Norwich Jazz Party
May 2-4, 2009
The third Norwich Jazz Party, held over a 3-day holiday weekend in the airport Holiday Inn, gathered together over 30 jazz musicians from the USA, Britain and Europe who grouped together in 37 different performance combinations from solo piano to big band swing. They delighted the enthusiastic audience that had itself converged on Norwich from across the UK and Europe to celebrate the long tradition of jazz as well as to welcome some of its newest proponents.
Bucky Pizzarelli and Giorgos Antonious
The Jazz Party principle is straightforward: the organizers book the individual musicians, the musicians then organize the various performances among themselves. The result is a fascinating series of musical combinations.
At one end of the age spectrum Sir John Dankworth, on saxophones and clarinet, and Bucky Pizzarelli on guitar showed that their love for playing is undiminished as they each played in trio, small and large group settings. At the other end, the Norwich Students' Jazz Orchestra, all still attending local secondary schools, played a special Sunday morning session that showed how much musical talent jazz still has to look forward to.
The audience was, for the most part, a mature one with decades of jazz experience behind it. Audience members clearly had their own particular favorites but were far from partisan and received all the musicians with affection and a willingness to listen. The musicians were for the most part from the mainstream and swing arenas, but their adaptability and talent meant that the music was not limited to just those two styles. However, as organizer Gerry Brown reminded us, this event doesn't aim to be "cutting edge," but it does aim to show how much life and originality can be brought to established jazz styles and tunes: it succeeds in bucket loads.
The musicians took the chance to try out new arrangements, to play together in new combinations and generally to have fun with friends. Most of them stayed for all 3 days of the Party, playing at least one or two sets a day and watching many of the others. The audience and performers mixed together offstage, swapping stories or posing for photographs, reminiscing about past experiences or just sitting together and enjoying the music. Even when the occasional experiment went a little awry there was laughter from performers and audience, recognizing the often spontaneous nature of some of the playing and recognizing also that whatever the musicians attempted they were seeking first and foremost to entertain.
With so much talent on display, and so many intriguing and enjoyable performances, it may seem churlish to select a few highlights from the event, but when talent, originality and wit came together, there was some real magic in the air. So here is one individual's set of highlights, in no particular order:
Dan Block, on saxophone and clarinet, playing his arrangements of Thelonious Monk tunes with a quintet including the great vibes playing of Jim Hart; Dan Block again, this time arranging some Duke Ellington tunes for another quintet, featuring Howard Alden on 7-string guitar; Elaine Delmar singing standards like Ellington's "In a Sentimental Mood" and Gershwin's "'S Wonderful" as if they had been written just for her while Scott Hamilton accompanied with his stylish and sympathetic tenor sax; Scott Robinson (pictured left) playing an array of saxophones with at least six or seven different groups and at one point doubling on trumpet and tenor during a single solo; and Bucky Pizzarelli's trio set with John Bunch on piano and Giorgos Antoniou on bass.
Special mention should also go to the rhythm section players who performed outstandingly across the Party weekend: drummer Steve Brown and bassists Dave Green and Alec Dankworth being especially noteworthy. Many of the audience booked their places for next year even before this year's Party was over. Great music in a fine city in one of the loveliest of English counties: who can blame them?