CJC Creative Jazz Club gigs, Concerts - visiting Musicians, Post Bop

George Garzone Down Under

GarzoneRoger Manins uncoupled the microphone and looked around the club. It was winter outside but you wouldn’t have known it. The windows were steamed up from the heat of a capacity crowd; all eyes were fixed on the stage and the stocky man holding the tenor saxophone. “You know how lucky you are …. right,” Manins asked the audience?  A loud cheer went up accompanied by whistles and foot stomping. George Garzone was in town and no one was in any doubt.

The Garzone phenomenon is hard to pin down, there are so many facets to it. While incredibly famous in Jazz education circles, revered by elite saxophonists; loved by club audiences and improvising musicians, he is under-mentioned in the Jazz press. The reason for this apparent contradiction cuts right to the heart of the man himself. Garzone has always plotted his own course and his playing reflects this. He travels less than most musicians of his stature, but he has never the less carved out a unique space; that of the underground hero, the musician to have on your tenor player bucket list, the artist that is talked of in hushed whispers, ‘the guy’. While a monster player, he is always happy to share his knowledge and to share the bandstand. Garzone (4)Most of the tunes were in long form and most were Garzone originals. All were perfect for the occasion. As you might expect, the Garzone tunes were springboards for deep improvisation; the heads, however, were memorable and so well-arranged that they stood out. I failed to catch all of the titles because the applause often drowned out the announcements. There was a catchy tune referencing Bourbon Street, A moving tribute to his friend Michael Brecker and a tune titled ‘The Mingus that I know’. They all had pithy stories attached. The two standards were Billy Eckstine’s ‘I want to talk about you’ and a wonderful earthy take on John Coltrane’s ‘Impressions’. I read somewhere that Garzone plays like he talks, in a Bostonian/Calabrian dialect. The cadences and rhythms of speech are part of who we are, it is, therefore, logical that they encompass how musicians express themselves and especially on a vocal instrument like the saxophone.Garzone (1)His pick up band were Kevin Field, Ron Samsom, Mostyn Cole and Roger Manins. Like every international who passes through, he heaped praise on the local musicians. Coming from Garzone this really counts. He and Manins go back a way and the synergies between them are evident (the Garzone influence is worldwide and Manins is no exception). Whether playing in unison or in counterpoint, they sounded right together – tenors who knew just how to compliment or when to keep clear. This was a very big sound and when trading fours they cajoled each other as friends might. The rhythm section was energised as well; Cole, Samsom and Field providing rhythmic and harmonic trickery.  And at one point, ‘Hey great, I heard some Salsa in that solo’, said Garzone looking in Fields direction.

The tour was put together by Roger Manins on behalf of the CJC Jazz Club and other clubs throughout the New Zealand Jazz touring circuit. Those who attended the two master classes at the Backbeat Bar and the two sold out Thirsty Dog gigs certainly knew how lucky they were. This was the night that Boston’s best; one of Americas finest tenor-men, came to town and blew like crazy. You had to be there to fully comprehend it, but this was a night to tell our grandchildren about.Garzone (3)

George Garzone (tenor saxophone, compositions, arrangements), Roger Manins (tenor saxophone), Kevin Field (piano), Mostyn Cole (upright bass), Ron Samsom (drums). CJC Creative Jazz Club at the Thirsty Dog, Auckland, K’Rd 16th August 2017.

CJC Creative Jazz Club gigs, Concerts - visiting Musicians

Sean Coffin (AUS)@ CJC

On Wednesday the 24th October we had an overseas visitor playing at the club, tenor saxophonist Sean Coffin.   This has been a great year for the Auckland Jazz scene and especially for the CJC (Creative Jazz Club) as a number of interesting local bands, out-of -towner’s, and overseas acts have appeared.  It’s the clubs imperative to offer genuine diversity, and this has caused the CJC to extend its reach.   Because Roger Manins has such a well established Australasian reputation and because the CJC is increasingly seen as a great club to play in, the net is ever-widening.   We are on the Oceania Jazz circuit fair and square.  

Sean Coffin is known in his native Australia for his stellar educational work, but it is his high level tenor playing that draws people to him.  He is among the best that Australia has to offer.   For many years he has been accompanied by his brother Greg (piano) and the work of this formidable pair is well recorded.   Sean studied at the Berklee School of Music and later as a postgraduate at the Manhattan  School of Music.  Among his many teachers I would single out George Garzone, as this world leading tenor player appears to have created a cadre of exceptional students in Australasia.  

At the CJC Sean showcased his most recent compositions and they were mostly themed around his children.  This proved a good source of inspiration as the numbers ranged from heart-felt ballads to some faster paced offerings (one referenced children at play).   These lovingly drawn compositions were well crafted and executed and no one had difficulty relating to them.   It is arguably risky to focus exclusively on family material, but the gamble paid off because the improvisations were tender without once descending into introspective noodling.   The integrity of the compositions as Jazz vehicles was always evident.  A lovely ballad to ‘Garz’ (dedicated to George Garzone) rounded things off nicely.

A local rhythm section was put together for this gig and in due deference to the visitor he was given the best.  Ron Sampsom (drums) and Oli Holland (upright bass).  With Kevin Field overseas, Dr Stephen Small took the piano chair.  No one needs to puzzle over my views on Ron Sampson and Oli Holland as my support for their work has been constant over time.  These two go way beyond the merely competent; they are solid, reliable musicians and they are also gutsy enough to handle new challenges without flinching.   Listening to them live or in a recorded situation will tell you everything you need to know.

Seeing Stephen Small again was an unexpected pleasure, as the patch he normally patrols is on the periphery of the Jazz world.  Because he teaches classical piano at Auckland University it would be easy to overlook the fact that he has other strings to his bow.   He is a madman on keyboards and I have seen him cut loose on banks of synthesisers during a Jazz fusion gig.   To say that his fusion performance was riveting would be an understatement.  He created textural layers of sound which swirled and soared alternatively.  Put him together with a fusion versed guitarist like Nick Granville or Dixon Nacey and he will take your ears apart in the best possible way.  Stephen is also a highly talented, straight-ahead, post-bop pianist and judging by the whoops of delight as he negotiated his solo’s he needs to get down to the CJC more often.   I am casting my vote for one of his Jazz fusion gigs.

Sean worked hard all evening and at the end he invited Roger Manins to the bandstand.   There was obvious respect between the two men but that didn’t stop them from going hard out.  When the best tenor players occupy the same bandstand, it generally ends up being a joyful celebration rather than a cutting contest.   This was respectful but no quarter was given.