THEMES AND VARIATIONS: THE 2011 WHITLEY BAY CLASSIC JAZZ PARTY

Now that I have posted about eighty video performances here — thanks to Flemming Thorbye, Elin Smith, Jonathan David Holmes, and Michael Stevens — I can write a few lines about the Classic Jazz Party in general, and why it was such a remarkable experience.

It wasn’t a formal occasion by any means — in fact, it was distinguished by the friendly, comfortable interplay between musicians and listeners, sitting down to breakfast with one another.  But the CJP was the result of a good deal of behind-the-scenes planning that blossomed forth in music.

All jazz parties and festivals require a great deal of work that the person listening to the bands is rarely aware of — planning that begins more than a year in advance and continues well after the particular party is over: lining up musicians, agreeing with them on times and dates and payment, making sure that they can get to the party and have suitable accomodations, taking care of last-minute crises and more.  When you see the person in charge of one of these events and wonder why (s)he has no time to stop and chat, to say nothing of sitting down for a meal or a set of music, these are some of the reasons.

But the CJP has a thematic underpinning — which is to say Mike Durham likes jam sessions, and one happened each night in the Victory Pub, but he has a deep emotional commitment to the arching history of jazz and an equal desire to see that no one is forgotten.  So rather than grouping six or seven able players and singers on the stand with no organizing principle in mind (thus, the blues in Bb, RHYTHM changes, and a series of solo features), Mike Durham has created — with the help of his equally enthusiastic and scholarly players — a series of small thematic concert tributes.

I will only list the names so that you can understand the scope of the CJP: Clarence Williams, Bix Beiderbecke, novelty piano, Jelly Roll Morton, Bennie Moten, territory bands, Duke Ellington, Louis Armstrong, Django Reinhardt, Stephane Grappelly, Lionel Hampton, Adrian Rollini, Joe Venuti, Eddie Lang, Annette Hanshaw, naughty songs, multi-lingual pop songs, Chicago reedmen, Billie Holiday, percussion, the ukulele, McKinney’s Cotton Pickers, King Oliver, stride piano, the tenor saxophone, Bessie Smith, the Rhythmic Eight, John Kirby, Jabbo Smith, Valaida Snow, the Rhythmakers.

You can thus understand why the weekend was both great fun and educational without ever being academic or pedantic.  An immersion in living jazz history — reaching back one hundred years but so firmly grounded in the present moment — loving evocations without any hint of the museum about them.

And there are more sets like those being planned for 2012.

Here is the estimable Flemming Thorbye’s tribute to the whole weekend — his evocative still photographs capturing aspects of thirty-three varied sets — with an Ellingtonian background recorded on the spot.  And don’t give up before it’s through, because Flemming has a delicious surprise at the end: a segment of the Friday night jam session in the Victory Pub, with Andy Schumm leading the troops ably through CRAZY RHYTHM, with Ms. Calzaretta shaking that thing to the beat:

Learn more about the delights in store this year here.

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