Making sweet music
Jazz seems to run in the family. I remember my father was a really good tenor, if not baritone, who enjoyed belting out standards in clubs on family holidays. But how it’s ended up with my son and me in a band that is part of the line-up opening Ealing Jazz Festival this year is a bit more of a mystery, particularly given my schooling.
When we were in our teens, Dame Verity and I were given the choice – like our classmates – of music or sewing lessons. No contest, we said. You could gossip in sewing, but you couldn’t in music.
Fast forward a few decades and how times have changed. It started with a birthday, as so often happens with momentous decisions. I decided I’d always wanted to play tenor saxophone (whenever I hear one played my toes curl with delight), and I was running out of time.
A trip to the local adult education institute revealed a class titled ‘Saxophone for beginners’. Sorted, thought I. It would teach me how to read music and play saxophone. So off I trotted. At the end of our first year, my classmates and I decided we enjoyed it so much we prevailed on the institute to provide another: saxophone improvers. Our teacher bailed to play on a cruise liner, but we were provided with another. And another class: saxophone advanced, although I hardly think we were advanced, just ploughing through our jazz music exams.
The following year, we persuaded them to run one on jazz improvisation, then another, and another…until with more and more emphasis on having to take exams to secure funding, and the threats of cuts looming, our little band decided to organise itself. Since then we’ve rehearsed in a scout hut, a union venue, a school, and currently a rowing club – but always on a Monday, hence our name: Jazz Mondays.
We have grown and become more versatile: a wall of saxes (four altos, four tenors, with occasional baritone, flute or soprano thrown in), bongos, drums, keyboards, bass guitar, guitar and vocalist. Members have come, and gone, and come again. There have been bust-ups, because as with any band, egos are involved. To hear us you’d think we were dealing with Wynton Marsalis and his band, on occasions. Once I was the only female, now there are four of us – including our first teacher. And our other teachers have played with us, so we can’t be that bad.
It took years to persuade them that a vocalist might provide a bit of light and shade to our work, but now I don’t think we’d want to be without one. I just wish we’d been able to rotate those who sing with us successfully. Still, it’s been fun playing at weddings, birthdays and festivals.
Our repertoire has grown, too. Whereas we started on jazz standards, now these are interwoven with ska, blues and soul. We segue from Valerie to Equinox, from You Can Leave Your Hat On to Fly Me to the Moon. And I can only say it’s a joyous experience.
I hold my hand up: whereas I used to practice on a daily basis, now I rarely do. Want to, yes, but too knackered to get up early or play after making supper. Yet those moments when you lose yourself in a solo and fly to another world are so worth it, I just wish there were more hours to the day in which I could learn and get better. A three-hour gig last weekend has ripped my lips to smithereens, and we have another long one this weekend.
So if you’re not up to anything on Wednesday 29th July at 9pm, why not join us at Ealing
Festival in Walpole Park? We’d love to see you, and maybe share a drink afterwards. Is it a date?