Brian Lemon must have started the gig off and then handed over to Teddy Wilson. I attended the gig with Colin Aitchison - we must both have been about 14 at the time - and I remember us having an affable chat with Teddy Wilson at the end, during which he described Dave Shepherd as being ‘as good as Benny Goodman!’

And I was also lucky enough to play in the Savannah Syncopators during their warm-up spot for Teddy Wilson’s appearance at the Edinburgh Jazz Festival in about 1982 - I think you were there!

Lance said...

I'm sure it was Johnny Richardson on drums and probably Mike Durell on bass. They both were regulars with Shepherd around that time.
I think it was Dave Green on bass for the Edinburgh gig.

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