All That Jazz; Not All Great Jazz in Gateshead Happens at the Sage. David Whetstone Previews on the outside and Other Cool Autumn Offerings

The Journal (Newcastle, England), September 1, 2009 | Go to article overview

All That Jazz; Not All Great Jazz in Gateshead Happens at the Sage. David Whetstone Previews on the outside and Other Cool Autumn Offerings


JAZZ clubs thrived across the North East in the 1950s and 60s but the musical genre is still thriving, as Jazz North East's busy autumn schedule demonstrates. The organisation, 43 years old this year, gets money from Arts Council-funded Jazz Action to stage concerts. This it does with great passion.

As ever, attracting new audience members is part of the game. But those just slightly in the know might ask nervously: isn't jazz a genre built on a minefield? Jazz North East board member Dave Clarke, who introduced jazz to Live Theatre during a long association with the theatre company, runs through the niceties of 'trad' jazz, with its roots in the black American sounds of the early 20th Century, and the modern jazz championed by the likes of Charlie Parker and Dizzy Gillespie.

Modern jazz, he suggests, has now been superceded by contemporary jazz.

Then there's free, or improvisational, jazz and - I confess a new one to me - straight-ahead jazz.

Perhaps the best response to all this is not to worry about words and definitions but just take a listen to some of what Jazz North East has to offer in coming weeks.

The autumn highlight is the fifth On The Outside, an international festival of improvised jazz music.

After two years at the King's Hall, Newcastle University, followed by a year at Dance City, the festival nearly foundered last year when Newcastle theatre venue The Round closed suddenly.

At the last minute the festival transferred to Gateshead Old Town Hall. The Tyneside Cinema had just vacated the main space and moved back to Newcastle but the raked seating was still in place -perfect for On The Outside.

The festival proved such a success that it returns this year.

In fact, this autumn sees the prominent building, dating from 1870 and listed Grade II, launched as a permanent and flexible arts venue after an extensive refurbishment by Gateshead Council.

"One thing I'd like to stress is how international the festival is," says Dave. "We have musicians from the USA, France, Spain, the Netherlands and the UK - and also three from our region."

These are Andy Champion, who plays double bass and comes from Gateshead, Graeme Wilson (tenor and baritone sax), a Scot now based on Tyneside, and Chris Sharkey (guitar) who grew up in Gateshead but is based in Leeds where he plays in the groups trioVD and Acoustic Ladyland.

"Chris and Andy used to be in a band together at primary school," says Dave who has clearly done his homework.

The festival may see them on stage in Gateshead together once again -along with 12 other performers from around the world.

Programmed by Paul Bream, of Jazz North East, the festival features five sessions in which various groupings of musicians are thrown together to improvise.

The festival runs from October 9-11. In the opening set of the first session on October 9, Scottish sax player Raymond MacDonald gets to jam with two young Americans, Daniel Levin (cello) and Chad Taylor (drums and vibraphone).

The second set involves Chris Sharkey, French guitarist Marc Ducret, Amsterdam-based Cor Fuhler (piano and electronics) and Graeme Wilson. …

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