The very first time I came to St George’s – pre-refurb, brown pews, late-80s – was to see the free-jazz legend Cecil Taylor in a solo double-bill shared with a classical pianist. After several beautiful miniatures played incredibly quietly, out came Cecil to give the Steinway some stick, pounding the keys so hard that the instrument may even have bounced across the floor. After a spellbinding hour of spontaneous invention, we all went wild and bayed for more. At length, Cecil came back out to enormous applause, bowed grandly, then proceeded to do exactly the same thing again. Many years later, I was programming jazz here myself, and although we’ve never managed to get Cecil Taylor back, there’s been some incredible shows, a partial, non-chronological list of which follows at the end of this blog. It’s been quite a mix, too, matching established stars with new names on the rise, and American and European acts with the best of the UK and local scenes. As the programme is self-financing, we’re limited by what we can afford (and I once just missed getting Charlie Haden, who died last week, in a duo with Pat Metheny), but otherwise there’s not a great deal that’s passed us by. Gregory Porter, who performed here last March, is headlining the Brecon Jazz Festival in August at £35 a ticket.
This autumn’s International Jazz Series continues the story while fulfilling two increasingly vital functions: introducing St George’s jazz audience to important new acts, and presenting the music in as natural a way as we can, with performers playing acoustically, without a PA, wherever possible. As regards the former function (and the only one of the five shows that demands a PA), our opening jazz attraction requires a footnote or two: Bill Laurance Project (Friday 3 October), features the three main-men (bassist/leader Michael League, drummer Robert ‘Sput’ Searight, and pianist Laurance) from the Grammy-winning band of the moment Snarky Puppy. The biggest new name to hit jazz since the aforementioned Gregory Porter, Snarky Puppy are a phenomenon, a musical collective of variable size now based in Brooklyn who originally formed as students at the University of North Texas, and whose members have played with artists as diverse as Eryka Badu, Justin Timberlake, Snoop Dogg, Marcus Miller and Roy Hargrove. Accompanied by a string quartet drawn from jazz-repertoire specialists the Heritage Orchestra, Laurance and the Snarky trio are presenting the music from his just-out album, ‘Flint’, in a premiere performance (it’s the first date of the tour) where the studio overdubs get translated into real-time. It’s a belter of an album whose big, anthemic tunes, dense harmonies and luxuriant strings really connect with the listener, and to hear it played live is going to be a major event. Here’s a taster.
The four acoustic jazz dates are all about the sound: Gilad with Strings (Thursday 23 October) pairs alto saxophonist Gilad Atzmon and his superb quartet with the Sigamos String Quartet in Ros Stephen’s re-arrangements of music from one of the best jazz albums ever made: ‘Charlie Parker With Strings’. Tommy Smith & Brian Kellock (Thursday 20 November) is a Great American Songbook smooch-fest, with saxophonist Smith and pianist Kellock playing tunes from their lovely third album together, ‘Whispering of the Stars’. Presented as part of our Scene Norway Plus Day (Saturday 22 November), pianist Ketil Bjornstad is an ECM Records star whose many albums for the label offer a kind of Northern European counterpart to the work of Keith Jarrett. In a unique date especially for St George’s, Bjornstad plays solo and talks about his life and work – including a biography of Edvard Munch – with Late Junction’s Fiona Talkington. The last jazz date of the year is a real treat: Dave Liebman, the saxophonist who played with Miles Davis in one of his most experimental periods, appears as the guest of Swiss piano trio Vein. As Liebman just about wrote the book on contemporary jazz sax playing, this is an audience with the master.
- john surman – joshua redman – zoe rahman – andy sheppard – joe lovano – tigran – gregory porter – african jazz all stars – gretchen parlato – jazz jamaica – oriole – ketil bjornstad – basquiat strings – michael wollny – abdullah ibrahim – nu civilisation orchestra – carla bley – larry stabbins – fred hersch – portico quartet – lee konitz – keith tippett – liam noble – uri caine – christine tobin – phil robson – nick smart plays nick drake – e.s.t. – kenny wheeler orchestra – lionel loueke – mike gibbs orchestra – trio libero – nat birchall – bill frisell – rita marcotulli – matthew halsall – dennis rollins – john taylor trio – dave stapleton quintet/solo/ensemble – ivo neame – julian arguelles – marc ribot – andy hague quintet & big band – juliet roberts – tommy smith – marius neset – daniel herskedal – adrian utley guitar orchestra – tord gustavsen trio & ensemble – courtney pine – afropeans big band – tomasz stanko – kurt elling – get the blessing – trio (marcin wasilewski) – ralph towner – gwilym simcock – richard galliano – brad mehldau trio – paolo fresu – acoustic triangle – susanna & the magical orchestra – dave newton – christian wallumrod ensemble – john law – denys baptiste – alan barnes – gary crosby – aki takese – soweto kinch – michael janisch – greg osby – enrico rava – richard bona – dan berglund – myrna hague – bobo stenson – joyce – kind of blue – gwyneth herbert – empirical – martin speake – cleo laine & john dankworth – alec dankworth – jacqui dankworth – steve beresford – john edwards – claire martin – richard rodney bennett – tim garland – mujician – arild andersen – neil yates – phronesis – nik bartsch ronin – neil cowley trio & strings – food – julia biel – arve henriksen – mark lockheart – steve swallow – cleveland watkiss – palle danielsson – nikki yeoh – brian kellock – kyle eastwood – stan sultzmann – gareth williams – gilad atzmon -
Phil Johnson – Senior Programme Producer