Richard Galliano's Tangaria
Kurt Elling with Scottish National Jazz Orchestra
John Scofield with Scottish National Jazz Orchestra
Peter Erskine with SNJO plays Weather Report
The first time Peter Erskine was called to work with Weather Report, he had to decline due to other commitments. He was soon given another opportunity, however, thanks to the enthusiasm of the band’s then bass guitarist, the inspirational Jaco Pastorius, and so began a relationship that in strict historical terms lasted from 1978 to 1982 and spanned five albums but spiritually and emotionally continues to this day.
Pastorius had heard Erskine playing with the Maynard Ferguson Orchestra in Florida and had immediately latched on to the drummer’s power, precision and dynamism. Here was someone the bassist felt he could work with and when Weather Report’s co-founders, Joe Zawinul and Wayne Shorter, heard Erskine playing their music, they agreed. The fact that both Zawinul and Shorter had also worked with Ferguson may well have helped. Plus, in Erskine, they were getting a drummer who, having also worked with the Stan Kenton Orchestra, was well suited to steering the rhythms of a band that as his increasing use of multi-keyboard textures suggested, Zawinul for one viewed as a big band. The inclusion of Duke Ellington’s Rockin’ in Rhythm on 8.30, the first complete Weather Report album that Erskine worked on, perhaps underlines Zawinul’s thinking.
Erskine began playing drums at the age of four and was set on a career as a musician from then onwards. He graduated from Interlochen Arts Academy and studied percussion at Indiana University before undertaking his first professional assignment with Kenton in 1972. Three years with Kenton, which could mean fifty weeks of the year spent on the road, set him up for Ferguson’s high energy approach and after two years with the trumpeter’s orchestra, he was invited into Weather Report’s inner sanctum. His understanding with Pastorius guaranteed that the band were indeed rockin’ in rhythm. Three-quarters live, 8.30 won a Grammy and confirmed the band’s unstoppable onstage momentum.
Since moving on from Weather Report, Erskine has demonstrated the remarkable breadth of his range, drumming with the acoustic fusion band Steps Ahead, leading a trio in the Bill Evans tradition with English pianist John Taylor, guesting with the London Symphony and the Berlin and Los Angeles Philharmonic Orchestras, and recording with Joni Mitchell, Diana Krall and Kate Bush as well as rocking with the reformed Steely Dan.
His album credits and film scores number in excess of 500. His composing credits include Shakespeare plays, Hilliard Ensemble choral workshops and animated films. He has won the Jazz Drummer category of Modern Drummer magazine Readers’ Poll ten times, been awarded an honorary doctorate by Berklee College of Music and featured alongside Evelyn Glennie at the Proms. As his playing tonight and his involvement in choosing tonight’s repertoire will illustrate, however, he still regards his time in Weather Report as a special part of his life. Tonight he is, once again, Weather Report’s drummer.
Richard Galliano's Tangaria - Bath International Festival 2011
When Cyrial Demian, a musician of Armenian descent, patented the first accordion in Vienna in 1829 he couldn’t possibly have known that he was creating a musical phenomenon that would quickly flourish throughout the world.
In these days of YouTube when someone can become an international sensation within hours of posting a video on the internet, the growth in popularity of the accordion and its family of free reed instruments, the melodeon, concertina, bandoneon et al, may not seem such a big deal.
But by the middle of the nineteenth century, the poor man’s piano, as the accordion became known, had become central to traditions as far apart as Great Britain and Brazil, Eastern Europe and China. Presently it would be driving the dancing feet in Tex-Mex roadhouses and Louisiana’s Cajun dance halls as well as lending expression behind the singers of Mediterranean love songs, and its cousin, the bandoneon, would be the instrument that brought out the soul in the tango music that was born among immigrant workers in Buenos Aires.
There is, of course, conjecture as to whether Demian had made the first accordion and whether it begat the other free reed instruments or they were developed in isolation – the roots of free reed instruments can actually be traced back to Asia five thousand years before Demian had his brainwave. What isn’t in dispute, however, is these instruments’ ability to bring musicians together across oceans and continents, and the relationship that is central to Richard Galliano’s Tangaria is a case in point.
The son of an Italian-born accordion teacher, Galliano began playing the instrument at home in Cannes at the age of four and showed such promise that he was enrolled at Nice Conservatory. Here, as well as training in the accordion and studying harmony, counterpoint and trombone, he happened across the music of jazz trumpeter Clifford Brown at the age of fourteen. Struck by Brown’s ability to improvise variations on an original theme, the teenager began his own experiments and research into this exciting new music and was surprised to discover that the accordion’s significance in jazz was miniscule.
