The Mick Collins Legacy Jazz Orchestra

Live at Farnborough Jazz Club

If you love ‘King Porter Stomp’ and ‘Four Brothers’ then it’s pretty safe to assume you are a fan of big band jazz. For those are the fondly remembered classic arrangements long associated with the swing era orchestras famously led by Benny Goodman and Woody Herman.

So when the Mick Collins Legacy Jazz Orchestra kicked off with a selection of just such tunes at Farnborough Jazz Club, near Orpington (April 3rd 2022) it was enough to bring to tears to the eye, to hear them played with such youthful energy and enthusiasm.

We say ‘youthful’ because although the Legacy Jazz Orchestra is long established and has many seasoned members, it also has a fresh infusion of much younger musicians. These include a red hot trumpet section of twenty-somethings who blow with extraordinary fire and accuracy.

Reading skills are vital when tackling compositions and arrangements by Ernie Wilkins, Sammy Nestico, Jimmy Giuffre and Neal Hefti, not to mention Duke Ellington, Gil Evans and Marty Paich. So it was good to witness the band in action, not just reading the parts, but interpreting them with energy while peppering the tunes with exciting solos.

Their Sunday afternoon session began at 2 p.m. with ‘Brownsville Express’ a swinging Wilkins arrangement followed by Sal Nestico’s ‘Switch In Time’ written for Count Basie and played by the Collins men with relaxed, on the beat drive. The ballad ‘My Old Flame’ had the four man trumpet team sound like the Kenton brass section in its prime, with Paul Taylor’s nimble trombone featured between the trumpet ensemble shouts.

Jelly Roll Morton’s wonderful ‘King Porter Stomp’ is a tune often associated with the 1930s Benny Goodman band. But the Legacy legions preferred to delve into a more modern Gil Evans arrangement that proved equally exciting, sparked by Bob McKay’s exuberant sax solo.

Paul Taylor as acting M.C. provided many amusing asides while introducing such items as ‘A Taste Of Honey’ and ‘Just Friends’ the latter turning out to be a speedy trombone feature for both Paul and Bill Todd, the band’s indefatigable conductor and organiser. Harry Evans on flugelhorn treated the appreciative audience to a perfectly rendered ‘Body & Soul’ before a brief break for refreshment in the club’s excellent bar.

The second of three sets began with my all-time favourite ‘Four Brothers’ the definitive modern jazz theme Woody Herman unveiled in 1947, featuring four top saxophonists including Stan Getz and Zoot Sims. The Collins Brothers’ interpretation of the Jimmy Giuffre theme was perfectly executed by their sax team and driven by spot on drumming from Dennis Smith.

Frank Foster, outstanding tenor sax soloist with Count Basie also composed many mid-tempo swingers for his band notably ‘Blues In Hoss’s Flat’. This proved a vehicle for a fine muted trumpet by Magnus Pickering and a deep toned finale from bass trombonist Owen Wales. “The end wouldn’t have worked without it” commented MC Paul, praising the man often teamed with baritone saxist Simon Clarke.

OH YEAH!

‘Macarthur Park’ was a tricky arrangement but included effective interplay between sax and trumpet sections and the audience loved the sudden switch to a more contemporary rock feel. Returning to swing Bill Todd played a mellow muted trombone solo on ‘Told You So’ that paved the way for a trumpet battle royal on ‘Brotherhood Of Man’ that drew cries of ‘Yeah!’ from the by now ecstatic audience.

Pianist Steve Davies introduced his own ballad composition ‘Adieu’ a heartfelt tribute to Mick Collins, the late founder of the band that still bears his name. There was space for a soprano sax solo by Bob McKay when the tempo doubled as well as more fine trombonology from Paul Taylor.

Just when we thought the gig couldn’t get any better, the band launched into a spirited ‘Sweet Georgie Brown’ and I won a bottle of Pinot Grigio in the raffle. But the best was yet to come in the third and final set when the orchestra performed ‘Splanky’ Neal Hefti’s outstanding arrangement from The Atomic Mr. Basie (1958) album. The entire ensemble roared while Dennis Smith contributed some of the finest big band drumming of the afternoon. (Dennis later confided that witnessing Sonny Payne in action with the Basie band inspired his love of drumming).

Later came ‘Darn That Dream’ with nimble trombone solos and Kentonish trumpet ensemble shouts followed by ‘In A Mellow Tone’ with a piano intro from Steve and more spot on drumming in the coda and Horace Silver’s ‘Opus De Funk’ with Tim Pharaoh’s bass to the fore. Now have we left anybody out? Well there was that upcoming young alto saxophonist Joe Pickering, brother of Magnus, whose dynamic alto sax solos and occasion flute interjections added sparkle to the entire band.

P.S. If you want to catch the Mick Collins Legacy Jazz Orchestra in action, they play the first Monday of every month from 8.30 pm at Sundridge Park WMC in Burnt Ash Lane, Bromley. And check out future bookings at Farnborough Jazz Club. Run by the dedicated partnership of Keith and Diane, they are a couple with many stories to tell, so access their website (farnboroughjazz.co.uk) and make sure you support the gigs they tirelessly promote in the post lock down era.