Thoughts on Sara Dowling: The Jazz of Judy Garland – 12 January 2022

Sara Dowling: The Jazz of Judy Garland - 12 January 2022

I have written in the past about the joy of seeing singers who tell stories, and there are many that have graced our stage. Sara Dowling is a superb example of this,  body, research and soul. Couple that with a great voice and a fine backing trio, it was a totally delightful gig.

Chris Ingham’s piano trio, with Dario De Leche on bass and George Double on drums, led us off. Their rendition  of “Come Rain or Come Shine, (Arlen/Mercer) showed us how exciting a piano trio can be.  

The songs all had a reference to Judy Garland. Every song that Sara sang was a clear story to hear and see. Ballads were sung with intensity and clarity. Up tempo numbers were joyous and at times raucous and hilarious. She sent her husband Dario up something rotten in their duo of Rick Astley’s “Wonderful You”.

I liked the programme. The instrumental combinations were varied, with lots of duos between Sara and piano, bass or drums, as well as with the trio. She left plenty of space for the trio to blow. Chris’s solo on “Falling in Love with Love”(Rogers) was beautiful, and a lesson in ‘less is more’. Sara scatting with Dario on Walter Donaldson’s “You’re Driving Me Crazy” was great. George’s solo on “Get Happy”  (Arlen) was a treat.

It was a lovely gig, for me from sound check to   gig to putting stuff away. She is a delightful person to work with and she must come back to us soon. 

The next gig is on January 26, and it will be a doozy. John Etheridge on a stage full of guitars, Pete Whittaker on just one Hammond Organ, and George Double is back on lots of drums. Try hard not to miss it.

Take care


Thoughts on the Alan Barnes Sextet, 22 December 2021

Just listing the band members shows how good a gig this was. Alan’s sextet gave us Ellington and Strayhorn and a joyous evening. I will list them in the classical order, but this was a band of equals playing at the top level.

Alan Barnes played alto and clarinet, and was raconteur superbe.

Karen Sharp played tenor, baritone and clarinet, and did some of the arranging.

Robert Fowler played tenor and clarinet, and did some of the arranging.

David Newton, our honorary Presidentè, commanded the piano.

Simon Thorpe played double bass with his usual intensity.

Clark Tracey played drums; he brought “Stomp, Look and Listen” (Ellington) to the party.

I am sure you will agree that is a very tasty group. An excellent audience certainly did. They got a wonderful evening of jazz. Everything was played with verve and energy, and synergism between the players, very close, I think to the intention of the composers. I will only mention one tune which was a bit different in approach.

“The Mooche”, by Duke Ellington and Irving Mills was played as a story. At the time, a mooche was the local drug dealer. All three played the first 16 bars of the head on clarinets; the harmonies and dissonances were disturbing. Karen switched to tenor for the rest of the head, which was in an almost mellow mood. Having seen it happen to a musician in my youth,  I could not get out of my mind the scream of need, followed by the calmness after injecting.  This was amazing story telling and these words do not do it justice.

We had great solos from everyone. We had lovely ballads, like Ellington’s “In a Sentimental Mood” with beautiful horn choruses. We had smashing up tempo numbers like his “Cottontail”, getting the audience jumping in the first few bars.

I will remember some of this gig for a long time. That doesn’t stop me looking forward to our new season, which we all hope will be allowed to be. Sara Dowling (The Jazz of Judy Garland) has a terrific voroice and phrasing. That will be on January 12th with Chris Ingham on piano, Dario De Lecce on bass, and drummer Geoge Double. See you there.

Take care,


Thoughts on Art Themen Trio – 24 November 2021

Art Themen Trio, 24 November 2021

A brilliant gig at Fleece Jazz

It is such a pleasure to see the return of Art Themen in trio form (or in any form). It seems to me that his playing gets better and better with age. He is a great story teller on both sax and mic. This was a thoroughly entertaining gig. Three lovely guys playing at being at odds, with George Double as the Thain. Pete Whittaker and Art were villeins. 

Their CD, at is excellent, and we even get a mention in the liner notes, but oh, live jazz is better. 

The programme the trio gave us was varied in tempo and vibe. We started off with Ben Webster’s “Hanky Panky”. It got a somehow sexy military intro, and showed Art at full speed. “Willow Weep for Me” had Art in beautiful ballad mode, leaving lots of space for the tone and the story to be heard. Art pulls all the timbres out of the tenor. 

Pete had a lovely soulful solo on “Willow…”. I really like his left hand bass all through the gig.

