All That Jazz
By Robert Nichols
Tuesday 23 Oct 2018 11:07:00
Browse all Music articles

Middlesbrough Jazz Weekender brought jazz back to the big stage in Middlesbrough on a scale not seen since the Newport Jazz Festival at Ayresome Park some 40 years ago. With acts such as Mingus Big Band, Chris Barber, and rising stars Dinosaur, Hailey Tuck and the rocking Beats and Pieces Big Band this weekend had all bases covered. Something for everyone that can be filed under a small word but a multitude of meanings that is jazz.

It was an event that heralds a new era for a revamped town hall that is looking back with nostalgia to a former golden age but also pushing forward to more welcoming, fan friendly building.

Although I have never really been a big jazz buff I am forever grateful to the organisers of the Newport Jazz Festival for giving me the opportunity to see and hear some the biggest names in 20th century music, Dizzy Gillespie, Ella Fitzgerald and Buddy Rich. Two of the cast of 78 returned in 2018 in the shape of the National Youth Jazz Orchestra and the octogenarian Chris Barber, what a thrill to see British jazz great Chris Barber on the trombone or taking the microphone at the grand old age of 88.

Saturday night really summed up the exciting blend of acts on view. Local favourites James Birkett and Emma Fisk were amongst those playing on the intimate Fire Station stage. The Big Chris Barber Band were entertaining with a more traditional big band arrangement of Duke Ellington and When The Saints Come Marching to those seated at tables in the main hall. Then at 10pm it was all change for a younger audience to enjoy the Mercury nominated Dinosaur down in the Crypt.

I found the atmosphere of late night music in the newly refurbed Crypt was particularly exciting. I really love the way new life has been breathed into this room. Stripped back to stone walls and screened out windows the room has always been ambient but somehow now it seems far more homely and far more welcoming.

The Dinosaur quartet ripped through their much acclaimed long player with a great deal of invention but also surprising discipline. It was so good to be sipping a beer whilst drinking in the sounds of trumpet, piano, bass and permissive percussion.

Chris Barber's band were in their best dinner suits, ever the showmen but with subtlety of guitar/banjo, double bass and shuffling beat behind the big brass. Chris stories and explanations came direct from the days when he shared a bill with the original jazz legends. What a privilege for the 21st century audience in the main hall. After the show the veteran trombonist stopped to chat and autograph CDs from all those queuing to exchange wordage with a genuine legend.

The Town Hall now has so much more of an ambience of an arts centre and I mean that in the best possible way. Gone are the dark, rather foreboding corridors. It is now building really opening up and this weekend of jazz was such a bold new beginning. Now we can welcome in the new light years in a flexible multi stage venue. The first Jazz weekender was such a positive step to take. May there be many more with hopefully other festivals of different strands of music comedy and spoken word to follow.

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