Northfleet Brass


With Mark Nightingale and Alan Morrison.

Gravesend Methodist Church,
Saturday 7th April 2001

Mark Nightingale is an internationally renowned jazz trombonist but strangely has had no previous experience of playing with a brass band. Having won the Don Lusher award at the age of fifteen he soon became the lead trombonist of the National Youth Jazz Orchestra, formed his own group Bone Structure and has become an accomplished composer and arranger. His commissions have included work for Cleo Laine, The Dankworth Generation Big Band and for James Morrison, whilst he has also written study books, including the well known "20 Jazz Etudes" .

He has appeared with some of the greats, including Frank Sinatra, Elton John, Henry Mancini, Luciano Pavarotti, Madonna and with the London Symphony Orchestra. On the jazz scene he has played with the big bands of Stan Tracey and Kenny Wheeler, the RIAS big band in Berlin and along side musicians such as Claire Martin, Claire Tracey and Lawrence Cottle.

Mark has long been an admirer of the brass band movement and so the Estuary Concert series were delighted that he was able to perform with Northfleet Brass on April 7th. The championship test piece for the areas this year was "Jazz" and this stirred the inevitable debate that jazz and brass band don't mix, but having heard Mark Nightingale, this certainly wasn't the case. Rath Trombones of Huddersfield generously offered to sponsor the trombonist's performance as Mark has worked closely with them in the design stages of the tenor trombone he uses.

Northfleet Brass, an established 1st Section band from Kent was selected to accompany the soloist, and although normally conducted by Dave Lewis, illness meant that he had to take over the soprano chair Robert Nunnery, conductor of the Tilbury band took over the main duties.

Mark opened his selection with Sherwin's classic "A Nightingale Sang in Berkley Square", arranged by Bill Geldard and reworked by Steve Gray and is now Mark's signature tune. The piece has a latin feel and opens with a syncopated melody from the flugal. The band appeared a little uncomfortable with a few of the syncopated rhythms but on the whole was sympathetic to the soloist. This was a mainly a brass band audience and they certainly appreciated the virtuosity and imagination that Mark gave to this piece. Bill Geldard was in the audience to enjoy the performance and generously donated the arrangement to Mark.

Philip Sparke wrote "Prelude and Scherzo" for Brett Baker but was pleased to suggest the piece as a vehicle to demonstrate Mark's skill and technique. This is a fine example of Philip's work and it's surprising it has not appeared more often in the brass band repertoire. Although written with a slight jazz feel this is essentially a brass band piece, dedicated to one of the best brass band trombone soloists. Having recently listened to a Brett Baker recording of the piece I looked forward to this performance. Mark approached the piece in his own style and gave an accurate and lyrical rendition. The phrasing of the piece was immaculate and breath control and stamina were impressive. Mr Sparke writes well but always make the accompaniment "interesting", there were a few moments that caused the band concern but bearing in mind the conductor was drafted in at the previous evening's rehearsal the band coped in a reasonable manner.

As an encore Mark played the Alan Fernie arrangement of Porter's "Every Time I say Goodbye". This is an excellent arrangement that captures the original style and feel of the classic melody. The arrangement suited Mark perfectly, played through once in his own lyrical style the piece was captivating. Mark then went on to repeat the main theme but this time in freestyle, the audience were mesmerised by the sheer brilliance of the performance. It was clear the trombonist put his whole effort into the piece.

One must not forget the contribution made by the others on the bill. Travelsphere Band (formerly GUS Band) are enjoying a renaissance at the moment and have just succeeded in securing the Midlands area title. Their principal cornet, Alan Morrison, has been a key factor in the welcome success of this famous band and received a warm welcome from the Kent audience.

Alan opened with two very contrasting pieces, the 19th century Damare piece "Cleopatra" is technically constructed and displays the technique of triple tonguing. Although not the most musical of pieces, when played well this can be exciting. Mr Morrison didn't disappoint and played the piece with dexterity and panache. This is a cornet player who is as happy playing a 19th century tongue twister as he is in the jazz idiom. The second offering was his own arrangement of "Satchmo", the Kenny Baker piece written in memory of Louis Armstrong. This was played with excellent style and was obviously enjoyed by the band and audience alike.

Alan finished his session with another of his own arrangements, this time "Sugar Blues" by Clarence Williams. This is a very effective piece of music with the soloist muted throughout.

Northfleet Brass also played a few numbers without soloists. They opened the concert with the march "Castell Coch" and the Goff Richards arrangement of "The James Bond Collection". The next piece was a seldom heard arrangement of Vaughn Williams's Prelude 49th Parallel. This was an excellent choice as it was a fine demonstration of the band's strength. The band displayed good volume and tonal control and the acoustics of the building added to the overall effect. They concluded the first half of the concert with a piece aimed at the younger members of the audience. Local musician Phil Lawrence has arranged Danny Elfman's "Simpsons" and the band gave a good rendition of this difficult piece, in particular the bass trombone solo (Lisa's sax in the show) was well played by Nick Allen.

Throughout the performance the conducting of Robert Nunnery was notable and there was little wonder why Tilbury Band has just achieved promotion. Alan Morrison was particularly impressed and appreciative of the last minute stand in.

In the second half the band opened with "Clog Dance" and continued with the atmospheric "Country Scene" (Goff Richards) they concluded with a stirring Ray Farr arrangement of "New York, New York."

During the second half the two soloists combined forces to give a well-executed and amusing rendition of Rossini's "Two Cats" arranged by Howard Snell. The two players gelled well and clearly enjoyed the experience.

Although not a capacity audience the organiser declared the evening a success. All the profits either go to local charities or as a contribution to the fundraising for Northfleet's Austrian tour.

The next concert of this excellent series takes place on the 9th June when the Buy As You View Cory Band perform with David Childs as guest soloist.

Keith Williams.