Simon Spillet at the Bedford Street, Leamington Spa


Simon Spillet at the Bedford Street, Leamington Spa

Contributed by Bill Gibbon

The audience at Leamington's Bedford Street Bar's usual lively Wednesday night jazz jam session had a slightly different demographic on Jan 18th – alongside the regular crowd, a cluster of grizzled middle-aged men clutched their pints of bitter and tried (mostly unsuccessfully) to look inconspicuous among the cool and hip millennials that flock to this ever entertaining evening, run by ace bass man Wayne Matthews.

These are SJFs (Serious Jazz Fans), drawn like proverbial moths to a flame by a proper jazz heavyweight, tenor-sax player Simon Spillett. Simon has won accolades for his playing from the BBC, Jazz Journal magazine, pretty much everyone who's a big name in jazz from Sir Johnny Dankworth to Humphrey Lyttleton, and is a regular sell-out at Ronnie Scott's.

The regular houseband for the Jazz Jam Wednesdays warmed up the evening with some great quartet playing; Perdido (Clark Terry arrangement), What is this Thing Called Love and Strasbourg St Denis (Roy Hargrove), which even before Simon's appearance kept the audience's enthusiasm and interest levels high; featuring Matt Ball on Keys, Tom Voce on Drums, Myles Matthews on Guitar and Wayne Matthews himself on a fretless acoustic bass.

Dressed in a sober grey suit, the only clue that Simon Spillett wasn't a solicitor dropping in for a pint after a late night at the office was the red laces in immaculate black shoes – and the well-travelled sax slung round his neck. Simon's style is bebop – for those unfamiliar with jazz terminology, bebop is played fast and furious, with solo improvisations ripping up and down the scales and working every nook and cranny of the instrument. In the hands of lesser players, it can very easily sound like a frantic and bewildering blur of notes – difficult to engage with but impossible to ignore.

Simon is in a league of his own though – a true master musician who can certainly play at an unimaginable and jaw-dropping speed (and as a tenor-player myself, my jaw really did drop!) but who does it with such imagination and fluency that it's impossible not to be engaged. The man's mind must run at hyper-speed to create and control such a flowing rush of notes that can still be so intense, inventive and coherent.

He ripped straight into the Sonny Rollins hard bop standard Oleo, eased off the gas for the lyrical But Beautiful, and closed his first set with the classic Cherokee played at a stunning tempo. After a short break he came back with another Rollins number, Sunnymoon for Two then generously stuck around to join in the open jam session, adding some nice fills to a couple of great vocal contributions from the Bedford Street regulars.

Serious Jazz Fans and general audience alike were all absorbed and in awe at this majestic torrent of music and their appreciation was shown generously. Wayne's quartet backed him up splendidly, obviously thoroughly enjoying the moment, with Tom Voce trading some scintillating licks in a couple of the numbers.

A great night then – the Bedford Street bar was packed, and Wayne has plans to feed the appetite for top quality jazz in Leamington with further dates booked already; for Bryan Corbett (who has played trumpet with The Brand New Heavies, Tony Christie, Ben E King, Us3, Alesha Dixon, Ella Eyre, Sam Bailey, Gary US Bonds, Ruby Turner and many others) on April 12th; and a return for Simon Spillett on May 24th – and we are promised more to follow! Check out the Bedford Street Jazz Jam Facebook page for further details - https://www.facebook.com/groups/865127346878581/

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