Party time for jazz
DAVID WAKEFIELD It’s great news for jazz fans. One of the biggest events of its kind is coming to Norwich next month, and the Jazz Party is set to swing for three days. David Wakefield reports.
Norfolk will host one of the largest and most prestigious mainstream jazz events ever witnessed in the region during the first weekend in May, when top musicians from Britain, Europe and America gather at the Holiday Inn Hotel, at Norwich International Airport, for the first Norwich Jazz Party.
It's an event that has taken place, with huge success, at Blackpool for a number of years. And the fact that it's taking place in Norwich is down to an early hours conversation in a bar.
Norwich record shop owner and jazz enthusiast Jerry Brown was with jazz party promoters Tom and Chris Baron in the bar at Blackpool Hilton - home of the party for many years - when they announced that this would be their last event.
“They said it was definitely not going to happen again” said Jerry. “So, at 2.30am we decided that we (the “we” in question begin Jerry, his wife Ann, and a friend, London agent Brian Peerless) would keep the institution going and transfer it to Norwich - although we didn't know then whether or not we could find a venue.
“When I got back I spoke to the management at the Holiday Inn, as I knew they had a ballroom which was ideal for the party” said Jerry. “They were very keen and that's how it all started.”
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But this big project had to be kicked off from scratch because the Blackpool party had run its course and no advance bookings of musicians had been made.
Jerry - who runs Jazz 'n Blues Records at Lakenham Leisure Centre, and has promoted many jazz events in the city before - together with Brian Peerless, got to work on their many contacts, doing a bit of “arm-twisting”.
“I had been to all the Blackpool parties running a record bar, so lots of people knew me” said Jerry. “And Brian had been booking musicians since the 70s. So, about a month later we were able to announce it publicly - at which point people started trying to book tickets!”
It really is a jazz feast. The party runs on Saturday, Sunday and Monday, May 5-7, with sessions from midday until 6.30pm; then, after a break for dinner, from 8.30pm to 12.30am. And, says Jerry, it would not be surprising if some of the sessions continued informally after that!
So, who do the fans get for their money?
From Britain, the musicians include bandleader, clarinetist and alto saxophonist Sir John Dankworth, whose career in jazz spans 60 years, and his bassist son Alec; legendary drummer and Southwold resident Jack Parnell, still playing well into his 80s; saxophonist, composer and humourist Alan Barnes; virtuoso guitarist Dave Cliff; bassists Spike Heatley and Dave Green, and pianist/composer Keith Ingham.
Guitarists Howard Alden and Chris Flory, two of the best in the business; singer Rebecca Kilgore - a great favourite at the Blackpool parties; smooth tenor saxist Scott Hamilton, clarinetist Ken Peplowski and trumpeter Randy Sandke head a powerful American contingent. Although some of these are now UK-based - Scott Hamilton, for example - most of the Americans are flying over specially for the party.
But, emphasises Jerry Brown, there are no “stars”. The jazz party programme doesn't just wheel on one celebrity after another, but features special projects for groups of musicians who probably don't get together until they go on stage.
Ken Peplowski, for example, will head a special big band which will recreate the music of Benny Goodman, using the original Fletcher Henderson arrangements; and Alan Barnes is putting together a special programme in tribute to Duke Ellington stalwarts Johnny Hodges and Laurence Brown.
No jazz party would be complete without a jam session, and a free pre-party evening on Friday, May 4 will provide an opportunity for anyone who wants to sit in with a rhythm section.
Jerry, understandably, is excited at the prospect of so many fine musicians under the same roof, and is determined that this should be the first Norwich Jazz Party, as opposed to the only one. He might have little choice about organising a second one, as the Holiday Inn has already received a reservation for the same May weekend in 2008!
He hopes it will be a sell-out success. The Holiday Inn is already fully booked with visiting enthusiasts, and other city hotels - including the new Holiday Inn Express and the Ramada Jarvis Hotel - are taking the overflow of guests, who will have a minibus shuttle service to and from the Holiday Inn. But, of course, it's an event that should draw lots of local support as well.
Three-day tickets for the jazz party are £150, but £50 day tickets can also be bought.
“One or two have remarked that it's a bit expensive, but when you consider that's the price of the cheapest ticket to see George Michael at Carrow Road, it's good value for a day's music” said Jerry. “And you won't get rained on at the Holiday Inn…”
t Tickets can be obtained from Jerry at Jazz 'n' Blues Records, Lakenham Leisure Centre, Norwich NR1 3AZ; or call 01603 467777/620287; fax 01603 305505; or e-mail email@example.com. Full details of artists and booking can be found on the party's website, www.norwichjazzparty.com