Brainchild of trumpeter and bandleader Digby Fairweather, the new National Jazz Archive facility in Southend represents many years of planning and plenty of hard work. Over 300 people attended the opening event at the Beechcroft Art Gallery which houses the new centre, formally inaugurated by the town’s mayor Andrew Moring.
The building has two floors with rooms full of books, journals, memorabilia and musical instruments – including John Dankworth’s piano – and the complete Humphrey Lyttelton archive. We spotted a 78 shellac disc of Charles Penrose’s ‘The Laughing Jazz Band’, no doubt a follow up to the ‘Laughing Policeman.’ A rare copy from 1948 of The Beat, the official magazine of the Ted Heath fan club, carried an interview with Gene Krupa where he’s quoted as saying ‘You can’t play bop all the time and get away with it.’ Equally fascinating was news about Billie Holiday, ‘the world’s greatest singer of jazz’, appearing at the Flamingo Club and performing at the Royal Albert Hall backed by the Jack Parnell orchestra.
Fairweather dashed about attempting to speak to all those lining-up to congratulate him, only stopping long enough to make speeches of thanks to the attendant dignitaries, all while ensuring the Centre’s cinema was ready to screen A Man In A Hurry, the brilliant documentary film about the life of Tubby Hayes.
Simon Spillett, tenor saxophonist and author of The Long Shadow Of The Little Giant, the essential Hayes biography released last year, then took part in a jam session on the ground floor. With Digby sitting in on trumpet, Simon’s all-star band launched into a rousing ‘Lester Leaps In,’ featuring Cliff Kibble (piano), Simon and Mick Foster (saxes), Dominic Ashworth (guitar), Len Skeat (bass) and Alan Clarke (drums). ‘Ornithology’ hurtled into bebop mode while Digby excelled on ‘I Can’t Get Started,’ complete with Berigan-esque vocals and high-note trumpet coda. ‘It Don’t Mean A Thing If It Ain’t Got That Swing’ had steaming Spillett tenor choruses while Clarke wrapped it all up with a tumultuous drum solo.
Digby was almost in tears as he promised of more events to come and wished the Lord Mayor 'a Happy Christmas’ before departing for the after-show party.
-– Chris Welch