GLASGOW JAZZ FESTIVAL
As Glasgow’s first Jazz Festival gets under way, Kenny Mathieson looks back on the history ofjazz movements in the city, in the company of musician Bobby Wishart. Starting on the facing page you will find ourcomplete daily diary to the festival events, both official concerts and the many pub gigs.
The launch of the first Glasgow Jazz Festival is the biggest jazz venture ever to hit Glasgow, and comes at a time when the city has long been remiss in its support of concert jazz. The dearth of name acts over the last decade is variously ascribed to lack of proper venues, leading to the good citizens losing the habit of turning out for jazz. and the pernicious influence of a strong pub scene in the city: why pay when you can hear. say. Bobby Wishart every week in the Halt Bar for nothing?
That situation is slowly changing. with an alteration in the licensing laws which forbade a cover charge on licensed premises opening the way to the establishment ofan admissions policy in places like the newly opened Gillespie‘s, Glasgow’s first ever specialist jazz club, further evidence ofthe upsurge of interest in the city. Stories abound of the great nights when the likes of Ellington and Basic, Coltrane and Davis played Glasgow. although nostalgia can lend a certain glow to that — I saw Miles in the early 19705 play very badly in front ofa one-third full
'Apollo Theatre. My namesake. Festival Administrator Ken Mathieson. vouches for the full houses, however.
‘I remember as a school-boy trying to get tickets to hear Count Basie play at the St Andrew‘s Halls. and it was just impossible — the concerts sold out weeks in advance. and that was true for a wide variety ofjazz acts. The lack of a decent venue since has rather starved the city ofjazz. I think, a position exacerbated by the lack of local radio coverage. No one programmes jazz as part of general broadcast music anymore.
A tiny attic hovel
But the Edinburgh Jazz Festival has proved there is a market for jazz by taking it into the pubs'and stirring up interest. and I'm certain we can do the same.’
Whatever the failings at concert level, the local Glasgow scene has remained healthy over the lean years. and that is a continuation of a tradition which goes all the way back to the 1930s. ifsometimes in a very patchy. transient fashion. ever the way of it in jazz circles. The 1930s and 19405 were the great years of the Big Bands, and Glasgow produced a number of players who went on to make a name for themselves beyond the city. including those featured on
‘The Cell — it hadthatvnal feel to it, that jazz atmosphere,
and ifyou get
that, nobody really bothers about the place falling down around their ears!’
Benny Carter‘s 19365winging in Maida Vale album. reissued last year on London‘s Jasmine label. Carter. guest composer and performer at the Festival. is looking forward to renewing old acquaintance with the likes ofTommy McQuater and trumpeter Duncan Whyte.
Bobby Wishart. whose own playing career began on his demobilisation from the army in 1960, recalls talking to many ofthe older players from that period
‘One name which kept turning up was a place called the Queen Mary Club, which seemed to centre around a piano player called Billy Mason. who was a real livewire in getting people playing. At the other end of the scale. Greens Playhouse was important in bringing quality Big Bands to the city. with the likes of Joe Loss. Johnny Dankworth. and the Kirtchners. which gave a lot of people their start in playing the music. I haveno doubt there has always been some kind ofgood scene for players getting a blow somewhere. and making a wee improvised jazz thing happen. You only have to look at who came out of that era — George Chisholm. Duncan Lamont. the guys who played with Carter on that session. They didn‘t get to do that out of nowhere!‘
The arrival of bebop and then bop in the late 1940s and l95()s produced a now famous London scene around Ronnie Scott. Tubby Hayes. et al. and Scotland contributed players to
that. but there was some kind of modest scene going on in Glasgow then as well. although probably nothing compared with the number of bop-derived players in the city now.
A real livewire
‘There were guys like Bill Fanning. Frank Pantrini. George Scott Henderson. who was a great pianist but a real nutter. famous for his unpredictable behaviour on and off-stage — he once invited the whole Thad Jones/Mel Lewis band back to his house. then tossed them all out! John McCormack, proprietor of Glasgow's best-known music shop. was a marvellous pianist. but could never be persuaded to play much. and his brother Jimmy played trumpet. I actually first heard John playing up here with Ronnie Scott. funnily enough. and couldn‘t believe he was local — why had I never heard him before?
‘The Glasgow scene was always full ofsurprises like that. I remember when I was still doing National Service. I heard Bill Fanning with a sextet at a short-lived jazz place called the Memphis Club (he also had a gig at a club called the Lyndella). which featured Bill on alto alongside two brothers. Jack and Roy Whiteford. both well-respected on the jazz scene here. They used to play the Gerry Mulligan arrangements he wrote for
Konitz and Chet Baker. and we would sit and wait for it all to go wrong. because we had the records. and couldn‘t believe somebody in Glasgowwas doing this stuff! It never did. but ifyou say that to people who have only heard Bill with his Big Band. they don‘t believe you. I‘m glad I have that memory.‘ Wishart‘s own playing days began in the 1960s. and he could talk all night about that. but recalls with particular affection a long association with Andy Park. now a producer at the BBC in Glasgow. ‘Andy and I literally bumped into each other one night at a place called The Cell. which is a story in itself. It was a tiny attic hovel behind the St Andrews Hall. and I don't even know who had the key. but some of the things which happened there were amazing. The police would raid it every couple of weeks and throw everybody out. then it would just re-open. It ran from midnight until dawn. and people just turned up to play and listen. It was always packed — it had that vital feel to it. that jazz atmosphere. and ifyou get that. nobody really bothers about the place falling down around their ears! Farming and Pantrini were still doing their stuff at this time. but we were young and wanted to be right into what was happening at that moment. and Andy acted as a catalyst for that. getting the band together and doing lots of writing. We bad guys like Kenny Crawford. Dave Huxtable. Ian MacHaffie. Tommy Foley. and a bass-player I met at someone‘s house — he turned up late. very apologetic. and couldn‘t read the parts. but he produced this tremendous stuff straight offthe top ofhis head. That was Jim Mullen! We rehearsed every Sunday morning for four years at the Astoria Ballroom. where we used to slip the caretaker ten shillings. and got a lot ofgigs from that. including playing at the world premiere of The Death (if/06 Egg at the Citizens.‘ This could go on indefinitely; there is clearly a wealth ofdetail to be compiled on the history ofjazz in Glasgow. Whatever the strength and persistence ofthe local scene. the Glasgow Jazz Festival is about to write a new chapter in that history. extending the scope and ambition of jazz promotions in the city into new realms. It is of vital importance in the rehabilitation of Glasgow as a major jazz centre on the international stage that the Festival is a success.
6 The List 26 June — 9 July