[Dixielandjazz] Louis Armstrong Festival at Bracklesham Bay Sell-out Success
Tue, 24 Sep 2002 10:50:36 +0100
I have just returned from our weekend "Louis Armstrong Celebration Festival"
at South Downs Holiday Village, nr Chichester. The venue has a capacity of
280 people, some in the hotel and some in apartments in the grounds. I have
been organising festivals there for about five or six years. We have sold
out each year, but the venue (who were paying me) did not make any money.
(They didn't charge enough). This year we hired the venue, expanded the
festival, raised the price by almost £50 per person and totally sold out
making a profit into the bargain. A case of everybody's happy.
How did we achieve this? By booking the best musicians around (I know you
can't book everybody every year). Then get a first class, full colour
brochure. Mail out 5,000 addresses on the mailing list, back that up with
adverts in the jazz press, set up a freephone number for customers to book
with credit card facilities, turn up and make sure it all works.
Getting the customers there is one thing, making them happy is another.
Here's how we did it at Bracklesham.
We did not have wall to wall trad bands. I used versatile individuals who
have character, distinction, talent and entertainment value.
The first set was at dinner, in the restaurant, where John Wurr, clarinet,
Tim Phillips, banjo and Keith Donald played some standards.
The opening set in the ballroom featured my own Jazz'n'Swing Band, with
Messrs. Wurr, Phillips, & Donald joined by Ken Sims, cornet and myself on
drums. We played a selection of hot jazz requests from the audience, and had
many up dancing.
Then - a special event - we had three great sets from Allan Beechey's Bright
Stars of Jazz (whose CD I am listening to now as I write this). They played
an exciting and interesting programme of Condon and Wild Bill influenced
material. So what! I hear you say. But this band were in their twenties and
were like a breath of fresh air. Allan Beechey has the attack of a Wild Bill
and has clearly listened. (He told me he heard me years ago when he was a
child, playing with Yank Lawson). The future of traditional jazz is safe in
these hands. They had presentation, style commitment and entertainment
Saturday morning started with a jazz lecture that I presented on Bing
Crosby - jazz singer, a subject that divides jazz musicians and punters
John Wurr's Quintet, with guitar legend Diz Disley offered the first live
session of the day. Diz then took Tim Phillips and Keith Donald into lunch
and played while the guests were eating.
The first afternoon set welcomed pianist Martin Litton and multi reedman
Trevor Whiting, who together with John Wurr, Keith Donald & I played a 45
minute tribute to Bechet. John hurried off to another gig and we carried on
with a short Goodman salute.
Martin remained on stage with Tim Phillips on drums and Miss Annie Hawkins
on slapped bass, for a history of jazz piano. Martin covered Yancey, Joplin,
Morton, Willie the Lion, James P, finishing with Honky Tonk Train Blues.
By this time it was 4pm and time for the jazz quiz. I played 14 tracks of
classic recordings and got the guests to fill in answer sheets. CDs were
given to the customers with the most correct answers. There is an
educational aspect to this as well as the entertainment value. It leads folk
to search out the recordings.
Meanwhile in another venue, Swing From Paris, (Jonathan Graham, Tim Phillips
and Keith Donald) played a set of Django styled jazz.
Another fine young reedman, Duncan Batchelor joined Tim and Keith to form
the Mississippi Three, originally a band of buskers formed when Duncan was
studying law in Cambridge.
Dinner over, Terry Eastwood, club promoter from Rochdale, donned grand
Marshall attire to lead the parade. Out came the brollies as the band, with
Messrs. Batchelor, Sims, Cuff Billett, Jonathan Graham, Mike Pointon,
Phillips and Annie Hawkins (bass drum) strutted off around the site.
The value of this? Audience participation. Two ladies were awarded prizes
for the best decorated brollies.
Back in the Ballroom we presented the Last Years Of Jelly Roll Morton, with
Cuff, Mike, Trevor, Martin, Annie and yours truly. We trawled the '39 and
'40 repertoire, including "My Home is in a Southern Town", "If You Knew",
etc. Martin Litton is a Morton authority and his authentic piano lent
further credibility to the band.
Ken Sims Hot Five followed with some of the great Armstrong classics.
Next on the list was an Ory tribute (same personnel as the Morton) which had
the dancers going and enthusiastic punters asking for CDs (we have not done
The final offering of the evening was the two trumpet led Creole band with
Ken and Cuff swapping lead. Then bed.
Sunday morning started at 10am with the Forum. I picked 8 recordings and
played them to Mike Pointon, Trevor Whiting, Louis Lince, Tim Phillips and
Diz Disley. This produced some great anecdotes in response to an audience
question on live versus studio recordings.
This was followed by "Walkin' With The King", our Gospel and Spirituals
set - always a popular attraction. Lunch with the trio of Trevor, Annie and
banjoist, publisher and contributor to this list, Louis Lince.
Young players James Evans (reeds) and Nick Dawson (piano) joined me on stage
with Ken, Mike and Keith to do a Louis All Star set. Ken was in sparkling
form soaring above the ensemble, and the punters were clearly delighted with
James and Nick. Mike blew some stomping trombone.
Nick then headed the Trio, singing and playing a tribute to Crosby. I
contributed "Brother Can You Spare a Dime".
Louis then held court with a lecture on the Brass Band Tradition of New
Orleans, furnishing many recordings to illustrate his discourse.
James, Tim and Annie played for Dinner, following which Pete Allen led the
quartet (Nick, Keith and myself) for two sets which we called "Havin' Fun".
Pete is a class act. He almost blows the reed out of his clarinet. He is a
master showman, even playing solo clarinet around the ballroom, stopping at
individual tables. We sold ALL the CDs of this line-up that we had taken.
Final session was a swing set with young trumpet star, Enrico Tomasso,
James, Trevor, Nick and Keith.
By midnight I was ready to collapse - as were most of the audience.
Yesterday morning, after breakfast, it took me over an hour to take the mass
of re-bookings for next year's event - a sure sign that we got things right.
Not only were the customers re-booking for this event, we also sold a
considerable number of places for our William Shakespeare Festival at
Stratford next month and Scarborough next year.
What's the point of this long discourse?
Jazz can be presented, packaged and sold at a realistic price if the product
is first class and you believe in what you are selling. Most important is
the contribution made by the great performers, many of them young, without
whom the event would not have been successful.
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