Author: James B

University of the 3rd Age: live jazz demonstration

L-R Simon, Derek, Joel and James
L-R Simon, Derek, Joel and James (that’d be me)

Today I had the pleasure of giving a live demonstration of small band jazz to the jazz appreciation class of the Cambridge branch of the University of the 3rd Age.  For those of you who aren’t aware of it, U3A is a nationwide organisation in which groups of retired and semi-retired people get together for the purpose of learning for learning’s sake – what a wonderful thing!  I was invited by Alan from the Cambridge branch after he came to Vesperados’ Hot Numbers gig back in April 2013 and although the V chaps were not all able to make it, Derek Scurll (drums) was, and I also invited Joel Humann (bass) and Simon Warder (sax) to join me.  We were welcomed by a group of about 40 people eager and waiting to hear some live jazz.


I decided that the best thing we could do for the group was to present a whistle-stop tour through the standards repertoire, trying to cover as much jazz history as we could squeeze into an hour and a quarter.  Picking this list was tricky, as I had to leave out many periods, composers and styles I would otherwise liked to have included.  However I eventually settled on the following tunes:

  • Four (Miles Davis) – as an introduction.
  • All The Things You Are (Jerome Kern/Oscar Hammerstein II) – as an example of a Tin Pan Alley song which forms the backbone of the standards repertoire.
  • Anthropology (Charlie Parker/Dizzy Gillespie) – as an example of a ‘rhythm changes’ tune (one written on the chord sequence of Gershwin’s I Got Rhythm) and as an example of bebop.
  • Now’s The Time (Charlie Parker) – as an example of the blues in jazz.
  • Chelsea Bridge (Billy Strayhorn) – as an example of Ellingtonia (the music associated with Duke Ellington) and an example of a jazz ballad.
  • I Mean You (Thelonius Monk) – as an example of the characteristic music of Monk.
  • I Wish I Knew How It Would Feel To Be Free (Billy Taylor) – as an example of Soul Jazz and the gospel influence in jazz in the 1960s.
  • Meditation (Antonio Carlos Jobim and Newton Mendonça) – as an example of Latin jazz/the bossa nova craze.
  • Adam’s Apple (Wayne Shorter) – as an example of the compositions of Wayne Shorter and of stripped-down, modal-influenced jazz.
  • 500 Miles High (Chick Corea) – as a (very small!) example of jazz-fusion.
  • Strasbourg/St. Denis (Roy Hargrove) – as an example of a modern-day standard.
Real Books Galore
Real Books Galore

Of course this list is wholly inadequate as a real overview of jazz history – for one thing it’s almost completely America-centric, and only contains two tunes written after 1970.  Talking with Simon after the demonstration, I reflected that what this list really is is a survey of the (Hal Leonard) Real Book, which leans very heavily towards both America and pre-1970s tunes.  I wondered how much this has and continues to shape our view of jazz history and ‘standard’ repertoire.  Surely as perhaps the majority of budding jazz musicians these days use books like these to get into and play the repertoire they are very influential in the kind of tunes, composers and styles that these musicians check out?  It was necessary due to time/instrumentation/rehearsal restraints (i.e. no rehearsal!) for this gig to stick to the basic shared repertoire but I’d be interested to try and produce an ‘overview’ list some time which was not constrained to Real Book tunes.  I wonder what else would make it in?

Simon Cookin'
Simon Cookin’

Anyway, I certainly enjoyed the session and I hope the U3A group did as well.  Alan was kind enough to take the photos which I’ve shared through this post.  For anyone reading this interested in finding out more about the U3A and its work, I suggest you try their website.

Vesperados performing tonight and tomorrow

Just a quick note to say that my Latin/chamber jazz quartet Vesperados is performing tonight (6/11/13) at St Philip’s Church, Mill Road, Cambridge in the launch of Off Centre Collective, a new platform for creative and original jazz music in Cambridge.  Doors open at 7pm and we’re playing from 7:30pm.  £5 and BYOB.  Here’s the event page:

We’re also performing in the second-ever Ely Jazz Night at The King’s Arms, St Mary’s Street, Ely tomorrow (7/11/13) from 9pm.  Here’s the event page:

We’ll be debuting quite a bit of original material over the two gigs.  Hope to see a good crowd in for both!  Here’s a bit of a teaser:

Off Centre Collective: a new night for creative jazz in Cambridge

OCC PosterSome months back my friend Dan Ecclestone, frustrated by the lack of opportunities for local jazz musicians to play original music (as opposed to standards and old repertoire) outside of a couple of good but infrequent student-led nights, came up with the concept of the Off Centre Collective, a group of local creative jazz-based bands who could perform on a semi-regular basis in Cambridge.  Fast forward to today and we’re eagerly anticipating the first OCC event which is taking place next Wednesday 6 November with my quartet Vesperados and Dan’s band EM.

The event will be at St Philip’s Church on Mill Road, which has recently been completely refurbished with a quality PA system, video projection and more put in.  As a result, it looks like being a cracking medium-sized music venue (i.e. not a drafty pew-filled church).Doors are at 19:00 with the Vesperados kicking off at 19:30, followed by a short break then EM to close the night, finishing at about 22:00.  Entry is £5 on the door and we’re having a BYOB policy.  There’s a lovely cafe area in which to have a drink and a nibble in the break and we’re happy for people to sip through the music too.

