Mike Westbrook and The Uncommon Orchestra play Torquay Town Hall on Sunday August 25th, presented by fougou music in association with westbrook jazz with the support of Airshaft Trust. More information

THE UNCOMMON ORCHESTRA
Pete Whyman, Roz Harding, Sarah Dean, Alan Wakeman, Ian Wellens
saxophones
Robin Pengilley, Tim Rabbitt, Sam Massey, Andy Hague trumpets
Joe Carnell, Sam Chamberlain-Keen, Stewart Stunell, Ashley Nayler trombones
Dave Holdsworth trumpet/sousaphone Matthew Bourne keyboards
Jesse Molins, Matthew North guitars Marcus Vergette bass
Kate Westbrook, Martine Waltier voices
Coach York drums Mike Westbrook M.D
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22 July 2019 
Music of Hope
No. 28
You have to be my age to remember the days when people in their hundreds danced to big bands, when jazz concerts played to packed houses all over the country. The post-war era of the late 1940s and early ‘50s was a time of hope, of socialism. Popular music reflected this, both in the revival of pure New Orleans jazz and the emergence of the new ‘progressive’ jazz. Traditionalists and Modernists each had their adherents and there was great rivalry been the two camps. For me, a love of New Orleans jazz has always been fundamental. However, at the weekly sessions run by the RAF Association at Torquay Town Hall it was the modernists who grabbed my attention. Bebop was the great liberator. The young Ronnie Scott and his 9-piece group were regular visitors, a brilliantly pared-down version of the Gillespie Big Band, with Ronnie and Pete King doing the bop vocals. I didn’t understand what I was listening to, but I wanted a part of it.
There was an infectious optimism about Bebop. Yes, it was possible to change things and cast aside convention with jazz musicians leading the way. At the time the notion of “Dizzy for President” did not seem far-fetched. Liberated from the dance bands, the modernists were given free reign. Charlie Parker took ‘Indiana’ and turned it into ‘Donna Lee’. These musicians were reinventing the music. Bebop opened the door to the explosion of creativity in the 1960s. The innovations of that period created the musical environment that jazz musicians inhabit today. And the great thing was that it was not happening in some college or ivory tower but in a popular venue like Torquay Town Hall where people gathered to meet their friends, to dance, drink and listen.
Sixty years on, and after decades of neglect, the Ballroom at Torquay Town Hall is being restored to its former splendour. On Sunday August 25th it will reverberate once again to the sound of a Big Band. Outside, the whole political, social and cultural landscape has changed. Torquay itself, once the pride of the English Riviera, has changed irrevocably. The Spa Ballroom, which once hosted Summer Seasons with the Ted Heath Orchestra, is ‘ a parking lot’ as Joni Mitchell would have it. The world has moved on, and so has our music. Jazz can no longer be identified with any particular style, it is an attitude of mind.This is reflected in The Uncommon Orchestra whose musicians come from across the generations and from many different musical backgrounds.
Commercial pressure and the ‘academicisation’ of Jazz have taken the music out of the popular arena where it rightly belongs. The Jazz boom of the 1950s and 60s is a distant memory and to today’s young musicians even Bebop may seem like Ancient History. But the incorrigible spirit of Bop lives on where there are musicians who prize freedom of expression above fame or fortune, and where there are listeners hungry for a rich, deep musical experience and what Whitney Balliett called “The Sound of Surprise”. Moreover, in Jazz a perfect balance between improvisation and structure, between the individual and the collective, is always possible. That much at least hasn’t changed in the last sixty years, or the last hundred. To me Jazz is still the Music of Hope.
Mike Westbrook
Torquay Town Hall
Torquay Town Hall

Torquay Town Hall

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