Jazz club launch is a hot ticket

Saxophonist Tony Kofi
Saxophonist Tony Kofi

On an uncharacteristically hot and humid May evening, local jazz musicians joined forces with two internationally acclaimed soloists for the inaugural Chesterfield Jazz Club gig.

The jazz club is the brainchild of Wendy Kirkland -- whose piano and Hammond contribution to the house band is matched by the solid yet nimble bass of Pat Sprakes and Clive Loveday’s thunderous drums – and takes place at “Club Chesterfield,” a former Miners’ Welfare on Chester Street.

For the first gig, the featured guests were Tony Kofi, on alto and tenor saxophones, and Sheryl Bailey – all the way from New York City! -- on guitar. The opening number, “Minor League”, featured four solos and gave Kofi the opportunity to demonstrate his fiery style from the outset (quoting playfully from “You and the Night and the Music”). Bailey displayed her breakneck George Benson-style picking technique whilst Sprakes contributed a tasteful Jimmy Garrison-style solo and Kirkland’s Hammond blew in the style of Baby Face Willette.

The second tune, “The Peacocks” -- a Jimmy Rowles composition that Kirkland introduced as “one of Tony’s favourites” -- was given a gorgeous treatment by Kofi, whose opening lines evoked Coltrane’s “Naima”. The ballad also happens to be one of my favourites and this version was no less beautiful than Bill Evans’ interpretation on “You Must Believe In Spring”. Kofi continued his superlative playing in his solo on the next tune, “If I Should Lose You”, during which Bailey appeared nothing short of awe-struck.

With Kirkland switching to piano, the band launched into Horace Silver’s “Summer in Central Park”. The piano provided just the right backdrop for some smooth alto from Kofi.

The final number of the first set, Redd Evans’ famous “Frim Fram Sauce” (made popular by Nat King Cole), featured some rich, full-toned vocals from Kirkland (including a bit of scat singing!) and a fleet-fingered, bluesy solo (was that a string bend?) from Bailey, whose style – a soulful contradiction of forceful and gentle - through the night was clearly her very own, but with clear influences encompassing the history of jazz guitar, from Charlie Christian through to Django Reinhardt, then on to Wes Montgomery, with a bit of ‘70s fusion in the John McLaughlin/Gary Boyle mould thrown in, before reaching John Scofield and Pat Metheny! (For the non-jazz guitar nerds reading this, I apologise unreservedly.) Bailey also proved to be a brilliant accompanist in this tune and all the others during both sets, comping with panache throughout.

Opening the second half, the audience was treated to a duet from Tony Kofi on alto with Sprakes switching from double bass to guitar for this one: “Bluesette”, by Toots Thielemans (who, incidentally, recently celebrated his ninetieth birthday). Sprakes proved himself equal to fellow guitarist Bailey here, effortlessly negotiating the chord changes with embellishments that would meet with Joe Pass’s approval. Such was the interplay between Kofi and Sprakes, it comes as no surprise that they know each other fairly well: they played together well over a decade ago when they were stalwarts of the scene in Nottingham, the home town of both men.

After the Belgian harmonica maestro’s tune, Sprakes gave his fingers a rest whilst Bailey, Kirkland and Loveday joined Kofi again for Thelonious Monk’s “Four In One”, a proper workout for all – and that was just the head!

The mood relaxed again with Loveday setting up a samba for George and Ira Gershwin’s standard, “’S Wonderful”. Kirkland’s vocals were once again strong and resonant -- it was clear to me that her voice has matured considerably during the past five years (it was in May 2007 when I first saw the Organik Trio perform, at The Golden Fleece). Her vocals were surpassed only by her cheeky, Chick Corea influenced solo, for which her Roland was set to “Rhodes”. I was particularly pleased that she kept the Rhodes tone on for the next tune, Randy Weston’s “High Fly”, during which her Caribbean-tinged phrasing reminded me of another pianist who shares her initials: Wynton Kelly. Later, I told her this and it turns out she’s a big fan – as if this solo didn’t provide enough evidence! Definitely one of the stand-out moments of the night.

The musicians had every right to be exhausted at this point, with swampland levels of humidity evident in the club; but if they were tired, it didn’t show at all in the final number, Eddie Harris’s “Freedom Jazz Dance”. Until tonight, I had only heard this tune on “Miles Smiles”, the superb album by Miles Davis’s second great quintet (with Herbie Hancock, Tony Williams, Wayne Shorter and Ron Carter) and this version was even more driving, with Loveday and Kofi continuing the spirit of Williams and Shorter forty-six years later. Loveday’s funky beat laid down a groove for Kofi to belt out a solo that I thought might cause him to collapse. On the way out, my wife and I were discussing whether he displayed as much passion as Nigel Hitchcock did at the Highgate Jazz Festival back in September. The answer: most definitely – perhaps even more so!

This gig was clearly a great success and the deafening applause demonstrated that the music was enjoyed immensely by the audience. It is a testament to Kirkland’s dedication to jazz in her hometown, manifesting itself through tireless promotion of the club, that there was standing room only tonight. The same should be true for the next gig, on 21st June, with guitarist Pat McCarthy joining the house trio. Book your tickets online before they sell out!

Personnel: Tony Kofi (alto and tenor sax), Sheryl Bailey (guitar), Wendy Kirkland (piano, Hammond organ), Pat Sprakes (guitar on “Bluesette”, bass), Clive Loveday (drums).

Chesterfield Jazz Club is held on the 3rd Thursday of every month.

The next gig is on Thursday, June 21, at 8.30pm in Club Chesterfield, S40 1D.