Big Band plays at Abingdon’s Jazz Festival

12 May 2017

This year we responded to an invitation from the Abingdon Jazz Festival to play a jazz set at one of the surviving medieval buildings of the former Abingdon Abbey. Although close to the public examination period, it was felt that the Friday evening would be unlikely to be disruptive to boys’ studies and revision, and so we decided to accept the invitation, with the idea of several bands participating – the Big Band, together with a staff jazz ensemble and some smaller boy-led ones.

The Long Gallery is a Grade 1 Listed Ancient Monument. Tree-ring dating has established that it was built in about 1455 as a high status building, possibly with stables beneath and heated guest rooms above. Partitions were removed sometime within the next century, hence its subsequent description at the “longe gallery”. After the dissolution of the monasteries, the building was acquired by a miller and was subsequently used for malting and brewing. In the 19th century it was purchased by the town’s corporation and, since the 1940s, the building has been looked after by The Friends of Abingdon.

The evening’s playing combined a number of different ensembles rooted around the full Big Band, comprising some 50 players, most of whom were able to join the evening. We started with the GCSE Jazz Quintet playing their recently submitted number, Five Spot after Dark. Then we were into the full Big Band sound with O Come Var. This Latin number offered opportunities for a number of the boys to come to the front and play their solos. Many favourite numbers followed in quick succession – Peter Gunn, Manteca, The Doze Nose, Woodchoppers’ Ball, Cold Duck Time, Rock Around the Clock – and a new one form the Manfred band, Train Shuffle.

The evening featured the vocal debut of a new discovery in the 4th Year, Jack Harvey with Alright, You Win. This he sang like a seasoned professional; he’ll have a great career with the band. The staff band consisted of Simon Currie on tenor sax and Andy Townsend on trumpet, accompanied by the boys’ rhythm section – Jake de Jongh, Nat Jones, Rob MacLennan and Jonny Dawson. They played two numbers by Joe Zawinul, Mercy, Mercy, Mercy and Water Melon Man. After the break we heard another boys’ band playing music from the latest YouTube sensation, Luckychops.

This was a really enjoyable occasion with the Big Band and a full audience. Despite the rain earlier in the day, we were treated to an evening of lovely sunshine that streamed through the windows of this beautiful and historic building.

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