The saxophonist Art Themen (pictured above) has been a sprightly character on the UK jazz scene since learning his chops in the 50s trad boom. He quickly moved into the modern jazz world, however, and developed his richly melodic style from listening to the likes of Sonny Rollins and by the 70s he was a regular foil to the mighty pianist Stan Tracey. Unbelievably, four decades later, he’s still a nimble and expressive player, having somehow kept up a successful career as a consultant surgeon alongside the music. He pops into the Fringe this week (Wednesday 5) with a sparkling quartet including Dave Newton (piano), Percy Pursglove (trumpet/double bass) and Tony Orrell (drums).
And it’s vocal history week in Bristol, it seems, with two evenings looking at the dramatic life and legendary work of great female singers. First up, Australian singer Vika Bull brings her show At Last – The Etta James Story to St George’s (Monday 3) with the great I’d Rather Go Blind bound to be a highlight. Then jazz/blues duo Small Days bring The Bessie Smith Story to the Thunderbolt (Thursday 6) with saxophonist Brendan Whitmore. Known as The Empress of the Blues Smith (above) took the world by storm in the 20s with records like Downhearted Blues and, with Ma Rainey, defined a kind of powerful singing style that remains a staple of the blues and jazz world.
Thursday night also sees pianist and composer Andy Nowak (above) bring his ANt trio to Future Inn. Following the success of their debut CD Sorrow and the Phoenix they will be presenting a new set of material paying tribute to some of the great jazz pianists that have inspired Andy, including Oscar Peterson and Brad Meldhau. They’re currently running a Kickstart campaign to raise the money to record the music for their follow-up. By contrast Friday’s Bebop Club visitor is a long way from his 1990 recording debut: tenor sax man Benn Clatworthy was talent spotted by Ronnie Scott in the 70s and headed for the States in the 80s to become a regular player on the LA scene. His post-bop style has enormous fluency with echoes of Coltrane’s muscular playing and his annual visits to the UK are always a big treat for Bebop regulars. Naturally a top-notch rhythm section awaits – with Messrs Blomfield, Harris and Hague doing the honours.