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John Stowell / James Chadwick Guitar Duo

John Stowell / James Chadwick Guitar Duo, Brecon Jazz Club, The Muse Arts Centre, Brecon, 14/11/2023.

by Ian Mann

December 21, 2023


Stowell and Chadwick are consummate technicians and their performance combines sophisticated chords and harmonies with a gentle intimacy and a real sense of warmth.

John Stowell / James Chadwick Guitar Duo, Brecon Jazz Club, The Muse Arts Centre, Brecon, 14/11/2023.

John Stowell – guitar, James Chadwick – guitar

Firstly, a confession. I wasn’t actually present at this gig, which saw Brecon Jazz Club welcoming the American guitarist John Stowell and his Cardiff based counterpart James Chadwick to The Muse for the November Club event.

Those of you that know me will be aware that in addition to music my other two great passions are football and beer. The beer mixes well with both of the others, but occasionally there’s an unfortunate fixture clash, meaning that I have to decide between the music and the football.

More often than not the music wins out, for example the main weekend of Brecon Jazz Festival always clashes with the first day of the football season, but in this case the music always takes precedence. After all there are still plenty of football matches ahead, but there’s only one Brecon Jazz Festival.

The clashes usually occur when my team, Hereford FC of the National League North, has a Tuesday night game, which can occasionally coincide with a Brecon Jazz Club event. I’m a season ticket holder at Hereford and don’t like to miss too many games, especially as I often miss the season opener. The choice between music and football is usually decided by how well the team is doing, this time last year I’d definitely have gone for the music but this time round under new manager Paul Caddis Hereford seem to be on the up and the style of the football has been much more entertaining. So on this occasion time the football got the nod.

In the event I was pleased that I chose the football option as Hereford defeated Banbury United 4-1 in a very entertaining game, in which the visitors also played their part. It was arguably the best Hereford performance of the season thus far, so I was pleased I didn’t miss it. There was also the opportunity for a couple of beers before the game in the Orange Tree in Hereford and afterwards in The Chequers in Leominster. All in all a rather splendid night out, but I did feel a bit guilty about not being at The Muse.

However in a classic case of “having your cake and eating it” I’ve since been able to enjoy the music too. Both Lynne Gornall of Brecon Jazz Club and James Chadwick were keen that I should see the coverage of the performance that was filmed on the night, with a view to my writing a few words about it. James has subsequently forwarded me some private Youtube footage of the event, so my thanks to him for that. Talk about getting the best of both worlds.

Chadwick is a great friend of Brecon Jazz and has been a regular performer at both Club nights and Festivals. At the 2022 Festival he performed as the co-leader (with pianist Julian Martin) of the J4 Quartet, a group dedicated to the performance of original jazz arrangements, mainly by Chadwick and Martin, of Beatles tunes. The band line up is completed by bassist Don Sweeney and drummer Ian Williams. My account of that Festival performance is combined with a brief look at the J4 album here;

The 2022 Festival also saw Chadwick leading a trio featuring  bassist Ashley John Long and drummer Mark Whitlam, augmented on some numbers by guest saxophonist Deborah Glenister. This group appeared at the Northhouse venue playing an intriguing set of Chadwick arrangements,  these including jazz and bebop standards, a Welsh hymn and a remarkable version of The Beatles’ “Strawberry Fields Forever”. Again a full account of this performance can be found as part of the relevant day’s Festival coverage.

The 2023 BJF saw Chadwick performing on successive days at St. Mary’s Church as part of two separate vocal / guitar duos, the first with singer / ukulele player Jane Williams, the second with vocalist Tara Lowe. Both these performances are reviewed as part of out Festival coverage.

Chadwick is a musician who has been on my radar for a long time, dating back to the days in the early 2000s when he used to perform at the popular Saturday Cafe lunchtime events at Hereford’s Courtyard Arts Centre.

Many of his local gigs have featured him playing well known jazz and bebop standards in the company of other leading local musicians including bassist Erica Lyons, trumpeter Ben Thomas and multi-instrumentalist Lee Goodall. However he has also released two excellent albums of original material on the nationally distributed 33 Jazz record label, “Undercurrent” (2002) and “Wacahume” (2010), the second of which is favourably reviewed elsewhere on The Jazzmann.

The personnel on these albums includes such well known musicians as bassists Andy Hamill and Jerome Davies and drummers Tom Hooper, Dave Ohm and Martin France. Adrian Fry guests on trombone and also co-produces “Undercurrent”. Lee Goodall contributes both drums and alto sax to “Wacahume” as well as acting as engineer and producer. Both albums are very enjoyable and reveal Chadwick to be a thoughtful guitarist and composer, a musician who eschews flashy runs and show off tendencies, but who plays with a quiet intelligence that is ultimately highly distinctive. I’m enjoying listening to “Undercurrent” again as I write this.
“Wacahume” review here;

In 2015 Chadwick brought a trio featuring the young musicians Aeddan Williams (bass) and Rod Oughton (drums) to Black Mountain Jazz in Abergavenny for an enjoyable performance that included  a selection of jazz standards, jazz arrangements of Welsh folk tunes, plus a couple of Chadwick originals. Oughton has since begun to establish himself on the London music scene but returned to Wales in December 2023 to lead his group Tomorrow’s New Quartet at Brecon Jazz Club, a hugely successful event that is reviewed here;

I’m less familiar with the work of John Stowell, an American guitarist, composer and educator who has been a professional musician and teacher for forty years and who has appeared on around thirty recordings as a leader or co-leader.

