For the club committee the inevitable anticipation and optimism of a new season is always tinged with uncertainty about our September opening night. Audiences have always been disappointingly low – we suspect that disloyal club members go away on holiday in September!
What on earth were we worried about? A near-capacity audience of 140 assembled to hear a fine two hours of skilfully varied music from the Chris Walker Swingtet and their special guest, Dave Shepherd. The music they played can be conveyed by a list of just some of the numbers selected: If I Had You; Bei Mir Bist Du Schoen; Varsity Drag; Sentimental Journey; Putting On The Ritz; and a Goodman Medley. Very much the Swing and Dixieland era that appeals to a CJC audience. To illustrate the range of the band, simply note that there was also a guitar feature, Concerto De Aranjuez by Rodrigo, and a clarinet feature by Chris Walker of Oscar Peterson’s moving composition, Hymn to Freedom.
Frankly, Dave Shepherd was the real ‘star attraction’ for many of the audience, but the key to the musical success of the evening was in the contribution of the Chris Walker Swingtet. A fine rhythm section – Greg Painter on keyboard; John Burgess on bass; Les Brown on guitar; and Haydn McCarthy on drums – drove the music forward, whatever the tempo, and supplied frequent, excellent solo contributions, and audibly responded to the playing of the double-clarinet front line of Dave and Chris.
And what about Dave and Chris?! Clearly their work has one ingredient that characterises most successful artistic partnerships – contrast. Not for nothing has Dave, for at least fifty years, been known as ‘The British Benny Goodman. His playing is impeccable, controlled, relaxed; in short he is master of his instrument and, unlike Benny Goodman, he carries it all off with a quiet, friendly, unassuming charm. On the other hand, Chris has been known, ever since he started playing jazz, as ‘Chris Walker’! As a friend and admirer of Dave he freely admits that he is often learning new tricks and techniques from him. Fine as his both strident and sensitive playing is, Chris simply has to try harder than Dave - but it’s worth the effort. He is very much his own musician, and he and the fine band he has assembled keep Dave on his toes.
Let’s hope the partnership of Dave, Chris, and the Swingtet thrives for many years to come. They clearly love playing together and will all be warmly welcomed back to CJC.
Next month we will be joined by another magnificent veteran, Danny Moss, back at the club with the Pete Godfrey Trio. Come along, contrast and compare.