1 April 2015

Big Band Scene (April 2015)


Saxophonist Patrick Billingham begins his new monthly column with a look at The Sussex Jazz Orchestra and The Brighton Big Band.


This is the first of what I hope is to be a regular monthly column relating to big bands based in Sussex.  I shall start by defining what I mean by a big band for inclusion in this column.  I take the line up of the great American bands of the swing era as a template.  

Saxophones, two altos, two tenors and a baritone, doubling on assorted woodwinds.  

Brass, with four trumpets (or flugelhorns) and four trombones (including bass trombone/tuba). 

Rhythm consisting of piano, guitar, bass and drums. 

This is not a rigid template.  There have been many variations, so I propose for the purpose of this column to define a big band as having at least seven horns with a minimum of three saxophones or three brass, plus a rhythm section.  There is, as yet, no upper limit. (See Return of 100 Saxophones, below.)

This is the Sussex Jazz Magazine. So I am limiting the scope of this column to bands based in the county.  However should any bands based across the border visit us as part of a foreign tour, I shall be happy to include them in the gig list. 

I have addressed the question of whether information about big bands in general should be covered in a Jazz Magazine.  The Jazz Orchestras, with their emphasis on extended improvised solos clearly qualify. As for the others, why not? Even dance band charts, such as those of Glenn Miller, allow for improvisation.  Although there is the risk that any deviation from the original solo recorded seventy years ago may provoke adverse comment from some self-appointed expert in the audience.

The big band scene in Sussex is thriving and evolving. I know of almost twenty active big bands based in Sussex, most in and around Brighton. Some have been playing for decades, others were formed recently. 

Even though the various bands concerned have differences in style and ethos, they have musicians and charts in common. 

This month I feature two Brighton based bands, which have been around for 30 years or so.  I declare an interest.  I am a member of both. 

The Sussex Jazz Orchestra (SJO)

(‘A mixed ability line-up … crackling performances’ John Fordham, The Guardian)

The late, great, Ian Hamer created this band in the mid 1980s as The Sussex Youth Jazz Orchestra (SYJO) around a number of talented school age musicians living in Brighton, with the rest of the band made up of local adult musicians.  In the early 1990s, to quote Ian, ‘I found the youths came and went too quick, so I dropped the youth bit and it has worked fine ever since.’ The band became known by its present name.

The jazz oriented repertoire is mainly compositions and arrangements by Ian and his associates including Tubby Hayes, Ken Wheeler, and especially local composer Paul Busby who was the keyboard player and musical director of the band for many years.  There are other charts by former and current band members.  The purpose of the band is to keep Ian’s music alive and to present it to as wide an audience as possible.

The band, directed by Mark Bassey, is a mixture of student musicians, experienced professionals, and those with non-musical day jobs, but who play regularly.  Many of the former student members of the band have moved on to become highly regarded professionals.

The SJO is larger than the standard template. There may be up to ten saxes, six trumpets, six trombones and the four piece rhythm section. In the past the brass section has contained euphoniums, a tuba, a baritone horn, and currently has a French horn among the trombones.  

The SJO is based at The Round Georges pub, 14-15 Sutherland Road, BN2 0EQ, 

Contact details:

Manager:    Patrick Billingham    07812 418560      g8aac@yahoo.co.uk

To book the band:  James Clarke   07824 637422  james@jamesclarkemusic.co.uk

For more information visit www.sussexjazzorchestra.co.uk or on Facebook, or on twitter @SussexJazzOrch or www.twitter.com/sussexjazzorch


To see a video of the band in action, go to http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=pFEMzpR_fKY


The Brighton Big Band (BBB)

The Brighton Big Band was formed in the 1980's by Dave Masters and, not surprisingly, was known as The Dave Masters Big Band. A name familiar to those who attended lunch on the first Sunday of each month at the King & Queen in Brighton when it was still a jazz pub.

The new name was adopted in 2014 with the advent of new band members and a new repertoire – so a new name was called for! The band acknowledge the hard work which Dave put into establishing and putting it on the local map, but since he moved to Australia over 20 years ago and now has another band under his name there – it was definitely time for a change!

The Band played their first season under the new name, band colours and several new pieces of music in 2014, but still with three of the original members. They play the big band swing standards of the Count Basie, Duke Ellington, Glenn Miller era but have added some classics from Gordon Goodwin, Stevie Wonder, Steely Dan, Kenny Wheeler as well as Paul Busby, and some fiery latin pieces to bring a modern tone to their range of music. 

