Zog Blog

Zog Blog - The final two. Brighton & London by Elaine Crouch

Zog Blog - Gigs 33 & 34

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606 Club, London

This was the last date of the tour (number 34)! Appropriate it should be at the 606, where I’m in 3 or 4 of the old photos from the early 1990s on the wall…. I told James, the manager, that we’d like to play as acoustic as possible, so we would not need monitors and could he please set the PA to a quarter of it’s normal level. He looked a little sceptical, but nonetheless obliged. At the end everyone was saying how good the sound was. The packed club was silent whilst we played, and it was a really satisfying way to finish what’s been a great tour. Huge thanks to the guys: Geoff Gascoyne, Sebastiaan de Krom and Graham Harvey, also Rob Barron, Rod Youngs, Robin Aspland and Josh Morrison for their fantastic playing and the whole hang. Let’s do it again sometime!

Verdict Jazz, Brighton

It was an insanely cold night and we went to an Italian restaurant that was embracing Xmas very zealously to warm up beforehand. Back at the small club a decent turnout had gathered and we had a top gig. I’m not making setlist anymore as I can feel confident everyone knows the stuff 33-gigs into the tour. It’s nice just to be able to start something. I’m still changing things around and adding the odd new tune.

Zog Blog - St Austell, St Ives & Coventry by Elaine Crouch

Gigs 30, 31 & 32

Coventry Albany Club

It was a wintery night when we arrived to load the gear in past a large, well oiled funeral party in the ground floor room.

Neil McGowan, who runs the Coventry Jazz evenings in the upstairs venue, is tirelessly enthusiastic and a generous host. It’s quite a big room, which ideally wants 150 people to pack it out. We got around 45-50, which looked ok but was a little disappointing after the promotional work Neil and I have done. Anyway, we still had a very good gig, and the audience, who took a little while to warm up, definitely found their voice by the end! We had the usual conversations at the end wondering how to get younger people to come out to the gigs, too, etc..... so anyone reading this in the Coventry area - please turn up and support these gigs! The venue, bands, and sound are all good and the drinks reasonably priced.

St Austell - The Lost Gardens of Heligan

We were scheduled to play at the regular St Austell's jazz venue, the Bosuns, which unfortunately was double booked relatively late in the day so the venue had to be switched in order to preserve the gig. The promoter, Phil Webb, did a great job sorting this out and moving it to the Lost Gardens of Heligan. The downside was that the new venue is more remote and therefore much harder to get the audience to go to. That said, we still had a respectable turnout. The setting was a summer holiday tropical garden cafe, that on a windy, rainy December night was more like the scary scene in Jurassic Park when everyone gets chowed by the AWOL dinosaurs.... the get in also had to rank as one of the most awkward imaginable!

Once we were in, it was great. We received handsome hospitality - terrific food and drinks, and an extremely enthusiastic audience. The band, wined and dined, rose to the occasion and played great. Graham Harvey used his Fender Rhodes and we played acoustic. I felt sorry for the poor chap, Eric, who'd lugged a mighty PA in. All we used it for was announcements and interval music (Nigel Price's excellent Heads and Tales Cd)

Cornwall College Workshop

This workshop was set up by Phil Webb with the college for 15 of their music students, aged around 17 years old. They were very receptive and capable. Graham Harvey and I taught them Sonnymoon For Two by ear, improvisation through call and response techniques, basic blues chord progressions, guide tones and rhythmic placement. I was really impressed by how engaged everyone was throughout and how readily everything we taught was assimilated and put into practice. It would be great to have workshops for this age group in all regions on national tours.

St Ives Jazz Club at the Western Hotel has been going for years and recently won “Jazz Venue of the Year” in the Parliamentary Jazz Awards. It’s a split level bar with a grand piano and a small PA. I’ve done many great gigs here over the years, and last night was certainly one of them. One of the committee running the show commented that it was the busiest November gig (though it's December, of course!) they’d had for some time, so we’d been doing something right with the PR. The audience was good and really got into it.

