by Ian Mann
May 11, 2022
A thoroughly enjoyable evening of big band jazz from a vastly experienced and well drilled ensemble.
Steve King Big Band, Kidderminster Jazz Club, The Corn Exchange Room, Kidderminster Town Hall, Kidderminster, Worcs. 05/05/2022
It has become customary for Kidderminster Jazz Club to present at least one performance featuring a local jazz act during each season of events.
The selection for this current season was the Steve King Band, an ensemble based in nearby Halesowen that features some of the Midlands’ leading big band musicians, a mix of full time players and semi-pros.
The band is led by trumpeter, composer and educator Steve King and has been running for more than fifty years. It has won numerous awards and released and released five albums, the most recent of which celebrates the band’s 50th anniversary. Guest soloists with the band have included the leading Midlands musicians Bryan Corbett (trumpet) and Andy Shillingford (saxophone).
The SKBB is in demand for a wide range of functions ranging from formal jazz gigs to dances, cabaret and 1940s theme events such as the annual 1940s weekend on the neighbouring Severn Valley Railway.
The version of the band that King brought to Kidderminster featured a massive line up including five reeds, four trumpets, four trombones, tuba, piano, guitar, double bass, drum kit and vibraphone / percussion. With King conducting and also playing some trumpet this added up to an impressive twenty musicians. For some numbers the band was augmented by the singing of US born, Kidderminster based vocalist Lynn Dawes, a regular guest with the band.
The saxophone section boasted a basic line of two tenors, two altos and baritone, but every member of this talented and versatile quintet doubled up on at least one other instrument. In addition to the saxes we also heard a variety of flutes, soprano sax, clarinet and bass clarinet. The complexities of King’s arrangements ensured that ongoing instrument swappage was a feature of just about every tune. A musician in the Steve King Big Band has to work hard to earn their money. As the band’s publicity material explains not every big band boasts a tuba player and a vibraphonist plus a woodwind section that can double up on twenty plus instruments - “this band tackles many charts other bands cannot reach!”.
The performance was introduced with an avuncular good humour by King and although he didn’t announce the name of every band member all of the featured soloists received a name check, so I’ll mention these as we go along.
The band announced itself with a brief massed fanfare that served as kind of ‘overture’ for the night’s entertainment. Seated towards the front of the room and in close proximity to the musicians the first thing that struck me was that I’d forgotten just how loud a jazz big band can be, even without the benefit of amplification. It took a while to get used to.
The first proper number was an arrangement of “Mr. Humble”, an ironically titled composition written for the drummer and bandleader Buddy Rich. This got the evening off to a suitably rousing start with the woodwind section doubling up on various instruments and with solo features for alto saxophonist Tom Martin, pianist Sue Stone and dynamic drummer Tash Buxton-Lewis. The band skilfully negotiated an intricate arrangement that embraced many dynamic contrasts and changes of tempo.
The Sonny Rollins tune “Doxy” was adapted as a tuba feature for Eddie Frazer, who displayed an admirable fluency and agility on the instrument.
From the movie “The Wizard Of Oz” the song “If I Only Had A Brain” proved to be a feature for trombonist Bob Lloyd, with flutes and bass clarinet also featuring in a suitably whimsical arrangement.
The tune “Maynard and Waynard” was written by the trumpeter and bandleader Maynard Ferguson as twin trumpet feature for himself and his fellow band member Wayne Bergeron. Tonight the roles of ‘Maynard and Waynard’ were filled by King and Andy Morris as the pair exchanged phrases with the weight and power of the big band behind them. Subsequently they embarked on more substantial individual solos and there was also a brief cameo from pianist Sue Stone. King and Morris then came together for a final series of exchanges, including the kind of dazzling high register trumpeting for which Ferguson himself was justly famous.
King then invited Lynn Dawes to the stage to sing a series of songs, beginning with a strident version of “Something’s Got To Give”.
“What A Difference A Day Made” was introduced by a duet between Dawes and guitarist John Smith, who was ‘depping’ with the band, replacing regular band member Alan Mason. This was a more mellow offering that included flutes and muted trumpets in the instrumental arrangement.
Dawes’ version of “The Best Is Yet To Come” was inspired by the recording of the song by Tony Bennett and Diana Kral, with the singer effectively filling both roles.
