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Blues is to Jazz, what yeast is to bread…

Firstly, a big thank you to the venues and artists who have emailed jazzspotinfo@gmail.com with their gig dates across the region; the more and sooner for the Grapevine deadline (first week of the month before) the merrier.

Now, a local bakery in south Norfolk has the eye-catching quote on its shop fronts: “Blues is to jazz what yeast is to bread. Without it, it’s flat”. An assertion that’s surely a little controversial – passing over the virtues of unleavened breads for one. But what is the blues to jazz, and what is jazz to blues? It’s not a chicken-and-egg question, although it might be said that today’s European chamber-jazz, from ECM and others, abandons (rhythm and) blues routes while Blues men and women tread cautiously onto jazz terrain. For some, the blues leapt from American cotton-picking straight into musty rock pubs across England, with a Chicago stopover. However in jazz’s meandering history blues is found to leaven in many places. The bakery’s quote is attributed to Carmen McRae, so let’s start there.

Harlem-born McRae said of her own sojourn in the Windy City in the late 1940s that it “gave me whatever it is that I have now”. She was then signed up by Decca and brought into the mainstream worlds of Brubeck and Shearing. But with earlier experience in Dizzy Gillespie, Count Basie and Benny Carter bands – and with her husband the drummer Klook (answers on an email) – if the blues was ‘it’, it was carried by the infectious bebop scat McRae shared with Sassy (ditto). Blues to jazz, in my book, is found in the alto sax solos of Julian “Cannonball” Adderley on Miles’s ‘Kind of Blue’ – much more than a smooth classic. Jazz to blues, however, might be explained by listening to two renditions (both on YouTube) recorded 45 years apart. The fine and stomping Pee Wee Hunt and His Orchestra’s three-minute vocal version (1948) resolves majestically on the tonic chord. Now listen to Keith Jarrett’s trio in concert (1993) and where they take Basin’s melody and harmonic progression. Blues may lift music but jazz learns where it might go.

Last month I lamented the loss of jazz from Norwich’s main venues, which largely continues in April. The Playhouse hosts Jacqui Dankworth’s ‘Shakespeare and All That Jazz’ as well as a favourite of the chipper Len Goodman, the Piccadilly Dance Orchestra. But jazz remains thin on the ground in the city. However a further dig around has uncovered some gems. I very much enjoyed checking out the retro-scene Swing Soup jive dance club held every first Friday of the month at the Artichoke pub up on Magdalen Road, with DJ Earl Harlem, by coincidence, comfortably mixing 40s big band swing with rhythm and blues. Fine City Blues in a very modern and live form has been a regular Thursday evening for more than year now at the Murderers’ pub stage on Timber Hill. Keep mixing it!

Roger Morfey is a musician and promoter in Suffolk and Norfolk. Jazz Spot, a forum for events, news and discussion, can be reached at jazzspotinfo@gmail.com.