Zog Blog - Boaters Inn Kingston & Kings Head, Bexley by Elaine Crouch

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Day 13 of the Zog Tour

Kings Head Bexley Villag

This is a gig that’s become an institution for the jazz loving senior citizens of Bexley. We had a full house. I put 5 standards into the repertoire for fear of alienating the audience with originals, but I needn’t have worried. The only complaint about the material was a suggestion that “Embraceable You” is a happy song that shouldn’t be played as a ballad. I’ll think on that! Bheki Mseleku's fearsome (especially at our tempo!) “Timelessness” went down a storm, and promoter Jan Mudele pronounced it one of the best gigs they’d ever had.

A mic had been set up in front of the sax and was turned up loud. I muted it before we began and we played acoustic. Do people really use the mic in these small rooms??

Day 12 of the Zog Tour

The Boaters Inn, Kingston Upon Thames

This is a big pub, usually very busy. Tonight, however, was surprisingly poorly attended. Maybe since it’s the first day of wintertime with the dark evenings and also synchronistically 5 degrees colder….

To reinforce the time warp we played “It’s Always 9:30 in Zog”, “Timelessness” and “Summertime” next to each other. The latter appeased a nice gentleman in the audience who was craving something he knew, even if our Coltrane inspired rendition of this overplayed classic was by a long way the out-est sonic onslaught of the evening. There’s a note in the melody that Geoff Gascoyne hates, where it is chromatically altered to fit the wholetone dominant reharm (“whalebone dominant rearm” was what my computer originally changed that to! I really have to give it some jazz theory training)

It was nice to play acoustic again and be in control. We played 'All the Way', a ballad I learnt from Eric Alexander when we toured together, and I chanced Coltrane’s 'Harmonique - a quirky 3/4 blues with saxophone multiphonics in the theme (a bit risky - on the original record Trane blobs quite a few).

It was Sebastiaan de Krom back on drums from Tommy Smith - Saxophonist's latest run of gigs, Geoff on bass and Rob Barron on piano.

Musings from life on the road - Zog Blog Day 8 & 9 by Elaine Crouch

Day 10 of the Zog Tour

Jazzlive at The Crypt

This is a really fun venue to play because it draws such a diverse and fun crowd. The downside is that it’s in a crypt (obviously) therefore the sound is boomy and a bit out of control, especially in the bottom end. Tonight, the regular and much loved sound man was ill in hospital (get well soon, Winston!) and an enthusiastic dep, Pascal, had taken his place. Pascal was very nice, and was, I think, under a certain directive which made him suggest “shall I mic the drums?” This place is a brick cave that takes 50 people!! And we're playing jazz!

OK let’s backtrack.... the best sound I ever had in Ronnies was when someone spilt wine on the desk and we had to play totally acoustic. Judith O'Higgins went to see Tommy Smith - Saxophonist play at Ronnie Scott's Jazz Club the other night and the whole band, including the bass, played acoustic and she says it was the best sound she’d ever heard in there. I played at Ronnies for a week in the 90s when there were power cuts and no PA and it was certainly the most fun I’ve ever had there. The audience has to STFU and the intimacy was breathtaking.

Can I respectfully suggest that most jazz gigs don’t need a PA? Of course the size of the room and how substantial the piano is come into consideration. I LOVE playing acoustic. Everything sounds better - piano, bass, horns. Remember this is how everyone used to play and record (no headphone mixes!) It’s quieter, so the audience has to pay attention. Come on, let's bin the PA, play acoustic and pay the band the engineer's fee. He’d probably much rather be doing the rock gig he was trained for, anyway, rather than this namby pamby noodling.

And, while I’m on a rant, bass players - you guys sound GREAT acoustic. You wouldn’t use a DI in the studio unless you were insane, because it sounds awful, so either bin the amp or just use it as a personal monitor, pointing at your own head, not at the piano or sax player, for unobtrusive fortification. The sound I pay my money to hear is the natural woody “thunk” with a bit of string rattle thrown in. If that’s not what the audience gets, you’re short changing them: probably with a twangy, mid-rangy rubber band kinda-thing. Dig in and swing

Day 9 of the Zog Tour

Watermill Jazz, Dorking

This gig is hosted at a beautiful golf club’s 19th hole.

Josh Morrison did his first gig with us on this tour, so we “topped and tailed” the set at the soundcheck. He’d done his homework and it was immaculate, so we had plenty of time to enjoy the warm Watermill Jazz hospitality. Drinks and a splendid buffet dinner were complimentary. Thanks to Paul and Katherine and all the organisation for this, it’s really much appreciated. We had a great gig to a large appreciative audience, and I managed to time the sets with Jim Mullen-esque precision! (Ian Thomas and I always used to marvel how Jim would gesticulate to me to play the head at precisely 10:59pm when we did his quartet back in the 90s!)

