SIMON SPILLETT QUARTET
Simon Spillett blew up a storm while celebrating the life and music of Tubby Hayes in a show that proved even more exhilarating than the gale blowing over Essex on a wet and windy Saturday afternoon.
Despite the threat of transport chaos posed by Storm Dennis, fans and dignitaries descended in droves on the concert presented by the National Jazz Archive at Loughton Methodist Church Hall (February 15th) . They were rewarded by a performance that not only reminded us of the genius of the late Edward Brian Hayes, but also celebrated the superb musicianship of today’s generation of musicians.
Saxophonist Simon’s Quartet is graced by the presence of pianist Rob Barron with Alec Dankworth on double bass and Clark Tracey on drums. Their enthusiasm and energy matched the leader’s vigour during two action packed sets. Blues, ballads and bop anthems were unleashed with cyclonic power and greeted with a deluge of applause.
Simon is not only an award winning tenor saxophonist; he is the author of Tubby Hayes – The Long Shadow of the Little Giant (Equinox 2015). A critically acclaimed biography, it explores the life of one of Britain’s finest jazz musicians and has encouraged a new era of listeners to appreciate his legacy. It is a process further enhanced by Spillett’s role in A Man In A Hurry (2015) an in -depth documentary film about Tubby’s career narrated by actor Martin Freeman (available on DVD).
For all those privileged to witness the Little Giant in action in the 1960s and beyond, it is heartening to know his major contribution to British modern jazz is now considered part of our cultural heritage. Whether playing vibes, flute, piano and a brace of saxophones, Hayes was always a dynamic soloist and an inspiring leader and arranger, whether with big bands or small groups like the Jazz Couriers. His records were world beaters, notably his 1961 Fontana LP simply called Tubbs and Tubbs In New York, when his sheer talent won over the hearts and minds of even the most doubtful American critics and musicians. After all, when Paul Gonsalves was ‘indisposed’ who else did Duke Ellington call upon to fill the tenor sax chair in his famous orchestra?
OFF THE WAGON
Simon was welcomed on stage by M.C. David Nathan of the NJA and the Quartet stomped straight into Nobody Else But Me a Jerome Kern song and an ideal vehicle for warming up both band and audience. Rob Barron seated at a splendid Yamaha Grand piano took the first of many nimble and satisfying solos that revealed his penchant for surprises, like a neat quote from Salt Peanuts a lá Bud Powell, unless my ears deceived me.
Clark Tracey, seated at his nifty Cambridge drum kit and armed with a pair of resonant ride cymbals, developed all the thrust of a Rolls Royce engine as he flew into a jet stream of tempos, moods and tunes. Maintaining close contact with Simon, pilot and crew exchanged increasingly complex ‘eights’ before landing on the final chorus.
The origins of Off The Wagon were revealed by our host, who explained it was a tune composed in 1966, a tipping point year in the often unhealthy life of Brian. A relaxed two beat rhythm sustained the piece as the tenor man blew clusters of notes and trills and a bluesy slur that evoked the spirit of Tubby at his most down home and earthy.
There is an impression abroad that Tubby Hayes only ever played flat out with barely a pause for breath. In fact he was a great romanticist as was revealed when he played the delightful ballad Spring Can Really Hang You Up The Most (chosen here as a feature for Barron’s piano). Simon’s version was matched later by another contemplative theme, Tubby’s composition Souriya a title dedicated to the composer’s second wife.
Even so, the first set concluded with the kind of ultra fast hard bop theme that wowed cool jazz mods at Ronnie Scott’s club whenever Tubby and Ronnie were down in their Soho cellar. It transpires Victor Feldman (vibes, piano and drums) and another great British export, wrote Seven Steps To Heaven at the urgent behest of Miles Davis.
Its staccato theme was stabbed out by the Quartet, now enjoying the adrenalin rush of a band heading towards a crescendo and a cup of tea and cake in the Green Room. Well who wouldn’t?
As the tenor sax wailed and Clark swung, Alec Dankworth, a tower of tasteful power throughout the afternoon, attacked the strings of his double bass with relentless speed and accuracy during a particularly demanding number.
Refreshed and back after the break, the leader was ready to deliver his most melodic solo during Souriya with a clear tone, and extraordinary dexterity, while the drummer supported the ensemble with tasteful brush work. Simon in his role as narrator told how in 1961 Tubby played at the Half Note club in New York, an unknown British musician who triumphantly blew away his American audience that included Miles Davis sitting in the front row.
During that historic U.S. trip he also recorded with trumpeter Clark Terry when they cut the brisk and lively Opus Ocean another excellent choice for the Quartet. Spillett’s sustained assault on mouthpiece, keys and levers can only be described as incredible. It may have been a 12 bar blues in B flat with an I Got Rhythm middle eight, but this Opus could have been a Grand Prix motor race or a display by the Red Arrows, it was that exciting.
All the while the rhythm section kept pace with the regularity of an atomic clock and Rob Barron seemed determined to match the horn player for sheer speed. Combined with creative drum and bass solos these were yet more steps to jazz heaven for a delighted audience.
Amidst the kind of roar not heard in the Church Hall since the last Christmas Hamper raffle results were announced, there were loud demands for an encore. What better than Grits, Beans & Greens a groovy tune from The Lost Fontana Studio Session 1969 album by the Tubby Hayes Quartet finally released 50 years later in 2019. So, what would Tubby have said after all that? A Pint Of Bitter methinks. CHRIS WELCH
Edward ‘Tubby’ Hayes born London, January 30, 1935. Died London, aged 38, on June 8th, 1973.