Finding only three examples of accordionists playing jazz – Tommy Gumina, Ernie Felice and Art Van Damme – he resolved to add himself to this modest list and make his instrument as worthy of a place at the heart of jazz as the trumpet, saxophone and piano. He turned his back entirely on the traditional style of accordion playing that dominated in France, listening instead to Brazilian masters Sivuca and Dominguinhos and the Italians Fugazza, Volpi and Fancelli and working some of their expressiveness into the swinging rhythms of jazz.
Moving to Paris in 1973, Galliano found a ready market for his style of playing in pop music sessions for singers including Charles Aznavour and Juliette Gréco and in film soundtrack work. In Paris he was also able to play much more regularly with jazz musicians and he mixed with players including trumpeter Chet Baker, guitarist Jimmy Gourley and harmonica master Toots Thielemanns
In 1983, while working on incidental music for Comédie Française, Galliano met Astor Piazzolla and a special friendship was born. Piazzolla, a master of the bandoneon and the inventor of nuevo tango, which incorporated elements of jazz such as improvisation and extended harmonies and dissonance into the traditional tango style, advised Galliano to go back to his roots to find his true musical personality. So Galliano began once again to play the valses, javas, complaintes and tangos that he had discarded and by introducing a whole new rhythmic concept and harmonic style, he managed to rid the accordion of its old fashioned image.
This new approach was announced on the album New Musette, recorded with drummer Aldo Romano, bassist Pierre Michelot and guitarist Philip Catherine, which won the Académie du Jazz's Django Reinhardt Prize for French Musician of the Year in 1993.
Since then, Galliano has continued to expand the accordion’s range of expression in jazz, working with bassist Charlie Haden, vibraphonist Gary Burton, trumpeters Wynton Marsalis, Enrico Rava and Paolo Fresu, saxophonist Jan Garbarek, pianists Gonzalo Rubalcaba and Martial Solal and the Brussels Jazz Orchestra, as well as featuring alongside Brazilian multi-instrumentalist Hermeto Pascoal and oud player Anouar Brahem.
He continues to honour his friendship with Piazzolla and to champion his late friend and mentor’s music, and Tangaria, his group with bassist Philippe Aerts, violinist Alexis Cardenas and percussionist Raphael Meijas, features pieces by Piazzolla alongside music that Galliano has conceived as a result of following Piazzolla’s advice – as one free reed instrument master to another.
The accordion also found its way into the Funaná music of Cape Verde, the island community in the Atlantic Ocean off the coast of Senegal, where Carmen Souza’s family originated. There’s no accordion in Ms Souza’s band but the feeling of saudade – deeply felt longing – is something that her music shares with Richard Galliano’s alongside a strong jazz influence.
Born in Lisbon, Ms Souza grew up surrounded by the Cape Verdean way of life, hearing both the Cape Verdean Creole and Portuguese languages at home. She began singing professionally in a gospel choir at the age of seventeen and then worked in funk, soul, world music and jazz projects, contributing her own songs as well as her distinctive, hugely expressive vocal sound.
In 2003 she and producer-bass player Theo Pascal began working on music that would bring together all her influences, including Ella Fitzgerald, Joe Zawinul, Herbie Hancock, Keith Jarrett, and Diana Krall, with the sounds of Cape Verde to create a contemporary style with strong historical roots.
The resulting album, Ess ê nha Cabo Verde, and its successor, Verdade, have become international airplay hits and Ms Souza has captivated audiences from Toronto to South Korea. Prepare to be her latest conquest.
Kurt Elling with Scottish National Jazz Orchestra
Kurt Elling is, at one and the same time, a throwback to a classic age and a glimpse into the future. His rich vocal tone embodies every great jazz singer. There’s a hint of Sinatra, a touch of Mark Murphy’s insouciance, Sheila Jordan’s mischief and some of Al Jarreau’s honeyed roundedness. But it’s where he takes that sound that makes Elling such a thrilling singer.
Down Beat magazine – the American jazz bible and notoriously hard to please - has called the Chicagoan “the best jazz singer ever”. And listening to Elling as he completely reinvents a well-worn standard such as You Don’t Know What Love Is or applies his own lyrics to a Pat Metheny tune or a Charlie Haden bass solo, it’s easy to share this enthusiasm.
