It doesn’t get much better than this – the Herts Jazz Festival 2012…

herts jazz fest

As well as the Cambridge Film Festival, I am also very excited about the upcoming Herts Jazz Festival, which is taking place at Campus West in Welwyn Garden City over the weekend of 14-16 September.

The host of this event – Herts Jazz Club – holds a very special place in my affections. It is one of those cultural treasures where the bottom line is not the maximisation of profits, but in bringing the very best jazz players to an appreciative audience in a relaxed, friendly atmosphere. The club has been in existence since the late sixties. Tony May helped run the club for many years and writes on the Herts Jazz website:-

We booked not only the greats of British modern jazz –Tubby Hayes, Ronnie Scott, Peter King, Dick Morrissey, Stan Tracey, Tony Coe, Jimmy Skidmore, Alan Skidmore, Bill le Sage, Stan Robinson, Roy Budd and many many more – but also many visiting American artists.

So, this tiny club in North Hertfordshire played host to such world famous names as : Sonny Stitt, Al Cohn, James Moody, Mark Murphy, Eddie “ Lockjaw “ Davis, Jimmy Witherspoon, Art Farmer, Joe Locke, Tal Farlow, Herb Geller, Bill Perkins, Charles McPherson, Clifford Jarvis, Jean Toussaint, Benny Golson and many many others. It was truly amazing. They all provided us with unforgettable evenings of great jazz – at close range. Nothing can ever equate with the thrill we felt in being involved in the organisation of this.

In 2009, the indefatigable duo of Clark Tracey and Sylvia Rae Tracey took over the running of the Herts Jazz, and continued in the tradition of booking musicians of the highest calibre. A look at some of the musicians booked at the club for the next season shows just how high the quality is: Stan Tracey, Mark Armstrong, Sam Mayne, Mornington Lockett, Simon Allen, Andrew Clyndert, the guv’nor himself Clark Tracey, David Newton, Alec Dankworth, Jim Mullen, Don Weller, Steve Melling, Dave Barry, Alan Barnes, Nigel Price, Barry Green, Tim Lapthorn, Bobby Wellins, Gary Smulyan, Alex Garnett, Christine Tobin, Simon Spillett, Mark Nightingale, Tony Kofi, etc!

The September weekend will be the Club’s second jazz festival since its 2009 re-launch. Last year’s festival was a huge success, with audience and musicians alike saying how much they enjoyed the warm festival atmosphere. The line-up this year looks like its drawn from my personal list of favourite musicians, including as it does: Stan Tracey, Bobby Wellins, David Newton, Alan Barnes, Steve Melling, Zoe Rahman, Leon Greening, Martin Taylor, Gareth Williams, Kit Downes, Clark Tracey, Art Theman, Mornington Lockett, Spike Wells and many many more.

I’m particularly looking forward to The Three Tenors with Art Themen, Brandon Allen (standing in for Don Weller who is sadly still recuperating after his recent major surgery), and Mornington Lockett – now that’s what I call a front line-up! I’m very pleased that the fabulous band Troyka have been booked (Kit Downes, Chris Montague, Josh Blackmore) – a trio that I’ve only heard so far on their brilliant CDs. Zoe Rahman is a Club favourite (the last packed gig at the Club was just fantastic); and the great Alan Barnes is always well appreciated by our audience. Clark Tracey’s Tribute to Art Blakey looks like it will a particularly special event, with a band that includes the big tenor sound of Jean Toussaint and has Guy Barker on trumpet. It’s good to see another Club favourite, Martin Shaw, on trumpet in David Newton’s Quintet, and lovely to welcome back the great bass player Laurence Cottle in Gareth Williams’ trio (Gareth was also a recent big hit at the Club). And there are so many more superb musicians….

…Including the man who is without doubt the top of my list, the patron of Herts Jazz and Godfather of British Jazz himself – Stan Tracey. This is a musician who never ceases to inspire, enthral, and astonish me with his witty, inventive, muscular playing. Not only that, he is the most modest and unassuming legend you will ever meet, amply demonstrated in this short recent interview:-

Stan’s appearance at the festival this year is particularly special for me since he will be playing his famous Under Milk Wood suite – first committed to record in 1965 and regarded by many as the best British jazz recording of all time. It is also the first jazz record which really captured my imagination. So it will be a great pleasure to hear this suite performed live, with the wonderful Bobby Wellins (who played on that 1965 record, and will be playing a duo with Stan prior to Under Milk Wood) on tenor. As an added treat, Stan’s grandson Ben will be reading extracts from the Dylan Thomas play on which the suite is based. He made such an impression when he visited the Club recently to read extracts from another Dylan Thomas favourite – A Child’s Christmas in Wales – as part of a performance of Stan’s latest suite of the same name. Ben’s authoritative and sensitive interpretation drew universal praise from all who attended.

So, this year’s Herts Jazz Festival promises to be a truly fantastic weekend of music. It really is too good to miss.

I hope to see you there!

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