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.
When members of a jazz group all lock into the same time concept, we say that the group is ‘swinging’ and the playing is heightened. It is hard to swing in the concert hall, and amplification makes the situation worse.
The acoustics of Turner Sims for Jazz
The concert hall was designed for chamber music. Live jazz is usually found in bars, clubs, festivals, and is usually amplified. This has proved a problem for Turner Sims. First of all, the bass tones tend to travel the length of the hall and get reflected, returning somewhat later. Conversely, the percussive sound of the drums, especially the cymbals, seem to reflect more off the side walls and return sooner. Whatever the precise nature of the reflections, it is very hard for groups to play together. When members of a jazz group all lock into the same time concept, we say that the group is ‘swinging’ and the playing is heightened. It is hard to swing in the concert hall, and amplification makes the situation worse. During my involvement with the concert hall we used the sound engineer Paul Sparrow. I had known Paul from UK jazz festivals and he is very experienced. I think when it comes to amplifying groups in the hall he thinks less is more. Unfortunately, because the musicians have this problem settling into the acoustic, they often ask Paul to increase the volume of one or more instruments, which usually makes the situation worse.
One of the worst occasions was when we had a cancellation for a concert in the 1990 jazz festival, but we were able to book a group led by Jason Rebello at the last moment as a replacement. I love Jason’s playing and I was very lucky once when I was involved in a concert in a concert hall near Bath playing with him on two pianos. The last time he had played at Turner Sims, he had done so with an acoustic group and they had just used sound reinforcement in the normal manner. This time he came with an electric band and they were extremely loud. I tried to persuade him to play some piano but he insisted on using his keyboards, and I had a very difficult evening apologising to members of the audience who could not cope with the volume and were leaving early. But possibly the worst event for me was the following year when we had a famous trio led by the American jazz pianist Geri Allen. They set up with the great Charlie Haden on bass on the extreme left of the performance space. Moreover, in those days he played surround by a Perspex screen because he had hearing problems. Their famous drummer Paul Motian set up in the middle and Geri Allen was on the extreme right. When I tried to suggest in the rehearsal that they should consider moving closer together, Paul Motian said, ‘We know what we are doing. We’ve played in concert halls all over the world’. Sadly, this time, they never played together from beat one to the last beat. I can’t find the date of the concert, but the best I ever attended from the sound perspective was given by a quartet led by the polish sax player Zbigniew Namyslowski. They had no amplification, a very sensitive drummer and they just played quietly.
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!