Ronnie Scott’s Jazz Orchestra: first bump in the road

What’s JazzJanuary?

JazzJanuary performance #5

Ronnie Scott’s Jazz Orchestra (house big band)

Ronnie Scott’s Jazz Club, London, 17th January

JazzJanuary testers: Andréa, Joff, Matt

JazzJanuary advisers: N/A

The traffic along Embankment isn’t such a grind when you’re this excited about the evening ahead. January’s Gareth Lockrane Band and National Youth Jazz Orchestra performances were, in the language of the Jazz-people, Killing. Big bands have so far scored a 100% hit-rate on our testers, old and young.  Ronnie Scott’s Jazz Orchestra is known for bringing together the cream of London’s jazz musicians which we’re going to lap up from the best seats. One of tonight’s jazz-testers hasn’t seen a big band, and I’m secretly wondering whether he’ll remember to put his glass down before he falls over.

We’re without the jazz-advisers again.  But our fortnight among the jazz-people is enough for us to be able to pick out some stars among the players ambling onto the stage.  There’s Callum Au, the trombone superhero.  Legendary drummer Mark Fletcher, already administering a fierce beating just to limber up.  There’s Alex Garnett, who’s rumoured to have played for the Rolling Stones. He’s holding a saxophone in one hand. With the other he’s deftly slotting together the sections of his clarinet, from his pocket.  He’s looking the other way as he does this, laughing with the guy next to him.  He’s done this before.  You know you’re facing a heavyweight band when it’s Mark Armstrong, Professor of Jazz at the Royal College of Music and Director of the National Youth Jazz Orchestra, who’s standing with his trumpet in the far corner, like the new boy.

It’s another fierce big band.  For these jazz-testers, on this evening, maybe a bit too fierce.  Nobody could doubt the capabilities of these players. It’s not just a question of talent but of confidence, experience, and physical lung power.  They’re hard-wired into their instruments, their bandmates and their music (they’ve done the arrangements themselves, and composed a fair bit of it, too).  They’re the house band.  This is their territory, in every sense.

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The Ronnie Scott’s Jazz Orchestra

But there’s something that doesn’t quite hook up for the testers.  It’s us, not them.  This performance has two equally happy audiences.  The jazz aficionados are delighted to see complex arrangements being handled with such aplomb.  The tables of baby-boomers, retired early and here to blow the winnings, are enjoying the bonhomie and the booze.  We’re sitting, uneasily, somewhere in the middle.  It’s a superb performance, no question,  but we’re not clever enough to follow Herbie Hancock’s ‘Wiggle Waggle‘ at our first listen, and because its January, we can’t afford to get drunk.

Highs:

More stars than you could shake a drumstick at. If you see the names Alex Garnett or Dave O’Higgins (Saxophones), Mark Armstrong (Trumpet), Alistair White or Callum Au (Trombones) in a band lineup, go and watch.

Lows:

We struggled. Familiarity with the music would have helped, and so would a few bottles of wine.  We really missed the jazz-advisors tonight.

Next up:

Jeff Lorber Fusion, 22 January.

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Story and photos: Matt Pannell

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