Along with Aberdeen, this gig is the furthest away from London you can get in the UK. The fees paid to the musicians are unfortunately amongst the lowest on the circuit and I was surprised after our respectable turnout that the band cut was as low as it was. The split came to a quarter of what I actually pay the guys (that’s the MU minimum rate, BTW). I don’t want to sound like I’m complaining about the gig, which is great and well run. I’m just suggesting that this should be reassessed more favourably from the musicians' perspective in order to respectfully maintain the high standard.

Zog Blog - Ronnie Scott's, Derby & North Devon by Elaine Crouch

Gigs 27, 28 & 29

North Devon Jazz Club

This pub is accessed via some scarily narrow roads barely wide enough for a car. It’s an L-shaped pub - one part dining area, and the other for the drinkers. The landlord, landlady and promoter are all excellent hosts. The gig is free to the public, but they still seem to find a way to make it work. I’ve been here a few times now, and I’m getting to know the regulars. We had a good gig and sold lots of CDs. Look forward to the next one here!


Voice Box, Derby

I grew up in Derby, so it’s a bit of a homecoming doing a gig here. I haven’t played the VoiceBox before. It’s a high ceilinged space with a generously reverberant acoustic and a nice Schimmel grand piano. We played at a sensitive level with no PA and I enjoyed the sound immensely. The room was full and many familiar faces were there, including Pete Wraight (MD for Matthew Herbert), Andrew Stanton (the man responsible for getting me to listen to the right stuff!) and Mike Say (former neighbour and drummer in my first band).

Ronnie Scott's Jazz Club's Late Show

Graham Harvey and I came straight from marking our Leeds College of Music students' end of term jazz gig at Toulouse Lautrec Venue. When we arrived at 10:30 we were told we were not allowed in the club until the main band had finished. Hmmm.... so the band doing the late set cannot hear the last couple of tunes of the main band? It was not sold out, so there would have been space. I can’t quite see the point of enforcing this.

When we were allowed in, of course the audience for the main show fled in droves, leaving a few die hard night owls and a trickle in of the Late Show hangers and musicians.

Alex Garnett's introductions were fun and we had a great set. After a 20 minute break we played “Alone Together” with Garnett and then hung out at the bar while the jam got going. Some familiar and some unfamiliar faces sat in and the standard was pretty high. I played 2 more tunes for the evening, then around 2:45 we finished up. Graham and Seb both stayed over at mine, as we all had early teaching duties the next day (Seb on 1 hour sleep, me and Graham on 4) which kind of makes the point why the established older players don’t hang at the jam - because we're working in the day! Anyway, it was fun, and you don’t have to fly anywhere to get jetlag!


Zog Blog - Rhosygilwen by Elaine Crouch

Gig 26


The Rhosygilwen Concert Hall, replete with Steinway D concert grand piano, is a labour of love of eco entrepreneur, Glen Peters. He and his wife, Brenda, are great hosts, and I’ve been lucky to have played here four times now: with Brubecks Play Brubeck, Darius Brubeck Quartet, and twice with my quartet - first time augmented by singer Anita Wardell, and this time with Iain Mackenzie. Glen puts on a program varying from popular classical music, folk to “accessible” jazz, hence the addition of the singers to my usual instrumental lineup to make the program more accessible to the audience. 

Iain Mackenzie brought some very well constructed and clearly written charts, which we rehearsed in the afternoon. Some of them also had unison scat choruses of Chet Baker solos. He was extremely on the case, so this part of the process ran very smoothly.

We played 3 quartet tunes in the first set, and two in the second, before getting Iain on to do the bulk of the work! The crowd was a bit thin compared to by previous visits, and they were also very reserved to show their appreciation, which always makes you a little uneasy as a performer (are they enjoying this?) It seemed from the comments after that they were, although I do find the performance process more enjoyable and vibrant when I’m able to relax safe in the knowledge that what we’re doing is communicating.

