I should have known better than to write a disobliging piece about Glenn Miller. It never pays off to disoblige. Noblesse ne desoblige pas. Not only did I get your letter about Woody, I also got ticked off by Nat Peck in a published letter for misquoting him about his days with Glenn Miller. Fairly in both cases. Not so fairly in yours, as I was only trying to suggest that Woody Herman was not a star soloist in his band, not that he was a lame duck… But I think it is quite true what I said about bandleaders often being the least remarkable musician on show in the band. Some didn’t even play (Lunceford, Andy Kirk) and some of course were leaders because they were star soloists, but when you think of bands led by Eddie Condon and John Kirby, and Fletcher Henderson, and Stan Kenton, and Ted Lewis, and maybe even Ken Colyer – well, I think they were leaders because they were good leaders, not great players.
The nearest I have been to your neck of the woods in 1,000 years was when I was dragged up last year to Blackpool by Scottish cousins who had been hooked on the Autumn Jazz Party run there by the Barrons. Where you lurking thereabouts? I had never seen a lot of these guys in the flesh before – Dick Hyman, Marty Gross, Randy Sandke, etc – and most were pretty good. Dick Hyman is amazing, but he was in his tour-of-the-world mindset - bit of Tatum, bit of James P – and never quite settled down to being himself. Hyman did a duo session with Roy Williams, which Williams would have sparkled in some years ago, but this time round he sounded as if he had lost it. I hope I am wrong.
The last live jazz I saw was the Esbjorg Svensson Trio in Bristol. Bit of a knock-out. I wish I had gone to see Richard Galliano last week, though. Do you know his stuff? Have you noticed that the accordion is creeping back into the modern end of jazz? Extraordinary.
We have the Bath Jazz Festival coming up in May, or at least the jazz part of the Bath Music Festival. The music is all booked by a guy called Nod Knowles, who is very good, and convinced that European Jazz is alive and very good (and cheaper than American musicians) so come every festival we have a great battle between his pro-European troops and the “Dear Sir, Jazz is an American music – where are the Americans?” brigade. Last year he had an Italian clarinettist called Gian-Luigi Trovesi, who was wonderful and this year sees the return of John Rae’s Celtic Feet who I also think are great. It’s nice to know that my arteries haven’t totally seized up yet.
I also still play double bass in a band now and then. But fun though it is to play with, I would never recommend anyone to listen to it.