Scottish National Jazz Orchestra at the Town Hall
By Robert Nichols
Wednesday 30 Oct 2019 11:12:00
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It was a great way to spend a Sunday evening being entertained by the Scottish National Jazz Orchestra in the splendour of the revamped Middlesbrough Town Hall.

A year on since the Town Hall's first jazz weekender, the revamped, revitalised venue was hosting a full Sunday of jazz. There were afternoon shows in the Main Hall and even free short performances in the comfort of the cafe setting converted old Fire Station. I was present for the evening finale, with the Scottish National Jazz Orchestra celebrating the music of three 20th century legends, Count Basie, Duke Ellington and 'Fats' Waller.

It was a staggered start with Brian Kellock leading off on the piano stage left, a wonderful jazz pianist, twinkling fingers and was that a twinkling ear ring as well. Then there was a trumpet solo salvo sounded in the centre. Next the reeds, the trumpets, trombones and rhythm section entered the firing line section by section and so the orchestra built up and swelled step by step to a real crescendo.

You could sit with friends and a bottle at the cabaret style tables at the front or lounge on the seats behind and drink in the wonderful tunes creatively arranged and brilliantly played. Award winning saxophonist and founder-director Tommy Smith OBE entertained, informed and charmed between the renditions of the jazz giants.

Having been a fan of the late-great George Melly, I once played and played his vinyl tribute to Fats Waller, so was familiar with the tunes now rearranged for the big band setup. The Joint is Jumping was always a favourite of George and sounded special today driven on by a strident rhythm section. We were treated to a once secret piece of music, a personal gift of affection and infatuation to the Queen from a Duke, Duke Ellington, or so Tommy Smith told us.

A complete set by Basie comprised the entire second half of the performance. The big swing sound punctuated by soloists standing on ceremony and sparring with their individual skills. They rightly drew ripples of enthusiastic applause from the audience. An audience counted in quality rather than quantity proclaimed Tommy Smith, who didn't need to add that they always play to the very best of their abilities no matter what the “crowd” size.

Mood swinging, from mellow melodies to enrapturing big, big sound, the SNJO were a real winner. It was an outstanding evening then and hopefully it has sewn seeds that will take root. There is an appreciative audience for music and musicianship of all types in these lands around the Tees. We should grasp with open arms imaginatively programmed events like these designed to coax us out and into the home from home comforts of our creative hub the Town Hall. In the Scottish National Jazz Orchestra.

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