Both our groups will be showcasing our original material.  For Vesperados that means a heady mix of Latin American rhythms, cool, sophisticated dialogue between trumpet and sax and plaintive melodies.  EM will be bringing their brand of film soundtrack-influenced prog-jazz and are packing a string section to boot.

For the Facebook-types among you, see here for the event page.  Hope to see a good crowd in as the future of the night depends on this being a success!

Upon This Rock

‘Upon This Rock’ preview film. from Sparky Media Productions on Vimeo.

At the beginning of September I had the pleasure of taking part in a community music project run by Metal Culture and Vivacity to develop and bring a new piece of musical drama and spectacle to the city of Peterborough.  I was part of a 10-piece pro band which backed up around 400 local people as they sang and told their personal stories of living and growing up in Peterborough.  The piece really showed off the range of different cultures in Peterborough – we heard stories as varied as those of a 5th (or more!) generation Peterborough fruit-picker, a Polish immigrant who had found a new home in the city and a refugee fleeing political persecution in central Africa.  Backing it all was a fun score by Jonathan Baker of the Voice Project, with some especially lovely vocal lines.  The Lantern Company were also involved, bringing their trademark illuminated parade skills to the event.  It was a great fun project which really brought a sense of theatre to Peterborough’s Cathedral Square.  The best part though was that I got to make my professional debut as a percussionist, with a cameo appearance on Egg Shaker (evidence below).  According to our fine percussion section, I ‘dun gode’.  I’ll take that.

Below are a few photos from the event:

Guildhall Advanced Jazz Summer School

GSMD Jazz Summer School
Proud ownership!

I’ve just attended the Guildhall School of Music and Drama’s intensive two-day Advanced Jazz course .  Along with about 25 others, I benefited from tutoring with GSMD jazz professors Carlos Lopez-Real, Malcolm Edmonstone and Malcolm Miles, learning a great deal along the way.  At £195 it had the potential to be a rather expensive jam but I really felt like I got a lot of value from the experience and the feeling of the other musicians (who ranged from relatively green teenagers to fairly experienced adult amateurs and semi-pros) seemed to be the same and we all had a great time playing together.  Each day began at 10am and didn’t end until 10pm, so I really felt like I was getting my money’s worth!

After an initial blow over some blues as a whole group, we were split into 3 combos based on ability, and we then worked in these combos for the rest of the course.  My combo was tutored by Carlos Lopez-Real, an alto saxophonist and head of the Contemporary Jazz course at the Guildhall. Carlos introduced us to some great tunes which were mostly unknown to the group but likely to find their way into some set lists soon!  These were:

El Gaucho – Wayne Shorter

Falling Grace – Steve Swallow

Wights Waits for Weights – Steve Coleman

Song for Bilbao – Pat Metheney

Joy – Bheki Mseleku

Friday Night at the Cadillac Club – Bob Berg

Other groups looked at other tunes and after an informal jam on the first night (including a killing rendition of What is this thing called love? from Malcolm Edmonstone, Carlos and GSMD students Gili and David) we all performed our sets for one another and an audience of friends and guests on the final night in the music room of Sundial Court, which appears to be the main student bar of the GSMD.

Interspersed with the combo sessions were ‘skills sessions’, one with each tutor.  Carlos really stretched us with rhythmic challenges (something I had a lot of trouble with!), Malcolm Miles took us through about nine different ways to play over a one-chord vamp and Malcolm Edmonstone gave us an amazing insight into using pairs of triads as a basis for improvisation, laying it all out in by far the clearest way I’ve ever encountered.  I feel like in two days I’ve learned about enough things to practice for months or even years to come!  There were a couple of current or former GSMD students filling out gaps in rhythm sections (one per combo) and from talking to them it appeared that the content of our course was not that dissimilar from actual classes at the conservatoire.  I wouldn’t hesitate to recommend this course to anyone who’s gained a basic grasp of jazz improvisation and harmony (especially that you’re confident in your major and minor modes, can read most changes and follow forms).  For those still relatively new to jazz the GSMD also do a week-long introductory course earlier in the summer.

Pastures New

It’s been a few months since I last posted as I’ve been very busy making big changes.  After 15 months at Britten Sinfonia, I’m now leaving to pursue my musical activities full-time.  I’m therefore intending to be putting more and more things up on this website, when I’m not too busy being a working musician!  I want to take this opportunity to thank not only my colleagues at Britten Sinfonia, but the many other people who have helped me get to this point.  I hope that this will be the beginning, rather than the end, of many professional relationships as well as friendships!

