[As part of the EFG London Jazz Fest in November, I am curating a three-night overview of English jazz.]
I’m a lifelong Anglophile. When I was a little boy I loved Doctor Who, and won a contest for dressing up as Jon Pertwee at major science fiction convention in Chicago. (Many years later, when meeting Courtney Pine professionally, I surprised Pine by citing his performance in the Doctor Who episode “Silver Nemesis.”) The title of my recent ECM album with Mark Turner, Temporary Kings, comes in part from a favorite author, Anthony Powell, and his masterful cycle A Dance to the Music of Time.
I’ve also always loved English jazz, it’s one of the strongest non-American jazz traditions. It is high time a New Yorker paid tribute to London instead of it always being the other way around! Each night will flow naturally and be a lot of fun.
Friday November 16 Kings Place Hall 2
Raising Hell with Henry Purcell
I first got to know Henry Purcell’s music when I was rehearsal pianist for Dido and Aeneas with the Mark Morris Dance Group. Purcell remains eternally fresh and surprising. In some ways he is a real avant-garde composer, with odd phrase lengths and strange resolutions. He was also a quintessential author of fanfares: Bright, clear melodies that raise the curtain for more complex emotions.
The current experimental jazz scene in London is very strong, and it will be a real pleasure to present some Purcell fanfares to unruly young masters and see what happens. I will be “directing” the affair from a harpsichord but I guess Brigitte Beraha, Mandhira de Saram, Cath Roberts, Dee Byrne, Kim Macari, and Olie Brice will be free to rebel against the concert master if they must…
Saturday November 17 Kings Place Hall 1
Ethan and the British composers
It’s comparatively unusual for non-Americans to make an impact on the serious NYC jazz scene, but there’s not a Manhattan bebopper who doesn’t play George Shearing’s “Conception” or Victor Feldman’s “Seven Steps to Heaven.” The innovations of Kenny Wheeler, John McLaughlin, Dave Holland, and Evan Parker have been absorbed into the language. Marian McPartland was a close friend of my teacher Sophia Rosoff, and as a result I was one of the hundreds of musicians to appear on Marian’s delightful radio show, “Piano Jazz.”
I’ve always been interested in all sorts of other wonderful English players, from Tubby Hayes to Joe Harriott to John Surman to Django Bates. One time when I was working in London I ventured on the tube to a distant pub to see Stan Tracey. More recently I have been gigging with Martin Speake.
At Kings Place I have a terrific quintet: Laura Jurd, Peter Wareham, Tom Herbert, Sebastian Rochford. We’ve been talking over the set list, but it will certainly include a chorale from Surman, a rock anthem from Michael Gibbs, a waltz from Gordon Beck, a blues from Nikki Iles, and other pieces that deserve “repertory status.”
Sunday November 18 Kings Place Hall 2
Ethan’s Last Rent Party
One of the first people who wrote something sensible about Duke Ellington was the English composer, critic, and ballet conductor Constant Lambert. As result the two became firm friends. The Lambert-Ellington connection is just one of many fascinating links between the English and American communities in the early days of jazz. I’m going to play the first movement of Lambert’s remarkable jazz-influenced Piano Sonata from 1929. (It’s better than comparable jazz-influenced piano pieces by Aaron Copland or Darius Milhaud.) An obvious pairing is Percy Grainger’s “In Dahomey,” a striking concert rag “dished up” after seeing a performance of Will Marion Cook’s revue of the same name on Shaftesbury Avenue. (Cook was Ellington’s teacher.)
Much of early ragtime, jazz, and other syncopated strains revolve around the piano. For this “Rent Party” I am joined by two brilliant UK keyboard stylists, Adam Fairhall and Alexander Hawkins. The original idea of this series was partially inspired by the Beaver Harris slogan, “From Ragtime to No-Time.” With Fairhall and Hawkins present, all the bases will be covered: When I last checked, William Byrd, Billy Mayerl, and Ray Noble were on the program. At a Rent Party in New York, we all play James P. Johnson’s “Carolina Shout.” In London I thought it would be amusing if we all had to play Grainger’s “Country Gardens.” Buckle up!