Thursday, 29 August 2013

Django Bates, Stravinsky, Charlie Parker

This is another post inspired by a concert of music, and coincidentally is about another great band-leader, following on from my post on Jerry Dammers eighteen months ago.  Last night I went to see Django Bates, who was playing at the proms - I'm obviously out of date as I still find it slightly surprising to hear that they have jazz as part of the proms, but Django actually first played there more than twenty years ago, with his band Loose Tubes.

The music last night was mostly inspired by and as a tribute to Charlie Parker, though Django also played his own composition called A Study of Touch.  Nearly all his band were Swedish - a superb rhythm section, a guitarist whose main role was to provide texture and subtle special effects, and a 13-piece brass band consisting of trumpets, trombones, clarinet, saxes and a tuba.  Django plays piano and often conducts at the same time.  The pieces were at times lyrical, at other times noisy and energetic - lots of complicated rhythm changes, and continual development and change, but often a sense of return to a simple pair of chords - perhaps echoing Charlie Parker's way of playing a basic tune, then going way off piste, before returning to the initial tune.  The music reflected more of Parker's fast, tight style, than of the slow, reflective numbers like Embraceable You.  I thought the band was astonishingly tight!

Django told a story about Stravinsky going to see Charlie Parker play in a New York club in 1951.  Parker recognised him, and quoted from the Firebird Suite in his solo, at which Stravinsky banged his drink down on the table with satisfaction.  It is only superficially strange that these two should appreciate each other's music - two of the most innovative composers in the world at the time.  As Django said, Stravinsky would have appreciated the proliferation of As, B flats, Bs, Cs, C sharps, Ds, E flats, Es, Fs, F sharps, Gs, and G sharps!

The Danish drummer also had a message for the audience: there are more people alive today than have been alive at any time in the world's history.  This means that if everyone alive today wanted to perform Hamlet, there wouldn't be enough skulls to go round.....

It was a wonderful evening, and the result of pure serendipity: I'd heard of him, but had never seen him before, didn't really know what he looked like, but I did know that he lived somewhere near me.  Two days before the gig, I passed a bunch of guys loading a car.  One of them pointed to my T shirt and said 'Montreal Jazz Festival - were you there?'  When I said I was, he said they were too, they performed there this summer.  So we got talking and I realised who he was, and then he told me about the gig at the Royal Albert Hall.  And as it's the end of the summer, and we are all feeling relaxed enough to go for a good thing when it presents itself, we went.  As Sartre says: 'We only have this life'.....I hope I bump into him again to say thankyou in person!

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