Thoughts on Zoe Schwarz’ Blue Commotion, 24 August 2022

Steve Jordon wrote these thoughts.

On Wednesday last, Zoe Schwarz brought her band, Blue Commotion, to Fleece Jazz. On guitar was Zoe’s long-standing musical partner and husband, Rob Koral.  On organ, we had the Fleece regular and audience favourite, Pete Whittaker and on drums the human powerhouse, Paul Robinson. 

Before the gig, the music playlist made by our sound tech, Gerry, was playing what I thought to be the growling, other-worldly voice of Howlin’ Wolf singing ‘Spoonful’. I was wrong – it turned out to be a cover version by an artist doing a remarkably close impression of the great man’s voice.  Thankfully, we didn’t get any such treatment of blues standards from Zoe and the band; no deferential, paint-by-numbers versions of classic numbers.  What we did get were unique interpretations of some blues standards mixed in with a wealth of impressive songs penned by Zoe and Rob,  delivered with a crossover of styles, often within individual songs.

The set began with Broken Heart Blues, a mid-tempo number featuring the fluid blues licks of Rob’s guitar, the warm organ grooves from Pete and the hard-driving beat of the drums from Paul. The tempo dropped to a sensual shuffling groove for the next number with Zoe stretching her vocal cords to deliver a throaty growl (think Janis Joplin and Maggie Bell).  Before the next song, Zoe explained that Rob was largely responsible for the music while she wrote the lyrics, but recently that division had become blurred.  So, no surprises then, that Rob had written My Handsome Man for Zoe to sing.  Peter Green’s I Need Your Love So Bad was the first cover and a good example of how there were to be no slavish attempts to copy the delivery of the original artist. This was a fine, tender interpretation from Zoe, replacing the wistful dread of Green’s voice with a more delicate yearning, the pain reflected in Rob’s keening guitar and Pete’s sensual organ breaks. Shades of the fragility and ache so characteristic of Billie Holliday’s voice are also heard from Zoe in I’ll Be Yours Tonight before the tempo picks up again with the rollicking Give Me The Key to Your Heart, driven by the drumming of Paul Robinson.  Rob Koral’s Heroes was a slow-burning, mournful blues ballad about missing a lover and beautifully executed by the whole band with each instrument bringing a pleading and yearning to the song’s story. The first set concluded with a famous blues standard: Willie Dixon’s I’m Ready, made famous by Muddy Waters, but here the tempo is faster, yet still with the defiance of the original.

The rocking blues of I Can’t Live Like That opened the second set, an autobiographical account of the advice given to Zoe as she grew up to become a blues singer.  She sings the story with feeling and, once again, one is struck by her expressiveness, both in her voice and in her body as she moves around the stage.  Brook Benton’s beautiful ballad I’ll Take Care of You brought the tempo down and the heart-breaking lyrics were delivered with feeling.  Once again, the tempo is increased to full-pelt, almost countrified rocking with People, quickly followed by the song inspired by the birth of their daughter, Pebble In My Pond.  It is a brave move to attempt to re-work a classic from the treasured Billie Holliday, given her unique voice with its manipulation of phrasing and tempo, but Fine and Mellow was a highlight of the evening, not least because Zoe’s delivery brought a different interpretation to the song, a more positive and less resigned approach.  Say It Isn’t So was a more up-tempo number, once again showcasing Rob’s deft work on guitar and Pete’s gorgeous organ breaks. The smoky ballad, Don’t Hold Back and the heartfelt, up-tempo Thank You brought the evening to a close, thanking the audience for “coming all this way”. THANK YOU! ZOE and ROB for coming all the way from Poole in Dorset to play at our club and, of course, to Paul and Pete who I believe are slightly more local. But it didn’t end there and we got our much desired encore with Willie Dixon’s scorching I Can’t Quit You Baby, an old favourite of Zoe’s from listening to Led Zeppelin.  And I couldn’t hear a trace of Robert Plant’s histrionics in her delivery! Not that I would have minded.


