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Johnny Lippiett at Boater's Jazz Club Review

Setting the Standard

Jazz is a funny old thing really. In essence a jazz gig is kind of like a gig by a covers band ... it's just that the covers (or standards as they are called in 'jazz-speak') are from a fairly wide range of musicians, and indeed even an extensive time period. This is in no way meant to belittle a jazz gig - by my reckoning, on my Spotify playlist I have a fairly definitive collection of about 40 Jazz standards. There are, give or take, at least three dozen official standards and at least half a dozen 'extras' that jazz musos are required to know. What IS amazing about a jazz gig, especially at the kind of standard that the audience has come to expect at Boaters, is that the jazz standards enable the musicians to get together and play a top class gig pretty much without a rehearsal. And of course the other unique thing about jazz is that the jazz standards are really only a framework and that by jazz's very nature of improvisation, solos and sheer unpredictability ... you usually end up with something pretty special.

And that's what we got from Johnny Lippiett and his jazz comrades. Jazz standards aside ... there's nothing 'standard' about Lippiett. A swinging and melodic tenor saxophonist, JL has been a finalist in the Young Jazz Musician of the year (back in 1996) which led him to play with Courtney Pine and become well known on the London jazz scene. A truly international musician, he has since lived in New Zealand where he became a jazz tutor in Wellington, as well as playing gigs all over Australia and New Zealand, playing a regular gig with former Ronnie Scott's house drummer Roger Sellers in Wellington. In more recent years he has relocated to New York where he has been enjoying great success performing at the city's famous jazz clubs - from Brooklyn, to Soho and the East Village.

Lippiett - on a rare visit back to the UK - was joined by Boaters' stalwart keyboard-player Simon Carter, Mark Hodgson on stand-up bass and up-and-coming jazz drummer, Chris Dagley (current Ronnie Scott's house drummer). Carter - a solid gold piano player who has toured with the likes of JK & Jamiroqua - gave his usual assured performance as both jazz heavy-weight & genial host. Carter is partly responsible for the jazz legend that is Boaters, home to one of the longest running weekly jazz residencies in London and the South East. Largely by his efforts, this Sunday night jazz institution is coming up to its second decade of playing host to some of the biggest names on the contemporary jazz circuit - including some of the UK's best home-grown talents. Mark Hodgdon stood in as jazz anchor; a solid & unpretentious, if unflamboyant stand up bass player. Hodgson's calm repose seemed to throw into exciting relief the antics of his partner in the jazz 'engine room' - the indefatigable Chris Dagley. Dagley's drumming accompanied by a Tom Waits-esque gurning and much showmanship, really showcased some incredible jazz drumming, reminscent of jazz greats such as Buddy Rich (or my favourite drummer of all time, 'Animal' from the Muppet Show!) In jazz circles Dagley is getting a reputation as THE drummer to play with; after his finale solo it was easy to see why.

Dagley aside, JL stole the show - his virtuoso performance seeming to shape and re-define the well-established jazz standards and make them seem well ... non-standard. The assured swagger of this young jazzmeister - who's a regular fixture of the East Village jazz scene in NYC - made an impression on the crowd at once with his fresh, inventive and above all exciting take on standards such as Duke Ellington's 'Sweet Georgia Brown' and Miles Davis' 'So What?' Lippiett has been know to quote "There's no money in jazz - even in New York!" Yet despite this (or maybe because of it!) Lippiett brings plenty of attitude to his playing. When Lippiett is blowing up a storm, his face contorts and he puts every ounce of his being through that reed. With JL in full-flow it's easy to remember that jazz was the punk rock of its day, complete with bad-boy image and a long history of wild parties and hard drug abuse. Sometimes it's hard to imagine that these days - with the audience, and even the bands themselves, usually consisting of goatee-bearded, turtle-neck wearing, real-ale supping old jazz gentlemen. Somehow JL and his band re-injected some of this punk rock energy into the jazz standards - the average age of both the band and the audience was mid-30s rather than mid-60s (although I will admit there weres till a few jazz gentlemen nodding their heads along to the beat).

After the gig I got to thinking, if the new breed of classical musicians such as the much-fĂȘted James Rhodes can bring a 'rockstar' edge to classical music and thereby bring it to newer, younger audiences, could Johnny Lippiett and his contemporaries bring about the same sea-change in jazz? After all playing Bach and Beethoven concertos, is much the same as playing the jazz standards ... it's all about interpretation and performance. If JL, Carter, Dagley and Co are setting the new standard – then a jazz renaissance might not be too far out of the question.

Spotify PlayList Jazz Standards

Wikipedia Article Jazz Standards

Johnny Lippiett

Jazz @ Boaters

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