Jazz was only on the periphery of Elling’s musical awareness as he grew up in Chicago. He sang in church from an early age – his father was a church musician who gave all his children instruments to play. Kurt studied classical violin and French horn, although it was choral music that really interested him. Through school and into college in Minnesota he sang the choral repertoire from 12th century plainchant to Philip Glass.
Lurking down the hall in his dorm, however, was the music that was about to hijack him. Fellow students played him Dexter Gordon and Herbie Hancock records and Elling was captivated, particularly by Gordon’s languid improvising style on tenor saxophone. Just as many saxophonists cite singers as influences, there’s a lot of saxophone in Elling’s singing. Gordon’s obviously in there but so too is John Coltrane, whose Resolution has received the Elling treatment.
Moving from Minnesota back to the University of Chicago’s Divinity School, where his intentions were academic rather than priestly, Elling became sidetracked by singing. He sat in on every possible club session, sang for the door takings and took a job with a removal company to keep body and soul together while pounding the pavement looking for gigs. At one club where he blagged his way onstage he met Laurence Hobgood, who remains his pianist, arranger and co-composer. They formed an inspired and dedicated partnership, working tirelessly on a shared vision. Their gigs locally, especially at the Green Mill, became must-sees. Then came the moment that will be a gift to any future Elling biopic producer.
Despite watching demo after demo being tossed away by unsympathetic bookers, they persevered. One of their tapes found its way to Bruce Lundvall, head of legendary jazz label Blue Note. Lundvall was reportedly driving out of New York when he slipped Elling’s tape into the player and had to pull over to the side of the road to listen properly. Fearful that another company might beat him to it, he called Elling immediately and suggested that the demo was ready to release as Elling’s first album.
Elling and Hobgood felt the tape needed more work and went into the studio to add four more songs. The result, Close Your Eyes, set the ball rolling for serial Grammy nominations, rave reviews internationally and more striving for perfection for Elling and Hobgood, whose partnership continues to this day.
Tonight, however, Elling partners the Scottish National Jazz Orchestra, a meeting of one of the world’s greatest voices with Europe’s leading large scale jazz ensemble. The results can only be memorable.
Maceo Parker at Bath International Festival
Schooled at the James Brown University, a frequent flyer aboard George Clinton’s Mothership, an elastic presence in Bootsy’s Rubber Band and special envoy to the groovy palace of Prince, Maceo Parker is the sultan of funk. He’s the man who’ll make you quit the sit, send a shiver to your hip and hit your notion with a potion that’ll start that r-o-l-l-e-r motion. But hey, you know that. That’s why you’re here: to hear the hottest saxophone in soul music leading the tightest little funk orchestra on the planet.
Like the egg and the hen, it’s almost impossible to say which came first, Maceo or the funk. Long before he put an alto to his lips, he felt the groove. Then he learned to channel it. In 1964, Maceo and his drummer brother Melvin were in college in North Carolina when the Godfather of Soul himself, James Brown, happened upon an after hours club where Melvin had a gig. Knocked out by Melvin’s playing, Brown told him that any time he needed a job, the drum chair in Brown’s band was his for the asking. A year later, Brown came back to town. So Melvin approached him and reminded him of his job offer. Brown’s eyes lit up in recognition and just as he was pronouncing Melvin hired, his new drummer introduced his brother, saying Maceo needed a job, too.
The rest is funky music history. Melvin and Maceo thought they might stay with Brown for six months. In fact, Maceo became the lynch-pin in Brown’s musical enclave for nearly two decades, honing a signature sound from serious study of Charlie Parker, King Curtis, David "Fathead" Newman, Hank Crawford, and Cannonball Adderley and creating the exciting soloing style that Brown wanted every time he bellowed, “Maceo, I want you to blow!”
Through his work with Brown, which would find him becoming the most sampled musician around, and his mid 1970s extracurricular adventures with Bootsy Collins, George Clinton, and the various incarnations of Funkadelic and Parliament, Maceo became one of the crucial architects of the funk sound we know today as well as lending his sampled horn to the hip-hop generation.
In 1990, Maceo began to concentrate on his own projects, including his Roots Revisited album, which spent ten weeks at the top of Billboard’s jazz chart, and his ground-breaking 1992 CD, Life on Planet Groove, which became a funk favourite and a calling card to a young audience who picked up on his “2% Jazz, 98% Funky Stuff” catch phrase.
