A nourishing night of music and conversation, as the monthly Jazz Salon at Foyles turned its attention to the links between jazz and dance, especially in the UK scene. This is such a lovely format – thoughtful, anecdote-rich conversation alongside live music, each sparking off and illuminating the other. The atmosphere is intimate and relaxed, like a late-night radio show; there’s breathing space to allow the unexpected to happen (which it did), and a closeness that grows between speakers, performers and audience – the fact that by the end all three were mixed up together on the dance-floor was testament to a great evening.
Host Kevin LeGendre and dancer/choreographer Sean Graham spoke eloquently about the evolution of Jazz Dance, the emergence of a UK tradition and what lies ahead (lots of YouTube clips to follow up!). Sean’s reminiscence of the first time he saw Jazz Dance was similar to my own – “What is that!!!!!!????”. And fascinating to learn that one of the current hotspots for Jazz Dance, particularly the UK take on it, is in Japan! Bassist Gary Crosby and the house band of absolutely superb young players from Tomorrow’s Warriors brought the music vividly to life – so good to hear classics such as Night in Tunisia and Caravan played with such intention and freshness. And witnessing these standards interpreted through dance – it opens up a whole new layer in them, bringing to the surface something in the music that’s always there but sometimes overlooked; dance and jazz were together from the beginning and this music is eminently danceable. There’s also the beautiful thing that happens when different energies meet – the music, the dance, each feeds off and inspires the other, leading to bigger risk-taking and even greater heights!
I’m left thinking about the power and possibilities of cross-arts connections – how poetry, painting, dance, music and all the arts provide energy for and take inspiration from each other, and allow the unpredictable, perhaps even the impossible, to happen. I think maybe this is what the Jazz Salon is all about.
PS After the shock and gloom of yesterday’s news, this little bit of positive thinking (at Foyles old shop, now empty) made me smile on the way to the gig.
My first reaction to the EU result – total shock. It seems the opposite of the way I thought things were going. It just shows we don’t know what’s really going on – things we think for certain or take for granted actually aren’t guaranteed. Values like tolerance, openness, curiosity, generosity, kindness – they have to be nourished and worked at all the time. Bad things can happen and good things can slide. I first heard the news this morning in a message from my Polish friend, who asked anxiously “What’s going to happen to us all?”. It is genuinely worrying. (And after this, what’s going to happen in the USA???)
I guess we have to believe that this result’s not necessarily a vote against those precious values that bring us together. It’s mainly an economic judgement, right? We have to redouble our efforts to bring people closer, through art, culture, caring, celebrating the things we have in common – we can all do this. Let’s keep positive and stay together in our hearts.
Another absolutely delightful concert as part of the Stroud Green Festival, as The Askew Sisters took to the stage of Holy Trinity Church Hall with a show entitled ‘In London Fair City’. There’s something extra-special about siblings performing together, and Emily and Hazel make a wonderfully warm and winning duo – even as they sing songs of dark deeds and disaster, London-style.
The sisters engage us from the start with fantastic musicianship, fresh arrangements and a deep connection with the music. Voices and instruments combine in ways that captivate and sometimes play with our ears – was that Hazel’s melodeon or Emily’s violin that we just heard? There’s colour, humour and a lightness of touch, making the dance-tunes sparkle and the ballads breathe. We’re also given just the right amount of history – these tunes all have interesting back-stories, and it’s fascinating to consider the life of a song, how it can travel and change even over centuries but its essence remains. One such is the incredible ballad ‘Bows of London’. Here it’s a perfect fit – a song about two sisters and an extremely weird violin: with Emily and Hazel performing it, this macabre story is brought, quite chillingly, into the present. The way Emily’s violin picks out the details of the story exactly is stunning. There’s huge power in this song – in its twists and turns, in its litany-like refrain – and some startling black humour (older sister’s response to her rapidly-sinking sibling’s request for help: “Did you think I pushed you in / Just to pull you out again?”!!) As with the whole of their programme, The Askews make a great choice of repetoire here and bring it grippingly to life.
Elsewhere there are echoes of Thomas Hardy (dashing soldiers and absent sailors), and snapshots of history – the story of the London Waterman and his courtship, a happy song! (“Her pretty face was the fare for the ferry…”) And we were introduced to a genre known as ‘goodnight songs’ – the words of the condemned outlaw on the night before his death (I realised the Richard Thompson classic ‘Vincent Black Lightning 1952’ is one of these!). What a rich treasure-trove we have in the folk tradition! And what a privilege to hear it performed as here, with joy, understanding and vitality by these exceptionally talented sisters.
There are lots more wonderful events still to come in the Stroud Green Festival – check the website here http://www.stroudgreenfestival.org.uk