His website, provides details of some of the musicians that he has worked with;
Recording/Performance Credits: Milt Jackson, Lionel Hampton, Art Farmer, Conte Condoli, Herb Ellis, Bill Watrous, Mundell Lowe, George Cables, Billy Higgins, Billy Hart, Richie Cole, Paul Horn, Robin Horn, Tom Harrrell, Don Thompson, Dave Liebman, and many others.
By anybody’s standards it’s a pretty impressive list.

He has enjoyed a particularly creative musical relationship with bassist David Friesen, with whom he has recorded jazz albums and collaborated on film soundtracks.

As an acclaimed educator Stowell has taught internationally, written guitar instruction manuals and provides online tuition. He has visited Wales on various occasions, although I think this may have been his first time in Brecon. I suspect that at one time Chadwick may have been one of his students.

The footage of the duo’s performance at The Muse was filmed from the back of the room and tends to swim in out of focus. There is only one camera angle so there is no zooming in and out and no shots of the guitarists’ fingers on the strings and frets, so it’s difficult to pick up on the kind of small details that I’d normally take note of at a gig. That said the sound quality is good and it’s easy to appreciate the subtlety and dexterity of the playing.

Stowell plays a distinctive signature model Soulezza headless guitar, an instrument with a pure, ringing jazz guitar sound. As the ‘senior member’ of the duo he handles all the announcements, his tune introductions being both witty and informative and delivered with the kind of relaxed ease that befits such an experienced educator.

Stowell assumes the lead on most pieces but nevertheless this is a genuine duo performance, with both musicians contributing hugely to the success of the music. The performance is warm, intimate and unhurried, with absolutely no instrumental grandstanding. This is a partnership that is all about co-operation, not competition. Even when the musicians play solo guitar pieces, Stowell in the first set, Chadwick in the second, the other musician remains on stage, appreciating and admiring the playing of his colleague.

I would guess that the tune selection was largely steered by Stowell and the programme includes a number of jazz standards that he describes as “jam session favourites”. Stowell also has a fondness for the music of Brazil, and of Antonio Carlos Jobim in particular, so there are three Jobim songs in the set list. Meanwhile the duo’s repertoire also includes compositions from Cole Porter, Billy Strayhorn, Bill Evans and Steve Swallow.

The performance commences with Stowell posing the audience a question – can they recognise the first tune?  It proves to be an unusual interpretation of “Stella by Starlight”, ushered in by an improvised introduction and played in an unfamiliar waltz time meter, with the well known melody only becoming obvious towards the close. An intriguing but beguiling start.

Stowell is on a mission to make jazz audiences more familiar with some of less played items in Jobim’s large and very impressive body of work. “There are hundreds of Jobim songs” he explained, “and most jazz musicians only ever play four of them”. We can probably all guess what those are, and some listeners may think they have heard them rather too often. Stowell describes himself as “expanding the Jobim repertoire” and the song translating as “Pictures in Black and White” was not only new to most of the audience, but was also new to Chadwick. The latter’s sight reading skills helped to ensure that the piece was performed immaculately, with both guitarists taking solos.

“There Is No Greater Love” is the first piece to be described by Stowell as a “jam session favourite” and commences with the two guitarists playing two choruses together before embarking on their individual solos.

Stowell’s solo guitar showcase features a segue of Bill Evans compositions from the 1960s, “Remembering The Rain” and “Funny Man”. On his website Stowell makes it clear that he is influenced as much by pianists and horn players as he is by other guitarists. This beautiful solo performance is testament to that.

Stowell is fulsome in his praise of bassist and composer Steve Swallow and of Swallow’s work with the Anglo-American group The Impossible Gentlemen, featuring Brit guitarist Mike Walker. This is by way of announcing one of Swallow’s most played and best loved compositions, “Falling Grace” another delightful duo performance, subtly directed by Stowell.

The first set concludes with another “jam session favourite” in the form of “I’ll Remember April”, which sees the two guitarists exchanging solos, with each musician offering gentle and empathic support to the others’ feature. Mutual trust plays a major role in duo playing, and these two musicians have it in spades.

The second set begins with a second Jobim tune, this one with a title translating as “If You Never Come To Me”. Another rarely heard gem from the Jobim canon this is a gentle introduction to the second half and includes solos from both guitarists.

Chadwick’s solo feature is a delightful interpretation of the Cole Porter song “Night And Day”.

Stowell returns for “Isfahan”, a ballad written by Billy Strayhorn that forms part of Duke Ellington’s “Far East Suite”. The duo deliver a beautifully delicate and intimate performance.

They say that you learn something new every day. I wasn’t aware that one of Jobim’s better known tunes, “How Insensitive”, was actually a contrafact, with Jobim having written a new melody over the harmonies of Chopin’s 1st piano concerto. The duo perform this as a slow bossa, another excellent example of their relaxed and easy musical chemistry.

The footage runs out following the duo’s performance of another “jam session standard”, “Like Someone In Love”. However I suspect that they may have played at least one more tune on the night.

Lynne Gornall had informed me that this had been a well attended and very successful event and I am pleased to have become a part of it, albeit posthumously and vicariously. Thanks again to James for sending the footage over.

One would imagine that actually being there on the night would have been a spellbinding experience with these two masters of the guitar drawing the audience into their carefully crafted web. Stowell and Chadwick are consummate technicians and their performance combines sophisticated chords and harmonies with a gentle intimacy and a real sense of warmth. For all the sophistication and technical mastery there’s no flashiness or ostentation from these two unobtrusive masters of the fretboard.

James has also forwarded footage of a second duo performance at St. Margarets Church in Cardiff, which I haven’t had the time to view in full as of yet. They start again with “Stella”, but it’s possible that the rest of the set is different. Therefore it’s possible that I might return to this article with a postscript in due course.


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