When not adding to his eager collaborators, who have included Ray Charles, Ani Difranco, James Taylor, De La Soul, Dave Matthews Band and the Red Hot Chilli Peppers as well as Prince, Maceo continues to build his own funk empire, taking his top notch, duck’s bum-tight band and timeless sound to the people all over the world. "I feel it's my duty as an artist to go as many places as I can, especially if the people want it," says the man who, in 2003, received a Pioneer Award from the Rhythm and Blues Foundation for his contribution to the R&B genre. So, don’t be shy, people, let him know you want it.
John Scofield: Loud Jazz & Electric Miles
When Miles Davis hired John Scofield in 1982 he was adding a guitarist with real blues feeling as well great jazz chops to a band that was wowing audiences world-wide with at least one of the tunes you are going to hear tonight, Jean Pierre, whose simple melody and structure are ripe for exploration and expansion.
For Scofield, this was the most prestigious staging post to date in a career that had already included work with jazz legends Gerry Mulligan, Chet Baker, Charles Mingus and Gary Burton and it was the gig that would establish him, alongside Pat Metheny and Bill Frisell, as one of the three most distinctive-sounding and influential jazz guitarists of their generation.
Scofield had come to jazz as Davis’s embracing of rock and funk rhythms in the late 1960s grew into an electric storm that drew listeners previously unaware of jazz into the music in varying degrees. Some concentrated on the development of fusion into the 1970s and onwards. Others like Scofield, however, who had taken up guitar at high school in Connecticut, inspired by rhythm and blues and soul music, delved into the history of jazz and quickly became immersed in the music’s mainstream while continuing to find excitement in improvising on blues and jazz scales over a rock and funk pulse.
Having studied at Berklee College of Music in Massachusetts and played around the Boston area, he recorded a live album with Mulligan and Baker – at Carnegie Hall, New York, no less – and joined the group in which he made his first big impression internationally, the Billy Cobham-George Duke Band.
Here among a repertoire that featured heavy duty riffing, scarily accomplished ensemble playing and nutty, irreverent humour that Duke had carried over from his years with Frank Zappa, Scofield attracted fans through his direct and exhilarating soloing. It’s a style he has focused on many times in the thirty-five years since then, notably in his band with drum sensation Dennis Chambers and on albums such as Time on My Hands and Meant to Be, which between them produced Wabash the Third, Since You Asked, and Go Blow, all of which have been specially arranged for tonight’s concert.
What makes Scofield particularly appealing, however, is the breadth of his work and his ability to approach, with the same depth of feeling, the pastoral beauty of his Gil Evans-like album Quiet; the return to his R&B roots of Green Tea, whose dancing New Orleans groove the Scottish National Jazz Orchestra’s drummer, Alyn Cosker, is just going to love laying down here; his engagement with loops and street rhythms on Up All Night; his adventures into soul-jazz with Eddie Harris; and his appreciation of straightahead values that informed his 1990s recordings with saxophonist Joe Henderson.
There is one other very significant strand in Scofield’s musical character that goes back to his return to acoustic jazz after the Cobham-Duke band when he formed a partnership with bass guitarist Steve Swallow that has continued through a full and very diverse career that now runs to thirty-five years and counting. Scofield’s trio work with Swallow, beginning with the album Shinola and carrying on through the delightfully punning Bar Talk, highlight a vocal quality in his guitar playing that Miles Davis must have appreciated as much as his blues feeling and that makes the man they call “Sco” the perfect voice to feature as soloist on the song-like, latter day Miles classics Tutu, Splatch and that French nursery rhyme that you may well leave the hall singing, Jean Pierre.
Fergie MacDonald: 50 Years in Music, Fruitmarket, Glasgow, Thursday, August 31, 2006
It’s fitting that Glasgow should host this concert to honour Fergie MacDonald. Because not only was this marvellous character who will forever be associated with the music of the Highlands actually born in Glasgow, in Rotten Row Maternity Hospital, but it was also here that Fergie’s career as one of the greats of Scottish traditional music really took off.
Typically, music wasn’t what brought Fergie to Glasgow in 1959. He was really here to study physiotherapy – and in the face of considerable distractions, he managed to graduate on schedule. But through joining Glasgow University’s Ossianic Society, where contemporaries included singers Kenna Campbell and Alasdair Gillies, Fergie became immersed in the city’s Highland social scene of the time, an alternative swinging sixties, and formed his first ‘proper’ band.
Fergie’s love affair with music had begun at home in Moidart, where village hall dances and ceilidhs and radio broadcasts by the top bands, including Jimmy Shand, Bobby MacLeod, Jimmy Cameron and the Wick Scottish Dance Band, had directed him to the sound of the accordion. At Mingarry Village Hall, the young Fergie would sit all night listening to Farquhar MacRae playing his button key melodeon with the Roshven Ceilidh Band.
