Wednesday, 28 September 2011

Chris Gradwell and Friends - 'Le Jazz' Quartet Sidmouth Sunday 25 September

Ever since 'Chris Gradwell and Friends' started their series of Sunday evening concerts in the Cellar Bar of the newly refurbished Kennaway House in Sidmouth, the new venture has been going from strength to strength.

On 27th March Chris and Co, going under the name 'Le Jazz Quartet', made their debut (see details). They returned on 14th May for another concert with the addition of poetry and sketches by local authors and performers. On 28th August the saxophonist and the pianist - Chris Gradwell and Andrew Daldorph respectively - joined forced with soprano Kate Walker for an evening of cabaret as 'Music Deco'. (see details)

Chris Gradwell plays Tenor Saxophone
 On 25th September the series came full circle and Chris and Andrew got  together again with guitarist Andrew Barrett and double bass player Mike Thorne for another instrumental jazz evening as 'Le Jazz Quartet'.

Andrew Daldorph is well known in the Exeter area as a pianist, a harpsichordist - and also as an organist, both at his local parish church of St Cyr and St Julitta and at Exeter Cathedral. He is also musical director of the Exeter Chamber Choir. Only a couple of months ago, on 21st July, Andrew conducted the ECC in his own 'Mass for Life' at St Cyr & Julitta. (see details). Andrew is also an extraordinarily talented jazz pianist, improvising and composing with equal style.

Andrew and Chris got together at St George's Hall, Bristol, in 2005 to record their amazing improvisations on the jazz greats - and several of Andrew's own compositions - for the album 'Jewels of Jazz'. Add Mike Thorne and Andrew Barrett to this combination and you have - 'Le Jazz'.

Andrew Daldorph adds sensitive harmony on keyboard
Word of the first concert must have got around because the Cellar Bar was packed for the return of 'Le Jazz'.

Picking up where they left off, the band started Sunday's set with a piece from 1936 - 'Pick Yourself Up', which Fred Astaire and Ginger Rogers made famous in that great depression-era movie 'Swing Time'. Jerome Kern's musical accompaniment for Dorothy Fields' words - "I'm going to learn to dance or burst!" lifted everyone up. Following a perfectly timed ending to the final improvisation the band, and the audience, were ready to "Start all over again"!

The unmistakeable sound of Mike Thorne's double bass
One thing everyone had come to hear was the mesmerising virtuoso sound of Mike Thorne's double bass playing. There was not long to wait. Oliver Nelson's 'Stolen Moments' written for the 1960 movie 'Trane Whistle' calls for a trumpet solo, but Mike's solo on bass was every bit as good. His runs and glissandi to the very highest notes on the fingerboard just don't seem possible - but Mike amazes everyone with his endlessly innovative solo improvisations.

'Les Feuilles Mortes' ('Autumn Leaves') by Joe Kosma introduced a French flavour. The song was made polular by Edith Piaf just after the war - and later by American jazz pianist Nat King Cole. Played on piano and tenor saxophone by Andrew Daldorph and Chris Gradwell, the haunting melody had the smoothness of liquid gold. In the background, as the tempo slowly increased, Andrew Barrett and Mike Thorne added their support with the gentle strumming of strings.

In memory of 'Acker' Bilk's recent appearance at the Sidmouth Folk Week on Monday 15th August, Chris added solo clarinet numbers to Sunday's programme. Chris played Acker Bilk's theme for the 60s TV drama 'Stranger on the Shore' and Sidney Bechet's 'Petite Fleur' - originally made famous by Monty Sunshine with the Chris Barber Jazz Band in the 50s.

A tribute to the great 'Acker' Bilk - Chris Gradwell plays clarinet

An essential part of the 'Le Jazz' line up is guitarist Andrew Barrett.
Andrew B. took the floor for an all time blues classic - from the big daddy of blues himself, William Christopher Handy - 'St Louis Blues'.

In his introduction Andrew made the classic reverse mistake - correctly pronouncing the French name 'Louis'. In fact Missourians are notorious for their mispronunciation of foreign words and call their capital 'Saint Lewis'. To complicate matters this great blues number was made famous in part by the great Louis Armstrong - who also preferred to pronounce his name 'Lewis', identifying himself with African Americans rather than the socially superior New Orleans Creole community of the time - who would say "Loo-ee".

Whether St 'Lewis' or St 'Louis', this piece really taxes the players - and the audience. After a beautifully slow and lugubrious start the time signature and rhythm suddenly changes - confusing but exciting to the ear - repeated again and again. Add Andrew D's apparently limitless ingenuity on keyboard and Chris G's clarion blast on the saxophone and you've got the ingredients for a Blues masterpiece - topped off in style by a stunning guitar solo by Andrew B which drew a massive response from the now enraptured audience.