  1. Broken Heart Blues (Koral/Schwarz)
  1. If Only I Could Be With You (Koral/Schwarz)
  1. My Handsome Man (Koral/Schwarz)
  1. I Need Your Love So Bad (Peter Green)
  1. I Wonder Who My Next Man Will Be (Koral/Schwarz)
  1. I’ll Be Yours Tonight (Koral/Schwarz)
  1. Give Me The Key To Your Heart (Koral/Schwarz)
  1. Heroes (Koral/Hawker)
  1. My Baby Told Me So (Koral/Schwarz)
  1. 10.I’m Ready (Willie Dixon)

*          *          *           *         *        *        *

  1. 11. I Can’t Live Like That (Koral/Schwarz)
  1. 12. I’ll Take Care of You (Brook Benton)
  1.   People  (Koral/Schwarz)
  1.   Pebble in My Pond (Koral/Schwarz)
  1.   Fine and Mellow (Billie Holliday)
  1.   Sat It Isn’t So (Koral/Schwarz)
  1.   Don’t Hold Back (Koral/Schwarz)
  1.   Thank You (Koral/Schwarz)

      ENCORE: I Can’t Quit You Baby (Willie Dixon)

Thoughts on Jason Moran at Snape Maltings, 14 August 2022

It is a rare thing for me to talk about a gig outside our own dear club, but this was something special.

It was quite a day for us. Drive to Snape and spend the afternoon with a recital of a dozen fine young opera singers and their superb accompanists. They had just finished a week of intense master classes at Snape, and were quite marvellous. We were particularly impressed with the quality of the pianists: their pianism and partnership were very strong.

Then a lovely dinner at the Plough and Sail, then rolling past the Kali at the Dome to the Maltings for the concert. The stage is set with the Steinway, a chair and four monster (but low level) blinders.

The first thing did was tell us a bit about himself. He travelled quite young from his home in Texas to work with masters at one of the great NYC schools of music. Eight bars in the first song, and it is clear that he is technically a master. Quickly after that it is clear that his heart and musicality are also masterful. It was a stunning evening.

When he said that he wrote music for The Martha Graham Company, some of his compositions came into even clearer focus. You could feel the movement in his playing.

He also is interested in making the instrument sing in different ways. He said he felt the lowest register was neglected. To correct this, he played a song derived from the sound of a Dominican barber shop in NYC. He stood, used the bottom two notes, while fingering the length of the strings making the most amazing, often beautiful sounds while never losing the rhythm of the area. He had the lighting engineer add a slow blackout which intensifyied the experience. It was one of those events where the applause was delayed while the audience caught their breath.

I wonder what he would make of the Bosendorfer with the extra 4 bass keys.

And he played an incredible blues for Chicago pianists.

Enough. Buy his records. It was a pity that it was far from a sell out evening.

Take care,


Thoughts on The Horn Factory, 10 August 2022

The Horn Factory was with us on Wednesday. Local they may be but they provided us with great music and fine solos. They choose as a band to play some very difficult and intricate arrangements, I guess because they are fun to work on. The important point is that they do them very well indeed.

It was a big rig for us and for them, and it took a little while for them  to go from playing well to having fun.  What might have helped is discovering when I went to do the raffle that they were all in their seats waiting for me to announce the second set.  Well, they took it in good heart, and applauded and riffed every raffle winner

Steve Jordan has annotated the programme running order, for which many thanks. There were very many fine solos, and he has mentioned some of them.

Take care, 



1. Good News (Bob Mintzer)

2. Queen Bee (Sammy Nestico) the composer was an arranger for Count Basie

3. Fireshaker (Maynard Ferguson) featuring the trumpet section.

4. Mueva Los Huesos (Gordon Goodwin)

5. Blues Down Below (Jeff Steinberg) featuring Mike Tatt on bass guitar; Susannah West on baritone sax; Dave Charles on bass trombone

6. Merlin (Paul Baker) quite a complex piece with many changes, rather like a suite.

7. A Few Good Men(Gordon Goodwin) suggested as being a potential alternative them for Dads’ Army.

8. Apollo’s Reel(Tim Molten) with undertones of celtic folk, for me the highpoint of the first set.

*          *          *           *         *        *        *

9. Manteca (Dizzy Gillespie) a wonderful salsa-like number from Diz

10. Happy Faces (Sonny Stitt, arr. Quincy Jones) played in traditional Big Band style.

11. Round Midnight (Thelonious Monk) featuring Gilly Burgoyne on alto sax.  A gorgeous rendition, a highlight of the gig.

12. Dark Side of the Blues (Andrew Classen)

13. Huntin’ Wabbits (Gordon Goodwin) surely a tribute to Elmer Fudd of Bugs Bunny fame 

14. Strasbourg/St Denis (Roy Hargrove) featuring trumpet and flugel horn. Recorded on the album, Earfood, which is highly recommended

15. Birdland (Joe Zawinul) recorded, of course, by the pioneering jazz fusion supergroup, Weather Report. Just because it was popular doesn’t mean it wasn’t good!

     ENCORE: Hard Sock Dance (Quincy Jones)