Eventually, around the time of his fourteenth birthday, Fergie acquired an accordion of his own. It was, it turned out, the wrong kind - a piano accordion. This, though, was the start of an adventure that would lead to more tales than the Brothers Grimm could ever muster.
There are stories of bands being stranded on sand banks. Musicians bidding fond farewells from departing ferries to friends and, they’d soon discover, crucial pieces of equipment on the jetty. The Fergie band ‘hyping’ their music onto pirate radio through requests from a certain Willie John MacPhail, whose itinerary bore a marked similarity to the band’s own. There was also the home-brew incident that left Fergie’s landlord missing a ceiling after the beer exploded in the accordionist’s room upstairs. And that’s before we get to the sex, drugs and rock ‘n’ roll chapters.
After making slow progress on the piano accordion, Fergie persuaded his parents to swap it for a button key model and during a year off from Lochaber High School in Fort William through a prolonged and worrying bout of cunjunctivitis, he really began to get his technique together. In Fort William, where he boarded at Green Hill Hostel, Fergie and his friends spent most of their spare time in Marion Weir’s music shop, listening to the latest Scottish records. At home he’d play ‘78s’ over and over again on the family’s wind-up gramophone, learning tunes by rote and getting through boxes of gramophone needles which had to be changed after every session.
His dedication paid off when his role model and subsequently great friend, Farquhar MacRae, invited Fergie, who was still at school, to play his first engagement, a dance in Glenuig. In those days there was no road beyond Loch Moidart and the musicians and many of the dancegoers, and their carryouts, had to be transported by boat, resulting in the revelries beginning well before everyone arrived at the venue. This baptism of firewater would set the tone for many a trek round the Highlands and Islands’ village halls.
After completing his two years’ National Service, Fergie returned to Moidart and spent the year before he moved to Glasgow working on his music. He formed his first band that summer of 1958 and also competed successfully as an athlete at various Highland games. At one meeting, in Tobermory, he collected no fewer than seven prizes in sprinting, triple jump, pole vault and high jump. A first-class marksman, like his father, Fergie later represented Scotland at clay pigeon shooting, winning fourteen caps over a twelve-year period. His marksmanship hasn’t always been put to legal use and many a stag found its way to the MacDonalds’ kitchen. There’s even an unofficial record, for transporting the most stags in and on a Health Board Mini, but we’re jumping ahead here.
Once in Glasgow, Fergie attended his first lectures in anatomy and physiology and through his involvement with the Ossianic Society he was soon adding first experiences of bothans and road dances on the society’s tour of Skye and Lewis. It was at this time, too, when still a student, that Fergie encountered a man who introduced himself as ‘Davy Crockett.’
On Saturday afternoons, Fergie and his chums would go on a pub crawl that wound up in McCormack’s music shop, where Fergie would need little persuading to try out a Shand Marino accordion. At £200, this holy grail of boxes was beyond Fergie’s budget. But at £100, courtesy of Davy Crockett, who had noted Fergie’s enthusiasm in the shop and slipped him an address on Maryhill Road, he could just about afford it. With a little advance from home and if he lived on lemonade and chips.
For Christmas dinner that year, Fergie pushed the boat out and had a bottle of lemonade and a fish supper. On Boxing Day, though, his poacher’s instincts got the better of him and Kelvingrove Park’s duck population was left a member short as Fergie made off with one for the pot.
Once he mastered his new accordion Fergie formed his first serious band and through the success of its first big gig, The Wester Ross Gathering, and after beating off competition from thirty other bands, the Fergie MacDonald Band was offered the Saturday residency at the Highlanders’ Institute in Berkeley Street. This was the meeting place for Gaels in Glasgow and with five hundred dancers packed inside, and dozens more locked outside, word about Fergie quickly spread.
Fergie held down this residency for the next five years and the band became involved in all sorts of scrapes as they rushed back to Glasgow from Friday night gigs all over the Highlands.
More doors began to open. Fergie made his entrée into the world of theatre when he replaced Will Starr in a production at the Metropole Theatre in Stockwell Street. His opening night was typically eventful. He chose to stand on the spot on the stage where, unbeknownst to Fergie, a microphone would shoot out of the floor, and he played his first number to the accompaniment of the sound of his most intimate features being prodded blasting through the house PA system.
