The ghosts of George Lewis, Kid Thomas, Jim Robinson, Kid Ory, and the other wonderful New Orleans Jazz revivalists happily roam the fields and shires of the UK. The mantle of Ken Colyer, Chris Barber, Humphrey Lyttleton, Alex Welsh, and their cohorts, who were the first Brits to bring the sounds of the trad jazz revival to Britain, has passed down to another generation of British musicians.
Happily, many of that second generation are still with us, now inspiring a third generation. To our good fortune many of them and their proteges were with us this August for the 33rd Bude Jazz Festival.
One of the most striking facts about the Bude Jazz Fest is that it happens. Bude is small town in Cornwall with less than 10,000 population. Yet they, for so many years, they have managed to present one of the best-known Jazz Festivals in the UK. It is an example of what can be achieved with a very dedicated volunteer committee
Thirty-three different bands offered music ranging from blues and ragtime to mainstream and bop with an especially rich choice of traditional New Orleans and classic jazz. The planning was such that one could experience at least two bands in each time period—morning, afternoon, and evening. Another nice feature was the daily 10 am potpourri session on the hotel veranda facing the main area of town. Billed as “Stan Allen & Friends” it was a casual jam-session and pleasant way to start every day.
Bude was our first UK fest post-covid. Many of our favorite musicians were featured. Listening to their music is like visiting old friends. Yet, as in Ascona a few weeks earlier, we were really taken by the number of young musicians, both in their own ensembles and included with veteran bands. It gives hope for the future.
As is usual at these festivals, the entire New Orleans Jazz and American Songbook repertoires were covered at one set or another (as well as inevitably being repeated). However, one was particularly memorable. John Hallam’s solo rendition of “Burgundy Blues” was moving beyond words. Having been fortunate to hear George Lewis alive in Preservation Hall, I can say Hallam caught all the pathos of this wonderful composition as few others have.
Pete Allen, at 81, is still creating swinging music of unbelievable quality as he played with the “The Cornish Armada” band led by veteran trombonist Roger Marks. In the ’70s, ’80s and ’90s Pete’s was one of the most popular bands, regularly featured, on British radio. Some TST readers may have experienced Pete at the Sacramento Dixieland Jazz Jubilee USA in 1983, ʼ84 and ʼ86 or during his 1992 tours in St Louis and New Orleans where he was awarded Honorary Citizenship.
John Maddox (Reeds) and his Jazzmen is another popular veteran who has inherited the mantle of the original British Trad bands. His sound always reminds me of the days I spent in the early ’50s listening to Ken Colyer and Chris Barber. He did not disappoint.
John Shillito, at 84, was probably the oldest band leader at Bude. But you could not tell it from his playing. Veteran of many years on the British Jazz scene his trumpet playing is as vigorous and melodic as ever. His bands could easily be mistaken for being New Orleans-based, the result of his many visits there. In 2011, John was featured at the French Quarter Festival.
The Sunset Stompers, led by Mike Denham (piano) are not only extremely talented musicians but also a great tribute to seniors. The youngsters in this band are way past their 65th birthday. Trevor Whiting (trombone) had three stints with Chris Barber and played with Ken Colyer. All have been playing our kind of music for more than five decades.
Jeff Barnhart (piano) is a great favorite in the UK. Playing to a packed room he recalled that Bude was somewhat of a homecoming for Anne and himself after a hiatus of three years that interrupted their regular visits over the many years. Jeff joined his long-time friend John Hallam, in a quartet supported by Anne Barnhart, playing melodic flute and another veteran, Graham Smith on drums. Graham, musically known for his outstanding drumming was, together with his wife Maggie, the producer and artistic director of the sorely missed Pershore Festival.
One of the younger bands was Frog and Henry. We had met them in Ascona a few weeks earlier where they won the “2022 Audience Award.” Once again, they amazed with their musical versatility. Technically they are a New Orleans-based collective but mostly do their touring and all their recording in Europe. See Joe Bebco’s excellent review of this band in the September 2018 TST for a full appreciation of this unique ensemble. Quoting Joe “That a group with this sound is booking shows all over the world delights me, give a listen and I’m sure you’ll be delighted too.”
Another discovery for me were Jools and the Alcoholics. Baby Jools, (drums) is part of the new youth movement in old school New Orleans jazz. Supported by Mike Henry (trumpet), Karl Hird (reeds) this combo set a fire under the old-time traditional jazz songbook. For Bude, Kevin Grenfell joined on trombone. Apart from the quality of his music, Grenfell has a wonderful sense of humor which always delights the audience. He was a welcome support to several different groups during the week. In addition, Baby Jools devoted a segment of each set to honoring Lonnie Donegan’s Skiffle band led by Lonnie James on guitar and vocals with Jim Swimmerton on bass.
Moving out of the strictly traditional idiom were several excellent groups. The most vigorous were the Jivoholics. Living up to their name it was non-stop Jive/Rock which was well received by the large number of dancers who, I believe, outnumbered the seated audience!
The husband & wife reed team, Richard Exall and Amy Roberts, with a more modern sound, are among the most popular on the UK Jazz scene. Richard was featured in a tribute to Stan Getz. Together, supported by Craig Milverton (piano), Ashley June Long (bass), and Nick Millward (drums), they offered beautiful, swinging renditions of the American Songbook.
Dorine de Wit’s Family Band was an unusual set. It was literally a “family” event. Playing to a packed room, Dorine, a native of Holland, now living in Bude, shared the stage with her father, Piet together with four siblings—six excellent musicians sharing the same family name!
Space doesn’t allow me to write about the many other outstanding musicians that were featured at Bude. In no particular order, worthy of mention, were The Dart Valley Stompers led by Jeremy Huggett, (reeds & vocals), Craig Milverton (piano) playing “Oscar Peterson Tribute” as well as two sets with John Hallam one of which included Martin Dale (reeds), The Jake Leg Jug Band, The Washington Whirligig at their premier appearance, and The Swing Commanders, who living up to their name, were very popular with the dancers.
Bude is a very special place. The Festival is on the tip of the Atlantic Ocean. One can walk, just few minutes from any of the music venues, to the sandy shore. The municipal swimming pool drains and refills by the action of the tides. The whole area has the atmosphere of a quiet sea-side resort with children enjoying themselves as we listened to great Jazz a few yards away. It is the perfect place to combine a quiet vacation with the opportunity to enjoy the warm camaraderie always present at British Trad Jazz festivals. The dates for 2023 are not yet confirmed but will probably be late August and early September. Be warned, if you do come, make your hotel reservation early!