2020: here are a few of my favourite things

The last live jazz I saw in 2020 was Brad Mehldau at the Barbican on 9 March. We had no idea what was round the corner. Then came lockdown and a sudden flurry of activity as I helped as many friends as time and energy allowed to apply for emergency grants. Streamed gigs started to trickle in, in varying qualities owing to the vagaries of the internet, but the intention was the same – an expression of precious connectivity and love, and I looked for the PayPal link at the end of a stream, wanting to do my bit too. We had to get used to this experience.

One night in May I stumbled across an online concert: Singing with Nightingales with Sam Lee as guide and conjuror of the night and Abel Selaocoe on cello. In real time, I was transported to a magical wood, where out of the spring darkness a nightingale sang alongside to the most wonderful sounds from the cello and voice. The sound quality was exceptional – I don’t normally go on about sound quality, but this time, to hear a bird and not the rustle of feet or a waterproof coat was astounding. You can listen here:

and next spring I have tickets to the nightingale experience in a Gloucestershire wood so that’s one thing that will get me through the upcoming dark months, vaccine permitting.

I’d been looking forward to John Law’s Congregation tour to launch his new album CONFIGURATION which I’d heard in India and was keen to hear again. It’s gratifying for John that the album featured in Albums of 2020 in BBC Music and Jazzwise. Here’s a taster of what we missed on tour.

I had the great honour of being on the Journalists’ Panel at the Seifert International Jazz Violin Competition in July, which like everything else, was held online this year. Thankfully we had only to choose one prize winner and we could decide our own assessment criteria, we didn’t have the technical burden the jury had. This year the jury didn’t chose an outright winner and opted for two second places (inexplicably in my opinion). To my relief we narrowed it down to 2 people and by a whisker the Journalists’ winner was cellist Greg Byers from the USA. Here he is, performing his own composition Springin’ It Back, and I hope it brings you as much joy as it did to the journalists’ panel:

I’m inclined to say that Endless Field Alive in the Wilderness (Biophilia Records) is my album of 2020 but it’s probably not fair to have any list this year when all musicians have been struggling and all should be applauded for making it to the end of 2020. I reviewed this for London Jazz News and it was a review that wrote itself. From the very first note, I was entranced, not only with the beautiful sound of steel stringed guitar and warm bass, but also the breathtaking live setting for the videos in Utah. https://londonjazznews.com/2020/10/16/endless-field-alive-in-the-wilderness/

Here’s another candidate for Album of the Year – Stephan Braun and Mateusz Smoczyński Keep on Turnin’ (ACT). I wrote about this album too:

https://londonjazznews.com/2020/11/30/stephan-braun-and-mateusz-smoczynski-keep-on-turnin/

Like most people I watched many online gigs during lockdown – here are a couple of favourites:

Morten Schantz, a favourite pianist, and I’m looking forward to hearing his new album next year. [Music starts around 11 minutes in]

And Johannes Dickbauer, for refined chamber jazz of the highest order:

I worked with many young musicians this year, not on touring but on planning for 2021. I wish all the best to Sam Jesson, Matthew Read, Joe Downard, Alex Hitchcock, Todd Speakman, Tom Ollendorff and hope their dreams and plan come true. When I look back at this list I realise how lucky I am and that 2020 wasn’t so bad after all.

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