With old ‘London Shoes’ having visited the world famous “Ronnie Scott’s” Jazz Club, Sunday week ago – last Sunday I got the opportunity to attend another ‘live’ London music event. The same band, but with a few personnel changes – and a completely different ‘set’.
The venue this time was the prestigious and totally unique “St. John’s” Concert Hall located in the middle of the magnificent Smith Square, just a couple of hundred yards down the road from the Houses of Parliament.
The occasion was the finale of the ‘EFG London Jazz Festival 2019’, and my old drum teacher from back in the 1990’s- ‘Gentleman’ George Double – was thumping his tubs as part of the brilliant ‘Chris Ingham-Sextet’ – performing their entertaining ‘Rebop’ entitled set, of jazz music.
The concert itself was titled “The Music of Gil Evans” – and on the bill were the ‘Chris Ingham-Sextet’, followed by the 22- piece ‘Royal Academy of Music All Stars Jazz Orchestra’ – both bands playing a musical homage to the legendary jazz composer, arranger, performer and producer ‘Gil Evans’.
So – before describing the iconic St. John’s-Smith Square venue and the gig itself, it might be useful to perhaps provide just a little bit of background info as to who ‘Gil Evans’ was, and the massive influence he has had on jazz music.
Gil Evans, a Canadian by birth, was born way back in 1912.
He is universally famous in the world of jazz, for his collaborations with, and arrangements for, some of the all-time greats in the history of jazz music – legends such as:- Charlie Parker – Miles Davis – Quincey Jones – Gerry Mulligan & David Sanborn, to mention but a few.
Gil Evans is probably one of the main influences on the development of the styles of jazz such as cool-jazz, free-jazz & jazz fusion – and he became famous and very much in demand for his arrangement skills and technical abilities to compose orchestral musical scores for all sorts of jazz themed music, which involved adding horns, woodwind & strings.
He signed for Columbia Records label and played a leading part in the recording of 3 of legendary jazz trumpeter Miles Davis’s biggest selling and most influential albums in the late 1950’s-early 60’s:- ‘Miles Ahead’ – ‘Porgy & Bess’ & ‘Sketches of Spain’ – all three still looked upon as being classic jazz albums to this very day.
Gil Evans also recorded under his own name, and his bands were a launch-pad for many soloists and future jazz stars.
Gil Evans passed away in 1988 – but he left behind a massive legacy of work that consisted of some 18 studio albums – 20 ‘Live’ albums – 18 albums where he was the arranger plus 4 film scores.
So –last Sunday’s “The Music of Gil Evans” gig was held at the remarkable and very much unique St. John’s in Smith’s Square–Westminster.
“Smith Square” is a lovely little square of properties tucked away just down the road, south of the Houses of Parliament (eg Westminster Palace).
It was developed in the early 1700’s and was named after the family that owned the land.
House numbers 1 to 9 Smith Square as they stand today, are part of that original development.
No.17 Smith Square was once the HQ of the then newly formed ICI company back in the 1920’s and is now the HQ for the Department of Environment, Food & Rural Affairs. No. 18 was once the Labour Party HQ, whilst No’s 32/34 was once the Conservative Party HQ and is now the London HQ of the EU (don’t know for how much longer though!!!)
Smith Square really is a lovely little place to have a wander around and admire the old Georgian properties – however, it was a dark cold evening on the night of the ‘gig’ and as a result, the photos I took don’t really do the place the justice it deserves.
Bang in the middle of Smith Square is the magnificent “St. John’s” Concert Hall – the venue for the gig.
St. John’s is a Grade 1 Listed building, which basically means there are strict restrictions around any of its future development, internally or externally.
St. John’s used to be a church. It was built way back in 1728 at a then huge unimaginable cost of £40k, and-with its prominent 4 towers, it is regarded as one of the finest works of ‘English Baroque’ architecture.
The building took a massive hit from German bombing in WW2 and sadly was never used as a church again.
However, after WW2 the building was restored as a ‘concert hall’ and is now regarded as one of London’s major music concert venues, mainly because of its size and its acoustics.
Although all sorts of styles of music are performed there these days, it is especially noted for its grand orchestral performances.
So – getting back to Sunday’s very much in demand and completely sold-out “The Music of Gil Evans” gig.
The evening was kicked-off by a guitarist & singer duo who warmed the audience up nicely with some pleasant jazz themed ‘swing’ type favourites. Then it was the turn of the ‘Chris Ingham Sextet’ with my good friend ‘Gentleman’ George Double on drums.
For this ‘gig’ the Chris Ingham Sextet consisted of:- Chris Ingham (piano) – George Double (drums) – Arnie Somogyi (double bass) – Jamie O’Donnell (alto-sax) – Colin Watling (tenor-sax) plus the amazing Paul Higgs (trumpet).
Their ‘set’ for the evening, which they entitle “Rebop”, specifically showcased their versions of music from the ‘Miles Davis/Gil Evans’ bestselling 1957 album “Miles Ahead”, and included classic tracks such as ‘Blues for Pablo’ – ‘New Rhumba’ – ‘Maids of Cadiz’ – ‘The Duke’ – and, as with all Chris Ingham band gigs – Chris provided an excellent running commentary on the stories behind each separate piece of music the band performed – to the extent that, you left the gig feeling that you knew Gil Evans & Miles Davis personally.
I was fortunate to be seated just 2 rows from the front of the large St. John’s stage and so I got to witness first hand, just how good the band’s interpretation of these legendary jazz classics were.
Similarly, the enthusiastic sell-out audience really loved an appreciated the Chris Ingham Sextet’s set, and they left the stage to a rapturous applause – a very successful gig indeed.
Next up was the 22- piece ‘Royal Academy of Music All Stars Jazz Orchestra’ who performed the jazz classic Miles Davis & Gil Evans arranged 1959 album ‘Porgy & Bess’ – again receiving a rapturous ovation from a delighted audience at the end of their set. A great night of entertainment and thoroughly educational for a music nerd like me.
So that’s now a total of 8 gigs that I have been lucky enough to attend to see the various Chris Ingham band line-ups ‘live’ on stage – and 8 different venues that I would have probably never have visited if it hadn’t been for ‘London Shoes’ – and so I’m now very much looking forward to covering-off more performances by the band and visiting new venues again in 2020.
Hope you enjoyed this little story and its accompanying photos.