Coming up in the next couple of months:

  • Performing a new work for and with the people of Peterborough, Upon this Rock, as part of the Lantern Parade.  This is the finale of the Peterborough Arts Festival and will see hundreds of local people and school children congregate in the Cathedral Square, filling it with light from their lanterns. This free event will take place on the evening of Friday 6th September 2013.
  • Starting to teach brass and composition at Parkside and Coleridge Community Colleges in Cambridge.
  • Writing horn arrangements for original tunes and inventive covers of soul classics by singer Ollie Lepage-Dean for his upcoming album.
  • New outings with my Latin jazz quartet Vesperados, including a double-header gig with EM in Cambridge.
  • Developing ideas and material for educational workshops based on New Orleans and Latin jazz.
  • Lots of other musical projects, and lots and lots of practice time!

So thanks again to everyone at Britten Sinfonia and the many other organisations I’ve worked with during my time there. Finally, here are a few photos from recent gigs:

Museums at Night 2013

This coming Friday (17th May), I am producing and performing in a special late opening of the Fitzwilliam Museum, Cambridge, as part of the national Museums at Night Festival, which sees museums all over the country open in the evening and hold special events over three days.  I’ve scheduled five and a half hours of music from fantastic local talent over the three hours of the event, and the event is completely free.  Things kick off at 6 and end at 9, so it’s perfect for popping along to after work or before a big night out.  This is the second year I’ve organised the music for this, and one of the best things about it is that I get to book lots of other people whose performing I like and respect – it’s not just my stuff for once!  There’ll also be a host of curator talks and other events throughout the night, plus the cafe will be open and a special bar will be running.  Check out details here or see the Facebook event here.

Here’s the lineup:

The Clare Hayes Band

Midnight Feast

The Ollie Lepage-Dean Trio

Saxual Healing


The Watertight Group


Vesperados public debut coming soon!

(c) Sarah Allbrook
(c) Sarah Allbrook

Vesperados, my newish jazz quartet (listen here), will make its public debut this month at Hot Numbers Coffee in Cambridge, and entry is free!  Although we’ve played several private engagements so far, including one attended by HRH Prince Charles, we’ve yet to perform in public.  The intimate but relaxed atmosphere of Hot Numbers should give us a chance to test out our material and get instant reaction from a hopefully appreciative audience.  There might not be too many more chances to see us for free so do come along to listen!  The coffee is also superb (really superb), but if you fancy a tipple that’ll also be available.

You can find details of the gig on the Hot Numbers website, but if you plan on coming down do show your support by clicking ‘attend’ on our Facebook event.

One last thing – a basket will get passed around at some point during the evening.  Should you be moved to drop something in, that’ll go straight to the band – there’s no venue cut!

Guest Spot with Andy Bowie Quartet this Sunday

Tenor sax man Andy Bowie (right)Andy Bowie is leading the charge of straight-ahead jazz in Cambridge by establishing a new regular gig at the Tram Depot on East Road.  Andy’s long-running Sunday evening gig at the Clarendon Arms sadly recently came to an end, but fortunately the manager of the Tram Depot agreed to give him a month’s trial.  Things got off to a good start, with decent audiences for weeks 1 and 2, but last week wasn’t so hot.  Andy needs a good attendance this Sunday, the last of the trial weeks, to seal the deal and get the gig to continue, so please come on down at 20:30 if you’re in favour of live jazz in Cambridge.  It won’t cost you more than a drink from the bar.  I’ll be on towards the end of the first set and in the second set.  For Facebooky-types, here’s the event:

P.S. East Road will be closed to vehicles over the weekend.  Please approach the pub on foot or by cycle.  The nearest accessible parking is likely to be Queen Anne (Gonville Place) or the streets off Parkside.

Cambridge Jazz Co-op Workshop

I’m delighted to be leading a workshop with the Cambridge Jazz Co-op this coming Saturday.  As they put it themselves at

The Cambridge Jazz Co-op is an informal group of amateur jazz musicians that meet on Saturday mornings at the Man on the Moon pub in Cambridge, U.K. to play under the guidance and tuition of professional/prestigious jazz tutors/performers.

It’s a great privilege for me to be invited to share my skills and experience with the group, and I’ve planned what I hope will be a fun and interesting (and a little bit of a different) session:

As players we are immensely lucky to be able to choose from so many great standards, so it’s not surprising that some get called again and again, and sometimes we might get a bit tired of some of them.  To keep things sounding fresh, there are plenty of ways to make our solos interesting and new, but there are also lots of things we can do with the material we’ve been given, by interpreting melodies in new ways and by making our own arrangements.  These don’t have to be complex written affairs – sometimes a change of feel, adding or taking away a bar here or there or putting the melody somewhere unusual can be all it takes to bring an old warhorse back to life, and this can even sometimes be done on the bandstand or in a jam session!

This workshop won’t be about sitting down with pen and paper and writing things out (unless someone finds that useful).  We’ll look at everything through our instruments, and there’ll be plenty of chances to blow as well.  We’ll look at fresh approaches to a well-known standard or two, plus an adaptation of an original tune of mine, Night Owl – see an earlier post for a rehearsal video of this tune in quintet form.

See the Cambridge Jazz Co-op website for more information, especially if you’d like to join in!

P.S. if you would like to come be aware that East Road is completely closed so the Man in the Moon can only be accessed by vehicle from Newmarket Road, via Coldham’s Lane and New Street.  Pedestrian/cycle access should be ok but might take slightly longer than usual.