After fifty–five years of spectacular music–making the venerable Ted Heath Orchestra finally closed the door and turned out the lights for the last time in December 2000 but not before presenting an absolutely ripping farewell concert at London’s Royal Festival Hall, almost every moment of which is safeguarded on this wonderful two–disc set. For Ted’s legions of fans around the world acquiring a copy is really a no–brainer, but we’re nevertheless moved to offer a few well–chosen (we hope) words about what to expect, as that is what we do. After introductory remarks by the BBC’s Malcolm Laycock and the familiar theme “Listen to My Music,” the superlative seventeen–member ensemble comes out smokin’ on Sy Oliver’s “Opus One” and is in exemplary form throughout the remainder of this memorable performance. Trombonist Don Lusher, who has led the band since 1976, is a charming and knowledgeable master of ceremonies as well as an articulate soloist on his feature “On with the Don” — written especially for him by Johnny Keating — as well as on Jerome Kern’s “I’m Old Fashioned” and Ladd Busby’s “Ilkla Moor Baht’at.” As one would expect, there are star turns for several other of the band’s crackerjack soloists including tenor saxophonist Tommy Whittle (a quartet version of “How High the Moon”), trumpeters Tony Fisher and Derek Watson (“Memories of You”), septuagenarian trumpeter Duncan Campbell (who sings, scats, cuts up, plays and has the audience in the palm of his hand on “Tequila” and “When You’re Smiling”), alto Roy Willox (Keating’s “Eloquence,” a spot–on description of his musical point of view), trumpeter Ronnie Hughes (muted on the bracing “Hot Toddy”), clarinetist Ray Swinfield (“Have You Met Miss Jones”) and drummer Jack Parnell (Cole Porter’s “Let’s Do It,” on which he also sings, and his own composition, “One More Hit”). Parnell, a member of the first Ted Heath Band in 1955, drives the ensemble with the vigor and enthusiasm of a teen–ager, while pianist Brian Dee, a relative youngster, is consistently impressive. For vocals, Lusher calls on former TH standout Dennis Lotis who’s admirable on half a dozen numbers, three on each disc (including a medley on the first one of “Nevertheless,” “I’m in the Mood for Love” and “Walkin’ My Baby Back Home”). Wonderful as the music is, however, it’s only a part (albeit a large one) of this unparalleled event. When was the last time you got teary–eyed while listening to the introduction of past members of a band, both those in the audience (who were invited onstage) and others who were unable to attend (at the risk of name–dropping, the latter include George Shearing, Robert Farnon, Ralph Sharon and Danny Moss). There was a lump in my throat, as there was when the time came at last to play “Auld Lang Syne,” followed by Keating’s masterful “Farewell Blues” (saluting every member of the band from newest to longest–serving) and the poignant closing theme. We have, mind you, sketched in only some of the highlights — this was not only an historic event, marking the end of an era whose like may never come again, but also a concert for the ages, one that should not to be passed over by anyone whose heart is quickened by the matchless sound of an awesome big band in full flight.
Contact:Avid, 10 Metro Centre, Dwight Road, Tolpits Lane, Watford WD18 9UF, England. E–mail firstname.lastname@example.org; web site, www.avidgroup.co.uk. Also available from Records Direct Ltd., P.O. Box 1123, London SW1P 1HB, England, and online at www.donlusher.com