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Bebop Spoken There

Charles Lloyd: "I'm raring to go out to play, because I know I'll find something to explain the inexplicable." (DownBeat August 2022)

The Things They Say!

Hudson Music: Lance's "Bebop Spoken Here" is one of the heaviest and most influential jazz blogs in the UK.

Rupert Burley (Dynamic Agency): "BSH just goes from strength to strength".

'606' Club: "A toast to Lance Liddle of the terrific jazz blog 'Bebop Spoken Here'"

The Strictly Smokin' Big Band included Be Bop Spoken Here (sic) in their 5 Favourite Jazz Blogs.
Ann Braithwaite (Braithwaite & Katz Communications) You’re the BEST! -- Holly Cooper, Mouthpiece Music: "Lance writes pull quotes like no one else!"


14454 (and counting) posts since we started blogging 14 years ago. 732 of them this year alone and, so far, 30 this month (August 11).

From This Moment On ...


Mon 15: Jazz in the Afternoon @ Cullercoats Crescent Club. 1:00pm.
Mon 15: Stu Collingwood Organ Trio @ Black Bull, Blaydon. 8:00pm. Blaydon Jazz Club.

Tue 16: Paul Skerritt @ The Rabbit Hole, Durham. 7:00pm. Free (to reserve a table phone 0191 386 5556).

Wed 17: Vieux Carré Jazzmen @ Cullercoats Crescent Club. 1:00pm.
Wed 17: Darlington Big Band @ Darlington & Simpson Rolling Mills Club, Darlington. 7:00pm. Rehearsal session (open to the public).
Wed 17: 4B @ The Exchange, North Shields. 7:00pm.
Wed 17: Take it to the Bridge @ The Globe, Newcastle. 7:30pm.

Thu 18: Vieux Carré Jazzmen @ The Holystone, North Tyneside. 1:00pm.
Thu 18: Gateshead Jazz Appreciation Society @ Gateshead Central Library. 3:00-5:00pm. £1.00. All welcome.
Thu 18: Castillo Nuevo @ Revoluçion de Cuba, Newcastle. 5:30-8:30pm.
Thu 18: Newcastle Jazz Festival @ Bridge Hotel, Newcastle. Strictly Smokin’ Big Band. 7:00pm. Free (four-day festival ticket £40.00.).
Thu 18: Tees Hot Club @ Dorman’s Club, Middlesbrough. 9:00pm. Guests: Dave Archbold (keys); Dan Johnson (sax); Josh Bentham (sax); Bill Watson (trumpet); Ron Smith (bass)

Fri 19: Jo Harrop & Jamie McCredie @ Lit & Phil, Newcastle. 1:00pm. SOLD OUT!
Fri 19: Classic Swing @ Cullercoats Crescent Club. 1:00pm.
Fri 19: New Orleans Preservation Jazz Band @ Oxbridge Hotel, Stockton. 1:00pm. £5.00.
Fri 19: Rendezvous Jazz @ The Monkseaton Arms, Monkseaton. 1:00pm.
Fri 19: Jo Harrop & Jamie McCredie @ St Cuthbert’s Centre, Crook. 7:30pm.
Fri 19: Newcastle Jazz Festival @ Black Swan, Newcastle. 7:30pm. Harry Keeble Duo + Northern Monkey Brass Band. £15.00. (four-day festival ticket £40.00.).
Fri 19: Mo Scott @ The Millstone, South Gosforth, Newcastle. 8:00pm. Scott w Gary Dunn, Neil Harland & Paul Smith.

Sat 20: Newcastle Jazz Festival @ Tyne Bank Brewery, Newcastle. All day event (from 1:30pm): Riviera Effect + Alter Ego + Graham Hardy Quartet + Jo Harrop & Jamie McCredie + Ivo Neame Quartet. £17.00. (four-day festival ticket £40.00.).
Sat 20: Anth Purdy @ Prohibition Bar, Newcastle. 8:00pm. Free (donations).

Sun 21 Vieux Carré Hot 4 @ Spanish City, Whitley Bay. 12 noon.
Sun 21: Newcastle Jazz Festival @ Tyne Bank Brewery, Newcastle. All day event (from 1:30pm): Lindsay Hannon & Alan Law + Knats + David Gray’s Flextet + Ben Gilbert Trio + Emma Rawicz. £17.00. (four-day festival ticket £40.00.).
Sun 21: Foundry Jazz Ensemble @ The Exchange, North Shields. 3:00pm.