“I’m an Old Cow Hand”?  Is this Johnny Mercer tune appropriate for a jazz gig? It is when this trio plays it. Great fun, with George’s horse hooves and solo on this one a delight. 

This was a gig to savour, with vibe and tempo changes even within a tune. An example is “Brahms I Think”, a pastiche by Art. We had swing, tango, rock to name a few. The Brahms theme is in my head but I cannot remember its name.

So we move from one great gig to another in a months time. Alan Barnes is bringing a super sextet to us on Wednesday 22 December. Alan, Karen Sharp, Robert Fowler on saxes, David Newton on Piano, Simon Thorpe on bass and Clark Tracey on drums. Reserve soon for this one.

Take care,


On Wednesday, April 27, 8:00pm – Julian Costello Quartet “Connections” £18

Julian Costello Saxes

Maciek Pysz Guitars

Dave Jones Bass

Eric Ford Drums

“This is highly melodic music that is readily accessible, but consistently intriguing, and full of rhythmic sophistication.  It all makes for a very distinctive album and one that deserves to do well.” – The JazzMann

A musician who cites Jan Garbarek, Ralph Towner, John Coltrane and Jimi Hendrix among his influences, Julian’s playing has a sense of graceful lyricism and an inner strength, carefully crafting his improvising, which is beautifully structured and mellow.

All four musicians have strong and distinctive individual voices, but the sound they collectively produce is warm, playful, intimate, intricate, intense and, most importantly, far from banal or boring. Don’t take my word for it, look at these reviews! 

“All in all, masterfully written and played, elegant and expressive.  I’d wholeheartedly recommend giving this a listen.” – Lance Liddell,  Bebop Spoken Here, on  Connections: without borders. 

Connections is a very enjoyable and often very beautiful album, one that again demonstratesCostello’s flair for melody and his abilityto build and sustaina specific mood or feeling”. – The JazzMann

On Wednesday, March 9, 8:00pm – Martin Speake’s Universal Connection £18

Martin Speake Sax

Hans Koller Piano

Anders Christenen Bass

Anders Mogensen Drums

“Speake’s playing can be as enigmatic as his writing. The lyricism and subtlety of both his written and improvised melodies sometimes unfold so gradually that one needs to take a mental step back to absorb it all.” – John Kelman, All About Jazz

Although British jazz and jazz on the continent are continuing to thrive on their respective local levels, not many truly Anglo-European groups have managed to connect with such ease and shared understanding as Universal Connection.  Bavarian-born UK resident Hans Koller and London-born Martin Speake have both been at the forefront of the London jazz scene for a number of years and have both worked with bassist Anders Christensen during his 10-year stay in London. Copenhagen-based Christensen and Anders Morgensen have worked together as a celebrated Danish rhythm team for many years and have been part of some of the most ground-breaking bands on the vibrant jazz scene in Scandinavia. This international quartet is testament to the vibrancy, beauty and imagination of jazz old and new.

“Speake is a strikingly talented improviser with a seemingly bottomless well of inspiration” Encyclopedia of Popular Music

On Wednesday, February 9, 8:00pm – Nighthawks presents Jazz from the Movies £18

Matt Wates Sax

Roy Hilton Piano

George Trebar Bass and Leader

Pete Hill Drums

Says leader George Trebar:

“Nighthawks is my latest project featuring the talents of Matt Wates on Alto, Roy Hilton on Piano and Pete Hill on drums. I feel very privileged to work with these superb musicians who between them cover a vast range and set of experiences performing, composing and arranging. Matt is a multiple Jazz Award winner on Alto, Roy has played piano for Sonny Stitt and Buddy Greco and Pete is the drummer for Alfa Mist.

This band explores Film music within a classic Jazz Quartet from the music of Michel Legrand to Burt Bacharach and Elmer Bernstein from films such as Butch Cassidy, Taxi Driver and Thomas Crown affair, with arrangements by myself. We also perform our own compositions and an eclectic mix from the Jazz canon. ”

Thoughts on Alina Bzhezhinska’s Hip Harp – 12 November 2021

This was a marvellous gig. But first the scene needs setting.

Visualise our stage from your left to right. You will first see Joel Prime with his extensive percussion kit. Joel played a duo with Alina the last time she was with us. Then Alina Bzhezhinska behind a concert harp, sitting so you could just see her feet on the pedals. Behind her and a little to the right electric bassist Mikele Montolli stood. To the right of Alina, Jay Phelps played his trumpet on most of the tunes. On the far right (not that far, not a very big stage) drummer Adam Teixeira held court. We had stereo percussion.

