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.

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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:

Masterclass:

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.

Workshop:

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)

Zog Blog, LCCM Masterclass, Swansea Jazzland and Calstock Arts by Elaine Crouch

Gig 19

Calstock Arts

Technically just over the Devon border and into Cornwall, we missed the spectacular view from the back window as it was dark when we arrived. This is a magnificently converted old chapel with high ceiling and controlled reverberant acoustic - absolutely beautiful for us.

We had about 50 people, which I think was a good result considering Martin Taylor was here earlier in the week and Graeme Abate locally at the weekend.

We got a tremendous reception and lots of positive feedback on the material. 

I noticed how distracting small things can be on this gig. Rob Barron(piano), as I was about to play the out head on a tune asked me “top?” and I thought he said “STOP!”. I carried on anyway, as I thought I was right, but was thinking the whole time “why did he say stop?”. By the time we got to the end of the tune I’d worked it out and then I couldn’t stop laughing to myself. The next tune we played was in an odd meter, and an enthusiastic gentleman at the front was furiously drumming on his thigh and tapping his foot, insanely at odds with our groove - the more I tried to ignore it the less I could. Even when I closed my eyes I was wondering what he was doing and had to take a peek!

Special thanks to Kevin for the great food - so appreciated when you’re on the road.

Gig 18

Swansea Jazzland

Swansea Travelodge is no longer the hell hole it once was. The beds are now comfortable, the rooms have a picture in them and one wall is not plain white. Also the receptionist was exceptionally on the case and didn’t expiate the “O” from my name! 

Swansea Jazzland is run by the indefatigable Dave Cottle, who's full of entertaining stories and hospitality from the off when you arrive at the St James Social Club. We had a good turn out (70 or so) who got really into our whole Zog journey. I learnt that there was a King Zog of Albania from 1922-1939, and the same chap thought the evil villain played by Terence Stamp in the first Superman movie was called general Zog, but an internet search proved it to be General Zod.

I’m amazed by how surprised everyone is that I might choose to play acoustic. Then they are also surprised it works! “Everyone shut up and listened all the way!”

Masterclass at LCCM London.

It’s so nice sometimes just to be able to play, with your regular band, to the students you spend so long teaching. We had a full concert room at the LCCM London in Union St, and the students made a terrific audience - very receptive, attentive, and asked some intelligent questions. Some of the highlights were:
“What do you think of when you improvise?”
Try to think of a motif, usually rhythmically oriented, and develop as a narrative through the changes.
“How do you go about memorising a new tune?”
If it’s a new original - play the piece through from the music, then see how much you can remember first off.
Alternatively, analyse the form and the harmony, then memorise the melody.
If it’s a standard: find a good vocal and a good instrumental reference
“What should the drummers left hand play?”
Anything from nothing to plenty according to the space available, the intensity of the music and what the other comping instruments are doing.
“How much are the new tunes learned and how prescriptive are the parts?”
Some are lead sheets, some fully conceived with specific voicings written in. I trust the band, since we've played together a long time, to make suggestions that will improve the music, so everyone has a big input.
“Do you play licks consciously in your solos?”
We transcribe solos, learn licks in all keys, practice applying them in context in the practice room. But when it gets to the gig the process is different and more organic. If anything you are consciously avoiding trotting out licks, but if the work has been done well the vocabulary at you disposal sounds authentic because of the work you’ve done and THEN you’re ready to start being creative. So transcribing solos, learning licks and patterns along with scales and arpeggios form the nuts and bolts required to develop lucidity in this language. In a live context the ideal is to spontaneously develop ideas coherent with the mood, feel, form and harmony of the tune and responsive to the interaction of the band.

Zog Blog - Wakefield Jazz by Elaine Crouch

Gig 17

Chris de Saram and the crew at Wakey have got it well taped. This gig was well attended and the audience splendidly responsive so it was a pleasure. They were uncertain our acoustic approach would work at first, but let us do it and it was perfect.

Zog trivia: member of the audience pointed out to me that Zug is an affluent town in Switzerland. Also an internet research reveals there is a children’s book about a dragon called Zog. And I was born in the year of the dragon!

You can read a review of this gig: here

Zog Blog Grimsby Jazz - Old Clee Club & Christ Church - Music in Marlow by Elaine Crouch

Gig 16

It’s a long picturesque drive up to Grimsby and when we arrived it had got quite cold. We set up and sound checked in a larger deader room than last night in Marlow, and, satisfied it was sounding good and with a newly created coda to
'The Things We Did Last Summer', we did what you have to do up here - fish and chips at the legendary Steels Corner House Restaurant in Cleethorpes. The fish was beautifully fresh and the chip portions humongous.

Back at the gig we probably had 50-60 people, pretty much entirely an elderly crowd. I asked promoter, Gill Wilde, if this is the demographic for the young bands when they play here and she said that they can’t book young bands because no one comes to hear them (only when slotted in between the established bands on the festival). Apparently there is another venue attended by a younger audience, but where the admission is free and the program oriented around jam sessions (so the musicians don’t need to be paid). There’s going to be a problem in a few years time when the older audience pass away and there's no one left to play to prepared to pay to listen, less subsidy, etc....

The first set seemed to go fairly well but I sensed a bit of apathy from the audience which I put down to us being a little further away on a stage than last night. However, this feeling was backed up by how few people came to talk to me when I set up in the audience during the break to try to sell some CDs. Only 4 tonight. I don’t think we played at a much lower intensity than last night, but inevitably found the process more up hill due to the less tangible feedback. It’s amazing how much the vibe from the crowd affects your sense of how well the gig is going...

Christ Church - Music in Marlow - Gig 15

A characterful old Bechstein piano and beautiful acoustic made this venue ideal for our acoustic approach. We had a full house (around 100) and really great, relaxed, gig. We sold 39 CDs! Many of the audience came and chatted to me enthusiastically about the music. It was very inspiring to sense this level of interest and palpable involvement. This was definitely one of the best gigs on the tour so far. Big thanks to promoter Martin Ashford for doing such a great job.

Zog Blog - The Oval Tavern & Fleece Jazz by Elaine Crouch

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Gig 14

The Oval Tavern, Croydon

Sunday lunchtime in Croydon, thanks to endearingly grumpy promoter, Ken Carter’s tireless efforts, has become an institution. The staff are very young and hospitable to the band and mainly elderly patrons. The audience are 'professional' spec jazz fans, who love to engage with stories of when they first saw you, and when Alan Barnes was last at the pub. We had a cracking gig in here, and even one of the bar staff bought a CD. Ken said “You’re like a rash, you are” meaning I’m all over the place on my tour. I think it was meant as a compliment!

One of the most gratifying things with both this, the Fleece Jazz and the King's Head, Bexley gig, is how many people commented positively about my original compositions, especially when the demograph would suggest a predilection for standards.

Gig 13

Fleece Jazz at Stoke by Nayland Golf and Spa Hotel

This gig is in a function suite of a big country hotel. Attendance was a little disappointing, and the audience predominantly senior citizens. They gave us good support, but left the 4 seats very close in front of us empty. Much to our surprise, 4 very glamorous young ladies, dressed to kill in stilettoes, etc, took these seats enthusiastically for the last 2 songs of the evening, and were evidently enjoying the music.

There’s a nice review from the Fleece Jazz organisation here.

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

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Zog Blog - Gig 12

Kings Head Bexley Village

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??

Zog Blog - Gig 11

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.