London jazz festival

Wednesday, November 21st, 2012

I took part in two gigs at the London Jazz Festival this year, both at Chats Palace, in my dual role as guitarist and promoter. Blow the Fuse jazz & cinema. I was also on a panel down in the South Bank organised by the Musicians Union, talking about the future of jazz in the UK.

The LJF has now become so big I wonder if there is still that cohesive feel there used to be when most of it was centred around the South Bank. There certainly is a great atmosphere down there especially when the free stage gigs are on in the foyers.

It felt to me that we had our own mini festival in E5. Both nights had a tremendous atmosphere in their own way. The first night I played in the first set to a series of jazz short films with music arranged by Buster Birch and then Buster’s quartet played to a silent Buster Keaton film. Buster gave an entertaining introduction to both halves managing to impart facts and insights whilst keeping us laughing.

What I found fascinating was that the audience was younger than usual, mostly in their 30’s whilst the films and music were older than we usually put on.  I don’t know why. However from the beginning there were cheers and whooping in response to the playing and films. A great evening.

Saturday night was packed with an older crowd, mostly women who had come out to see films and playing from the Guest Stars. Again, a very lively crowd who cheered the old film footage. We played one piece of film from 1977 – some of the audience have known and followed us since that period so it was a very special moment.

After a short but hilarious, moving and informative Q&A, the Guest Stars played the second set live. I found it totally fascinating how that sound we had is still there. It now sounds very contemporary. The essence for me is the particular combination of Ruthie’s sax with it’s raw sound bringing to mind African players (Manu Dibango/Fela Kuti) and some Coltrane spirit, Linda’s congas, so the music often mixes 6/8 and 6 against 4 and the vocal blend of Laka, Ruthie and Josefina. The Guest Stars later had a more polished jazz funk sound but I think the original mix of African and 1950s NY jazz was a pre ‘world music’ blend that was a unique sound. The fact that we were a women’s band possibly overshadowed some of the musical ground we were cutting.

The evening ended with most of the audience conga ing to I know I know. Both of these gigs reminded me slightly more of the original Camden Jazz Festival. Smaller venues, a great rapport between performers and audience. It’s great to have the big showcase gigs down in the Southbank but I think the small venues add so much to the London Jazz Festival. Future of jazz? Looking vibrant in London E5.