Going on the road can make or break a band. Put together any group of individuals and subject them to a grueling work schedule under stressful conditions, with the added bonus of jet lag, and the result will either be one of strong bonds forged through mutual struggle, or a complete disaster of meltdowns and infighting. When that group of people happens to be more than a dozen of the best musicians in New York, the stakes are particularly high, which is what made this most recent trip to England with the Mingus Big Band such a special experience. From the very beginning, this select band of cats came together and brought 110% “A Game” throughout the entire week-long run of fourteen sets of music.
The tour started off in the town of Leeds with a show at Howard Assembly Room, a beautiful chamber music hall in the Opera House. After flying out of JFK just ahead of Snowmageddon ’16, we arrived at our hotel with just enough time for a short nap before heading off to soundcheck. We were running on fumes that first night, but the music kept us all going, as did the tremendous, sold out crowd in a fantastic performance space.
Here’s a great review of the show from the Reviews Hub, though I must admit, my personal favorite from that show came on Twitter ☺
the trumpet section was AMAZING, it was so inspiring watching @TatumGreenblatt lead the section
— Alix Oglesby (@alixoglesss) January 24, 2016
From there is was off to London to begin our six night run at Ronnie Scott’s, where we played for sold out crowds for each and every one of our twelve sets. Here, we really got a chance to test our limits in terms of creativity, flexibility, and stamina. Our normal show at the Jazz Standard consists of two, hour-long sets, but at Ronnie’s our sets stretched to a full ninety minutes each. Over the course of the week, we got to work through more than fifty different charts, including many that rarely get performed, such as Little Royal Suite, and Free Cell Block F, ‘Tis Nazi USA!.
The challenge of performing three hours of complex and difficult music night after night can take its toll, both mentally and physically, and while we had to dig deep at times to be able to play at our highest level on each show, the vibe of the band was key to ensuring we were always at our best. The road ensures lots of downtime together; airports, bus rides, soundchecks, band meals, and set breaks are all shared. I’ve been in situations where this can lead to a lot of negativity and affect the band badly, but this week was almost entirely positive. Notably, we were graced by the Elder Statesmen, Earl McIntyre, and Ronnie Cuber, who would both share some of their countless stories from “back in the day”, including their personal experiences with Charles Mingus.
By the time we had finished our encore after the last set, we were still all smiles and bro-hugs, with the common remark being made of how this was one of the best big band tours any of us had ever experienced—a hefty claim, given the combined number of decades of experience in that group.
From The Guardian: “Mingus Big Band review – Charismatic, Unpredictable Jazz Passion”