Television was next and in 1964 Fergie joined Mr Glasgow, Jack House, and singers Evelyn Campbell and Alasdair Gillies on STV’s popular Highland Air programme, the first of many, many TV appearances over the years, including the BBC’s Talla a’ Bhaile.
Radio and records didn’t prove quite so successful, however, at least not at first. After an audition for the BBC where Fergie encouraged his band to play with the raw feeling he felt gave Highland music its essential lift, he was informed in a rather snooty letter that the band was suspended from broadcasting until it re-sat its audition and came up to the required standard. Fergie stuck to his guns and it would be thirty years before he graced BBC Radio Scotland’s Take the Floor.
EMI Records’ Waverley division was similarly unimpressed with Fergie’s real deal ceilidh music style. An album recorded in Edinburgh, Dance to Your Partner, sold only four hundred copies and Fergie was dropped from the catalogue. Yet, ten years later, the same album, re-released under the title of It’s Scotland’s Music, sold ten thousand copies in its first year alone.
A successful record wasn’t that far off, though. On one of the band’s drives back from the Highlands for their Saturday residency at the Highlanders’ Institute, they stopped off at Kintail Lodge Hotel. In the bar, a workman from the new Invergarry to Lochalsh road was singing a song that his friends enthusiastically joined in with. Alasdair Clark, Fergie’s co-accordionist of the time, suggested that this song had the potential to be the next Hiking Song, which was then a big hit for Calum Kennedy.
On a drive that took him from Kintail to Poolewe and on to Nairn, Fergie tracked down the song’s composer, Kenneth MacKenzie, jotted down the real words and learned that MacKenzie had written them to the tune of Loch Maree Islands. The band added this to their repertoire, with various members trying out on vocals until eventually Fergie sang it himself.
Released on an EP with several instrumental tracks, Loch Maree Islands flew off the shelves, taking the record company, Thistle, and Fergie, completely by surprise when it topped the Scottish charts ahead of Andy Stewart, Kenneth MacKellar and Jimmy Shand. The follow-up album, Dancing at the Highlanders’ Institute, was another big seller – and all this without airplay from the BBC, who had barred Fergie after the failed audition for the Scottish country dance programme.
Radio support was soon forthcoming, however, from Jack McLaughlin, later known as the presenter of STV’s Thingummyjig, who was then broadcasting on the pirate station Radio Scotland. Every time the band went off on their travels, they would send Jack a request, often purporting to be from the aforementioned Willie John MacPhail, for something by Fergie’s band. The ruse worked and soon McLaughlin was getting hundreds of requests for Fergie’s music from genuine fans.
It was literally Fergie’s music, too, as he began to compose his own tunes. The first, Ness Bothan, named after a drinking den on the Isle of Lewis, became very popular when, much to Fergie’s delight, the Wick Scottish Dance Band with Addie Harper included it on one of their LPs. The Jig Runrig is another popular Fergie tune and became all the more significant for Fergie when he discovered that Ruaraidh MacDonald of Runrig had been inspired to take up music through hearing Fergie’s band as a youngster. It’s now been recorded by well over fifty artists, including a Cherokee Indian fiddler from Canada.
As the 1960s headed towards the 1970s, the escapades continued. There was the van that even at the bargain price of ten shillings (50p) proved to be overvalued. Amps exposed to the elements on ferry crossings went up in a puff of smoke onstage and to add to the BBC’s ban, Fergie was barred from playing on Iona for twenty-five years after the band, one by one, became over-refreshed onstage. Successful trips abroad, including a particularly eventful visit to Copenhagen, followed before a fear of flying restricted Fergie’s overseas tours to the Hebrides and Ireland, where he is as much revered and loved as he is on this side of the water.
As is well known, Fergie gave up playing music professionally for a time, although he didn’t give up playing the accordion entirely. Patients on his rounds as a physiotherapist would attest to the instrument’s restorative powers as it became as much a part of Fergie’s kit as his heat lamp and diathermy unit.
He also became ‘mine host’ of the Clanranald Hotel, where one day in the late 1980s a young man appeared, hoping to have a tune with the great Fergie MacDonald. Fergie was astonished – and was even more astonished when the visitor started to play. It was Phil Cunningham, who had been a big fan of Fergie’s since he was a youngster. Phil told Fergie that he should get back to playing the accordion and promised to be in touch about a television programme he was soon to be involved in.
