Introducing the Judy Carmichael Septet

After an all too brief but extremely fun tour, I’m back at home and online again. I’m taking a break from catching up on emails and I’d like to take this opportunity to tell you a bit about the band and the musicians therein because there are some names that you may not be familiar with. This group is cookin’, and I think you’re going to be hearing a lot about it soon!

That the band is going to be good, and put on a superb show goes with out saying – it is made up of THE best swing musicians in the world and led by the worlds leading stride pianist, Judy Carmichael. But as many of you know, just having great musicians doesn’t necessarily mean magic will flow. Sometimes egos get in the way, everyone wants to be a soloist and the star…. the list goes on. However, what makes this band really special is that all of us have the same philosophies on jazz, performance, swinging and giving it absolutely everything you have, every ounce of passion with no exceptions. This band goes on stage to play hard and as Judy said one night, if you’re meek you won’t cut it! Every detail, no matter how small, was discussed at some point over the tour. Simply being a great, swinging septet was not enough. We were, and continue to be, intent on making this the best it can be.

For example, it took two weeks of experimenting with different sound set ups (fully miked, partially miked, totally acoustic etc) to finally have, on Thursday’s final show, a good sound both for us and the audience. The absolute minimum amplification required. An ongoing battle between some musicians (others just don’t give a ****) and most sound engineers is their inability to understand the use of dynamics. That is for us to control, not them. Imagine if you will: a nice quiet ballad, where the band is playing softly, the muted trombone singing a beautiful melody, everyone balancing their own sound against each other to create an atmosphere. The sound guy thinks the trombone is too quiet and wants to hear the piano more – so up go the dials. Now the sax, playing a delicate harmony line, has disappeared – more dials .. and suddenly the sax part, not the melody, is louder than everything. An exaggeration of the situation to make a point? No, a true case, one that frequently happens and is the one thing guaranteed to make the musicians homicidal! We don’t take the p*** out of you for always wearing black, so DON”T MESS WITH OUR SOUND. Sorry, I digress. This is a topic for another post – and one that I will relish!! (Cue frantic hand-rubbing, wide eyes and maniacal laughter). Wander, our sound engineer on this tour, is an exception. He wanted to learn more and create the best set up he could – and we really appreciate it Wander, thanks.

Judy Carmichael

I guess I should start with Judy Carmichael, although I think most of you know her already. Actually, where can I start with someone like Judy. She is the ultimate professional, a consummate showman (sorry, but I don’t go in for political correctness), a world class pianist and a great tennis player (I’m in training for the September tour!). On a personal note, a very genuine, funny person with an infectious enthusiasm for life and music who is great to be around. I have been listening to Judy’s music for years but I only met her for the first time around 3 years ago when she came to Brazil for, what was then called, the Jazz Gerais festival (now called Jazz Festival Brasil and covering 8 cities). Each year she has come, she’s brought a different line up or project. Last year was Judy Carmichael’s Swing Time, a four piece band with two tap dancers. It is real pleasure and honour to be included in the new band. A seven piece line up is a first for Judy and she has been having a ball!

Mike Hashim

Many, many years ago (sorry Mike – I didn’t mean to make you sound that old!) Bob Wilber gave me a copy of Mike’s tribute to Billy Strayhorn. I think that was the first time I’d heard of him – I later got some discs of Mike’s old band The Widespread Depression Orchestra to hear more. The first time I met Judy she was playing a duet gig with Mike. Bob was over for the festival as well, so Mike came along to a couple of the gigs and sat in with us. As well as being a great multi-instrumentalist, arranger and jazz musician, Mike is very intelligent and well read. He is one of those people who seems to know something about everything – and always has a funny story to boot. Again, great to be around!

Dan Barnett

I played with Dan for the first time last year when he was guesting with the All Stars Jazz Band here in Brasil. Dan hails from Australia (and yet remains likeable) and has to deal with horrendous jet lag every time he comes here – that I don’t envy at all. He is a great singer but he blew me away with his trombone playing. Very versatile, beautiful sound, knows how to use mutes properly (not as common as you would think) and swings like crazy. What more can you ask for? Being an Aussie he also knows how to drink and he is great fun to hang with – in fact the whole band is which is why it’s so much fun being on the road with them.

Marcelo Costa

Just before I moved to Brasil, a friend of my wife’s mentioned that she knew a jazz trumpeter living in the city we were moving to. I got his email address and wrote to him, explaining who I was and that was moving to Belo bla bla bla. Anyway, he wrote back straight away – he already knew me! He had all the recordings of the Charleston Chasers and knew my playing from them. What a small, small world we live in. Well, we became good friends and last year I played with his All Stars band along with Dan. This year Judy invited him on the tour and we’ve been having lots of fun.

David Blenckhorn

I’ve played with Dave a few times in London, at the Boisdales. Another Australian (same applies) he know resides in London. The very first gig with Dave was a quintet gig, four rhythm and me. It was really like having two front line horns though – wherever I went, Dave was right there with me. He listens to everything – if I’d start a riff Dave would be right in there with a harmony line; use substitution harmonies, Dave would be there. I had another chance to play with Dave when I did some Boisdales with Evan Christopher. However, on this trip Dave has surpassed himself. He has just got better and better each night, inventing the most beautiful solos, creating new harmonies and generally playing on the highest level possible. He also surprised us by how knowledgeable he is on Brazilian music. He knows lots of Choros, and a whole load of Bossas that I hadn’t even heard of – and I live here! One of the many musical highlights of the tour, for me, was a duet we did on That’s All. Playing over the rich harmonies and voicings he created was the easiest thing in the world.

Ed Ornowski

Some musicians like to have everything pre-arranged. I mean everything. If I had to play in situations like that all the time, I’d give up. I like surprises, people playing what they feel and creating unexpected paths within the music. That is why I consider Ed to be the best drummer I’ve ever played with. He is enormously inventive, using everything at his disposal to swing and uses space and silence to great effect. You never know what he’s going to do, but you do know that it’ll swing and make you smile. His rhythm is infectious, as is his passion for music. He runs a school orchestra in New York with over 200 instruments! Listening to him talk about these kids is a joy – I wish all schools could have someone like him. There would be many more great musicians and a lot less troubled children. Ed and I connected on the first day that I met him, which again was last years festival with Judy. We have very similar personalities, almost identical views on how a band should be, and we both love playing with a laid back, fat beat. I used to sit back stage during their set just to hear Ed play, no offence Judy 🙂 To finally be working with him is just great. It’s how I imagine playing with Jo Jones would be.

True friends are hard to come by these days. I’ve lost count of how many acquaintances I have, but it is an honour to count these people amongst my true friends. Being in their company just makes life more fun.