I always knew that if George Fredrick Handel were alive today (you know- the Hallelujah Chorus, Royal Fireworks Music), he would be gigging with right along with the best of our present-day jazz musicians. So when I discovered that the Handel House Museum in London holds chamber jazz concerts side-by-side with its baroque offerings, I knew I had to make this a major stop on my trip.
The Handel House Museum, located down the street from the very posh Claridge's Hotel, is the narrow, three-story building where Handel lived, worked, and ultimately died in 1759. It has been renovated slightly, but retains its eighteenth-century feel. The great man's bedroom is preserved, along with the bed where he most likely died.
However, the focus of the museum is today the same as it was in Handel's day -the rehearsal and performance room. This room is about the size of Haybert and Stella's living room, and has a lot in common with it, for this is where Handel worked on his operas and rehearsed his singers before select gatherings of appreciative friends. Many of his most famous operatic works were first heard at private gatherings here.
The rehearsal and performance room is also where the Thursday evening concerts take place. I took in a performance by leader Jonathan Shenoy on sax, Sam Dunn on guitar, and Chris Hill on piccolo bass. After having just heard harpsichordist Neil Coleman play a charming collection of Byrd (William, that is, 1540 -1623), Scarlatti, and Handel, it was amazing to hear songs by the other Bird.
Shenoy, Dunn, and Hill started out with Anthropology and moved on to Billie's Bounce. They were playing acoustically in this small and historic room, and I was glad for it because it allowed me to hear the nuances and overtones which electronics just don't convey. Softly As in a Morning Sunrise actually was played softly for once and set off Shenoy's soprano against the backdrop of the bass and guitar. The final number, an Eddie Harris tune whose title I didn't catch, was a showpiece for plucked bass. Clearly, London has a fine batch of talented resident jazz musicians.
Oh yes, and just to prove what an extraordinary musical neighborhood this truly is, note that Jimi Hendrix lived here in the sixties, and the museum is currently showing an exhibit of photos from his career.
Check out the Handel House Museum at (www.handelhouse.org) or drop by 25 Brook Street, (Bond Street stop on the Underground) if you are lucky enough to be in London.
by Nina J. Hodgson
Jazz Now Interactive May 2004 Vol 14 No. 1 - Table of Contents