We started off with “Soul Vibrations” (I think by Sun Ra), with the quartet. This was a lovely blast of a sg, with a strong third beat that had us into the band in  4 bars. There were duos between Alina and the two percussionists, reminiscent of her first gig with us where she played to amazing sets with Joel, as the other musicians were blocked in traffic.

Alina’s “For Carol” was next up, with Jay using his Harmon mute. We haven’t seen Jay in too long, and I had forgotten how good he is.

The set finished with “Los Cabballos“ (the horses) by Carlos Chávez. Can music be onomatopoeic? You could hear the horses throughout the song. 

Here I am looking for highlights of a top class evening, when every song had something to say. Everyone had solos and they were all grand. We finished with “Action Line”, (Ray Davies?).Both Alina’s and Jay’s solos were memorable. Please can this group come to us again so that a much larger audience will see them outside of the London Jazz Festival.

On Wednesday the 24th of November, the legend that is Art Themen will  be with us, Art on tenor, Steve Whittaker on Hammond and George Double on drums. Do join  us.

Take care,


On Wednesday, April 13, 8:00pm Elaine Delmar and her Trio – £22

Elaine Delmar Vocals

Barry Green Piano

Simon Thorpe Bass

Bobby Worth Drums

Let others speak for the wonderful Elaine Delmar:

“Ageless, evergreen singing…as beautiful and talented as ever…she’s marvellous!” – Michael Parkinson 

Her style is a mixture of Broadway musical punch and jazz-inflected subtlety. She has the belting defiance of a torch singer at times and the knowing raised eyebrow rasp of a blues artist, but also a hushed, confiding intimacy where it is appropriate, it is a blend that invites the widest possible audience. – John Fordham, The Guardian


“★ ★ ★ ★ The pianist Barry Green has self-produced a handful of enterprising recordings for his Moletone label that are testament of a song melody-driven contemporary post-bop manifesto.” – Jazzwise

“Simon Thorpe is one of the UK’s best-known jazz bassists. He was nominated in 2016 and again in 2017 for a British Jazz Award, and is a firm Fleece Jazz favourite” – Dave

“Bobby Worth is drummer to the stars” – Dave

On Wednesday, February 23, 8:00pm Simon Thorpe’s “Jivin’ Miss Daisy” – £25

Simon Thorpe Bass and Bandleader

Liz Fletcher Vocals

Enrico Tomasso Trumpet

Malcolm Earl Smith Trombone and Vocals

Luke Annesley Saxes and Clarinet

Alex Garnett  Saxes and Vocals

Colin Oxley Guitar

John Pearce Piano

Matt Skelton Drums..   

Jivin’ Miss Daisy is an amazing band with lots of energy and the best songs from Gershwin, Cole Porter, Duke Ellington and many many more from the wonderful age of swing, jazz and jive.

Bass player Simon Thorpe established Jivin’ Miss Daisy in 1999.  Since then the band has gone from strength to strength . You can be sure Jivin’ Miss Daisy will have the audience dancing, partying or just singing along. JMD play your choice of classic songs from Gershwin, Cole Porter and Ellington through to Nat King Cole and Ray Charles.

What an amazing lineup! Nine superb musicians that we know well and love, ready to jive you with pleasure.

“Cheery vocals…good-time feeling…strong soloists…this band should put smiles on plenty of faces!” – Jazz UK Magazine

On Wednesday, January 26, 8:00pm John Etheridge’s “Blue Spirits Trio” – £18

John Etheridghe, Pete Whittaker and George Double

John Etheridge Guitars

Pete Whittaker Organ

George Double Drums

John’s trio includes Pete Whittaker on organ, and George Double on drums, and John on a plethora of guitars. Blue Spirit came about through John’s love of the perennially attractive combination of Electric Guitar and Organ. Blue Spirits have a take on this well known combination in a way that connects with the bluesy, intense side of John’s playing .There are plenty of typical swing elements, augmented by soulful ballads and fiery funk outings. The aim is to groove and move! This band has been popular on the club circuit for many years and always delivers.

John’s history includes playing with Grapelli, heading Zapatistas, duos with John Williams, and his own bands. As well as  a world class player, he is a classy raconteur. 

Pete is a piano player who migrated to Hammond organ after hearing the classic 1950s &60s Jimmy Smith records. He is a Hammond star.

George’s playing and recording credits include Dame Shirley Bassey, Grammy Award Winner Jack Jones, Marc Almond, Mica Paris, Ruthie Henshall and Kym Mazelle. His West End and touring theatre record includes stints on Wicked, Guys and Dolls, Avenue Q, Sinatra and Anything Goes.