Zog Blog - Atrium Café Bar - Clitheroe  by Elaine Crouch

Gig 25

We had a 6 hour drive through snow storms and all sorts down from Aberdeen. Eventually we made it to Clitheroe, only to get terribly lost in the one way system of this attractive town, ending up at some youth centre at the end of a waterlogged impasse (that was where the sat nav guided us). After asking a few kind folk in the pouring rain, it became apparent we wanted the castle, an imposing building we could see, but could we drive there?!

Of course we made it in the end to a modern glass and stone annex to the Castle, which was the Atrium Cafe. The crowd gathering looked like they wanted to hear standards, and yet I was regaled by stories of recent visits from Tim GarlandSoweto Kinch and Marius Neset, so I figured we could play our repertoire with impunity. Sure enough we were very well received by a comfortably full house, and lots of people came up to me after with kind comments.

Here are a few snaps from our travels.

Zog Blog - The Scottish Leg by Elaine Crouch

Zog Blog 

Gig 24

Jazz at The Blue Lamp, Aberdeen

Another really top vibe gig to a big crowd, all willing us on. It’s suddenly got so cold outside - not sure if that’s just this far north or if it’s the same everywhere - but there was a concensus that hot jazz was the best way to combat the icy arctic wind! Everyone was very hospitable and we enjoyed a couple of birthday drinks with Geoff Gascoyne afterwards.

Gig 23

The Jazz Bar, Edinburgh

This is the venue set up by drummer, Bill Kyle, who sadly passed away last year. Bill used to book me when he lived in Guildford and I was a student. Later he got me involved with the Glasgow Jazz Festival and a regular gig with killer New York vibes player, Joe Locke. As a result of that connection I recorded my second solo cd in New York with Joe, Joey Calderazzo, Adam Nussbaum and James Genus and made some great connections across the pond. It was Bill, too, who encouraged me to take an active part in the Musicians' Union, which has led to me being an elected member of the London Regional Committee.

Now the club is run by his daughter, Edith. They had a singer / guitarist on before us and a band after, with a similar 3 shows nightly policy through the week. There is a broad demographic and our two sets were full. It’s a bit more 'rock’n’roll' in here than the quieter as clubs and theatres we've been playing, so I let the soundman, Alisdair Kampff, do his thing, and what a great job he did. I had a feeling he had his act well together when he proudly showed me the Sennheiser 441 he had for me to use.....

There were quite a few familiar faces in the crowd, including Colin, former landlord of the Royal Oak in Appleby which had been the cornerstone of that festival for several years, and great guitarist, Malcolm McFarlane. There were some local musicians there, too, enthusing about the Jazz Bar's continued well being. We had a storming gig and I sold a load of CDs. We’re testing to that nice point in the tour where the tunes are playing themselves and we can really improvise coherently, following ideas through, taking chances and leaving space.

Gig 22

The Buccleuch Centre, Langholm

Beautiful theatre with a nice Steinweg piano. We played to a smallish but extremely enthusiastic audience, tables arranged cabaret style to fill the space up nicely in an informal fashion. All the staff were very helpful and into the music.


Masterclass at the Royal Conservatoire of Scotland

Tommy Smith - Saxophonist is the Head of Jazz here and his enthusiasm seems infectious in the department. He was most hospitable and joined the 30 or so students at our masterclass. We got a load of challenging and provocative questions:

“How did you write the piece ‘Morpheus’ to suit the title (named after the Greek god of dreams)?”

I didn’t write the piece to the title. I wrote a mercurial, romantic melody that evolved through various key centres and ideas that suggested the title.

“Why study the music of the past when there is so much new music already influenced by the music of the past?”

We all had a different take on this, but the general consensus was that researching the influences of the artists you’re listening to deepens your understanding of what they are doing and unlocks the door to develop your way with those influences.

