Ryan’s gigs: Nu Civilisation Orchestra; Jamie Safir; Jake Goss; Jim Mullen

Friday, 20th May — By Rob Ryan

Jazz_NCO Peter Edwards BW1 pic credit Tomorrows Warriors Graeme Miall

Nu Civilisation Orchestra’s Peter Edwards. PHOTO: Tomorrows Warriors / Graeme Miall. Below: Duke Ellington meeting the Queen in 1958


I couldn’t help but notice that the musical celebrations for the Queen’s Platinum Jubilee are a little light on jazz, this despite bassist Gary Crosby’s recent revelation that Her Majesty enjoys the music of a fellow royal, Duke Ellington.

The Nu Civilisation Orchestra will put that to rights on June 3, the Friday of the celebratory weekend, when it will perform Ellington’s The Queen’s Suite at, naturally, the Queen Elizabeth Hall.

The piece was inspired by the Duke’s meeting with HRH in 1958. Legend has it he composed a suite in celebration of the day and, to make it extra special, had it pressed as a single disc, which he presented to the Palace, making it one of the rarest of rare jazz recordings (a version of it was finally unveiled live in 1998, almost 25 years after Ellington’s death).

The Nu Civilisation Orchestra, led by MD Peter Edwards, will perform the suite and a new piece by the leader, with Gary Crosby joining them on stage on bass (the NCO contains several alumni of the Tomorrow’s Warriors programme, which Crosby co-founded, including heavy-hitters such as Rosie Turton, Denys Baptiste and Sheila Maurice-Grey). I

t’ll be a lot classier than celebrating with Ed Sheeran, that’s for sure, because Ellington is always sublime and the NCO will bring its A game. Tickets: www.southbankcentre.co.uk/


Jamie Safir gives his Piano Talk at Crazy Coqs on June 11. PHOTO: Monika Jakubowska

• The cosy Crazy Coqs salon, which is attached to Brasserie Zedel in Piccadilly, majors in cabaret, comedy and musical theatre but jazz does get a look in – Jay Rayner (www.jayrayner.co.uk) and Ian Shaw (www.ianshaw.biz) are both regulars, although there is a strong element of stand-up style raconteurship in both their shows. Pianist Jamie Safir, who has played everywhere from the Ritz to Ronnie’s, is also dipping into his storybook, mixing standards and originals with a side order of tales of working with Shaw, Will Young, Elaine Delmar, the Brand New Heavies, Mica Paris and Olly Murs (Safir is one of the go-to accompanists for any vocalist gigging in London), most of which centre on locations in and around Soho. His Piano Talk show debuts on June 11 at 7pm, tickets from www.brasseriezedel.com/


Jake Goss is at the Haverstock Tavern on May 24


• And now, free jazz. No, not the sort if melody-free improv that sends many people rushing for the exit, but jazz you don’t have to pay for. It is at the venerable Haverstock Tavern on Haverstock Hill every other Tuesday and is based around the Jake Goss Quartet with, some weeks, special guests. The next one is Tuesday May 24 at 7.30pm and Jake (alto saxophone) is joined by Rob Barron (piano), Sam Read (bass) and Matt Home (drums). It might be free entry but that doesn’t mean it isn’t top quality jazz. See: thehaverstocktavern.co.uk/

• Jake’s residency at the Haverstock is a welcome revival for live jazz at the pub and also back in the game is the B3 Lounge at The Bohemia brewpub in North Finchley. It specialises in organ-based jazz (hence the name – the B3 is the classic model of Hammond) of the kind Jimmy Smith or Jimmy McGriff or Lonnie Liston Smith might play. The shows are twice-monthly on Sunday nights and next up is the Jim Mullen Organ Trio (May 22) with Jim on immaculate guitar, of course, and soul-jazz man Ed Bentley (who really can channel Jimmy Smith) on June 5. Tickets for both are just £10. See https://b3lounge.live/

• Jim Mullen is also in action at Lauderdale House in Highgate as part of its ongoing Jazz in the House series on Thursday June 9. That night he is part of the Blue Town Trio, which features the exquisite Zoe Francis on vocals and a repertoire of familiar and not-so-familiar standards. Making up the trio is one of the country’s best exponents of the Hammond, Ross Stanley. Tickets: www.lauderdalehouse.org.uk/whats-on/jazz-house


John Alman’s Hidden Man: My Many Musical Lives

• We all know that jazz is fuelled by exemplary musicianship, the joy of improvisation, the thrill of interplay with other musicians and a facility with The Great American Songbook, which will get you out of trouble in most jam sessions. What is under-appreciated is the role of the after-gig “hang” in the bar or backstage when tales of the jazz life – shaggy-dog and otherwise – will be wheeled out. (My favourite is the one about saxophonist Stan Getz – who was a great player with a beautiful, silky tone but a not-so-lovable human being. When trombonist and arranger Bob Brookmeyer was phoned to tell him that Getz was having a heart operation, he quipped: What, are they putting one in?)

I was reminded of this tradition when, at a bar in Soho last week, I was talking about Frank Zappa with my brother when someone sidled up to us and said quietly. “Excuse me, but I used to play with Zappa.” When I realised who it was, I knew the only possible answer: Yes, and everybody else, mate.

This was altoist John Altman who proceeded for the next 45 minutes to entertain us with tales from the studio, the bandstand or the bar (although John is not a drinker). He has worked with everyone from Bjork to Van Morrison, Amy Winehouse to John Legend, as well as the Pythons (the whistling on the cross in The Life of Brian Arr. John Altman), scored Bond films, played with dozens of legendary jazzmen (Nat King Cole, Duke Ellington, Benny Goodman) and managed to find time to do the music for 4,000 advertisements. He is surely the King of The Jingles.

He has now written a book detailing his adventures and celebrity encounters (he has never met a name he couldn’t drop), called Hidden Man: My Many Musical Lives (Equinox). It was Terry Gilliam who coined the “Hidden Man” nickname, because John has been eminence grise on so many projects but is hardly a household name.

The book is very entertaining indeed without being salacious – you’ll have to look elsewhere for scandal – and there is good news.

Judging by the tales he told us about Chet Baker and Gerry Mulligan and, yes, Frank Zappa, that aren’t in the memoir, there’s enough material for Volume 2.

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