'Gillespiana' Be-Bop Orchestra

WHEN Dizzy Gillespie's 1040s big band launched into its tour de force 'Things To Come', there were few sounds more audacious and modernistic in jazz. And half a century later, hearing Pete Long's 19-piece band hurl itself into the same piece, the beat faster than a sprinter's pulse, the brass playing impossibly fast and high, and solo trumpeter Mark Armstrong pirouetting through Gillespie's breaks quicker than a humming bird's wings, little has changed. The adrenaline-charged music of the world's first bebop big band is still some of the most demanding orchestral jazz ever written.

 

Back in 1946, when Gillespie's original group squeezed into the 52nd street basement of New York's Spotlite cub, its Oxford Street counterpart was also ajazz club, so there was a sense of continuity when on its London debut Pete Long's group spilt over the stage on to the 100 Club dancefloor in an equally tight fit. Long was the ideal man to front the band, his bonhomie and larger than life personality, not to mention an outrageous orange bandleader's jacket, capturing much of Dizzy Gillespie's avuncular stage presence.

But stage presence is one thing, meeting the technical demands of the music quite another. It took four solo trumpeters to take on the role of Gillespie himself.

 

Gillespiana at Ronnie Scottís. W1. The Times****

In Pete Long, reeds player, raconteur, bandleader and all-round wit, we have a genuine home-grown treasure. If his projects ñ Echoes of Ellington chief among them ñ have attracted few column inches in the past, it is partly because Long, who knows this music inside out, appears to wear his expertise so lightly. In another life, he might easily have been a vaudeville entertainer.

Inspired by the miraculous bebop orchestra assembled by Dizzy Gillespie in the 1940s, Gillespiana is every bit as rewarding as the Ellington retro unit. Crammed on to the stage at Ronnie Scottís, the musicians supply a series of controlled detonations in which instrumental flair goes hand in hand with joie de vivre. Gillespie himself was blessed with a clown's mischievous temperament on stage. Longís style of presentation, full of very British whimsy (shades of Tony Hancock) and droll non sequiturs, brings an added dimension.

The five-man trumpet section, naturally, has the most fun, players of the calibre of Steve Fishwick and John Scott firing off one high-register arabesque after another as a first-rate rhythm section stokes the tempo. That frenzied Afro-Cuban anthem Manteca was given all the visceral energy it required.

Elsewhere, if Anton Brownís vocals were not quite so assured, Long joined in with gusto on the ultra-fast nonsense onomatopoeias. Full of ìoopsî and ìbamsî and ìbopsî Gillespieís titles are a gin-soaked leap into the surreal. It can’t be often that a room resounds to the spirited call of Hey Pete, Letís Eat More Meat.

The saxophone section, which included the ever-resourceful Derek Nash, grabbed back the initiative on the slightly darker contours of Tadd Dameronís Good Bait.

Six decades ago, Gillespieís band enjoyed a relatively brief moment of glory. Long ensures that the bravura solos live on.

Clive Davis.

'CD Review' magazine - Gillespiana Live

Pete Long has already masterminded an ensemble devoted to the best of Ellingtonia; now he has turned his considerable energies to presenting Dizzy Gillespie's music, both with his Bebop Quintet and with this larger ensemble.

 

That Dizzyís big band book is both dauntingly difficult to play and exhilarating for audiences is a truism but Long's particular gift is to enhance the experience with his enthusiasm and didactic skills. I've heard him do this at the 100 Club but it seemed all the more appropriate at this enthusiastically received concert for the school music club, Mill Hill School, London ñ with its mix of youngsters and parents, leavened by a few old jazzers like your reviewer.

 

Another of reedman Longís talents is to find like-minded musicians who can tackle the trickier aspects of these scores and pull them off effectively. He also needs soloists of consequence and a leather-lipped trumpet section. Itís good to report success in all these areas. 'Our Delight' featured the explosive talents of Mark Armstrong, the rest of his section mates handling the trumpet passages with seeming aplomb, aided as they were throughout by the matchless skills of lead specialist Tony Fisher. More pleasures came from tenorist Alex Garnett and Alan Grahame's merrily clanking vibes, underpinned by Chino's authentic Cuban conga beat.

 

Veteran Frank Holder came on to warble the time-honoured lines of ëHe Beeped When He Should Have Boppedí which spotted trumpeter Sid Gauld, another whose command of the idiom seemed assured and spot-on. He had an equally fine run on ëMantecaí before Jim Richardson handled One Bass Hit' with his customary application, helping, with drummer Alan Cox, to keep band momentum on the boil the night long. Even those less well acquainted with Dizzy's book know that it poses challenges that are tough to accomplish, most notably the brilliant brass passages on 'Emanon' which were carried off gallantly, again with Armstrong and Garnett book-ending the enterprise. Another who scored impressively was altoist Lisa Grahame whose strong, grainy sound enlivened one of the vocal numbers, helping to make the evening much more than just another repertory re-run.

Peter Vacher / 3.3.2003

 

Gillespiana. Downstairs The Guardian ****

" Dizzy night: part of the legion of nonchalant studio hypertechnicians making up Gillespiana is an expert, occasionally assembled 19-piece jazz orchestra that plays blistering 1940s Dizzy Gillespie arrangements in pubs that barely have room for the band in the bar, let alone on the bandstand. Led by the dynamic alto saxophonist Pete Long and featuring a legion of nonchalant studio hypertechnicians most British jazz fans have hardly heard of, it is a legacy band with a difference. It plays with an explosive relish that would blow the audience out of the doors if the doors could be located in the crush. Gillespie's late-1940s big band may have been the first full-scale, modern-jazz, bebop orchestra, but it was anything but cerebral in its bravura, punchy swing and the breathtaking deviousness of its arrangements, and Long's replica catches just that feeling. "Blues in B flat," shouted Long (who bawls at his musicians like a football coach) to his still-settling partners at the outset, and pianist Simon Wallace eased them into a loose swinger that turned into Tad Dameron's Cool Breeze. Young trumpeter Mark Armstrong, the solo star of the outfit, played the first of many scorching trumpet breaks on this opener, though fellow trumpeter Steve Fishwick and tenor saxophonist Pete Wareham sometimes caught the subtler bop-era implications more shrewdly with a less bravura approach.

Fishwick delivered a succinctly telling solo on Gillespie's Groovin' High, and on St Louis Blues the band negotiated the skid from soaring impressionism to deft groove right on the nail.

Long's own alto playing was a considerable strength, saxophonist Alex Garnett was throatily eloquent, and some sharply hip scat-singing and gibberish-vocalese came from alto saxophonist Colin Skinner and guest veteran Frank Holder. Long's smeared, bluesy notes and hot sound raised the temperature on the Latin version of Woody 'n' You, and the audience did its best at call-and-response on Gillespie's Oop Bop Sh'Bam, with the leader amiably shouting "rubbish" at the punters at intervals. It was that kind of night.

John Fordham

 

"WHEN Dizzy Gillespie's 1940s big band launched into its tour de force 'Things To Come', there were few sounds more audacious and modernistic in jazz. And half a century later, hearing Pete Long's 19-piece band hurl itself into the same piece, the beat faster than a sprinter's pulse, the brass playing impossibly fast and high, and solo trumpeter Mark Armstrong pirouetting through Gillespie's breaks quicker than a humming bird's wings, little has changed. The adrenaline-charged music of the world's first bebop big band is still some of the most demanding orchestral jazz ever written."

Alyn Shipton. The Times

 

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