10th Avenue Band visit the North West

 

Tuesday, June 8, 2004:
The Boathouse, Parkgate, England


The 10th Avenue Band is well-known here and the local jazz club leader thanked the crowd for supporting their jazz series. He also brought it to their attention several times throughout the evening that for some time now the room has had too many empty chairs at their jazz events. He thanked us for providing a much-needed “full house” crowd.

The boathouse is a water-side facility dressed in full Tudor style. It is a two-story affair with a pub and an elegant dining room on the first floor and the function room on the second. The long stairway to the function room made it a memorable place due to the difficulty of hauling the equipment up the stairs. The function room, (capacity 100) like most, was a rectangular room with table seating for five, hardwood floor, and no bandstand. But this one had a nice view so we got to watch the sun set as we performed. It was a beautiful sunset.

Our audience was a jovial lot that come to hear jazz and enjoy themselves. Ed’s humour had ‘em laughing, the band was “bang on”, and the crowd was moving to the music in their chairs as we played.

There is no question who captivated this audience with his playing. (I mean besides the expected popularity of pianist Charlie Clark.) That would be Brian Atkinson, our trumpet player. From start to finish his solo improvisations were exciting and outstanding.

As we had stuck to the Dixieland style all night, Ed sprang the “Hooked On Swing” arrangement on ‘em and increased our recording sales significantly.


Thursday, June 9, 2904:
The Hand Hotel, Llangollen, Wales


This gig was a “filler-type” in that we had to fill in some blank spots in our playing schedule and came up with this one only last month. The venue was in the pub area of the hotel and our band was stationed against the far wall opposite the bar. the only disadvantage of this location was the proximity to entrances/exits. In short we had folks nearly passing through the band on both sides enter or use the toilets.

During the first set, while Ed was announcing a song, suddenly a dog barked loudly interrupting the speaker. It was a comic moment as the dog was in the bar. Ed played the dog up as a critic and thus it became part of the show throughout the evening with references to our performance. Beer was served the canine in a glass ashtray on the floor by its owner. Soon the dog was belly-up the deck, paws in the air. Owner and dog exited the joint in the third set

Our outstanding soloist was clearly our drummer, Bruce Harper. His solo on “In a Persian Market” was spectacular. As the band has seen Bruce perform this solo spot before, each time he plays it Bruce improvises a new solo based on his chosen rhythmic theme. He displayed some new rhythm combinations sometimes playing multi-rhythms (polyrhythmic) alternating with straight “time” (or 4/4). It was challenging musically and entertaining all at once.

The gig ended as the bar crowd dwindled to around ten people, most of which were still hugging the bar.

Special Feature:
The Hand Hotel, Llangollen, Wales

Once in a while we wind up in a place that has more history than just a date on the front of the building. Such was the gig we played in the Hand Hotel in Llangollen, Wales, on our jazz tour of the UK.

As we did not reside but merely performed there, we cannot say we actually slept in the hotel once was occupied by some pretty impressive celebrities. The list includes: Charles Darwin, William Wordsworth, Robert Browning, Winston Churchill MP, David Lloyd George MP, Duke of Wellington, Sir Walter Scott, Bernard Shaw, Audrey Hepburn, Catherine Hepburn and Ella Fitzgerald. The Hand Hotel also touts a resident ghost.

The hotel is not posh, gigantic, or overly impressive architecturally, but the staff was wonderfully kind.


Friday, June 10, 2004:
The Wilbraham Arms, Alsager, England


This was familiar territory for the 10th Avenue Band. Our performing area was located in the bar in roughly a 9’x4’ area bordered by 4’ high sideboards. We knew the drill. ..simply squash your band into the assigned area and get started. Our M.C. was the local comic and Ed’s lame duck jokes were met with deadly silence. The M.C. told a few bawdy jokes that got ‘em going in the right direction as in smiling and laughing rather than groaning. Ed wisely opted to leave the humour to the other guy.

As we performed the first set we recognized that the audience included folks in three areas of the restaurant bar. Each of the areas were filled with listeners hanging over partitions, leaning over chairs and craning their necks to see and hear us. This set-up is not uncommon in the pub rooms and getting a good seat comes with early attendance.

As the evening progressed, the band simply swung harder, but the audience was being slowly lulled to sleep despite our efforts. All that changed with the playing of “High Society” which the crowd knew and obviously loved as they really tore it up in grand style at the song’s end. After that I noticed that the audience went back to applauding solos as well as our songs.

The chairs were still full to the end of the gig and this crowd showed their appreciation big-time.

The outstanding performances were turned in by Ed (vocals especially), Charlie on piano, and Al Wiebe on guitar.

There were cheers after the playing of our encore ‘Sweet Georgia Brown”. We promised to return.


Friday, June 11, 2004:
Abersoch Jazz Festival, Abersoch, Wales


Our afternoon gigs (two) were in a tent that was made for seating 100, plus a dance floor space of 9’x12’. We played both sets to an overflow crowd of over 150 people.

