1 February 2015

Live Review: South Coast Jazz Festival 2015

Claire Martin Vocal Workshop

South Coast Jazz Festival

Friday 23rd January 2015


Lou Beckerman sat in as an observer at Claire Martin’s South Coast Jazz Festival Vocal Workshop and here gives a review:

Claire Martin doesn’t do a great deal of teaching so this SCJF Vocal Workshop was a brilliant opportunity for twelve singer participants and two spectators to learn from an award-winning jazz vocalist who has spent many years honing her craft.

Pianist Gareth Williams was unable to be there so the fabulous and skilful Joss Peach stepped in as piano accompanist. His expertise and sensitivity both in playing and towards the students was a much-valued input to the day’s tutoring.

The group comprised professionals as well as those comparatively inexperienced. Each brought with them two contrasting songs (from a wide spectrum of complicated, lesser-known vocalese to jazz standard; from ballad to up-tempo swing) and each participant had an opportunity to work on their chosen pieces. This in turn created a chance for the group to song-share and expand their own repertoire.

Workshop content embraced the nitty-gritty nuts and bolts of being a gigging musician through to the subtleties of vocal delivery, song interpretation and taking musical risks. Mic technique, use of the mic as a prop, performance anxiety, and communication with fellow musicians including count-ins were all covered. Everyone was invited to give their own positive feedback on the individual performances.

There was robust discussion about the absolute necessity for vocalists to study and hone their craft – as would any instrumentalist. Claire is direct and sincere in her feedback; is always constructive with integrity and deep respect for everyone’s vocal journey and level of experience. Humour played a big part in the day:

‘In just one masterclass with Claire I felt more validated as a singer! She delivers her knowledge and experience with great generosity and wit, and her honesty as a tutor is invaluable.’ Deborah Hill, workshop participant.

The jam session on Sunday provided an opportunity for the singers to put their learning into practice with the Jack Kendon band. Claire had penned some lyrics to a blues which the group had learned together and also sang at the jam.

I asked Claire what teaching meant to her… ‘I really enjoy passing on any knowledge I can and love giving pointers on who to listen to and who to study. I enjoy the material students bring to my workshops and it’s interesting to see how they each interpret the songs.’ She cites her own teacher, Verona Chard, and says ‘I'm passing on her wisdom with a big dollop of jazz sensibility alongside it. Hopefully it's fun!!’ It certainly was – alongside being packed full of useful guidance. 

Lou Beckerman, vocalist


Above: Participants of Claire Martin's Vocal Workshop took part in the Sunday afternoon jam session. Photo: Rachel Zhang.


Bobby Wellins & Geoff Simkins

+ Mark Edwards’ Cloggz

Saturday 24th January 2015

South Coast Jazz Festival,

The Ropetackle, Shoreham


    Both Bobby Wellins and Geoff Simkins are well-known for choosing lesser known standards and bringing them to life. Tonight was no exception with the band performing the Richard Rodgers tune Happy Talk (from the musical South Pacific) as well as an extraordinarily beautiful rendition of Rodgers’ It Never Entered My Mind, with both sax players reading each other’s minds in the final coda.

    With a set list of mostly originals by Wellins there was some enthralling interplay between the musicians – all of the highest calibre, with pianist Gareth Williams excelling with sublime introductions and dynamic soloing, all driven forward by bassist Sam Burgess and drummer Martin France. 

    The energetic solos were only paused briefly for a rousing chorus of Happy Birthday with Wellins blowing out the candles on his birthday cake before ending the set with a spirited blues.

    Feeling that I’d already got my £20’s worth of great music, after a brief interval the unique ensemble Cloggz performed their typically varied and quirky set of cinematic tunes, with equally quirky visual accompaniment provided by Mark Edwards’ son.

    The addition of vocalist Imogen Ryall gave the band something extra, particularly on the beautiful Brad Mehldau tune When It Rains

    As is usual with Mark Edwards, the choice of tunes was spot on, giving opportunities for all the members of the band to showcase their talents.




Film: Dreams Are Free

Director: Gary Barber 

Sunday 25th January 2015

South Coast Jazz Festival,

The Ropetackle, Shoreham


    Bobby Wellins celebrated his 79th birthday at the South Coast Jazz Festival so it’s not surprising that, given his illustrious career in music, he has a wealth of stories to tell.

    Director Gary Barber, of Brighton Film School, was part of the Q&A session after the screening and expressed his interest as somebody who is interested in stories.

    This film, then, is a perfect match. Throughout the film Wellins is honest and forthright about his past and opens up about his work with some of the greats of British jazz, as well as his visits to America and meeting the giants of the New York scene.

    At the end of the screening, during a Q&A session chaired by Claire Martin, it was obvious that Wellins still has a number of stories to tell that weren’t in the film (many of them filled with his trademark humour, such as his story about the old Skoda that he drove around London in the Sixties).

    With music from Bobby’s career, through to the family photographs of his childhood, this is an excellent resource for anyone interested in the life and music of one of the great survivors of the British jazz scene.

    Hopefully the film will be picked up by one of the arts TV stations and be shown to a larger audience as it’s an important document of the history of British jazz.



Mingus Underground +

Echoes of Ellington

Sunday 25th January 2015

South Coast Jazz Festival,

The Ropetackle, Shoreham


    Formed by Andy Pickett, Mingus Underground have been playing the music of Charles Mingus for the past year now and are sounding better and better with each performance.

    This is complex music, not least for the rhythm section who manage to negotiate the tempo changes and key changes with great skill. The experienced rhythm section, of David Beebee on piano, Terry Pack on double bass and Milo Fell on drums, drive the band forward. Terry Pack in particular anchors the band and adds the necessary driving force and energy.

    Previous performances have showcased arrangements by other members of the band and have featured some of Mingus’ lesser known originals. This performance, though,  featured arrangements solely by Andy Pickett and the set was full of all the recognisable favourites, such as Fables of Faubus and ended with a rousing rendition of Better Git Hit In Your Soul.

    At the low end, Rob Leake nailed the tricky articulations of Mingus’ bass patterns and gave a mesmerising performance on the bass clarinet.

    With great soloing by all  the members, this was a great set and highly enjoyable. Having trombonist Mark Bassey do the announcements worked particularly well as he added lots of humour to the proceedings.

    Peter Long’s Echoes of Ellington was a revelation as this was the first time that I’d seen the band perform. Peter Long is well-known for his expert knowledge of Duke’s music and this shone through during his humorous interactions with the audience.

    Whilst the music of Mingus may be complex and polemical, Ellington’s music has stood the test of time as entertaining. There were plenty of times when the audience wanted to get up and dance.

    Covering the early years of Ellington they began with Duke’s very first composition, a ragtime piece played on solo piano. As Pete narrated a brief and interesting history of Duke’s early years then ensemble changed, with the addition of guitar and then double bass and an extra tenor soloist (highlighting the impact that Jimmy Blanton and Ben Webster made).

    Playing all the hits of the era, it was great to hear Take the A Train and Caravan performed the way that they were played by the early Ellington band, together with a beautiful and memorable clarinet duet of Solitude.

    This was a great way to end what was a fantastic and successful festival. Packed with a wide range of…just about everything: workshops, talks, photographs, a film screening, a jam session, not to mention three great concerts. At £20 per concert, with each one being a double/triple bill the festival was great value for money. It was no surprise that all three concerts were sold out and with standing ovations at the end. Both Claire Martin and Julian Nicholas did a fantastic job and were both full of praise for all of the team of people who helped make it a success, including Elaine Crouch, Anne Hodgson and a small army of volunteers at the Ropetackle Arts Centre.


Charlie Anderson

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