Birmingham Conservatoire Jazz Orchestra

Birmingham Conservatoire Jazz Orchestra with special guests (Photo © John Watson/

Birmingham Conservatoire Jazz Orchestra with special guests (Photo © John Watson/

With special guests, Dave Holland, Nate Smith and Stan Sulzmann
Director: Jeremy Price

Adrian Boult Hall, Birmingham UK

And that’s the last time I will ever write Adrian Boult Hall as a venue! This was a farewell concert to the hall that has been both an “away” playing area for countless jazz musicians, including some of the real jazz greats, for the past 30 years or more and a “home” ground for the students of Birmingham Conservatoire’s jazz course for the past 15, so it was completely fitting that both such groups were represented.

The evening opened with the not very catchily titled Student Support Band: Tom Niblock on alto, David Sear on trombone, Elliott Sansom on piano, Ben Muirhead on bass and Nathan England-Jones on drums. They were a little stiff on the opener, Sear’s Kiddo, but loosened up through Fred Hersch’s Endless Stars, with Sansom thoroughly enjoying the tune’s beauty in both his intro and solo; by the time they reached Niblock’s Sunlines – which looked like it was demanding sight-reading – the band was stretching with confidence. Full marks to all!

Dave Holland (Photo © John Watson/

Dave Holland (Photo © John Watson/

Then it was the turn of the Guest Artist Trio – Holland and Sulzmann both recalling the many gigs they had played in the ABH in the past, Smith a second-timer to its stage – and a selection of originals from the bassist and the saxophonist plus a tribute to the late John Taylor with his tune Ambleside, and the suitably titled Yesterdays. Here was an assured three-way conversation between three masters of jazz.

And so to the second half and the main event: a coming together of young and old, masters and students. Again Holland and Sulzmann donated tunes – The Razor’s Edge, Ario and Shadow Dance from the former, Chu Chu from the latter – and there were also Kenny Wheeler’s Old Ballad and Taylor’s Between Moons.

The sound of this band, and the confidence with which they perform often tricky music with such style and apparently easy assurance, is a real joy to behold. As John Watson, who took the pictures you see here, commented to me afterwards: “There were times when if you closed your eyes you could have been listening to the Dave Holland Big Band”. That’s a real compliment from a veteran listener to a band who are in their early 20s at the most.

Understandably the lion’s share of the solos went to the older lions, but special mention should go to BCJO’s Christos Stylianedes on trumpet, Olly Chalk on piano, David Sear on trombone, Josh Scofield on alto, Vittorio Mura on baritone and Josh Tagg on trombone for their excellent individual contributions.

Jeremy Price had spoken at the start of the concert of how jazz was “borne out of almost insane optimism in the face of adversity,” adding, “we need that now”. On the day when Britain had voted, presumably from fear, to leave the EU, the optimism of jazz was indeed what we needed. As I looked up for the last time at the square shapes in the roof and around at the wood pannelling that had been the backdrop to so many happy times in the ABH, I did feel renewed with optimism: a venue at Birmingham Conservatoire’s new home over the other side of town will surely be filled with many happy times in the future, especially if the brilliant young musicians who played on this historic day are there to play for us.

  • Alyn Shipton, executive producer of Jazz Now, which broadcasts on BBC Radio 3 every Monday night, tells me highlights of this concert will be part of the 1 August edition of the programme. For more about Jazz Now go HERE.

Categories: Live review

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