Andrew Barratt's soulful guitar - St Louis Blues
During a splendid performance of 'Moonglow and Love' by Irving Mills and Will Hudson (originally performed with Eddie DeLange's words by Joe Venuti in 1933, but made famous by Benny Goodman and his orchestra the following year . . . ) Chris G started to prepare a third instrument - his slender and delicate straight soprano saxophone. He then surprised everyone by giving another glorious solo - on the clarinet!

The soprano sax got its outing in the next piece, however. Andrew B and Mike sat out while Andrew D and Chris relived a piece of recording history. From the 'Jewels of Jazz' session, with no rhythm section - just freedom and that special Daldorph-Gradwell magic, they played Andrew's own composition - L'Apres Midi. Possibly the sweetest performance yet!

Andrew Barrett takes a break during Chris's impassioned solo
on soprano saxophone - L'Apres Midi by Andrew Daldorph
As the night progressed the music continued and the audience were enjoying themselves more and more. Jerome Kerr's 'All the Things You Are', from the otherwise disastrous 1939 musical 'Very Warm for May', featured Mike Thorne crooning over his double bass as he gave one of his most extreme solos.

Mike even attempted the impossible - Victor Young's wartime jazz classic 'Stella by Starlight' (a hit for saxophonist Charlie Parker in '52) - on double bass. After an impressive foray into the upper reaches of the fingerboard, Mike was relieved at his post by Andrew Barrett on guitar, after which Andrew D's piano solo led to the familiar saxophone solo from Chris Gradwell.

There were more solos all round, in a latin american style, for the 1962 collaboration between American Stan Getz and Brazilian Tom Jobim - 'Jazz Samba'!

In an echo of last month's 'Music Deco' evening, 'Le Jazz' finished with Duke Ellington's 'Do Nothing Till You Hear From Me'. Instead of Kate Walker's voice the sound was filled out with guitar and double bass. Mike claimed not to remember the tune, ratcheting up the tension. The audience nearly fell for it, but in reality this was yet another superb performance. It was just as gorgeous as the sung version and Andrew D, eyes closed and carried away by the music, gave one of the most complex and exhilarationg solos of the evening.

The audience had loved every moment of the night's entertainment, and showed their appreciation with enormous vigour. Chris acknowledged that Sunday's audience had been the best so far. Their reward - more Duke Ellington! The encore was Ellington's sensational 'It don't Mean a Thing, if it ain't got that Swing'. The audience were really into the swing by this time and added Irving Mills words - "Just give the rhythm ev-ry-thing you got!" A perfect end to a thrilling and fun evening of jazz - not to mention blues, and samba!

Le Jazz will return to the Cellar Bar of Kennaway House in Sidmouth on Sunday 30th October. As always the doors will open at 6.45pm for a show that starts at 7.30. The Cellar Bar not only serves spirits and beer, but also an impressive selection of wines. Audience members can share and enjoy a bottle at their table while they are entertained.

October's 'Le Jazz' concert will include poetry and theatre, provided - and in some cases performed - by another performer who lives in Chris Gradwell's home town of Beer, John Torrance. Actually an economics lecturer, but also a prolific author, John has brought together a wonderful line-up of local stars:

Wally Cotgrave, Barbara Farquharson, Kairen Hooker, Francis Lee,
Rowland Molony, Trudy Morgan and John himself of course.

Next time - poet and performer John Torrance
There is also the promise of a guest appearance by actor James Pellow. Currently touring with Philip Meeks' 'I met a man who wasn't there' (based on Hughes Mearns' 1899 'Psycho-ed') in the part of Edgar Ryme, James is also playing the lead (Andrew Wyke) in the Idle Theatre production of Anthony Shaffer's 'Sleuth' at the Manor Pavilion in Sidmouth.

The divine Kate Walker will return for a vocal number or two with the full band - a little preview of the next 'Music Deco' evening, which will be on Sunday 27th November.

Tickets for both performances are available from organiser Glyn Holford. (Telephone 07538 796855, email Price per seat - £7!

'LE JAZZ' with Poetry and Sketches
Kennaway House Sidmouth
Sunday 30 October 6.45 for 7.30pm
Chris Gradwell and Friends
Tickets: £10
Glyn Holford: 07583 796855

Cabaret with 'MUSIC DECO'
Kennaway House Sidmouth
Sunday 27 November 6.45 for 7.30pm
Soprano: Kate Walker
Clarinets/Saxophones: Chris Gradwell
Piano: Andrew Daldorph
Tickets: £8
Glyn Holford: 07583 796855

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