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Am I "Jazz People?"

Am I "Jazz People?"
Bruce Lindsay By

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I rarely write anything too serious in a JazzLife UK article and, for the most part, this month's missive will be no different. However, the summer of 2010 started very sadly for UK jazz with the deaths of four popular, talented and influential musicians, and it seems appropriate to write a few words to remember each of them before I return to the more inconsequential things in life.

Drummers Chris Dagley, Martin Drew and Jack Parnell and trumpeter and flugelhorn player Harry Beckett all died within a few weeks of each other in late July and early August. Between them, they represent almost every genre of jazz to be found in Britain since the middle of the twentieth century and are a reminder, if one were needed, of the talent to be found in the UK jazz scene.

In a career that began in 1939, Parnell was the drummer with some of Britain's best-known bands, including the Ted Heath Orchestra. He led the house orchestra for Sunday Night At The London Palladium, one of the most popular television shows of the early 1960s; a job that made him a household name in the UK. He also led the Muppet Show orchestra. Such was his love of jazz that, some years after he retired as a professional musician, he would regularly travel from his home in Southwold on the Suffolk coast to play in the resident trio at the Green Man pub in Norfolk—a gig he continued into his early 80s.

Beckett was part of some of the finest cutting-edge combos ever to appear on the UK jazz scene, working with Stan Tracey, Mike Gibbs, Dudu Pukwana and others. He remained an in-demand player in recent years and played at the Barbican concert hall in London in June 2010. Drew worked with Ronnie Scott for some years, becoming the house drummer at Scott's club in the '70s, but is best known as a long-standing member of the Oscar Peterson Trio, which he joined in 1974. Only weeks before his death, he joined top British alto player Peter King's quartet.

Chris Dagley (pictured right), who died as the result of a motorcycle accident at just 39, was drummer with the National Youth Jazz Orchestra as a teenager, and was the house drummer at Ronnie Scott's Club at the time of his death. In addition, he was an in-demand sideman for jazz and pop artists including Claire Martin, Randy Brecker, Bette Midler and Liza Minnelli. I photographed Dagley three times during the past year—with Martin, with pianist James Pearson, and with tenor saxophonist Bobby Wellins. His drumming style—his head thrown sharply up and to the right as he played—made him visually distinctive and a great subject for a photographer.

JazzLife July And JazzLife August

Though saddened by the loss of some fine musicians, JazzLife UK was otherwise heartened by events over the summer months of July and August. Odd, because the summer is my least favorite time of year. It is, of course, Outdoor Festival Season. Across the UK musicians and fans migrate to the open fields in the hundreds of thousands, to play and to listen to music in bucolic surroundings. Jazz may not be quite as lemming-like as the rock and pop worlds, but it isn't completely innocent. JazzLife UK doesn't like outdoor festivals for two main reasons: they happen outdoors, in fields; and they attract people in their thousands.

Admittedly, for 10 months of the year the British jazz fan can cheerfully avoid fields and crowds of thousands, so I shouldn't really complain. And the jazz summer brought additional interesting venues, more fascinating music and encouraging signs of a new jazz generation—so it wasn't just fields, rain and overpriced indeterminate "meat" products.

JazzLife UK also has a failure to report. For the first time in this photo-documentary project's eight-month history, my invitation to take part was refused. Well, not refused exactly: the invitation would have been accepted if I had given copyright in the resulting photos to the act's management. In the world of music photography this is known as a Rights Grab—a big no-no. Sadly, this seems to be the standard policy for this act, as Blues and Soul magazine also found. So the JazzLife UK project will not be illuminated by this particular ensemble—a pity, because I love its playing and the way it keeps a certain strand of jazz history alive.

Should I name and shame? I thought about it, but then I decided that the musicians themselves probably had no say in the matter—I've certainly photographed individual members of this band in the past. Not to worry: as a fellow (but far more talented and well-known) photographer said to me, "It's not as if they're famous."

On the slightly negative side, the summer also brought some unsettling periods of introspection as I faced the eternal question: "Am I 'Jazz People'?"

The Venues

At times, the JazzLife UK project seems to resemble an architectural review more than an insightful critique of a contemporary artistic milieu. But such is the variety to be found in British jazz venues that I feel honor-bound to comment. July and August added a Rectory garden and a giant Victorian conservatory to the list.

James Pearson Trio: James Pearson, Arnie Somogyi, Chris Dagley

The garden was at Wavendon Rectory, home of vocalist Dame Cleo Laine who, with her husband Sir John Dankworth has organized concerts in the garden each summer for some years. Although Sir John died earlier this year the concerts took place as usual in this lovely setting. JazzLife UK attended pianist James Pearson's performance on a sunny Sunday afternoon. The first set was a tribute to pianist and comedian Dudley Moore; the second set featured a spirited, if not always note-perfect, quintet arrangement of George Gershwin's "Rhapsody In Blue." It was a lighthearted and happy event. The drummer was Chris Dagley—it was a good gig to remember him by.

The conservatory belongs to Whitlingham Hall in Norfolk, once home to the Colman family of mustard fame, now converted into apartments with family homes in its grounds. The conservatory was the venue for a private concert by the Italian pianist Rossano Sportiello. The prospect of playing an old upright piano in a large, high-ceilinged, glass-walled, edifice might have fazed a lesser talent, but Sportiello delivered a lovely, intimate and entertaining evening.

The venue proved surprisingly suited to jazz: a few happy jazz fans, a selection of large houseplants, some comfy chairs and some well-filled picnic tables helped the conservatory's acoustic qualities no end.


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