Pedigree chums

Rather than play bowls on the sunny Solihull British Legion lawn, Martin Longley elected to open his jazz umbrella indoors.

The Pedigree Jazz Band
Solihull British Legion
September 7th

It’s a curious sensation, when tributes are paid to revivals of revivals. Down the decades since the original jazz repertoire was established in the 1920s, ’30s, and even earlier, there have been a multitude of responses, counter-responses, exhumations and celebrations. The Pedigree Jazz Band are currently presenting A Tribute To Trad Jazz, a show that’s culled from their two albums of the same name.

They gaze back fondly to the British traditional jazz revival of the 1950s, with hoary old New Orleans and Dixieland numbers being refracted through the interpretative lenses of Ken Colyer, Chris Barber, Acker Bilk and Kenny Ball. Half of these four artists have never been notably hip, but have nevertheless contributed some spiritedly populist hit singles to the charts of yore. Now, the Pedigree chums are playing these old classics in a manner that’s influenced by their 1950s and early ’60s UK incarnations. It’s a surprisingly refreshing exercise, as many of the chosen ditties aren’t often played by the majority of trad combos, with these Pedigree versions benefiting from the regular rehearsals and frequent gigging of this project.

The Solihull British Legion hosts these regular Sunday lunchtime gigs, and this time it was a balmy Indian Summer kind of day, with a bowling game in progress outside on the lawn. The Pedigree-ers had jaunted up from Devon, garbed in matching striped suits, their useful historical anecdotes displayed on their tablets, with half of the band also bringing their own electric fans. This is an organised group!

The co-leaders are clarinetist Chris Walker and trombonist Roger Marks, with the other front-liner being trumpeter Graham Trevarton. The other members are Ken Ames (banjo/guitar), Tony Mann (bass) and Colin Larn (drums). Marks is well-known for his Armada Jazz Band, whilst Walker has played with the London City Stompers and Colin Kingwell, as well as leading his own Swingtet for 30 years. Ames began his career playing bass for Ken Colyer.

Preferring three shorter sets rather than the usual two, the sextet managed to entice more than the usual number of dancers onto the floor. Opening with Bourbon Street Parade, they soon scampered into Chimes Blues, a lesser-heard King Oliver gem. A Kenny Ball-ed Green Leaves Of Summer was chased by a Barber-oid Petite Fleur, with the band trimmed down to a quartet, Walker spotlit for this sensitive clarinet showcase. He’d just brandished his own white mouthpiece, as popularised by Monty Sunshine, back in the day. Still in his pocket after all these years, like a trad talisman!

All The Girls featured a flighty trombone solo, and some striking rim-cracks on the drums, then the animal noises of Livery Stable Blues might have represented the very roots of free jazz. Again, this last tune is rarely heard in the touring trad repertoire.

Ames stepped up to the vocal microphone for Louis Prima’s Buona Sera, switching from banjo to guitar. Then Dark Eyes was given a very unusual treatment as a banjo and ‘bone duet. Trevarton used an actual bugle on Bugle Boy March, which made a torrid closer for the second set. Walker sat out on Black Cat On A Fence, and Trevarton took the vocal on Goin’ Home, which was also peppered with an Ames banjo solo.

Just prior to playing Stranger On The Shore, Walker revealed that, sadly, Acker Bilk is very ill, and definitely won’t be treading the boards again. The third set was climaxed with Midnight In Moscow, a jolly ethnic forgery of a number, from the Kenny Ball repertoire. This show sped past with great humour and panache, the band providing some very amusing background notes in-between tunes, zipping from solo to solo in a set of spry arrangements of these good ol’ good ‘uns from the dark past of six decades ago.