The Band: Bill Ashton directing Chris Eldred (piano): Sandy Sucholdolski (bass guitar); Rob Luft (guitar); Scott Chapman (drums); James Larter (percussion); Reuben Fowler, Nick Mead, Tom Walsh, Louis Dowdeswell, Laura Jurd (trumpets); Pete Whitehouse, Ross Anderson, Alex Paxton, Raphael Clarkson (tenor trombones), Barry Clements (bass trombone) Anna Drysdale (French horn); saxophones: Johnny Griffiths & Mike Wilkins (altos), Michael Lack & Nadim Teemori (tenors), Charlotte Beattie (baritone); Rosie Stano (flute). Emma Smith, Kwabena Adjepong & Billie Wackrill did the singing.
The Music: The Man From Delmonte (Mark Armstrong) : Ballad For Saturday (Evan Jolly) : La Muchacha Do Colombia (Martin Williams) : A Nightingale Swang… (Eric Maschwitz/Manning Sherwin, arr. Mark Armstrong) : No Moon At All (v) (Redd Evans/David Mann, arr. Dave Foster) : Little Right Foot (trad, arr. Evan Jolly) : Rose Room (v) (Art Hickman/Bill Ashton, arr. Evan Jolly) : Rockin’ Chair (v) (Hoagy Carmichael, arr. Evan Jolly) : Nobody Knows You…(v) (Jimmy Cox, arr. Gareth Lockrane) : Tangerine (Victor Schertzinger/Johnny Mercer, arr. Steve Titchener) : Are We Nearly There Yet? (Callum Au) : Another Always (v) (Tony Charles/Bill Ashton, arr. Chris Smith) : That Old Black Magic (v) (Harold Arlen/Johnny Mercer, arr. Billy May) : Bustance (Callum Au) : Let’s Settle Down (v) (Bill Ashton, arr. Evan Jolly) : Cannon Fodder (Allan Ganley) : I Wish You Love (v) (Charles Trenet, arr. Callum Au) : Morning Glories (v) (new words & music Bill Ashton, arr.Evan Jolly)
The Gig: Although Bill Ashton, with his antipathy toward ‘the beautiful game’, would disdain the comparison, like some of the best Premiership managers he’s able to ‘rotate’ his squad of talented musicians without sacrificing the overall quality of the team’s playing. Whilst the band’s line-up was considerably changed from the previous ‘home’ fixture, only vocalist Billie Wackrill (left), making her first team debut, was new to The Manor regulars. The concert featured a goodly preponderance of ‘standards’ as well as the more usual mix of compositions/arrangements by some of NYJO’s illustrious alumni and current band members.
The first set started with The Man From Del Monte, NYJO Music Director Mark Armstrong’s fast-ish swinger, which we haven’t heard in quite some while. It contains some great ensemble writing but we also had solos from Nadim Teemori and Laura Jurd (flugelhorn) over Rob Luft’s prominent guitar figures; Scott Chapman had a drum break before the outro. Ex-NYJO trumpet player Evan Jolly’s Ballad For Saturday is so named because Bill once asked, prior to a NYJO rehearsal: “…could you write me a ballad for Saturday”. Whatever the title’s provenance, it proved to be a lovely feature for Reuben Fowler’s mellifluous flugel.
BBC Big Band saxophonist Martin Williams, a one-time resident of the NYJO tenor chair, contributed La Muchacha Do Colombia to the programme. This fast little Latin number gave Barry Clements’ bass trombone an opening salvo, after which Nadim, Alex Plaxton and Reuben (flugel) had ample opportunity to strut their solo stuff. Unusually on this occasion James Larter and Scott forewent their normal drums ‘n’ percussion interplay near the end, each taking just one solo in turn…
Then we were in to a slew of standards, staring with Mark Armstrong’s lovely arrangement of A Nightingale Sang In Berkeley Square, which he calls A Nightingale Swang… The sax section provided the intro, eventually being joined by the initially muted, then open, trombones over Scott’s subtle brushwork. Muted, then open, trumpets entered the mix before Alex (left), Laura (flugel) and Johnny Griffiths provided the solos. The brass then did some contrapuntal stuff before the big ensemble finish, leavened by Scott’s drums and some high-note trumpet work by Tom Walsh.