The line up of this band is closer to the template with five saxes, five trumpets, four trombones and the four strong rhythm section. In addition, there are two singers. Dave Williams, who recently joined the band, providing the music of Frank Sinatra, and the well established Jackie Sampson, who provides the songs of Ella Fitzgerald and Sarah Vaughan.

John Lake administers and manages the band with the assistance of Chris Smith – who directs the band in rehearsal, Steve Field – the band librarian and Dave Eastman who looks after the equipment. The band feels extremely lucky to have the support of the Blind Veterans UK (formerly St. Dunstan’s), Ovingdean who provide the use of their ballroom for band rehearsals.

Contact details:

John Lake email: johnbruce_@hotmail.com  tel. 07950 317496

Blogsite: http://brightonbigband.blogspot.co.uk/

Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/pages/The-Brighton-Big-Band/


Next month: Studio 9 Orchestra (see interview in SJM 12) and Straight No Chaser. 


If you would like your band featured, and I have not already contacted you, please get in touch.  Or if there is anything else, such as gig news, that you would like me to include in May’s Big Band Scene, please send it to me by Friday April 24th.


Big Band Gigs for April – Early May

(† means a regular monthly gig.)


Sunday April 5th.

†12:45 – 15:00 pm, Sounds of Swing Big Band at The Horseshoe Inn Hotel, Posey Green, Windmill Hill, Herstmonceux, East Sussex BN27 4RU (02035 645225)   Free entry. 


Sunday April 12th.

†12:30 – 3:00 pm, The South Coast Big Band at The Ravenswood, Horsted Lane, Sharpethorne, West Sussex,  RH19 4HY (01342 810216)   Free entry. 

7:30pm, Straight No Chaser (Vocal Night) at The Hassocks Hotel, Station Approach East Hassocks, BN6 8HN (01273 842113)   Free entry with collection.


Tuesday April 14th.

8:00 – 10pm, The Sussex Universities Big Band at The Latest Music Bar, 14-17, Manchester St., Brighton  BN2 1TF (01273 687171)  £?.


†8:00 – 10:30 pm, The Ronnie Smith Big Band at The Humming Bird Restaurant, Main Terminal Building, Shoreham Airport, West Sussex,  BN43 5FF (01273 452300)  Free entry with collection.


Friday April 24th.

†8:30 – 11:00 pm, The Les Paul Big Band at Patcham, BN1, £5.  For further details contact Les (01273 558009) les@lespaulbigband.co.uk  (Bring your own refereshments.)


Sunday April 26th.

†12:30 – 3:00 pm, The South Coast Big Band at The Red Lion, Stone Cross, Pevensey, East Sussex BN24 5EG (01323 761468)   Free entry.


Monday April 27th.

8:00 pm, The Downsbeat Swing Band at The Village Centre Hall, Hurstpierpoint, West Sussex BN6 9UU Free entry with collection in aid of the Motor Neurone Disease Association.


Wednesday April 29th.

8:00 pm, Straight No Chaser (Brighton Composers Night) at The Brunswick, 3, Holland Road, Hove BN3 1JF (01273 733984)  Free entry


Sunday May 3rd.

†12:45 – 15:00 pm, Sounds of Swing Big Band at The Horseshoe Inn Hotel, Posey Green, Windmill Hill, Herstmonceux, East Sussex BN27 4RU (02035 645225)   Free entry. 



Advance notice

Return of 100 Saxophones

Sunday 31st May early afternoon

close to the centre of Brighton

This is a fund raising event for the Brain Tumour charity.  There is a £25 participation fee, £15 for students/concessions.  Sax players of all levels of ability and experience are welcome.  In line with the diversity policy encouraged by this column, brass and other wind players are also encouraged to sign up.  A professional rhythm section will be at hand to maintain good order. 

Rehearsals/workshops are scheduled for Wednesdays May 6th & 13th 7.30 – 9.30 p.m. and Saturday May 30th 2 – 4 p.m. at St. Richards Church and Community Centre, Egmont Road, Hove, East Sussex BN3 7FP.

There will be more detailed information in the May SJM, meanwhile, if you want further information visit www.saxshop.org


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