‘IT GAVE me goosebumps,” says New York trumpeter Tim Hagans, recalling his last visit to Edinburgh.
He’s talking not about our perfidious weather, but his encounter with the Edinburgh Jazz Festival Orchestra, with whom he reprised Miles Ahead, the momentous recording in which trumpeter Miles Davis first embarked on what would prove an immensely fruitful working relationship with arranger Gil Evans
It’s hard to believe, but this year marks the centenary of Evans’s birth, and as the Edinburgh Jazz & Blues Festival looms yet again, Hagans is preparing himself for another Davis/Evans-inspired Edinburgh rendezvous. This time he will lead the Edinburgh big band through Sketches of Spain and items from another significant Evans recording, The Individualism of Gil Evans.
Recorded in 1959-60, Sketches of Spain furthered the relationship between trumpeter and arranger that was established in Miles Ahead and Porgy and Bess. Its keynote track was a version of the second movement of Joaquín Rodrigo’s Concierto de Aranjuez, on which Davis’s flugelhorn and trumpet replaced the classical guitar for which the concerto was written, against Evans’s shimmering woodwind and horn setting. Other Sketches tracks adopted music by de Falla or were flamenco-inspired, such as the rivetingly inexorable stealth of Solea.
The recording’s richly textured scoring and relatively limited scope for improvisational excursions inevitably raised eyebrows, with some critics questioning whether it was really jazz at all (to which Davis’s response was, reportedly, “It’s music and I like it.”). The Sketches album nevertheless landed a Grammy, and today is firmly established as a landmark recording. It still beguiles today, with its dramatic, filmic soundscapes.
Hagans is no stranger to Edinburgh or its jazz festival, having first played in the city in 1975 with Stan Kenton. He agrees that it is quite a thought that Gil Evans was born 100 years ago, so fresh have his arrangements remained. Canadian-born Evans, who died in 1988, was hugely open to what was happening around him musically, embracing of everything from cool jazz to the music of Jimi Hendrix.
Hagans, now 57, never got the chance to play with Evans, although he did play with his orchestra after its leader’s death. He has also performed the main Gil and Miles pieces in various locations across the world, and reassures aficionados coming to hear Sketches at the Queen’s Hall that “they will hear every note of those classic arrangements”, without him trying to present a carbon copy.
“Some of Sketches is pretty much like a classically composed piece,” he says, “especially the concerto part, and the biggest difference will be in my solo playing.”
He’ll be extracting as wide a tonal range as possible from his trumpet, rather than resorting to flugelhorn as deployed in the orginal. “Of course,” he says, “I’m a big fan of Miles, but I can’t imitate anyone, so I’ll be playing my own version over these arrangements, although Miles’s influence will be strongly present. I think that’s the point of any jazz performance: you want to hear the individualism of everyone, as well as hearing their influences.”
Which brings us to that goosebump factor, as the Ohio-born Hagans renews his acquaintance with the festival’s own jazz orchestra. “It was at the sound check, the day of last year’s concert,” he recalls. “We were rehearsing Gil’s arrangement of My Ship and I had to stop after the first 30 seconds or so because the orchestra, especially the French horn players, played so beautifully they almost made me cry.”
Last week Hagans launched his new quartet recording, The Moon is Waiting, at New York’s Birdland, and appears to flit with ease between small groupings and big bands. What he calls his “two worlds” approach could be applied geographically as well. He lived for ten years in Sweden, then from the mid-1990s spent 15 years commuting between America and Sweden as artistic director of the acclaimed Norrbotten Big Band. His Scandinavian involvement was recognised last month by an honorary doctorate from the Sibelius Academy in Helsinki.
Hagans’ last Scottish appearances with the Norrbotten band, in 2009, memorably featured Kurt Elling. This year, between rehearsals, he’ll be catching the Grammy-award-winning Elling when the singer returns to Edinburgh, this time with the individualistic San Francisco guitarist Charlie Hunter and his trio.
Other festival guests Hagans hopes to hear include the rumbustiously inventive piano trio The Bad Plus, on this occasion sharing the bill with two other formidable instrumentalists, saxophonist Joshua Redman and trumpeter Jeremy Pelt.
Other bill-toppers at this year’s festival include the veteran New Orleans pianist Dr John, Jools Holland, Curtis Stigers, Manhattan Transfer and the Average White Band.
Further highlights include Joe Temperley, the acclaimed Fifer who, now in his eighties, holds the baritone sax chair in New York’s Jazz at Lincoln Center Orchestra, directing the World Jazz Orchestra in a programme of Duke Ellington’s music (featuring the rising young US vocalist Cecile McLorin Salvant), and bassist Kyle (yes, son of Clint) Eastwood leading his elegantly powerful quintet, with guitar virtuoso Martin Taylor sharing the bill.
The irrepressible Detroit singer Barbara Morrison bounces back following illness-enforced absence, while also returning is the superb New Orleans clarinettist Evan Christopher with his Django à la Créole outfit. Intriguing European strands include the zany French “scratcho” street band Jazz Combo Box, and from Poland come the Blue Note singing star Aga Zaryan and the ECM piano trio sounds of Marcin Wasilewski.
An Italian contingent includes the Dado Moroni Quartet joining Scots pianist Brian Kellock for a celebration of Oscar Peterson, Sardinian saxophonist Enzo Favata with Colin Steele and Dave Milligan in an evening combining native folk with contemporary jazz, and Danilo Rea and Flavio Boltro playing opera as you’ve never heard it before.
Featured Scottish luminaries include Ken Mathieson’s Classic Jazz Orchestra, trumpeter Colin Steele, saxophonists Konrad Wiszniewski, Martin Kershaw and Ruaridh Pattison, guitarists Graeme Steven and Kevin Mackenzie, Fat Sam’s Band, Niki King’s Elements and emerging young drummer Corrie Dick with his quartet.
The festival utilises a broad scattering of venues ranging from the Queen’s Hall and Festival Theatre to the Teatro Spiegeltent and the Jazz Bar. As ever, the first Saturday features a Grassmarket Mardi Gras, while a Carnival livens up Princes Street Gardens on the Sunday.
Meanwhile local trad bassist Graham Blamire traces the history of jazz in the capital in his book Edinburgh Jazz Enlightenment, which he launches at the Central Library on Saturday 21st, while, by way of a prelude to the festival, the Scottish jazz scene enjoys a glitzy showcase on Thursday, 19 July, when the Scottish Jazz Awards are presented at the Queen’s Hall. Master of ceremonies will be the exuberant singer Ian Shaw, with a house band of Brian Kellock, Mario Caribe and Corrie Dick, while special guests include Tommy Smith and, we are assured, “a few surprises”.
• Tim Hagans and the Edinburgh Jazz Festival Orchestra play the Queen’s Hall on 25 July. Edinburgh Jazz and Blues festival runs from 20-29 July. Full programme at www.edinburghjazzfestival.com For the Scottish Jazz Awards, see www.scottishjazzfederation.com
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Weather for Edinburgh
Tuesday 21 May 2013
Temperature: 7 C to 17 C
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