This is music that reflects the best of the era when it was created, interpreted with energy, spirit, skill and affection.
Simon Spillett (musical director solo tenor saxophone); Sammy Mayne (alto sax, flute); Pete Long (alto sax, flute); Alex Garnett, Simon Allen (tenor sax, clarinet); Alan Barnes (baritone sax, bass clarinet); Nathan Bray, George Hogg, Freddie Gavita, Steve Fishwick (trumpet, flugelhorn); Jon Stokes, Mark Nightingale, Ian Bateman, Pete North (trombone); Rob Barron (piano); Alec Dankworth (bass); Pete Cater (drums)
Recorded 23rd April 2023
It is Simon Spillett’s dream: a band brimming with UK jazz talent; a homage to Tubby Hayes. This is all part of a quest (lifelong from the age of twelve) when Simon Spillett heard the music of Tubby Hayes for the first time. It was an important moment not just for Spillett but for UK jazz because, although he did not meet Hayes, Spillett felt the need to keep alive the Hayes’ flame. It is a unique story: the way that a man born the year after Hayes died felt a kinship with the great saxophonist. Spillett explains it as part of the nostalgia for the world that his parents grew up in.
One commentator in the sixties said that Hayes ‘bestrides British Jazz like a colossus’. Fickleness, however, decreed that Hayes’ reputation should decline after his death. Albums began to disappear and little was issued. The young Spillett, not deterred, sought out and kept every bootleg, reminisced with those who were there, amassed press cuttings and in the background scrutinized thoroughly the minutiae of Hayes’ life, his affairs, his alliances, his dissipations and, eventually, Spillett learnt to play the tenor and went on to produce Hayes’ biography ‘The Long Shadow Of The Little Giant’ by far the best account of the jazz life in the fifties, sixties and the early seventies. Hayes in his life, had a great deal of bad luck with his health but he struck very lucky with his biographer. The biography tells almost as much about the social history of those times as it tells us about Hayes. Simon Spillett and Tubby Hayes go together.
Bringing Hayes’ scores to life was an important step and the purpose of this album. The big bands that Hayes put together were never on a permanent basis., not like his quartets. During the sixties, an impressive roster of musician at any one time could be found sitting in the band’s ranks: Kenny Wheeler, Peter King, Harry Klein, Keith Christie, Ronnie Scott, Jimmy Deuchar, Ronnie Ross, Allan Ganley: the royalty of the UK jazz scene. The arrangements and the compositions were good, some were intriguing. Many of the pieces were built around Tubby. A major piece like ‘100% Proof ‘was dedicated to Tubby’s solo and left the band itself with very little to do, Nevertheless, the cohesion achieved by the bands in the sixties was achieved by the professionalism and the dedication and respect that the musicians had for Tubby.
‘Dear Johnny B’ was introduced on the album ‘Mexican Green’. It was a great way to start that album and it works just as well here in a full band version. The band is tight and bright. Pete Cater’s drums are forceful and propel the band into a slightly strained, edgy alto solo by Sammy Mayne. Steve Fishwick’s trumpet restores confidence. Straightway, the impressive aspect is listening to the writing for the trumpets and the glistening, glowing power of that section as they roar to the end of the tribute to one of Tubby’s favourite drummers. What punch! An impressive start!
‘Take Your Partners For The Blues’ the boppish track is played with panache. Alan Barnes leans into his solo. Ian Bateman swings. The saxophone section plays as though they have been together for years. Alex Garnett is mellow and contrasts beautifully with Simon Allen. The chase choruses are exhilarating. To hear this live would be a vivid experience.
Victor Feldman’s ‘Seven Steps to Heaven’ was recorded at the ‘100% Proof’ session in May 1966 and not issued at the time. It was a powerful arrangement and is a jazz mystery why it was on the shelf for so long. The 2023 version has solos by Freddie Gavita and Alex Garnett.
Simon Spillett is featured on ‘Solweig’ a swaying romantic bossa, his tenor emerges softly out of the orchestral sounds before Rob Barron completes the mood wistfully. One of the most involving themes is ‘Blues for Pipkin’ Mark Nightingale’s trombone charms the middle section with a wide generous sound.
Winning the prize for the best title is ‘She Insulted Me In Marrakech’ which was featured in 1973 in Tubby’s last big band broadcast. The dancing theme is underpinned by Pete Cator. There is a very ‘modern’ solo by Pete Long which has a north African, Jemaa el-Fnaa, feel to it before thoughtful Freddie Gavita soars over the saxophone riffs.
Choosing charts that are not easily available on commercial recordings is an important aspect of the album. It helps; to throw a focus on Hayes’ gifts as composer arranger and enables a realistic, rounded appreciation of the man. It is also important to hear how these arrangements, sixty years old, sound with musicians born well outside the age of Hayes. This is music that reflects the best of the era when it was created, interpreted with energy, spirit, skill and affection.
Recording twelve tracks in one day is remarkable a great tribute to the professionalism of the whole group. The recording itself has great presence and detail. There is always pleasure in music so well realised.