Monday, April 18, 2022

Art Themen talks about Ronnie Scott's saxophone and juggling the day job with the jazz world

Earlier this year Art Themen purchased the late Ronnie Scott's tenor saxophone. BSH asked him how this came about. Art generously gave of his time to tell us the background to his acquisition and much more.

BSH: Art, what a fantastic story! Is it a Mk Vl?

Art: No, it is a Selmer Super Balanced Action, which immediately preceded the probably better-known Mark 6 and was manufactured in 1953.

BSH: Do you play a Selmer yourself and, if so, have you detected any differences between what you're blowing now and Ronnie's tenor?

Art: Yes. Apart from a brief flirtation with a Borgani saxophone I have always played a Selmer. I even started on an Adolphe - Adolphe Sax of course invented the saxophone and his firm was taken over by Selmer at the beginning of the 20th century.

BSH: Differences? This is difficult to answer given its provenance. I am bound to feel differently about the way it plays. Trying to be dispassionate however I do believe it has the edge over my current Mark 6 but the difference is difficult to define. ‘Warmer’ is a rather weak adjective to describe its sound but if this doesn’t sound too fanciful, there is always an aura of Ronnie lurking inside my head.

BSH: I've heard that Selmer gave Ronnie a Selmer Mk 7 and he returned it saying he preferred his Mk Vl. Is that true or just folklore? What were the differences between the two models?

Art: I haven’t heard this story but I know that the Mark 7 was not terribly popular. If you don’t mind my name dropping, I had a conversation with Johnny Griffin at the Bracknell Jazz Festival after he had been given a Mark 7. He wasn’t terribly happy with it and Ronnie himself wasn’t enamoured of either the Mark 6 or Mark 7.

The difference between the 2 models were that the Mark 7 had a modified octave key but the stumbling block was a rather awkward left little finger mechanism which Johnny Griffin certainly didn’t like. (I hope that isn’t too much small print for your readers)!

I’ve got an early letter from Ronnie to Roger Baycock, the owner of Allegro Music, who acquired Ronnie’s tenor from Philips’ Auction House after Ronnie’s death. In the letter Ronnie said to Roger that he would be very interested in acquiring a pre Mark 6 tenor should one ever become available. This may be going into too much detail but the Mark 6s were manufactured from 1954 and the serial number of Ronnie’s sax dates it as being manufactured in 1953. This means that the horn was exactly what Ronnie was looking for!

BSH: It must be daunting blowing, even holding, an instrument that belonged to both Ronnie and Hank Mobley? Do we know where Hank got the instrument from? Perhaps the serial number may provide a clue.

Art: There is certainly a feeling of reverence playing the thing but being realistic saxophones are not like violins which mature with age, so owning an older horn means that they have to be in good condition and certainly Ronnie’s had been well looked after. After he died the instrument was overhauled, and the doyenne of musical instrument repairers at the time was a man called Gordon Beeson. As it happens, and I am probably going off on a tangent here, I played with his son André who was a very good mainstream clarinet player when we were both at Cambridge together. The Gordon Beeson pads fitted to Ronnie’s horn were in perfect order and the day I bought the sax I played it on a gig in Birmingham where it behaved perfectly.

I feel I must say a quick work about Roger Baycock who rang me on my birthday saying that he had Ronnie’s horn. I had bought my Borgani from him some years previously and he reminded me that he previously had owned Ronnie’s tenor and that of Tubby Hayes which were in a locked display cabinet with a notice saying these instruments were not for sale. He had subsequently sold Tubby’s horn and, as he was approaching retirement, was looking for a good home for Ronnie’s sax. He told me that he was ringing round to possibly interested parties at which time I asked him how many other saxophonist he had telephoned.  “You are the first,” he said. My response: “In that case I’ll have it”. To his credit Roger sold it to me for the going rate although, given its provenance he could have potentially made a much bigger profit.  This is all the more creditable as he was clearly something of an uncompromising businessman, for on his wall was a sign prominently displayed saying: ‘Prices may vary according to the attitude of the customer’!

With regard to Hank Mobley’s previous ownership, I have to say this is a little uncertain. It is believed that towards the end of his life Hank came over in a pretty bad state and Ronnie was very generous in finding work for him. Apparently, Hank came over with 2 Selmer saxophones and the story goes that he gave one to Ronnie in gratitude for the help that he had been given. I am afraid that it is impossible to ascertain the serial number of the saxophones that Hank owned but Alex Garnett who knows a thing or two about saxophone provenance believes this story to be true. (Alex Garnett is the son of Willie, both great saxophonists and saxophone repairers).

BSH: You are planning to play the instrument at Henley which prompts me to ask you about your own career away from Ronnie Scott and Selmer. I believe you are a largely self-taught musician, starting out on clarinet, is that right?