We also painted a bit of a doom and gloom picture of the receding economic opportunities of playing jazz, and the ageing demographic of the U.K. audience. We discussed the need for the young generation to regenerate the audience through concerted effort to go to gigs and enthuse their peers outside of music students.

Our music was very well received.

Zog Blog - Jazz @ The Albert + Workshop and Masterclass at Royal Northern College of Music by Elaine Crouch

Gig 21

This is an upstairs comedy club taken over by the indefatigable Ian Richard Storror for the Sunday jazz gigs. Ian was very helpful at the soundcheck with a couple of rogue notes on the piano and making sure the small amount of the piano we needed in the PA was just right. We had an appreciative audience of around 50, most of whom bought a cd it seems!

I’ve been trying to vary the sets a bit, and on this occasion we pretty much alternated originals from “Zog” and standards. I didn’t even realise until after we’d done it that way, but it seemed natural enough.

RNCM - Royal Northern College of Music - Manchester

We had a 3-hour slot here, so we divided it in two:


We presented 3 original tunes before opening the session up for questions. Studio 5 is a beautiful large studio space with high ceilings, controlled generous acoustic, and a lovely Yamaha S6 grand piano. If we could do every gig of the tour in this room with this piano, I’d be in heaven! This would also make a tremendous recording space.

We had probably about 10 students plus Jazz Pathway tutor, Mike Hall, and bass tutor, Steve Berry, in attendance.

We were asked some very intelligent questions regarding how we keep the material fresh on a 34-date tour, comping and soloing. In turn we asked the students what they listened to. Names that cropped up were: Loose Tubes, Marius Neset, Phronesis and Donny McCaslin.

Regarding keeping things fresh, we each had different takes on it from honing our interpretation of the material as perfectly as possible, to deliberately trying different things - in my case starting my improvisations with a different rhythmic motif to anything I can recall trying before, and using that as the thematic material to develop. The general consensus was that the more we play together the greater the trust we develop, and therefore the more comfortable we are to utilise space. That can be by totally dropping out, using rests, long notes, or just avoiding “one” or continuous 8th notes.


After a break, the students set up a quintet with guitar, sax and trumpet. Repertoire - that perennial problem - was discussed and “Cherokee” and “Stella by Starlight” settled on. We addressed some issues on all instruments most frequently relating to swing feel and rhythmic placement of chord tones. Geoff did an interesting exercise with the bass and drums where they deliberately sped up and slowed down together to help find each other's groove. This was a most enjoyable session and the students were very capable and well engaged.

Zog Blog - Teignmouth Jazz & Blues Festival by Elaine Crouch

Gig 20

This is a beautiful part of the country - a very picturesque harbour. 

I had a Fri evening concert in the magnificently restored Pavilions Teignmouth with the senior and junior DYJO - Devon Youth Jazz Orchestra. Both groups were about 30-strong with enthusiastic young musicians. They played some quite adventurous arrangements and the sell out crowd received it well.

The next morning my quartet gave a workshop to 6 or 7 musicians of all ages, where we began with playing a minor pentatonic on a blues and progressed through to chromatically approaching guide tones, boogaloo grooves and demonstrated practice regimes designed to make you fit for improvisation.

One of the participants, who was also on the Teignmouth Jazz Festival Committee, excitedly pronounced it the best workshop he’d ever been to!

At 1:30 Seb and I played the Pavilions with Ben Crosland's Ray Davies Songbook Quintet.

Then we moved venues for my quartet gig at the Teign Heritage - Teignmouth & Shaldon Museum, a smaller upstairs venue at a museum a few minutes walk along the coast. We had a real ripper to pretty much a capacity crowd. Nice to see some familiar faces in the crowd. This time I was regaled with “O'Higgins” stories - Bernardo O’Higgins (first president of Chile) and Kevin O'Higgins (Irish nationalist politician assassinated by the IRA in 1927)