“I thought the band were great and played some really infectious ‘good time’ jazz – there were even people dancing! But there were no trad striped waistcoats or silly hats, those three frontmen truly played with fervour and certainly blew their (or our) socks off. I noticed there was a can of WD-40 on the speaker by the bass player though musically they were in no need of ‘freeing up’”.
These are the words of Mike Parry, the club member who supplies the excellent photos that accompany these reviews. They convey an accurate impression of the evening and I share Mike’s enthusiasm for The New Europa Jazz Band. The phrase of Mike’s that caught my attention was ‘good time’. To me this is the quality about jazz, particularly the best of traditional jazz, that appeals to me so much but also the words remind me of the rare absence due to illness of one of our most devoted members, Mary Kirk. In completing a recent survey of this season’s music, Mary referred to the lack of ‘feel good’ in the music of some of the bands. Ironic that she should miss this particular night.
These reviews often mention a problem or even potential disaster – one that is always overcome, so far. On this occasion, at the time the music was due to begin, only five of the seven band members had arrived. Hugh, our Chairman, introduced ‘five-sevenths of the band’, which got a laugh from the audience but from a few of us it was a rather nervous laugh.
With the confidence that comes from 40 years of leading the band, Cuff Billett launched the five into an excellent exploration of its repertoire of New Orleans standards and many lesser-known tunes from 1919 to the late-20s, which he described as ‘non-hits’. The music was relaxed but passionate and built on mutual understanding and fine musicianship.
The five were: leader Cuff Billett, on trumpet and occasional vocals, was to me the star of the evening, reminiscent of Bix Beiderbecke and even with traces – to me at least! - of Bobby Hackett on some ballads; Loz Garfield, on clarinet and tenor saxophone played with elegance and control; completing the tightly-knit front line was trombonist John Wiseman, who soloed with great energy. Supplying the rhythm were Chris Tilley on banjo and Cliff Harper on bass, both very effective players. Collectively the five coped admirably until, after about half an hour, the two missing musicians arrived. Although their arrival did not change the nature of the music, they added balance - Pete Jackman on drums added to the rhythmic qualities while John Clarke’s piano provided another solo voice.
The band continued effortlessly – they were seated throughout! – to the close of the evening, with the intriguing addition to their general repertoire of a couple of New Orleans-style R&B numbers. The applause was warm and enthusiastic and an endorsement of the decision to have traditional jazz as part of our regular programme.