Zog Blog - Leeds College of Music & Sheffield Jazz by Elaine Crouch

Day 8 of the Zog Tour

Masterclass - Leeds College of Music

We all arrived on time after the long journey from London, an hour before our masterclass. Our event was conspicuous for its lack of visible advertising. There were laminated promotions for about ten educational masterclasses by other bands on other dates with not a peep about us. Also none of the posters or flyers I had sent were anywhere to be seen, and there was no announcement on the big daily bulletin screen other than that the resources room had been relocated for the day...

Still, Sebastiaan de Krom is a drum tutor at the college, so he had put the word about, and some of his students had turned up! There were probably about 25 students present, so there was a reasonable quorum considering how 'under the radar' it seemed.

We played three original songs up front, two swinging tunes with functional harmony and one even eights piece in a more contemporary vein. We began by asking the students to identify how many keys my rhythm changes, 'One For Big G' went through, and then to examine the George Coleman devices I’d utilised. This led onto using tritone substitutions for the iim7 chord rather than the V7 and examples from James Moody and Michael Brecker. There were some good questions about rhythm, time and articulation - seems to be a recurring and important theme. 

Rob Barron on piano gave some good insight into piano comping, citing Jez Patton's excellent books as a good resource and recommending Wynton Kelly as a good role model. He also explored the different sounds and approaches of piano players from Bud Powell and Sonny Clark and Bill Evans through to Chick Corea, Keith Jarrett and Bud Powell. 

Sebastiaan talked about managing with different drum kits and the importance of immediately identifying how to play in a new acoustic. He also drew attention to jam session etiquette, repertoire, and the importance of going to proper gigs (not jam sessions) to check people out. There is a difference!

Geoff Gascoyne examined the trials and tribulations of being a touring bass player, especially with regard to playing alien instruments when abroad.

We finished up by playing 'I Hear a Rhapsody' when the students requested we play a standard rather than an original (news headline: students prefer standards!!)

We also had a lot of questions about the merits of being based in London, though surprisingly few about the whole process of managing as a professional musician or the process of organising and funding a tour like our 34-date one we're on.

Sheffield Crookes Social Club

Straight from Leeds College of Music workshop, down the M1, Crookes Social Club is a huge, shabby but characterful venue with a high stage. This event was very well organised and promoted by the Sheffield Jazz consortium. We soundchecked with a helpful and sympathetic engineer, Simon, then went to a pre-booked Italian restaurant called Casanovas, where we were treated to gracious hospitality and very well fed within the allotted time frame. This is always a tricky juggling act to time right, and you’ve got to eat.

They’d laid the enormous room out cabaret style with tables, so the 120 audience made the place look full. We had a really terrific gig, with lots of nice feedback from punters of all ages including some friendly faces and some musician friends.

Drove to a Premier Inn on the motorway near Nottingham after, in preparation for an early getaway to Matt Bianco gig at the new Guildford Jazz Festival the following afternoon. On a roll here.....!

 

Zog Blog - Talking Heads, Southampton by Elaine Crouch

Day 7 of the Zog Tour

This was a very rock'n'roll type pub venue, with sticky carpet, budget pizzas and half price alcoholic drinks for the band (full price soft drinks to discourage teetotalism!)

I had a 'Highway to Hell' pizza which promised to be spicy. I love chilli and normally laugh in the face of a UK chilli challenge. This time I got more than I bargained on, and couldn’t feel my face for the first 3 tunes!

Anyway, the gig went extremely well and the smallish audience (45) were very appreciative and bought lots of CDs. 

I caught the train and night bus home and the trip to Brixton in the small hours was a reminder of the old days with some of the eccentric characters about at 1:30am Tues/Weds.

Zog Blog - Dorchester Arts & Marsden by Elaine Crouch

Day 5 of the Zog Tour

Any gig out of town on a Friday is a mission to get to, but when it's in Dorset and followed by an afternoon gig the next day in West Yorkshire, you have to think about sacking the manager. Unfortunately, the manager is me...

I made it to Dorchester in good time, nice and relaxed, by train, while the others arrived late and frazzled by car. We had time for a quick soundcheck and a Wetherspoon's dinner (back to UK reality with a bang after Italy!). The gig went fantastically - everyone could finally relax and do their thing. I sold lots of CDs during the break and met most of the audience. The gig was well attended.

