All posts by Mary James

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.

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

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.

Writing for LJN/Miscellaneous

Here is a selection of my writings for London Jazz News, items of news or competition results.

Results from the 4th Zbigniew Seifert Jazz Violin Competition

Semi finalists in the 4th Zbigniew Seifert Jazz Violin Competition 8-10 July 2020, online

New podcast series: “2-5-1 Two pianists, five podcasts, one subject”

Jakub Paulski Trio wins Jazz Juniors Competition, Kraków 2019

Morten Schantz Godspeed at Sounds of Denmark Revisited

REPORT: Jazz Juniors Festival in Kraków

FEATURE: Impressions of music in Baku, Azerbaijan

NEWS: Semi-finalists in the 3rd Seifert Jazz Violin Comp. announced (Krakow/Lusławice, Poland)

REVIEW: Roller Trio at the 2018 Cheltenham Jazz Festival

REPORT: Making the Changes: a powerful symposium for women in jazz

REPORT: Hitch On Jazz Juniors International Exchange in Kraków

NEWS: Quantum Trio win at the Hitch On Jazz Juniors International Exchange in Kraków

REVIEW: Ralph Towner Solo at Pizza Express Soho

NEWS: 2nd International Jarek Śmietana Jazz Guitar Competition launched (28 Jun – 1st Jul, Kraków)

PREVIEW: Morten Schantz Godspeed ( Hitchin/ London 25th/ 26th March)

NEWS: Lauren Kinsella wins Jazz Composition Award, Arts Foundation 2017 Awards

NEWS Isaiah J Thompson and Felix Moseholm win the inaugural Horace Parlan Talent Award in Copenhagen

NEWS: Mateusz Smoczyński wins Zbigniew Seifert Jazz Violin Competition

NEWS: Semi-finalists in the 2nd Zbigniew Seifert Jazz Violin Competition (Lusławice and Kraków, Poland)

NEWS: Jazz for children project Molly and the Owl receives ACE funding to tour

REVIEW: Oddarrang at jazzahead! in Bremen

NEWS: Brad Mehldau is the first jazz musician to be awarded the Wigmore Medal

FEATURE: Ten things I learned as a tour manager

REPORT: Int. Jarek Śmietana Jazz Guitar Competition in Kraków

NEWS: Winners at the inaugural Jarek Smietana Jazz Competition in Krakow

Writings for LJN/Reviews

Here are some of the reviews I’ve written for London Jazz News. Please follow the links to read them.

Album reviews:

Kasia Pietrzko Trio – “Ephemeral Pleasures”

Dominik Wania – “Lonely Shadows”

Dave Storey Trio – “Jouska”

Jean-Louis Matinier & Kevin Seddiki – “Rivages”

I Think You’re Awesome & Taïga String Quartet – “Suite to be You and Me”

CD REVIEW: Sietske – Leaving Traces

CD REVIEW: Jef Neve – Spirit Control

CD REVIEW: Oddarrang – Agartha

CD REVIEW: Casey Golden – Miniature

CD REVIEW: The Kora Band -New Cities

CD REVIEW: FitkinWall – Lost

CD REVIEW: Ola Onabulé – It’s The Peace That Deafens

CD REVIEW: Sunna Gunnlaugs – Cielito Lindo


DVD reviews:

DVD REVIEW: Open Land – Meeting John Abercrombie, a film by Arno Oehri and Oliver Primus

Writings for London Jazz News/Interviews

I’ve been very fortunate to be able to write for London Jazz  News over the years and I’m very grateful to the editor Sebastian Scotney for encouraging me and for putting opportunities in front of me.  Most special of all was interviewing the late John Abercrombie, his last interview.

Below is a selection of my writings, links only. Please follow the link to read the interview or review on London Jazz News. 


Władysław Dadak – owner of Piec Art Acoustic Jazz Club, Kraków

B. D. Lenz (28-date trio tour of Europe incl. UK 26 June – 17 July)

INTERVIEW: Quantum Trio

INTERVIEW: Julian Costello Open Soundcheck tour (starts 19 September 2018)

INTERVIEW: Janusz Stefański

INTERVIEW: Julian Costello (new Quartet)

INTERVIEW: Nathalie Loriers

INTERVIEW: John Abercrombie in Kraków


London Jazz Festival 2018 – impressions of Punch Brothers and Mariza

When you haven’t seen a band or artist for years, there is a sense of anticipation that you try to control. But when you sit in the Barbican and the hollers and whoops that greet a band as they step onto the stage are loud and long, then you know you can let your hopes off the leash because you KNOW you will not be disappointed. This was the case with Punch Brothers on 16 November 2018 at the Barbican, opening night of the EFG London Jazz Festival. A band that can make a virtue of tuning “I have eight strings, you only have five”,  that clusters around one microphone, that jokes about their country being a circus, that looks like they are actually enjoying themselves, this band could sing the phone book and I’d be happy.  It is hard to take your eyes off Chris Thile whose extraordinary falsetto vocals and mandolin, nimble movements and facial winks and contortions reminded me of a court jester, and as bitter.  The sound man must have had a heart attack when they walked away from the microphone, walked to the edge of the stage and played their encores acoustically.

Absolutely every minute was perfect but I will never forget their title track All Ashore.  When it finished, I was choked with tears (as usual) and I am sure Chris Thile had a lump in his throat. There was a  nano second of silence before the applause.  “Momma cuts like a man-of-war through the fog of an early morning with nothing more than a coffee filling up her sails.” This is why we go to live music, to feel overwhelmed by beauty and artistry in the presence of other people.

Seeing fado star Mariza on 17 November was moving for different reasons.  Another set close to two hours,  it never felt that long.  She also attracted like a magnet, her voice hard to describe, strong yet vulnerable, her presence commanding, her band providing a gorgeous backdrop with the delicate sound of the Portuguese guitar and accordion magic-carpetting us to Lisbon. When she stepped off the stage into the audience, slowly singing her way to the back of the stalls, then worked her way back shaking hands and receiving genuine thanks and appreciation from the many Portuguese people in the audience, I found myself moved again, by her warmth and humility. Look at her face and those near her in the picture below, they are spellbound and happy and she is the real thing.