CoartJazz – an exceptional concert to bring the curtain down on a fabulous week

Posted by Dick Playfair on Aug 29, 2019

You know those times in life when you’ve sat through a really mediocre film without nodding off or persevered to the very last words of a rubbish book and thought “please can I have that time of my life back.”  And we have all been to gigs like that too.  Well, the concert staged by the septet of intervenants, the professionals, to round off the CoartJazz week in August was the absolute polar opposite.

How could you ask for a more perfect evening? The setting in olive groves beneath Coaraze, one of the most beautiful villages in France, balmy night air, the scent of je ne sait quoi (but it’s usually always mimosa), and what effectively is a world class concert almost exclusively for the stagiares, and those from the village and surrounding area. If you were in any way a jazz fan, and you stumbled upon such an evening by chance, you would think you had died and gone to heaven.

Darryl Hall, bass, with Ferenc Nemeth, drums

The concert rounded off a week of hard work and play for the 55 or so students from around the globe who had come to feed off the expertise of the 2019 tutors, an amazing line up of Darryl Hall, bass; Ferenc Nemeth, drums; Olivier Hutman, piano; Mike Moreno, guitar; Chris Cheek, tenor sax; David Brkljacic, ‘formation musicale’ and sax, and Stephy Haik, vocals.  Individually brilliant; together a jazz super group if ever there was one.

Sax department: David Brkljacic and Chris Cheek

Following heart-felt opening words from Magali Barnoin on behalf of the organisers of CoartJazz, and thanks to the sponsors, the concert was underway with the Tadd Dameron classic Lady Bird, fronted by the twin tenors of Chris and David, followed by Cole Porter’s So in Love. During the set Stephy let the Burt Bacharach songbook fall open at I’ll Never Fall In Love Again, and Walk On By – which I had last heard live incidentally played/roared by The Stranglers in Cambridge earlier in the year! A very different version.  Stephy makes everything look so damn effortless, as did everyone on the stage, whether in the full line up, or in smaller formations, like David, Olivier and Darryl with You Don’t Know What Love Is, or as a duo as we saw and heard with Chris and Darryl’s Take The A Train. 

Olivier Hutman, Mike Moreno and Darryl Hall

The spot shone on Mike Moreno for a rendition of Stella By Starlight like you will not hear by anyone else. Anywhere else. Ever. And then another standard wrapped in Moreno magic, Airegin.  Ferenc Nemeth treated an absolutely rapt audience to three of his own compositions, including Happiness, an emotion that was certainly running high. More Bacharach, gorgeous piano throughout from Olivier and Darryl on bass, and then all too soon the final number, the last page in the songbook, Over The Rainbow.

With the utmost respect, you can rave about Eva Cassidy’s rendition which is especially poignant because of circumstance. Likewise, Ariana Grande sang it at the One Love Manchester concert in memory of those killed and injured in the attack. Or Melody Gardot, or Chet Baker from his Italian sessions. And, of course, there is the Judy Garland original. But there and then, in Coaraze, this version by Stephy and the band captured the mood, the friendship, the camaraderie, the love, on a warm night in France, in the foothills of the Alpes-Maritimes.

Olivier Hutman

No wonder the applause and cheers rang around the valley. No wonder the shouts for more – and we were treated to more, the septet delivering the most subtle, understated and, frankly, the coolest version of Route 66 that you could imagine.

Huge credit of course goes to this wonderful band, but also to Jean-Marie Deray and his small management team, to the riggers and sound engineers, indeed to everyone behind the scenes who produced and delivered this fabulous week of jazz.

Stephy Haik heading down Route 66

It may have been Ferenc, I think, in one afternoon combo session, or Chris in his morning masterclass, I forget, who was talking about ‘feel’ and said to one of the members of our group: “Think about a really special moment in your life,” adding “you don’t have to tell everyone!” He then said: “Now keep that thought in your head while you’re playing.”

There were so many special moments in this gig that it would be hard, and wrong, to try and pick one out to try and capture that ‘feel’.  Instead, like all who had the privilege to be a part of it, I am sure this concert – and indeed the whole week – will be treasured forever.

Once in a lifetime, possibly? Who knows, but it will have to be truly exceptional to beat it.