Stomps, rags, struts and blues – The Tenement Jazz Band storm it with Brian Kellock
I was brought up on a diet of early jazz – Jelly Roll Morton, Freddie Keppard, King Oliver, Johnny Dodds, Kid Ory. It was all my dad played if he got near the Bush Gramophone, apart from opera. So, a lunchtime with Brian Kellock, the unquestioned current supremo of Scottish jazz piano and the Tenement Jazz Band was going to unlock a box of nostalgia for me. It did.
Brian opened proceedings at this one-off gig at the Edinburgh Jazz and Blues Festival 2019 in inimitable style with Put A Shine On Your Shoes, the ballad I’ll Never Be The Same melting into Slow Boat To China, and then a little entertaining chat for those of us old enough to remember Kia Ora and Woodbines. Then he left the stage.
The Tenement Jazz Band are an exceptionally talented bunch – sort of Mumford & Sons meets New Orleans without the big drum and the cords (but plenty of hair and obligatory beards). They rattled with expert ease through Copenhagen and Meat On The Table before Brian came back to join the band for Parkway Stomp. John Youngs, TJB’s guitar/banjo and MC asked Brian if he knew the song. Brian replied “no”, but then does it matter when it’s Kellock on the keys, and from then on in it was always going to be fun. There were rags, stomps, struts, blues, sad songs, happy songs and mis-spelt songs – is the New Orleans Rhythm Kings’ Milenberg Joys named after the Louisiana town Milneberg which in turn was named after some chap called Milne from Aberdeen? Sounds a bit tenuous to me.
TJB keep their tunes short, nothing exceeding around 3 minutes, in the spirit of the original arrangements because a 10-inch 78 rpm record could hold about three minutes of sound per side and the 12 incher (introduced in 1903 by the way) slightly more. This meant that we were treated to a lot of numbers in the set, the downside being that solos (true to the genre) were never longer than one or two choruses max. The audience clearly struggled to know when to applaud, and not until well into the set did polite appreciation ripple round the venue mid-New Orleans Wiggle.
We were also treated to Hilarity Rag, Stockyard Strut, the Original Jelly Roll Blues, and Savoy Blues in a packed set.
The music is amazingly clever, intros, outros, codas, breaks, call and response, lots of ensemble stuff, key changes, bends, slurs, all delivered with consummate skill and ease. In She’s Crying For Me Tom Pickles showed how important silence and space can be, Kellock creeping softly in, and the tune building towards the final bars in a good old vamp.
Paddy Darley, trombone, leads the band and directs with two fingers and a cocked thumb like a gun. After a couple of spooky numbers, New Orleans Bump (may contain “mild peril” says the affable JY) and the New Orleans Owls’ White Ghost Shivers, the guys wrap up with Since My Best Gal Turned Me Down, and finally Shake It Or Break It (which could possibly be turned into a cheap banjo joke?)
I find myself saying this so often with jazz though. I’d personally prefer to hear this music on the street or a less ‘formal’ venue. I remember seeing the Alex Welsh Band at the Royal Festival Hall and the modestly named World’s Greatest Jazz Band at the Fairfield Halls, Croydon. Great bands, but right venues? You need to get the primordial pulse of this music and serried rows of polite Edinburgh folk sitting on their hands can dumb down proceedings. Who else was wishing for a bit of whooping and hollering and even some dancing in the aisles?
That said, Paddy, Doug, John, Chuck and Tom don’t just do this genre very well, they do it proud – and Brian Kellock, joining them, is like the icing on the cake, or more appropriately the filé on the gumbo.
Catch them when you can. TJB have at least eight dates in the Edinburgh Festival Fringe at The Jazz Bar, Chambers Street, exploring the roots of jazz. Should be fun.