Bristol Jazz and Blues festival 2015

We visit Bristol’s Colston Hall for a weekend of tributes to Louis Armstrong

Bristol Jazz and Blues festival 2015

Bristol’s International Jazz and Blues Festival continues to go from strength to strength by forging ever stronger links with New Orleans. This year, the festival’s third, cast a look back to one of the founders of jazz – the New Orleans-born trumpeter Louis Armstrong.

A centrepiece concert, entitled ‘The Louis Armstrong Story’ took place at the weekend in a packed-out Colston Hall and featured a 16-piece band with visiting New Orleans stars – including vocalist Lillian Boutté and clarinettist Evan Christopher, alongside local talent such as saxophonists Pee Wee Ellis and Jake McMurchie and guitarist (and artistic director) Denny Ilett.

Familiar tunes associated with Armstrong such as ‘Basin Street Blues’ and ‘On the Sunny Side of the Street’ were interspersed with readings of Armstrong’s own quotes delivered with humour by actor Clarke Peters (star of New Orleans-based TV series Treme). These gave witty insights into Armstrong’s views on diverse topics such as money, racism and reviewers – ‘no critic can tell me how to play my horn’. The concert mixed rarely heard big-band arrangements from Armstrong in the 1940s, with more familiar tunes for smaller ensembles, featuring banjo and clarinet. When it came to the inevitable finale, it was fitting to hear another Armstrong quote: ‘I guess I done “Hello Dolly” over million times. All over the world I get the same response, people like a little gesture.’ And this was the tune that got the hall clapping along in appreciation, particularly when trumpeter Enrico Tomasso took flight in the soaring solos. As a boy Tomasso met Armstrong when the trumpeter visited England in the late 1960s.

Elsewhere in the Colston Hall the festival was brimming with top-rate jazz. In the Hall’s smaller ‘Lantern’ venue there was a constant line-up of cutting-edge bands such as Dave Stapleton’s Slowly Rolling Camera, featuring electronic beats and the soulful vocals of Dionne Bennett, or the rumbustious accordion-flavoured jazz of the nine-piece Paradox Ensemble. And there were some gems to be found in the continuous rota of jazz (for free) in the foyer. As the mid-afternoon sun was streaming through the glass entrance, Bristol-based saxophonist Andy Sheppard (pictured above) was running through some funky trio arrangements – with organ and drums – of John Barry’s ‘Midnight Cowboy’ and The Beatles’s ‘Dear Prudence’. A look upwards revealed hundreds of people crowded up the rising staircases and leaning in to catch his performance.

But the festival highlight had to be a visit by New Orleans piano legend Dr John, now 74, dressed in his feathered top hat and voodoo-esque attire. He was paying his own tribute to Armstrong that included material from the recent album Ske-Dat-De-Dat: The Spirit of Satch. For this festival finale the audience were treated to an uproariously fast-paced version of the Armstrong favourite ‘What a Wonderful World’ with Dr John on scratchy vocals, while trombonist Sarah Morrow and the rest of his band brought the dizzying spirit of New Orleans Mardi Gras to Bristol. It was a perfect finish to this musical celebration.




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  • Article Type: | Blog |
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