The final number of the first set was an instrumental, the Duke Ellington inspired “Gladly, Sadly, Madly”, written by the celebrated composer and arranger Don Sebesky. Ellington allusions imbued the piece with Lloyd squeezing a quote from “Take The A Train” into his trombone solo. The other featured soloists were Martin on alto sax, Steve Galey on double bass and Buxton-Lewis at the drums.
Humour is very much part of King’s presenting style and a brief blast of the “Pearl and Dean” theme, familiar to cinema audiences everywhere, announced the interval.
Set two commenced with “Looking Up Old Friends” which was ushered in by Stone at the piano and featured the prolific Martin on alto sax and the leader on trumpet.
The tune “One Morning In May”, specifically selected owing to the date of the concert, was written by the late, great British drummer, composer and arranger Allan Ganley (1931-2008).
This featured a softer sound and included solos from Stone on piano, Morris on trumpet and Drew Selvey on tenor saxophone.
The arrangement for “Things Are Getting Better” was written by the Canadian trombonist, composer, arranger and bandleader Rob McConnell (1935-2010) for the 1981 album “Tribute”. Given that this recording was a homage to the great alto saxophonist Cannonball Adderley it was totally appropriate that Martin should be the featured soloist.
Every day is a school day and even I was surprised to learn that the well known tune “In The Mood” had been in the repertoire of the Artie Shaw band before it became a massive hit for Glenn Miller. The SKBB’s rendition took its cue from Shaw’s six minute version and was a feature for the band’s tenor saxophonists, Drew Selvey and Sharon Brown, who exchanged solos in addition to linking up together.
Dawes returned to sing a big band version of The Beatles’ “Can’t Buy Me Love”, which included a reference to another Fab Four hit, “She Loves You”.
The singer also added an emotive vocal to the song “The Man That Got Away”, originally sung by Judy Garland in the original version of the movie “A Star is Born”.
Dawes’ final song was “I’m Beginning To See The Light”, a song that she has performed regularly at the SVR’s 1940s weekends. This also proved to be a feature for trombonist Bob Lloyd.
Lockdown provided the spur for King to experiment with duetting with himself, using a ‘double trumpet’. An arrangement of “Baubles, Bangles and Beads” saw him demonstrating this device with one bell of the instrument open and the other muted, allowing him to trade different sounding phrases with himself. Guitarist Smith was also to feature as a soloist. Diverting as all this was there was still a bit too much of a ‘novelty’ element about it.
The evening closed with a performance of “Riverdance”, commencing with a horn chorale, embellished by the percussion of Helen Bool. Folk and Celtic elements were characteristic of an arrangement that included solos from trumpeter Simon Parker and percussionist Bool, who also exchanged ideas with kit drummer Buxton-Lewis. Selvey was also to feature as a soloist, this time on alto saxophone.
All in all this had been a thoroughly enjoyable evening of big band jazz from a vastly experienced and well drilled ensemble. The programme was agreeably varied and included some rarely heard items from the big band canon. King presented the show with warmth and wit and the band’s line up included some excellent soloists. I’ll admit that the vocals were not particularly to my taste, a little too strident for me at times, but I guess you have to be bold and brassy to front a band of this size and power. Dawes’ contribution did add variety to the evening and I’m sure that there were many listeners here tonight who thoroughly enjoyed her contribution. I preferred the instrumentals, but that’s just a matter of personal taste.
Research on the SKBB website http://www.stevekingbigband.co.uk revealed its regular line up, which I’ll reproduce here. I think all of them were here tonight, with the only change I detected being in the guitar chair.
Steve King – leader, conductor, trumpet
Tom Martin, Julie Stanford – alto saxes & other woodwinds
Drew Selvey, Sharon Brown – tenor saxes & other woodwinds
Sue Evans – baritone sax & other woodwinds
Andy Morris, Simon Parker, Mark Jackson, Jeremy Cross – trumpets
Bob Lloyd, Brian Harrold, Graham Toye – trombones
Dave Bates – bass trombones
Eddie Frazer – tuba
Sue Stone – piano
Steve Galey – double bass
Tash Buxton-Lewis – drum kit
Helen Bool – vibes & percussionist
Alan Mason (dep John Smith) - guitar
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