Listening to Jazz – March

New Talent and Jazz

Record companies delight in telling us about their new rising stars, be in the pop and rock fields, classical music and even jazz. But it is not often that we have a chance to hear some really new talents live before their names are being nationally promoted. Such an opportunity arose recently at local jazz club, Harborough Jazz, which has been promoting some of the best of British and international jazz names for more than a dozen years. Its March gig promised a quartet led by a young bass player, a recent Musician of the Year, and would include violin, guitar and drums. Just a week before the gig, I, as the booker for groups for the club, learnt that four had suddenly become three, and would include a pianist unknown to the organiser and the promise of a drummer. An initial reaction might be to cancel the event and refund those who had paid admission, but in this case I trusted the leader to come up with something interesting. After all we had booked the band some eighteen months earlier, and jazz musicians do move on to new projects…

On the day it was with some trepidation that I arrived to meet the band. There was the leader, Dan Casimir, bass player who had played the club before in other groups, and alongside him was a young lady, probably around mid to late twenties, busily unpacking a keyboard, whilst on the other side was another equally young man setting up a drum kit.  They set up their gear – and disappeared!

Luckily they came back just in time to be introduced and start their first set.  From the first notes that pianist Sarah Tandy, drummer Ollie Howell and bassist Dan played as they set off to do justice to a Thelonious Monk tune, I knew they were good and looking round the room saw that they had got the attention of the audience.  Over the next two hours they worked their way through a series of Monk tunes – Blue Monk, a bass solo on Round Midnight, a rousing Straight No Chaser, plus an original and an encore with Sunny Side of the Street, with visits to Bright Mississippi; Bye-Ya and Monk’s Dream along the way. Sarah’s use of blocked chords, arpeggios, echoes of stride piano all confirmed The Guardian’s view that ‘She is one of the brightest sparks on an increasingly lively UK youth-jazz scene.’ Drummer Ollie Howell provided strong and sympathetic support and his solos demonstrated why Quincy Jones calls him ‘an unbelievable drummer. So creative I couldn’t believe it.’ Last, but not least, bassist Dan Casimir did what all good bass players do – provide the rock on which the group relies whilst soloing strongly and imaginatively – echoes of such greats as Ray Brown and Charlie Haden came to mind. Not since I heard a young Wynton Marsalis with Art Blakey over 30 years ago have I heard such excellent young talent – and the audience, largely made up of people probably almost old enough to be their grandparents, showed their appreciation at every opportunity. Even before the gig had ended I was being asked if we could have them back again – possibly next month!

They may be back but not for at least a year or two – and by then they won’t be the same, and they may not even be the same three people together!  I hope they get the success they deserve, but the musician’s life is desperately hard, and that of a jazz player one of the most difficult. But at least I and some 60+ other people were there when three young inspired musicians proved that the future of jazz was in safe hands!

Mike Goldsmith