My 16-year-old daughter’s interest in jazz – she’s a cracking trumpet player and singer – has revived my earliest musical memories. My father used to play Benny Goodman, Dave Brubeck, Johnny Dankworth, Cleo Lane, Louis Armstrong, Ella Fitzgerald and a host of other now-legendary jazz music on his Sony reel-to-reel tape recorder. He was, and still is, a big jazz fan.
My partner is also keen, having spent his music-listening youth at The Stables at Wavendon, and he keeps a watchful eye on the local jazz scene. So, when he spotted that tenor saxophonist Art Themen was going to be playing with 3bpm at North Wall, the former Victorian swimming pool at St Edward’s School, he was eager to go. He last heard orthopaedic surgeon Art fronting the Stan Tracey quartet at The Stables, 20-something years ago and wanted his sax-playing son to get an earful of his talent.
Enter North Wall Arts Centre and you know you’re in a place where art and the arts really count. It reminds me of the architecture of the UEA, which I grew up with, and the walls are forever covered with a display of something interesting – at the moment Oxford Printmakers’ etchings, drypoints, screen prints, lithography and linocuts. Here’s a place to pick up proper art, if you’re a collector, rather than ink-jet printed reproductions of the kind sold by large department stores.
On to the music then. In the last year or so we’ve become rather into 3bpm – the jazz trio made up of Martin Pickett on piano, Ben Twyford on drums and Paul Jefferies on bass. Individually exceptional, they mesh, cross, weave and work together to produce sounds mellow and mellifluous, perfectly complementing each other.
Art Themen has a reputation for being a nice guy, a genius who chose to pursue his medical, rather than musical, career but who has never lost his appetite for performing – thankfully for us. Now 67, and two years into retirement, he is making up for lost time, if indeed you can call playing with the likes of Alexis Korner, Jack Bruce, Joe Cocker, George Harrison, Eric Clapton, Mick Jagger and Chuck Berry, Billy Mitchell, Buddy Shank and Al Haig a hobby. Art is stylish, innovative and, importantly in jazz, generous to his fellow players, allowing them time to develop a theme as well as letting rip himself. It was a fab night with the promise of more to come, when trumpeter Steve Waterman joins 3bpm at the Big Bang’s jazz cellar in March.
If you’re a jazz fan around Oxford, you can also tap into the forthcoming inaugural Oxford Jazz Festival, April 9-12 at various venues around the city. You can certainly forget the current economic blues – this is a good time to be a jazz fan.