Fergie took this with a pinch of salt but true to his word, within a week Phil invited Fergie on to Talla a’ Bhaile and with a new, young band, playing the Fergie way, Fergie found himself re-energised. Letters poured into the BBC asking for more of Fergie’s music, and with Scottish dance music enjoying a revival, Fergie was ideally positioned to give new audiences the real ceilidh sound.
In Fergie’s style the slow tunes are played with the words of the song in mind to give the melody real meaning and the faster tunes are played at an exciting clip with that lift that gives Gaelic music its special quality. It’s raw but it’s right and Fergie has become a hero to a new generation of fans as well as remaining one of the undisputed giants of Scottish music to his long-time admirers.
As Boyd Robertson, chairman of tonight’s hosts An Lòchran, says, "Fergie is to Gaelic instrumental music what the recently deceased Calum Kennedy was to Gaelic song."
Fergie, a great admirer of Calum Kennedy – and his sometime accompanist (but that’s yet another story) – will be chuffed to bits with that comparison, although we all know it’s no more than he deserves.
Jason Moran, Bath International Music Festival 2008
Jason Moran is arguably the most exciting pianist to emerge on the American jazz scene over the past fifteen years and an idiosyncratic new voice on his instrument, which makes him an ideal candidate to probe the music and mind of Thelonious Monk in this special presentation.
Featuring videos shot on the plantation where Monk’s grandparents were slaves and transcripts of Monk in conversation as well as a vital Anglo-US octet playing Monk’s music as visualized by Moran, the concert re-examines and celebrates, rather than simply recreating, Monk’s legendary At Town Hall concert from 1959.
Now based in New York, Moran was born in Houston, Texas and grew up with his father’s record collection, where the funk of James Brown sat next to the free experimentation of Henry Threadgill and country blues alongside the classical masterpieces of Vladimir Horowitz. This “it’s all music” approach rubbed off on Moran, who began taking classical piano lessons as a boy with thoughts of becoming a concert pianist but who appreciated equally the music and culture popular on the streets, and much more besides.
Thus, on every birthday his mother, who ran a bakery at the time, would present him with a cake decorated with his latest enthusiasm. One year it was snakes, another bass-fishing, then it was skateboarding, then hip-hop until finally came the year that the cake arrived with Thelonious Monk’s name written in icing.
At eighteen, Moran left home for New York to study at Manhattan School of Music. Here he met and fell under the influence of his tutor, Jaki Byard, a pianist who had played in big bands with Earl Bostic and Maynard Ferguson, recorded piano duet albums with both Earl Hines and Ran Blake, worked with Charles Mingus and Roland Kirk, and was also devoted to Thelonious Monk. A veritable repository of musical knowledge, Byard encouraged Moran to compose music in styles from Bach fugues through to Earl Hines’s pre-bop innovations and beyond.
Byard’s philosophy was that a composer should use everything available and as Moran’s music has matured he has taken that on board wholeheartedly. He has listened as carefully to Duke Ellington as he has rap star J Dilla, absorbed the rural primitivism of Son House and the sophistication of Prokofiev, revered the choral majesty of Handel’s Messiah and the joyous clamour of Afrika Bambaataa, and used tapes of voices speaking in Italian, Japanese and Turkish to find interesting rhythms.
He has also served a solid apprenticeship in jazz, working with saxophonists Von Freeman, Lee Konitz, Joe Lovano, Steve Coleman and Ravi Coltrane and making his recording debut with saxophone firebrand Greg Osby for Blue Note Records in 1997. Osby was also aboard for Soundtrack to Human Motion, Moran’s Blue Note debut as a leader, alongside vibraphonist Stefon Harris, bassist Lonnie Plaxico and drummer Eric Harland, the following year.
Immediately, the lively imagination that Moran has applied to this Monk tribute was apparent in his own compositions. He is as open to inspiration from visual art and as likely to take a tour round an architectural exhibition as he is passionate about music, and as his trio, which sits at the heart of the octet tonight has developed over a series of albums since 1999’s Facing Left, so has his reputation as an individual, enquiring musician with a seemingly endless supply of fresh ideas.
The idea for the At Town Hall project came from San Francisco Jazz Festival in the approach to Monk’s ninetieth anniversary in 2007. Typically, although he was enthusiastic about the idea, Moran wanted to make it even better and felt that looking at the music from today’s perspective would be more fruitful. His plan was, rather than just to play the charts as they were, to dig deeper into what the music was and where it came from.
He was able to access the vast Monk archive of W. Eugene Smith, choose from a huge selection of rare photos and hear audiotapes of Monk rehearsing for the Town Hall performance with his arranger, Hall Overton. So, having already used spoken word to considerable acclaim on his 2003 album, Gentle Shifts South, Moran can present a work that’s part history, part performance, part theatre.