Afterwards we drove a couple of hours (to make inroads into Saturday's journey) to a Premier Inn on the M5 near Bristol. This chain of hotels has really raised the bar in budget hotel accommodation in the UK, and any promoters reading, please check us into Premier Inns wherever possible!

Another 3 hours to drive on Saturday. It was grey, gloomy and rainy on the Pennines and the car windows were steaming up. We made it at 3pm to soundcheck for our 5pm Marsden Jazz Festival gig. The crew there were running a very slick operation. The sound man, Craig, was excellent, and the piano tuner was on call when Graham Harvey broke the piano - again. This time he finished the B above middle C. Last night 2 other notes. In Abbey Road he broke a string on the Steinway in Studio 2. What a hooligan! We played a 1.5 hour set straight through to a weather-beaten full house who keenly joined us on the journey from 'Guess I’ll Hang My Tears Out to Dry' to my 7/4 'New Resolution' with the Fender Rhodes.

Geoff and Seb elected to drive home, while Graham and I stayed at a hotel in Huddersfield and enjoyed a very decent curry at a run down looking restaurant that played awful music.

The next day, feeling pretty clever about my train trip to Dorchester, I elected to go back to London by train. Everything went wrong and all my connections were delayed or cancelled. I did actually make it back at the time intended, but only by rerouting via Manchester and buying another £83 ticket. What was really annoying was that I had a £38 price online, which was rescinded as soon as I tried to buy it!

Zog Blog - Hidden Rooms Cambridge by Elaine Crouch

Day 4 of the Zog Tour

This venue is called The Hidden Rooms for good reason. It’s a subterranean laberynth under a Pizza Express in Cambridge. Rob Barron (piano) and Rod Youngs (drums) were doing their first dates of the tour. They’d seriously done their homework and played my tunes with tremendous verve. The room was busy and the audience receptive. I was hampered with a duff read, and when I changed it I only got a worse one. So I made do, feeling as if my fundamentally Coltrane/Dexter thing had been forced into Mobley/Flip Phillips. Not anything wrong with the latter, just since it wasn’t what I was striving for it was a distraction...

Italy Tour with Matt Bianco by Elaine Crouch

Final day

Judith and I went sightseeing to 10 Corso Como: a sort of hipster complex of fashion store, bookshop, gallery, cafe and bar. The last time I felt so unworthy in fashionista terms was in Williamsburg in New York!

We had lunch nearby in a restaurant that served canned sardines as a delicacy. From there took a long walk and saw some beautiful architecture and retro furniture stores.

Took a power siesta before the last double show night of the tour. Both shows went well and were very well attended. In the break I hung out with soundman, Zoran, who gave me some hot recording tips and showed me videos he’d made at the club of Christian McBride, Terence Blanchard, and my old friend, Sarah Jane Morris.

 

Day 5

Found a very satisfying run in Milan this morning, round a park and countless awe inspiring ancient buildings. My wife, Judith, flew in later and I met her at the Duomo. We went for a long walk and ended up at a bar where, guess what, we ran into Sebastiaan de Krom and Martin Shaw. 

The two shows in the evening were very relaxed. We’re all properly into the music now so we can enjoy the overview and appreciate how it all fits together. Judith took some nice shots of the band in action at the club.

Day 4

I was sorry to leave Bologna, but glad to escape my sleep-deprivation hotel room. I actually recorded a few minutes of the ambient noise, which included drills, hammering, telephones, reversing trucks beeping, shouting, etc. Also the bathroom and all accessories were designed by the Ministry of Crap. The shower gel sachets were impossible to open and the towels like thin table cloths - immediately soaked and useless! They were also on a precarious rack above the toilet, so the chance of them falling into the toilet was high....

Anyway, we travelled by a very luxurious train to Milan and checked into a much nicer, quieter hotel. 

The Blue Note Milano, where we’re playing 2 shows a night for three nights, is a beautiful room with excellent acoustics and a fantastic sound engineer, Zoran. Actually the last time I played here was with Kyle Eastwood’s band and I was so impressed with the live sax sound I went out and bought the same mic (Audio Technica 4033). Apparently that was stolen years ago so we had 414s on the horns. 

We were well fed and looked after, and the two shows were an absolute joy as the sound was great. Also I was able to enjoy, perhaps for the first time in a really relaxed way, how all the parts worked together and particularly the fantastic detail in Graham Harvey’s comping and soloing in this context. 

