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The ‘real deal’ in jazz
ESTABLISHING a renowned jazz club takes years of work – think of the late Ronnie Scott making disparaging remarks about the lack of audience to his London club in the early days or, on the other hand, consider the triumph of the peerless Preservation Hall in New Orleans, which is celebrating its 50th anniversary this year despite the ravages of Hurricane Katrina. If it can be done there, it can be done here.
Set up in 1969, Herts Jazz Club in Welwyn is steadily gaining a reputation for its regular jam sessions and gigs, plus an annual jazz festival, now in its third year, which is taking place this weekend.
“We’re now attracting some very high profile musicians but there are budget restrictions involved with running a provincial jazz club,“ says festival director Clark Tracey. “We’ve been awarded a PRS [Performing Rights Society] Foundation Award for our next year of programming, so we can concentrate on bringing in college musicians – it’s a great platform for them and having two groups playing one hour each keep regulars interested.
“I’d love to go out on a limb and establish it as a national venue. We already have a quality control button that says we play nothing that’s superficially jazz – it’s hard core and involves the
highest profile people in that genre. If my audience trusts me, they know I only deal with the top musicians available. There are no compromises; trust me, they’ve got to be the real deal.“
The festival has an equally ambitious remit.
“The headliners are Martin Taylor, Dave Newton and Alan Barnes and they’re each doing something for this festival that they don’t usually do and in a line-up that, to a certain extent, doesn’t exist until the weekend,“ adds Clark.
“My dad [legendary pianist Stan Tracey] is performing Under Milk Wood with my son Ben doing the narration, which is a first. They did a recording together at the end of last year of another Dylan Thomas piece A Child’s Christmas in Wales basically because my wife and I badgered Stan into doing more music after a ten year break. Ben is a wordsmith, he’s studied graphics and illustration at Herts University, but he has a love of language and has inherited that musical intuition.“
Stan and tenor saxophonist Bobby Wellins will also be performing a couple of duets from their Play Monk album to mark the 30th centenary of the death of Thelonius Monk.
New for this year, there will be a conversation between jazz luminaries Alyn Shipton and Alan Barnes on Saturday and on Sunday. Alan joins guitarist Martin Taylor to play songs from their 2011 collaboration, Two For The Road.
The festival also features Clark’s Tribute to Art Blakey, featuring one of the original Jazz Messengers, Jean Toussaint.
“I grew up listening to jazz from the pram and he was one of first musicians I ever heard. When I was 13, and had decided I wanted to play drums, my mum took me to an Art Blakey masterclass and I went to Ronnie Scott’s with him that night in 1972. Right until his death we remained buddies and I’d play opposite him. He was such a distinctive voice in jazz and immediately identifiable to a listener and that sound he had he maintained for 30 years. I started the band the year he died out of love and pain that he’d left us.“
As a special taster for the festival, there will also be a performance of Chet Baker: Like Someone in Love, based on the troubled yet fascinating life of trumpeter Chet Baker on Thursday, September 13.
Herts Jazz Festival runs from September 14-16 at the Hawthorne Studio, Campus West, Welwyn Garden City. Details: 01707 357117, hertsjazzfestival.co.uk