Art: Yes it's true I am largely self-taught and there is a lesson to be learned here. At the age of 11 I acquired a simple system clarinet which even then was an outdated model and unfortunately I tried playing it with the mouthpiece on upside down. The resulting squeaks forced me to abandon playing for another 5 years. The moral for parents is: please make sure your child has an up-to-date instrument and a music teacher.

BSH: In your early days you played clarinet in traditional jazz bands. When did bebop and the modern jazz scene grab your attention? Was this when you switched to tenor saxophone?

Art: I started again at 15 influenced by the heady days of the three B’s, Kenny Ball, Chris Barber and Acker Bilk and would even slavishly copy solos of Barber’s clarinettist Monty Sunshine. Pretty soon afterwards I got to hear the New Orleans clarinettist George Lewis and subsequently admired Johnny Dodds and Sidney Bechet. I even heard Bechet and Louis Armstrong in the flesh as a teenager in Manchester.

The switch to tenor saxophone was influenced by an occasion when I went to see the Johnny Dankworth band with a rather attractive Irish cousin of mine. She was spotted by Dankworth’s then saxophone player Danny Moss who had matinee idol good looks. He winked at her and her subsequent swooning suggested to me that despite not having Danny’s charisma perhaps my musical future lay in the saxophone.

The change to modern jazz happened when I arrived in Cambridge as a student. The jazz band there included such luminaries as Colin Purbrook, Dick Heckstall-Smith, Lionel Grigson and Dave Gelly. Lionel Grigson in particular was a major influence, apparently having sprung from the womb fully armed with all the ingredients of bebop. In those heady days there were competitions between the various universities and, all modestly aside, we tended to be top bananas for quite a few years.

BSH: How did you juggle your day job as an orthopaedic surgeon with the life a jazz musician - travelling to and from gigs, the late nights etc?

At the time I was lucky to have very understanding colleagues who would stand in for me when I was on tour but of course I would always repay them when I wasn’t working musically. It also meant being disciplined about timetables for the day job and it was important not to give anyone the impression that I was up in the morning working medically after a late night at Ronnie Scott’s.  This would never happen as being my own boss I could juggle the schedules so if I was in bed late, I would start the day job at noon.

BSH: As a consultant, did some of your fellow musicians ever approach you and say: Hey, Art, I’ve got this problem…?

Art:  The short answer to this is ‘yes’. To a certain extend every gig involves some kind of mini consultation but I regard it as a privilege to be in a position to give helpful advice. In any case, now I am retired, I am something of a toothless tiger but still welcome being approached.

BSH: In 1974 you began a long association with Stan Tracey. Did you have a preference - quartet, octet, big band, whatever?

Art: Clearly my twenty-odd year period of playing with Stan was monumental in my career. All the groups have their merits of course and it is very difficult to choose between the various ensembles. Playing with a quartet there is more solo space, and I can’t pretend I didn’t enjoy the exposure.  On the other hand, the camaraderie of the bigger ensembles is an important factor and one can’t beat the experience of soloing with a big band booting you up the backside.

BSH: Would you agree that in his lifetime Stan never received the wider acclaim he deserved?

Art: Jazz being something of a Cinderella art form, material success never came Stan’s way. That being said, he was recognised as a prime mover in being awarded a CBE, and I understand that he was next in line for a knighthood had he not died before the upcoming New Year’s honours list. As Stan himself pointed out, these honours unfortunately don’t pay the rent and to me it seems grossly unfair but that he did not reap the financial awards gained by comparably successful musicians in other spheres. Stan was an essentially modest man and although I think he was happy to be revered within the jazz world, I believe that his significant contribution should have brought him greater recognition. In other spheres he would have been regarded as a national treasure.

BSH: On June 29 the Clark Tracey Big Band will be playing Duke Ellington’s Sacred Music at York Minster. Will you be on the gig?

Art: The short answer is ‘no’. Clark and I are still very close, having played two gigs in the last 10 days at the time of writing but I am aware that he has many talented musician to choose from. As I think a lot of people know, Clark teaches at the Birmingham Conservatoire and has a great reputation for nurturing up and coming musicians.

BSH: Thank you Art, we look forward to hearing you playing the Mobley, Scott, Themen tenor sometime in the not too distant future.

1 comment :

JUKE - BOB said...

Nothing to do with Art this, but do say hi to him for me from Bob Hardy (Banyan Tree Liverpool)
I've just posted two youtube vids of Kathy Stobart gigs in France featuring (amongst others) Martin Blackwell on piano ... Thought you might like to know :-)

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