Ahead of his 80th Birthday Concert at Turner Sims on Sunday 5 March, Ray d’Inverno takes us on The Journey of Jazz. Delve into the roots of jazz at Turner Sims in this 10-part blog series written by one of Southampton’s best-known musicians.
…someone famous referred to Southampton as ‘Bingo City’ – the suggestion that the only arts activity it supported was Bingo. But the welter of jazz and related music which took part in Southampton after this meeting and the status of Turner Sims in particular changed that.
Notable Jazz concerts
I was involved in several committees that oversaw jazz provision in England. I was rather upset at an early one held in London, when someone famous referred to Southampton as ‘Bingo City’ – the suggestion that the only arts activity it supported was Bingo. But the welter of jazz and related music which took part in Southampton after this meeting and the status of Turner Sims in particular changed that. The concert hall became well-known for the warmth of the audiences and the friendly treatment the musicians received. For a long time, the concert hall provided food and drink for the various artists that performed there, even including sit-down meals for the groups.
I remember once being introduced as the promoter by Jan Ward to a famous Afro-American jazz musician whilst his group were at supper. He said ‘Hi – have you got any more fish?’ Some of the international groups had riders specifying precisely what they required. One involved me doing some searching in local off-licenses to find exactly the brand of Brandy requested. Not only did I help promote concerts wearing my various hats, but I also helped out in both front of house and back of house duties in jazz concerts. For a long period, I used to announce the group beforehand and the musicians at the end of a concert. That worked fine until one day I forgot one of the names of the musicians in a larger group, and had to garble something into the stage mic and hope to get away with it. It was also part of my duties to get the groups to perform an encore if it seemed like the audience wanted one, and some musicians required a lot of encouragement.
In preparing these ‘memories’, I have made a list for myself of all the jazz performances in the 10 or 15 years of my involvement. I have already detailed the favourite concerts in which I was involved. I was proud of the fact that I had played some small role in promoting the career of my friend Andy Sheppard who, perhaps after me, is the jazz musician who has performed most frequently in the concert hall. One concert was given by a trio consisting of Carla Bley (piano), Steve Swallow (bass) and Andy. They wished to practice beforehand, but neither the concert hall or the green room was free. So they came back to my house and rehearsed using my music room and its Steinway concert grand piano.
We promoted many big bands in the concert hall even though the acoustics were not designed for them. One of my favourites was George Russell and the Living Time Orchestra in 1995. I thought I was a bit special, in that I had transcribed Miles Davis‘s trumpet solo on the track ‘So What’ from the famous ‘Kind of Blue’ album – the biggest selling jazz album of all time. It came as quite a shock when the band played ‘So What’ to a funky beat and, with the whole band, played Miles’s solo in unison. In one tune, they all processed around the concert hall whilst playing. This was something that Rod Paton‘s septet ‘Hornutopia’ did at the end of the first set in my 2006 farewell concert . We played a fast tune of Rod’s called ‘Uherska’, which begins and ends with a clap with a kink in the time signature – the group processed from the performance area with the rhythm section and the audience clapping, whilst Tony Woods and Rod continued playing the tune.
Meeting your jazz heroes in the flesh is just about as exciting as it can get. I owe Turner Sims so much for all the excitement and joy it has given me over the years.
I was also proud of the fact that I helped promote a significant number of concerts involving John Taylor, including his memorable solo set in my 60th birthday concert. Obviously, all the great pianists who have appeared at the concert hall have produced great concerts which I have enjoyed particularly, including Julian Joseph, Jason Rebello, Abdullah Ibrahim, Kenny Drew and Brad Mehldau. In terms of other musicians, key people for me include Kenny Wheeler, Stan Sulzmann, John Dankworth, John Surman, Barbara Thompson and Jack DeJohnette. The key group would be the award-wining Ali Haurand’s European Quartet and Trio, especially because the Southampton Musicians Cooperative Big Band undertook the amazing 11 day national tour with Ali’s quartet. But if I had to single out just one concert as the most memorable, then it would be the Don Grolnick Band with the Brecker Brothers – Randy and Michael Brecker. Meeting your jazz heroes in the flesh is just about as exciting as it can get. I owe Turner Sims so much for all the excitement and joy it has given me over the years.
Book your tickets for Ray d’Inverno’s 80th Birthday Concert on Sunday 5 March, featuring Ray himself with his quintet Quintessential Groove, his pianist son Mark, a number of special guests – and plenty of cake!