Joining Moran’s regular rhythm team of Tarus Mateen (bass) and Nasheet Waits (drums) are alto saxophonist Jason Yarde, tenor saxophonist Denys Baptiste, trumpeter Byron Wallen, trombonist Fayaz Virji and tuba player Andy Grappy. This UK contingent worked with Nasheet Waits on the much lauded last British tour by the late pianist Andrew Hill, who like Thelonious Monk created music that was simultaneously rooted in jazz tradition and timeless.
Bobo Stenson, Bath International Music Festival 2009
Few musicians have come to define more clearly than pianist Bobo Stenson the sound and language of European jazz – and yet, equally few European musicians have enjoyed the same rich experience as Stenson has of working with those whose playing has helped to shape the American model.
As a twenty-one year old, in 1965 Stenson made his first recording with fellow Swede, saxophonist Borje Fredriksson in a group that included the youngest of three major jazz brothers, drummer Albert “Tootie” Heath. Subsequently, Stenson toured extensively with bassist Red Mitchell and then led a trio that in fairly quick succession accompanied saxophonists Dexter Gordon, Sonny Rollins and Stan Getz.
Falling in with composer, arranger and theorist George Russell and pocket trumpet pioneer Don Cherry in the 1970s further enriched Stenson’s perspective before, in 1988, he began an eleven year association with saxophonist Charles Lloyd that yielded five albums and won Stenson a long overdue following in the U.S.
All the while, of course, Stenson had been continuing to develop his reputation as a hugely resourceful and economically expressive pianist among the Scandinavian jazz community. In Sweden he is, rightly, a legend and the recipient of a Master of Jazz award, and across Europe, especially to those who have followed his near forty-year career with ECM Records, which includes the European jazz milestones Witchi-Tai-To and Dansere by the quartet he co-led with Jan Garbarek, he is revered as a true original.
Stenson grew up in Vasteras in a family where everyone played music. His father was an amateur bass player, his mother played piano, as did his sister, and his two brothers both played drums. Bobo began playing classical piano at the age of six but within a few years was introduced to jazz by his older brother, who would bring home albums by Miles Davis and George Shearing that Bobo was able to play along to. By the age of twelve, while keeping up his classical lessons, Bobo was playing in local jazz bands. Bill Evans, Wynton Kelly and Red Garland became his heroes in his teens until he heard John Coltrane and was immediately besotted.
He was still at school when Borje Fredriksson, just seven years older but already a leading light of Swedish jazz, heard him play and invited him to join his band. Stenson’s school work suffered – living in Vasteras, he had to borrow his parents’ car and drive into Stockholm to gigs, arriving back, exhausted, in the early hours – but his jazz education progressed in leaps and bounds as other offers of work came in. He played with trumpeter Lars Famloff and the major Swedish saxophone star of the time, Bernt Rosengren, and then after finishing his schooling and completing his national service, he formed his first trio.
In 1970, Stenson was invited to play in Oslo, where he met Jan Garbarek and formed the trio with bassist Arild Andersen and drummer Jon Christensen that recorded his first album for ECM, Underwear, a year later. Witchi-Tai-To was meant to be the trio’s second album but after a jam session involving Stenson and Garbarek’s trio that produced a special energy still talked about with awe by those present, they decided to join forces. Keith Jarrett later borrowed the group – minus Stenson – for his Belonging period, during which Stenson joined Turkish drummer Okay Temiz’s Oriental Wind and continued the adventures of Rena Rama, a band he’d formed with saxophonist Lennart Aberg that followed Don Cherry’s lead into African, Balkan and Indian music and free jazz.
Having replaced Michel Petrucciani in Charles Lloyd’s group, in 1995 Stenson was invited also to work with Polish trumpeter Tomasz Stanko, recording the albums Matka Joanna, Leosia and Litania, and in 1996, with Serenity, he continued his series of trio albums for ECM, the most recent of which is the appropriately titled - since this is instrumental music that really sings - Cantando.
This concert can’t claim to be Stenson’s solo piano debut in the UK – the exact details of the first one are lost to history, although we know it took place in a pub on the shores of Loch Ness during a family holiday in the late 1950s when Bobo entertained the locals. But what can be said with certainty is that all of the above experience will be distilled into a recital where every note will resonate with meaning, shaping a whole guaranteed to be a thing of poise, clarity and great beauty.