The weather was a factor. Although it was nice when we started to play, the rain came down in buckets during our two sets. It forced people to get inside and get there in a hurry. The rain stopped just before we finished our last set.

The music sounded surprisingly good in the tent. Many tents favour those in the front and middle, and muddle the sound in the back.

Our listening audience was most gracious with their applause for Jeff Davis, our bass player. I don’t think many folks can appreciate a good bass solo unless the sound and seating allow it. Jeff simply wowed the crowd with his skill. Often, in our shows, we do not feature Jeff on bass solos because each set is made up for the audience on the basis of style, tempo, etc. and the solos are incidental. Sometimes, as in this show, Jeff was featured a lot. In others, not at all.

The band received standing ovations after each set.


Saturday, June 12, 2004:
Abersoch Jazz Festival, Abersoch, Wales


The morning parade through downtown was sunny and bright. Parasols were everywhere. Children’s parasols were paraded together and the adults had their own spot in the line-up.

The band marched through tunes playing favourite classic tunes and circled back for yet another shot through town to wind things up. Everywhere were smiling faces, kids, people dancing along the parade route, and a gazillion cameras.

Our evening performance was the best of our tour in my opinion. The crowd was slow in arriving, but soon the room was filled to overflowing (into two side rooms) with eager listeners. Our bandstand was well-lit and spacious to a molecular degree. The audience could see and hear us all quite well and responded frequently with applause as solos and features were performed.

Our out-standing players were getting very difficult to identify by crowd response, as uniform applause was the order of the day. So I’ll go out on a limb and chose Ed’s trombone solos and Brian’s trumpet solos as the best of the night. The real solo highlight that stopped the show though, was Bruce’s drum solo on “In a Persian Market”.

Following our performance, the crowd queued up at the recording sales table, bought drinks for the band, cornered individual band members for conversation, and also hung on to their seats for the next show we were to play after a half-hour break.

At the conclusion of our shows, energetic, standing ovations with shouts for more greeted us. We gave them more each time.

Our encore numbers were “Rock Around the Clock” and “Jump, Jive and Wail”. Our audience showed that it appreciated those songs as well (or more) as our Dixieland and swing selections.


Sunday, June 13, 2004:
Abersoch Jazz Festival, Abersoch, Wales


The sun shone, the birds sang, and skeeters were a hummin’ on the Abershochi vine. It was time to play our last set of the tour. Woohoo!

The first of our last sets was marked by even playing on all fronts in the band. We had a nice setting for the gig, in a nice pub on the hill overlooking Abersoch and the place was packed. Our second set was well-played as well but half of our audience disappeared. We knew where they went.. .the big world soccer game (football in UK) between England and France was on T.V. and the competition is deadly serious. It’s like the Super Bowl in the U.S. but with added fan involvement that upon occasion resembles a normal day in Iraq. All we had left was a room full of happy groupies clutching our CDs.

When the band played “Clarinet Marmalade” featuring me on the clarinet as the last soloist, the rhythm section forgot the clarinet solo and went into the ending of the arrangement. When the music stopped, I walked to the microphone and began playing a song for the audience. A Welsh song. One the band members didn’t know so looks of “What the hell is that?” came over their faces. I played “Men of Harlech”. Harlech Castle was nearby and that is where the song had its origin. The audience knew the song but not the words and so they sang la-la softly to the tune. I suspect the Welsh would have known the words but we had mostly an English audience. As I had taught the song in my school classes over the years, I could have sung it. At the conclusion of my rendition the audience showed their appreciation.

Following the last set, I heard the following comments: “Brilliant!” “You’ve got a cracking good band,” and a lady insisted that we were on a different level (a higher one, thankfully) than the other bands.

Yesterday the band had time to tour castles (Criccieth, Harlech, and Caernarfon Castles are nearby) and get ready for the evening gigs. Today we packed and prepared to leave the UK. Following our two sets we left Wales for London as quickly as we could as we faced a five-our drive ahead of us.

Our entourage, made up of EZ Ed (trombone) and wife Daija Zimbrick, BZ Bob (sound man) and wife Janice Zimbrick, Perry Weinbeger (roadie), Charlie Clark (piano), Jeff Davis (bass), Al (guitar) and wife Linda Wiebe, Bruce Harper (drums), Brian Atkinson (trumpet), Bob (clarinet) and wife Betty Storms were soon on the road to London’s Heathrow Airport area where we
stayed at the Ibis Hotel on The Bath Road.

We’ll return in October and visit some of our friends again as we promised. It was a great tour.


Sunday, October 31, 2004 - 
Wilbraham Arms, Alsager, England


Like many venues we play in various countries, the set-up is in tight quarters. As we have performed at this edge-of-town, up-scale pub many times before, our audience was friendly, responsive and of the listening variety. The food was even better than we remembered, and that was excellent. (If you go there try the salmon with hollandaise sauce.)

