Although this event stretched the physical resources of the Pallant Suite and the organisational capacity of the CJC committee, we did manage to fit in all the audience and musicians. The master plan to accommodate all those instrument cases didn’t work!
The music, on the other hand, certainly was a triumph – worth any amount of hassle. I can’t take any credit for the music of course, although I wasn’t surprised at its quality because I’d heard the students in action at some of their regular Friday night gigs at the Mitre. In case you don’t know it is important to explain that the students were mainly in the age range you would expect (18 –23) but a few were much older. Some were coming to the end of their courses – perhaps as short as six months - having played little or no jazz beforehand; some were taking a gap year before going on to full-time university courses with zero jazz content; some were classically trained and exploring jazz on a short course; a few were past College students returning specially for this gig; and three were about to start three-year degree level university jazz courses – a path that some of their colleagues are well capable of pursuing in the future. Enormous credit must be given to Adrian Kendon, the Director of Jazz Studies at the College, as well as the tutors, for their teaching and inspiration. What they have engendered in the students is a powerful love of jazz and a determination to continue playing in future, whether as a hobby or professionally.
The first half of the evening consisted of three 30-minute sets by the three interestingly titled bands: Band F, Band B, and Band D. These are the bands in which the students regularly play during their courses. First on stage was Band F. These were mostly the least experienced jazz musicians of the evening, although many already had experience in other musical fields. Although their set was enjoyable, the playing did not and could not be expected to have the confidence and flair that were to come in the following sets. Bands B and D were more accomplished and displayed exuberance and personality that are only effective when built on real confidence, ability, and experience. For purely musical reasons (!) I’d single out Band D vocalist Annie Rushmer.
The second half exceeded my, and I’m sure the whole audience’s, expectations. The first set was by the College Big Band, led with tremendous verve by Rob Milner. The discipline and control of the musicians were truly excellent and they gave us a genuinely exciting 30 minute set – it is no understatement that, if they could maintain that quality for two hours, then they would be worth booking anywhere – certainly at CJC! I have to single out two numbers: Whisper Not– a wonderful Benny Golson jazz standard - and Lil Darlin’ – the slow, delicate tune made famous by the Count Basie Band in the 1960s. Whisper Not sounded totally fresh and Lil Darlin’ had all the controlled power, sensitivity, and timing that are the hallmarks of its great performances – the College Big Band may not have equalled Basie but they undoubtedly surpassed many professional performances that I’ve heard over the years. ‘Follow that!’ was my first thought as the Big Band left the stage.
The final set was by the Jonathan Dexter Ensemble. Six of the most able students - plus, on drums, tutor Tony Shepherd –performed Jonathan’s work, KC Suite, which was a mixture of standards by well-known Kansas City musicians and several of his own compositions, inspired by Kansas City. The playing was consistently excellent; while Jonathan’s writing revealed a talent that he will have the opportunity to explore further when he starts his university course in September.
If the enthusiasm of the student musicians was a delight then it was an equal pleasure to welcome the lively student audience, who lifted the regular CJC audience while at the s