Billie’s first song was No Moon At All, in an arrangement that ex-NYJO bass player Dave Foster did back in 2002 when the band was celebrating the Queen’s Golden Jubilee with a retrospective of tunes written in 1952 – it’s a great chart and always worth a listen. There was a bass intro from Sandy Suchodolski, and Laura and Rob provided some lyrical support for the vocal; the solo was provided by Nadim.
At this point Bill felt Chris Eldred needed a feature, so Evan Jolly’s arrangement of Little Right Foot, a traditional Canadian tune given new life by Oscar Peterson, was excavated from the pad. It’s a perfect piece to demonstrate Chris’s remarkable keyboard technique, the opening rhythm trio sequence segueing into a muted trombones and flugel-backed passage, before Evan’s trademark sax-section writing gave way to the piano and full band ending.
Evan was also responsible for one of the oldest numbers in NYJO’s repertoire, Art Hickman’s Rose Room, written in 1917. Although a nice tune, and very old, it’s not a traditional standard, partly because, Bill insists, the original words are rubbish… So he wrote some new ones, got Evan to arrange the tune based on the chords of In A Mellotone, and today Kwabena Adjepong sang the result – and very good it was too, with the sax section contributing another accomplished soli break half way through.
The ubiquitous Evan also provided a fine arrangement for Kwabena’s next song – Hoagy Carmichael’s Rockin’ Chair – whilst Laura added an equally fine flugel solo. Nobody Knows You (When You’re Down And Out) was written in the 20’s by Jimmy Cox and swiftly became the signature tune of the Great Depression. Ex-NYJO flautist Gareth Lockrane’s torch-song arrangement gave Emma Smith an expressive feature with which to finish the first set – Alex provided a trombone solo, whilst Rob produced some delightful guitar accompaniment to support Emma’s vocal.
The second set started with Steve Titchener’s joyful arrangement of the ‘standard’ Tangerine, a lovely swinging affair in which we heard solos from Laura and Johnny (left), with Scott contributing some interesting drum fills. Are We Nearly There Yet? is NYJO trombonist Callum Au’s lyrical take on Anthony Adams’ Almost There. After the gentle piano introduction this was mainly a feature for Rob, although we also had a first solo from Mike Wilkins.
Emma’s dad (ex-NYJO trumpet player Chris Smith) arranged Bill’s and Tony Charlesworth’s Another Always, on which Emma sang the verse accompanied by just Chris’ piano before the band joined in for the choruses – there were no solos. Emma’s second vocal produced some of That Old Black Magic: the arrangement was one Billy May wrote for Ella Fitzgerald and Emma gave it her special treatment, Nadim contributing a super solo along the way.
The second Callum Au score of the afternoon – Bustance – was primarily a feature for Barry’s brilliant bass trombone playing, although Alex also managed some time in the solo spotlight. Billie’s final song was one from Bill’s extensive vocal œuvre: Let’s Settle Down started with just Rob accompanying Billie through the intro – later Laura and Johnny added solos, interspersed with another of Evan Jolly’s signature sax solis.
Cannon Fodder, by the late Allan Ganley, is an old NYJO staple – the sax section had an early soli before Nadim and Michael Lack contributed individual solos. Reuben (flugel, left) and Laura then traded 8s and 4s before the ensemble play-out.
Kwabena signed off with two contrasting songs: Charles Trenet’s I Wish You Love, in another of Callum’s gently swinging arrangements, had Nadim as the instrumental soloist and some nice scoring for the flutes which created a sound like the ‘Sauter-Finegan’ band, whilst Evan’s upbeat reworking of Morning Glories had Alex and Michael soloing and trading 8s before Scott brought things to an explosive end.
This concert demonstrated once again that NYJO’s premiership team can draw on an enviable depth of playing, writing, arranging and vocal talent that few other bands can match – which can only augur well for the future wellbeing of British big band jazz.
Review: Steve Harris/Ian Fielding : Photos: Bill Ashton