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.
In the event, I was only able to conduct the string quartet by essentially not listening to them, but they were very enthusiastic and made a great job of my writing.
The First Evening Jazz Concert
The first evening jazz concert at Turner Sims was given on Friday 9th October 1987. It was the second performance of my Arts Council funded suite ‘Four By Four’ featuring Tony Roberts and the Frascati String Quartet. Tony Roberts had been one of the leading lights in the 1960s on the London jazz and folk scenes and we became friends when he moved to the South coast in the 1970s. Tony played with more or less anyone who was anyone in those days including groups led by John Dankworth, Ian Carr, Mike Gibbs, Kenny Wheeler, Danny Thompson, Ray Russell, Richard Thompson and John Renbourn. I wrote the suite to feature Tony and in it he plays soprano and tenor saxes, flute and bass clarinet. My favourite section is when Tony plays bass clarinet in unison with the double bass before exploring two pentatonic scales I devised.
In the premier of the suite, which was held at the Bracknell Jazz Festival – then the leading UK jazz festival – we had Trevor Tomkins on drums and Chris Laurence on bass, and Chris is equally at home in the classical and jazz world. He played arco bass (with a bow) for that section and it sounded quite magnificent. In the Turner Sims concert we had Spike Wells on drums and Mick Hutton on bass who, though a wonderful bassist having played a major role in the successful band ‘Loose Tubes’, played this section pizzicato (plucking the strings of a stringed instrument with one’s finger).
The string quartet was formed by the leaders of the string sections in the Bournemouth Symphony Orchestra. I remember the first time I conducted them at a rehearsal in Turner Sims. I could not believe how far they seemed to me to play ‘behind the beat’ and my conducting almost ground to a halt as I waited for them to catch up. I had been used to conducting choirs whom I trained to respond to my time concept. In the event, I was only able to conduct the string quartet by essentially not listening to them, but they were very enthusiastic and made a great job of my writing. It was recorded by my friend Steve Gladders and released as a tape cassette. This was the first of many recordings that Steve carried out for me.
The concert provoked some controversy in the University. It was reviewed by Bill Drabkin for the house magazine Viewpoint and, although he praised some of the concert, he had some reservations about the suite – such as the inclusion of a ‘Reprise’ section which he considered unnecessary. This was countered by Jeff Reeves, a friend of mine and a University colleague who helped me run the organisation, Southampton Jazz Promotions.
Jeff felt Bill’s review should at least have made some reference to the enthusiastic reception which had been given by the audience. Bill countered that he was reviewing the music and not its reception, and so the disagreement continued on for a while in Viewpoint. ‘Four By Four’ is rather Third Stream in character, that is some sort of amalgam of jazz and classical music. As such, perhaps it was less of a surprise that Elizabeth Brown, the concert hall manager at the time, agreed to its inclusion. Although Elizabeth was very helpful to me, jazz did not really take off until Elizabeth’s assistant, Miriam Phillips, took over as manager in 1989 and Jan Ward became her assistant. In that year, we had evening concerts from Dylan Fowler’s ‘Frevo’ (which included Lee Goodall on saxes and Tina May on vocals) and a group under the leadership of Andy Sheppard – all people who would make a number of other appearances in the concert hall in later 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!