During the austere period that followed World War 2 there was an old music hall jest, “Never mind the quality Misses, feel the width”. However even with the present day credit crunch biting, this year's Nairn International Jazz Festival provided a host of top-line musicians in action, it's width spreading over a six day jazz based canvas, writes Bert Booth.
Now in its nineteenth year the annual Nairn jazz festival organised and presented by local businessman/jazz devotee
Ken Ramage continues to maintain a loyal and ever expanding audience who appreciate the highly rated quality of the event.
The festival is renowned not only for the galaxy of jazz artists it attracts but also for the adept professionalism in presenting them in a friendly, relaxed and musically perfected mix-and-match format. For his continued and unstinted service not only to the local community but to jazz enthusiasts elsewhere, Ken Ramage is an ideal candidate for recognition in the Honours List for jazz music in the Highlands of Scotland.
This year's star list included the welcome return of Scott Hamilton, the mainstream tenor saxophonist who commands the respect of both musicians and fans alike.
Dick Hyman the celebrated pianist, arranger and composer, an icon not only in jazz circles but also in the film industry, the studio world, is also a jazz historian, a researcher and gifted orator on the subject. New Orleans born Wendell Brunious follows in his father's footsteps as a masterly trumpet player, having paid his dues at Preservation Hall, he then graduated to the big band of Lionel Hampton. Wendell is now in much demand on the festival circuit.
Bob Wilber the internationally recognised American clarinettist, originally influenced by Sydney Bechet is acclaimed for presenting traditional jazz in a contemporary manner. Octogenarian John Bunch, a regular at the festival, played piano with the Benny Goodman Orchestra, is a true gentleman of jazz, who has lost none of his gifted artistry. Although scheduled to perform at various sessions, he was unfortunately indisposed, so Cyrus Chestnut and Rossano Sportiello deputised on his behalf.
The award winning British self taught guitarist Martin Taylor was associated with Stephane Grappelli for many years, being once described by him as 'a great artist, rich in talent and elegance'. On her first visit to Nairn was vocalist Roberta Gambarini originally from Italy but now attracting much attention on her worldwide travels, was very well accompanied on piano by Cyrus Chestnut, ex George Shearing bassist Neil Swainson and drummer Joe Ascione.
There was much exciting jazz on offer during the six days of the festival and many other top musicians involved.
The Community Centre in King Street Nairn being the main venue for lunchtime, afternoon and evening sessions, but those who enjoyed a little classical piano jazz with their morning coffee the Classroom Bistro proved to be the location to head for.
Scott Hamilton was scheduled to perform on the Thursday afternoon but unfortunately was stranded in Norway, a young seventeen year old kid from Seattle was hastily recruited to deputise and came with glowing credentials directly from the Edinburgh Jazz Festival, his name Carl Mageau. Accompanied by Rossano Sportiello on piano, Andy Cleyndert on bass and Oliver Mewes on drums it took all of the first four opening bars for us to realise that Carl really meant business. How could anyone so young have gained the understanding and feeling for jazz and in particular the old masters namely Lester, Coleman and Ben Webster? Here we have a tenor saxophonist who is heading in the right direction and capable of a great future. Switching to clarinet the tall young Mageau again excelled with inspired shades of Goodman if I'm not mistaken.
I understand Scott Hamilton arrived in Nairn the following day and was able to perform at his scheduled evening concert.
Dick Hyman gave a most informative talk and illustrated the History of Jazz Piano as only he can. Tracing the development from pre-ragtime to Scott Joplin, Earl Hines, Teddy Wilson, and George Shearing on to McCoy Tyner, Dick Hymn certainly upheld his position of being a professional jazz educator.
David Gazarov the Russian pianist gave a memorable performance accompanied by Andy Cleyndart on bass and drummer Martin Drew. For the second part of the session the trio was joined by Wendell Brunious on trumpet and flugelhorn plus for good measure his vocal numbers added yet another dimension to the enjoyment.
Three extremely hard working musicians who played in various line-ups throughout the festival and deserved full credit for their admirable professionalism were pianist Rossano Sportiello, the always smiling bassist Andy Cleyndart and someone whom I hadn't heard previously, drummer Joe Ascione, whose creative brush work is surely the envy of many other percussionists?
A near capacity audience attended the Wednesday evening concert featuring the Italian vocalist Roberta Gambarini, despite the masterly handling of her jazz influenced material and her ability to extent the boundaries of the scat vocabulary, there appeared to be reserved appreciation from the audience. Perhaps this in some way resulted by her actions, of strutting the stage, and swigging from a plastic water bottle.
The Nairn International Jazz Festival again this year was undoubtedly a qualified and resounding success and may we look forward to similar future events based on the proven rewarding formula that we have come to associate with the Ramage Jazz organisation.
Kings Jazz Review