NAIRN International JAZZ Festival

7 ­ 13 August 2004

by Ferdinand Maylin

"360 degrees of open skies, sand, sea, hill and moor, whisky food and golf and seven days of the best Jazz you can hear anywhere in the world"

Says the advertising, and do you know, you would find it difficult to fault. The festival, now in its 15th year, gave twenty-four performances in and around the Highland town of Nairn, of which a few are reviewed below.


Duke Heitger, trumpet; Evan Christopher, clarinet; Bob Havens, trombone; Steve Pistorius, piano; Lars Edegran, banjo and guitar; guests: Brian Ogilvie, tenor saxophone; Andy Cleyndert, bass; Tony De Nicola, drums.

I never like missing the start of a film; and I always like to be in place before the band hits the stage. I enjoy an inquisitive examination of the players as they reach the platform: could you tell they were musicians? Usually no, they are always such a mixed bunch, they could be anything; though I feel there can be an advantage in looking a bit odd if you are a Jazz musician. I enjoy listening to them talk on what they are going to play; in other forms of music this is arranged a long time beforehand, but not in Jazz. I liked it when the clarinet agreed to what arrangement they would play, then at the last second asked what the tune was! "We are professionals, folks, don't try this at home!" says Duke Heitger. Then the moment of truth; eight musicians face you, not a wire attached to any instrument, they play, and within an instant you know.

Classical Dixie/swing and we are back in the 1930s; smooth, fulsome, well balanced and the feet start itching. My wife frightened me by suggesting we gave an exhibition of jiving, and I really believe she would have got me at it, plenty of room, but in a concert setting a little out of place.

Duke Heitger is a fine, hard-working trumpet player and leader, occasionally adding a vocal; working their way through a hit parade of classics, they could not put a foot wrong. "Royal Garden Blues", plenty of work for the trumpet, "Do You Know What it Means to Miss New Orleans", opens with a beautifully played trombone solo from Bob Havens, controlled, statuesque and Teagardenesque in the feel of his playing. There was plenty of good figure playing behind the soloists, Brian Ogilvie played his usual smooth tenor sax, and they were always at their best in the full blooded numbers; "Whose Sorry Now", "Crazy Capers", sharp, sweet clarinet playing from Evan Christopher, he has a good thirties style and plays the clarinet like he is charming a snake. "Beal St. Blues", "Creole Love Call", and a really good strepitoso given to the rousing "High Society", "Nobody's Sweetheart Now", "I can't Give You Anything But Love Baby", "After You've Gone", and the encore after the standing ovation; "When It's Sleepy Time Down South". Well you can't go wrong really as long as you are amongst the best in the world.


Monty Alexander, piano; Hasan Shakur, bass; Fritz Landensberger, drums; Guest: Johnny Frigo, violin.

Jamaican Monty Alexander has a formidable technique and can be a difficult man to pin down; explosive, percussive, classical, light, chatty, melodramatic. He has a tendency not to name what he is playing, and sometimes it was difficult to know when he had finished one piece and started another. His opening number sounded like a 'spot-the- tune' challenge; an exciting player, alert, sensitive, full of ideas. Sometimes it would sound like a film score, notes cascading from the piano with impressive lusciousness; an accompaniment to a silent movie, then a change to moody, haunting, melodic beauty ­ was this a Chopin etude? ­ then little acts of cheekiness would pop up, before settling back again. There was some light and electric choreography between piano and drums; "Sweet Georgia Brown", was kinky, going in and out of key; his own composition, "Hope", was expressive, lyrical, a hope that was tinged with beautiful melancholy. He was joined by Chicago Jazz violinist Johnny Frigo, this veteran of just about everything, not only plays top-class Jazz, but has the perfect timing of a stand up comic; he used both to great effect. A very enjoyable set.


Niki Haris, vocals; piano, Karen Hammack; bass, Andy Cleyndert; drums, Herlin Riley.

Niki Haris has all the credentials in place before she starts; her father was the Jazz pianist Gene Harris. She dances, sings and is Madonna's choreographer; she sings pop, gospel, blues and Jazz. An aspiring and confident lady who knows how to work an audience; a great performer, passionate, truthful, funny, engaging, she draws you into her act until you are exhausted. This was the youngest audience of the week; she is just the right sort of person to attract the young to Jazz. She gives us "Heaven", "I'm Old Fashioned", "The Very Thought of You", her voice is clear, graceful and ranging. She also does "Fly Me To The Moon", and as a decent belter, "Something's Gotta Give". She was backed by British bass player Andy Cleyndert, the consummate drummer Herlin Riley, and the excellent piano of Karen Hammack. This was a besotting performance, her father Gene used to say to her, "Always leave a bit of heaven." She took this Highland audience to the heart of Detroit and made it feel like home. Who could have imagined that she originally planned to be a history teacher?


Herlin Riley, drums; Tim Green, tenor saxophone; Doug Bickel, piano; Rodney Whitaker, bass.

Herlin Riley is a personable, intricate and artistic drummer, well supported by Doug Bickel on piano, the bass of Rodney Whitaker and the smooth tenor of the scholarly looking Tim Green. This was our first taste of bop at the festival; Thelonious Monk figured several times, Fats Waller's "Jitterbug Waltz", and an original by Herlin, "New York Waltz". With the drums being used as a front-line instrument, we had some quite spectacular starts and finishes; with such a powerful and enigmatic leader there is a thin line between balance and subjugation, there were times when the music appeared to be directed inwards towards the percussion. "Cherokee", and "Caravan", were played with some sensational drumming. This stalwart of the Wynton Marsalis Lincoln Center Jazz Orchestra is a class act.

