During this week of Magna Carta the perfect sound-track has been Fanfare for the Common Man.
We heard the number played on Monday at the 800th anniversary dedication, brought to us across those verdant Runnymede Fields by her majesty’s own jazz ensemble — the Band of HM Royal Marines. The second time we heard Aaron Copland’s stirring anthem played live was at the Staines Riverside Club, this time brought to us by Cliff Longhurst and his JazzKnights Orchestra. We think Cliff and the Knights pipped it!
Cliff Longhurst was a professional drummer for over 40 years, working with Matt Monro, Frankie Laine and Helen Shapiro (among many others) and he has toured with Herb Miller (Glen’s brother), in addition to working as musical director for several well-known television shows.
Now he leads his own big band – the JAZZKNIGHTS ORCHESTRA – paying special homage to the music of Woody Herman. It’s an 18-piece combo, and at Staines the band also sported female vocals from the extraordinary talent of Pam Pecko-Smith. In this way, the band could unite the music of Herman with the songs of Ella Fitzgerald. The arrangements were genuine Woody Herman (pehaps with just a bit of “Basie swing”) and had been thoroughly researched, rehearsed and re-created for the pleasure of the crowd in Staines.
We adored Alan Broadbent’s ‘Love in Silent Amber’ with those dark, saddened tones and empty memories.
The way the languid keys idled through a patch of golden horn before reaching the sax solo. Then the over-burdened love… It seems to have been held back for so long… just toppled out. Wonderful.
Another favourite was the arrangement of “Poor Butterfly” (Hubbell) — inspired by Puccini’s Madama Butterfly and first found in the Big Show (1916). This was very danceable, with rat-a-tat battered rhythms converging onto sinuous trumpet, mellow sax and swelling trombone – creating waves of emotion.
We also loved the bopping jazz standard “Watermelon Man” which was the first-ever commercial piece written by Hancock (1962). Slightly gospelly in attitude, this number rattlles like a Windy City taxi during the morning race to work. The cries of the watermelon man barely audible above the traffic and through the smoky air, imbued with the aroma of fresh coffee.
Of course, Cliff pushes all this along from his drums, while the band members (clearly enjoying themselves thoroughly) move from careful concentration to over-joyed and carefree abandon in a just a few bars.
A high-point of the show was the familiar ‘Can’t By Me Love’ which had great pulling-power for the crowd at Staines, who were soon clapping along merrily and shuffling their feet.
This was a wonderful combination of beloved memories, creative innovation and attention to detail. Music of the highest quality.
Thanks to Cliff Longhurst and his Jazzknights for keeping this music alive and reminding us that gloriously played big-band jazz is still a powerful force and is thriving. Thanks also to the brilliant Staines Riverside Club for hosting such a memorable evening.