Tag Archives: jazz

Postcard from London – Z is free at the 11 – Zhenya Strigalev – March 2013

Saturday morning: feeling decidedly lacklustre. I had just been watching a classical music documentary in which someone commented on the longevity of ancient wood and metal instruments. They have survived and still hold their mystery to us humans, despite the onslaught of technology in music. True – there is nothing quite like the hum of the human behind the playing. The thought struck and I was suddenly overcome, energised and needed to get out of the flat and see some live music.

Festival Hall: members’ bar packed as usual as I scurried to find space to finish off some work on my laptop. Some music scheduled for later in the day, but the Clore Ballroom is equally busy and buzzing with a loud and eager audience. I need to find somewhere smaller.

Facebook: work complete, I log in to see what my FB mates are up to. There’s a reminder from Zhenya Strigalev, a saxophonist I’ve been following since seeing him at Ronnie Scott’s late-night sessions about a year ago.

TODAY – Free Music Lunch – with Tim Lapthorn, Dave Whitford and Matt Fishwick and Z. From 2pm till 5pm. Nolias 11, 56 Stamford St, SE1 9LX. Waterloo tube.

Googlemaps: that’s right near the Southbank, just up near the Oxo. Ten minutes later, I’m there!

Nolias 11: a small restaurant with a downstairs jazz café. Perfect. Dark. (As my friend Rex says, jazz is best appreciated in dark, underground venues). I grope my way to a small table, dimly lit with a candle in a 70s red bulb holder, and peruse the cocktail menu while the band are on a break. Hmm – an Espresso Martini sounds like a good combo. I order one and the waiter gently dissuades me from also requesting a side order black coffee which could have delivered an unkind overdose of caffeine. The cocktail arrives just before the band reconvene. Curiously, it is a most apt mix, with the playlist selection a quirky blend of high-energy tunes like Thelonious Monk with sweeteners a la John Coltrane.

The talent: The tunes are punctuated by Strigalev’s announcements of suggested tracks and keys for the band to try, as Lapthorn on piano and Whitford on double bass swap notes and share scraps of paper with tune prompts.

As rehearsal sessions for later gigs, these sessions have a juiced, impromptu feel but married with the kind of talented, faultless playing that makes jamming and improvisation bearable. Matt Fishwick’s drumming holds everything together and lets Strigalev glide his sax over the top of the mix in whatever way he likes – classically cool, scarily straight or cut-snake crazy. What’s not to like?

A graduate of London’s Royal Academy of Music, Strigalev was a teenage virtuoso in his home town of St Petersburg. His influences are notably world-wise, from the be bop of New York city, to the discipline imbued by his stint in a Russian Army band during his compulsory military service.

Go to: Look, these guys are all top musicians who play around London at venues like Ronnie Scott’s. To be able to see them at a small, delectable space like Nolias11 is a real treat. Go for the cocktails, go for the lunch, go for the jazz – but just go!


Cheers for now, Beth


Postcard from New York – Les Paul reverberates at the Iridium Jazz Club, 3 April 2009

Up at 51st and Broadway there’s a huge queue near a theatre showing Mamma Mia! No surprises there, except when you realise that the queue is facing the wrong way and waiting to enter the Iridium Jazz Club. Why? Because it’s Les Paul Monday! When Les Paul and his trio started performing for nothing – just for the work – every Monday night at the Fat Tuesdays Club, I don’t suppose anyone expected them to still be gigging at the Iridium on Broadway 25 years later. Paul, the inventor of sound-on-sound, reverb and multi-track recording, designer of the much-coveted Gibson Les Paul guitar is now 93 years old (94 in June!) and taking audiences through his classic hits in not one, but two sets every week. He even stays back to sign autographs after the second set, well into the midnight hours.

Child performer, jazz performer, and maker of pop hits in the 40s and 50s, his pioneering experiments with multi-track recording and solid body electric guitar design mean all musicians today owe Les a debt. And I suppose Les would pass that debt back to Bing Crosby – because who knew that Bing really pioneered the YouTube era with his interest in home recording? He gave Les a new Ampex recording machine, which Les experimented with to come up with his distinctive sound-on-sound overdubbing technique. He and his wife, Mary, recorded their hits at home and in hotel rooms as they toured the country in the late 40s early 50s.

When his right arm was wrecked in a car crash in 1948, he took inspiration from Django Reinhardt who, famously, played guitar with limited use of two fingers on his hand that had been injured in a fire. Les taught himself to play again, and the rest is living legend.

What numbers did he play at The Iridium? All old classics, like the man himself: from How High the Moon, to The Tennessee Waltz and Paper Moon. But who really cares what the playlist was – let’s face it, Les is an inspiration. And it was an honour just to see him perform. He is a positive force, no doubt about it. He even makes light of encroaching arthritis by plucking away one note only while the rest of the band do all the hard work, sneaking a cheeky wink and shrug at the audience.

A few months back I saw the excellent Chasing Sound documentary on TV and decided on the strength of that to make my way to New York for the first time, just to see Les at the Iridium. His humour, energy and enthusiasm is infectious and there’s NOTHING in the world like seeing the smile on Les’s face as the music starts to smoke… Priceless! And I didn’t realise there’d be a fellow Aussie in the band – the funny and talented Nicki Parrott on bass (in NY courtesy of an Arts Council scholarship I believe). Sure, she is the butt (!) of most of Les’s terrible old gags which only a nonagenarian can get away with, but she bats it back with aplomb, seeking her final revenge with an hilarious solo number ending with a closing line pleading with Les to ‘keep on taking those little blue pills!’ Les was also joined on stage by an excellent jazz pianist, a guest vocalist and saxophonist and his rhythm guitarist and vocalist of more than 40 years, Lou Pallo.

My advice to all is to GET thee to the Iridium Jazz Club for Les Paul Mondays – as soon as you can!

Cheers for now, Beth