Summit Reunion Revisited

Bob Wilber, soprano saxophone, clarinet; Kenny Davern, clarinet; James Chirillo, guitar; Rossanno Sportelli, piano; Andrew Cleyndert, bass; Tony De Nicola, drums.

The Summit must have been late, because Johnny Frigo took to the stage (after a bit of a struggle ­ he is in his eighties), accompanied by the attentive (and brilliant) Italian pianist Rossanno Sportelli. He gave us humor, poetry, and some fine Jazz playing; he sang his own piece, "Detour Ahead", made famous by Billie Holiday; "I can get away with singing because I am 87," he tells us.

Finally Wilber and Davern were able to get on, I don't know how many summits these two have done, but they are always a joy. Like a lot of the Jazzmen here, they are getting on a bit; starting with, "As Long As I Live", then "I Want To Be Happy", their sparkling performances possess a mature elegance that belies their years. They swing along majestically in classical style; pianist Rossanno Sportelli gave a first class rendering of "Don't Blame Me", his velvet flowing touch and sharp invention held a tremendous warmth. James Chirillo can also shape splendid solos on the guitar, he is always worth listening to. They like to hit out when they can, "Some Of These Days" is a number to work up a head of steam; Davern takes his clarinet all over the place, and Wilber, usually on soprano sax, melodically holds his ground. A great concert.


Bob Wilber, clarinet, soprano saxophone; Bobby Gordon, clarinet, vocals; John Sheridan, piano; Andy Cleyndert, bass; Tony De Nicola, drums.

A recreation of a CD they made together, and except for Andy Cleyndert on bass, the same sidemen. The driving force of the group was Bob Wilber, at 75 still displaying a musical energy for what he loves doing. Bobby Gordon was a much quieter partner, starting with Irvine Berlin's "A Pretty Girl Is Like A Melody", then, "In a Little Spanish Town". Bobby Gordon played solo for "If You Were Mine". Then "Beale St. Blues" and "I Ain't Got Nobody", a vocal from Gordon with "Sweet Lorraine", swinging well to the end of the set with "You're Driving Me Crazy". A fine way to spend a lunchtime.


Chuck Hedges, clarinet; Duane Thamm, vibraphone; David Sullivan, guitar; Stewart Millar, bass; Charlie Braugham, drums.

Another elder statesman, and hardly a hair on any head in this outfit; Chuck plays a warm, flowing clarinet, and both Sullivan on guitar and Thamm on vibes can cut loose quite spectacularly when given the room. Their treatment of ballads was particularly sensitive, they obviously work a lot together, there was never any discussion on what they were going to do, always taking their solos in the same order, I would have liked to have been surprised now and again. They took "Be Happy", "The Blues My Naughty Sweetie Gave To Me" and "Autumn Leaves" at a magnificent gallop. Age does tell though, after the interval Chuck could not remember where he had left his clarinet! They had an inclination towards Duke Ellington, treating his work sensitively. These gentlemen though could still work the upbeat with "Scuttle But", and "St James Infirmary" played in three-four time and at some pace. They would finish most pieces with some wonderful close harmony play between clarinet, vibes and guitar, and to finish the set, "Softly As The Morning Sunrise" taken extremely upbeat. This group really seem to enjoy their playing, and so did we.


Bobby Lewis, trumpet, Russ Phillips, trombone; Chuck Hedges, clarinet; David Sullivan, guitar; Duane Thamm, vibes; Stewart Millar, bass; Charlie Braugham, drums.

The end of the week theme had been Chicago based; two top chefs were flown in from Chicago's 'fine-dining' restaurant TRU, Lisa Mortimer, pastry chef and Sam Burman, chef, they created 'Jazz Meal Menus', and gave demonstrations.

Flying in for the final gig also from Chicago were trumpeter Bobby Lewis, who played in Jack Teagarden's band, and trombone player Russ Phillips, whose father played with Louis Armstrong's All Stars in the fifties. Joined by the Chuck Hedges Swingtet, it was an evening of Dixie and swing. Bobby Lewis gave an electric performance of Armstrong's "West End Blues"; for those of us steeped in this classic, it was a moment of great poignancy. He is a thoughtful and intelligent trumpet player, who pays particular attention to good phrasing. Russ Phillips, who seemed to be enjoying himself immensely, played a gleeful and well-rounded trombone. Musicians always react well when the audience is good; at Nairn the audience is always good, intelligent, Jazz savvy and very appreciative. They went out with "The Washington and Lee Swing"; and after a standing ovation, "Loch Lomond".


Footnote: Brian Ogilvie, a smooth and tasteful tenor saxophone player, originally from British Columbia, had discharged himself from hospital in America to fulfill his commitment to attend this Jazz festival. He clearly looked unwell, and was taken ill after the concert on Saturday 7th of August. He died the following Saturday in an Inverness hospital of kidney and liver failure.


by Ferdinand Maylin

Jazz Now Interactive October 2004 Vol 14 No. 6 - Table of Contents

Copyright Jazz Now, October 2004 issue, all rights reserved Haybert K. Houston, Publisher Editor in Chief, Jazz Now

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