The first show was full and the second show really sparse - reminded me of the old days at Ronnies when we referred to the last set as “the graveyard shift”



Day 3

I started my 3rd day in Bologna with a run through the city, trying and failing miserably to follow a GPRS route on my phone. The weather was beautiful and I definitely felt better for the experience, although it was a fairly bleak urban landscape that I found to run!

I met the others for lunch in a courtyard garden of a local trattoria. We had another soundcheck later and it really became apparent that the natural booming lower mids in the room acoustic were giving us the problems we were having. We got the horns in the monitors, and although it made Martin and I feel better I don’t think it helped overall. It’s really too small a room for any amplification at all, but we sort of coped. The venue looked after us very well and the audience was happy.


Day 2

Went for a good walk in the rain around some beautiful cobbled streets and alleyways in Bologna, and found a foodie paradise of cheese and ham, pasta, wine, fish and flower shops. We ended up in a rather sedate up market restaurant where our plans for a light lunch went wrong again!

We had another soundcheck to fix up a monitor for the horns (we struggled last night without in the packed room). Once we got that sorted out we sat down for another enormous meal.....

This gig was even more rammed than last night. It was a pleasant surprise to see Tony Remy at the bar. He used to play guitar in Matt Bianco and I toured with him in Jason Rebello's band many years ago. He was on holiday and couldn't resist coming to see us!

The gig was really good and considerably tighter than last night. However, the horn monitor didn't work and Martin Shaw and I were fighting an uphill battle. It turned out that the monitor had got unplugged somehow... one more night to get it right! I'm sure it was ok out front but these things are frustrating.


Day 1

Off with Matt Bianco to Italy for a week. Had to set my alarm for 4:15am to pack and leave my house at 5. 


8am flight from Heathrow to Bologna on a fully automated BA. That experience was good, because it meant there were no tetchy human beings to give me a hard time about having a saxophone!

Everything went smoothly and we arrived in Bologna at the hotel around noon, where they had the rooms ready. We were in a noisy, bustling district literally 1 min walk from the club, Bravo Caffé, where we'd be playing later.

We went out for lunch - a simple bustling Trattoria with a very miserable waiter and fabulous, cheap food. Time to risk life and limb walking through the cyclists and attempt a siesta in the world's noisiest hotel. There was drilling, hammering, shouting, lorries, etc... !! 

Went to venue at 4pm for set up and soundcheck. There was a weird large sampled piano gadget and a Fender Rhodes, both tuned to different pitches. The Rhodes was closest but out of tune with itself. The "jazz" drum kit was the antithesis thereof, and the rider notice saying "under no circumstances use SM58s on horns" had been ignored. Geoff was complaining that the bass was impossible to play as some notes were louder than others. After some fiddling about, we managed to get something sorted out that was workable if not ideal. All the staff were nice and hospitable and , of course, we ate like kings (again!). The gig wasn't until 10:30pm or so and the small club was packed. It was the polar opposite of our Japanese experience with the tiny, poorly appointed stage and dodgy gear and sound, but the gig was really fun and vibey. We hung out for a while after and walked back in the rain, which is apparently due to stay for the next couple of days.

Zog Blog - Royal & Dernagte, Northampton by Elaine Crouch

Day 3 of the Zog Tour

This is a lovely theatre - a modern building built into the old front to the main road. We were playing in the Underground which is a small basement (not the big main hall I played with the Brubecks). There was a Steinway piano in position and a fearsome array of mics and monitors, which the helpful staff were happy to put away when I said we wouldn't be needing them!

We had a short soundcheck, as the journey up (Fri eve) and the parking had proved a bit of a mission for the drivers..... We found a Japanese restaurant nearby for some excellent noodles which set us up well for the gig.

There were about 70 there, an older demographic than the Pizza Express but still a fair number of younger music student types who keenly engaged me during the break. I'd elected to sell CDs at the bar, which was a dumb move as the main theatre break was at the same time! ("Why's this idiot trying to sell jazz CDs?" thought the thirsty "Jack and the Beanstalk", or whatever it was, crowd)

I got some new insight's to our "Zog" material. I think the "busier" tunes require a more economical improvisational approach. I play the trickier heads better and with a more centred feel when I think of the melodic shape rather than the notes themselves. I guess that's the difference between playing on the gig and practicing. That's why the greats of the 40s and 50s got so good so young because they gigged all the time. It's a much longer apprenticeship these days. Maybe after this tour I'll be a bit closer!

Just received a very nice message via my website from Tony Knivett:

"Wonderful show last night - just great. What a tight, brilliantly talented group. First saw you at the Leofric Hotel, many, many years ago. It just gets better."

Thanks, Tony.

Thanks also to Charles Simmons at NC Jazz for being a stalwart supporter.