Arriving early, we sat for an hour in the equipment van before the management arrived to open the joint. Soon we were carting our equipment in and began to unpack and set up the band in the allotted space. That is when the doors were opened to the public. The eager patrons were suddenly right in the middle of our set-up crew choosing their favourite seats and welcoming the band. Setting up came to a halt when several people expressed their happiness in seeing us again as they blocked the aisles, stepped on cords, and in general became a true enigma, a joyful pain-in-the-ass.

Besides being patient, BZ Bob (our ace sound guy, electrician, truck driver, and part-time brain surgeon) was diplomatic as he gently, but firmly, adjusted the position of a loud speaker aimed at the close-up audience. He assured the listeners that he would be gentle on the volume so not to worry.

The band played in a room about 24’x40’ and sported a dividing wall about two thirds of the way into the room. That didn’t help the visual sight-lines for those beyond the wall, but hey, they came late. The room’s atmosphere was old English with a touch of class. The windows featured a random pattern of" dimpled” squares among the plain ones that comprised the two bay windows at the front of the pub.

As we began to play our first set I noticed that the audience responded in appreciative applause on everything that resembled a bit of musical interest. The list would include not only solo work, but ensemble work, musical selections, EZ Ed’s jokes, and even the amazing contrapuntal improvisations by the front line. One gentleman remarked that he rarely hears a jazz band play loud and soft in one song. I told him that is called “dynamics”, and yes, we do that not to be different, but to enhance the music that we play. Another comment was from an older lady who appreciated the fact that we didn’t play a lot of slow songs, “They put us to sleep, you know.”

Well, there was nobody sleeping after Charlie Clark’s piano feature either. They really love Charlie’s playing. The crowd seemed to cool off a bit in our second set until “High Society” was played. Ed kicked the tune off at breakneck speed and I was challenged once again to play Alphonse Picou’s famous solo without error. A listener later commented that he used to play that solo on the clarinet himself and be had never heard it played as fast or as well. Made my day with that one.

Throughout the tour I have seldom mentioned our new bassist, Brace Phillips. He is one fine bass player and better yet, a great guy. He is big, gentle, quiet and can keep a driving fast tempo without tiring or slowing. Did I mention that he is funny? He breaks us all up in rehearsals. On the job he’s not in the solo spotlight a lot and seems to prefer that role. His background is couched in Las Vegas shows playing back-up for big-name artists and in lounge acts. We’re fortunate to have him in the band.

Since the end of the gig at the Wilbraham Arms signalled the end of our tour, we knew that as we played each song we grew closer to leaving. Our Sweden/England tour ended at 11:15 p.m. on Halloween night.

Following the closing cheers from the crowd we were invited back to play again. Then, in a matter of minutes we were packed and on the M6 on a three-hour drive that would bring us to our hotel in London. Some of us returned to the U.S. on a 10:30 a.m. flight, so we sort of bounced off the hotel for a few hours on our way to the airport.

Thinking about our Halloween gig in Alsager as we drove back, I found it quite pleasant. The thought of the up-coming national election in the U.S., now that’s scary!


Wednesday, May 12, 2004: 
Sale Conservative Club, Sale, England


“All it takes is twenty minutes to get to Sale from here,” said Bob Zimbrick (BZ), and sure enough, 45 minutes later we were there. We forgot to factor in traffic congestion.

Upon arrival, I recognized the club in all its conservativeness (is that a word?). The grass on the bowling green in front of the club was clipped to carpet length, yet I observed under close inspection, that the grass blades leaned decidedly to the right.

We were greeted upon arrival by Gordon Hand who addressed me by name. It seems that not only does he get our Avenue Band newsletter, he actually reads it. I certainly wasn’t prepared for that, so I was immediately on the defensive. “Not to worry, he said. “Just be sure to say something nice about our club.” Since he was much taller than me and was very fierce looking (hey, Gordon, you didn’t say I had to say good things about you) I acquiesced. Actually, Gordon is a nice guy and I’m just teasing about his appearance. He is only a little taller than I am.
The room was packed well before starting time and because our band had played this hall before: 1) Charlie Clark was greatly cheered, 2) Ed’s regular jokes were tossed, 3) we knew the room and its set-up, and 4)1 remembered that the club bought the band a round of drinks at intermission. Conservative though they may be with other things in life, these guys were liberal with their applause.

Some of the musical highlights were “High society”, “What a wonderful World”, and “Hooked on Swing”. The audience seemed to enjoy virtually all of our music from the “trad” and revival-Dixieland tunes to swing and even light rock versions of classic Dixieland favourites.

Finding good things to say about the club is easy as everyone welcomed us like family. Now, getting back to our hotel was another matter entirely, even if it was only twenty minutes away.

Bob Storms            

 

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