The Coolest Jazz – Coming to A Village Hall Near Shaftesbury

The Dave Brubeck Quartet was arguably the coolest jazz group in history. Their music will be faithfully reproduced in Ashmore Village hall on 30th January. Alfred found out more.

The Neil Maya Quartet has been touring the Southwest since 2001. Totnes-based Neil has offered his themed ‘Brubeck Project’ performances for the last five years. He is a huge fan of the late American jazz pianist and composer, Dave Brubeck. “I love his music. As I am a sax player, I love playing Paul Desmond, Dave Brubeck’s long-serving sax player, even more.”

The Dave Brubeck Quartet made jazz music fashionable again and made the style popular and hip amongst the post-war generation. Neil says that true fans will know exactly what to expect. “They were a supergroup in the late fifties and early sixties. They were very well known. They went into the realm of pop music and that is not very common in jazz. People of a certain age know what Brubeck is. It does what it says on the tin,” said Neil. “It is the late 1950s and early 1960s cool jazz. 90% of what we do in the gig is straight Brubeck.”

Neil says fans that attend his gigs often enjoying sharing their job of Brubeck’s music. “Two or three people usually come up to me at the end of a gig and tell me some wonderful story about when they saw Dave Brubeck, or how their first girlfriend or boyfriend got them into Dave Brubeck. There’s a lot of reminiscing going on,” said Neil. “People have even seen him on his last tour, which was around the year 2000.”

The Neil Maya Quartet. Photo by Mark Tipping.

Brubeck fans who saw the quartet in the 1950s have complimented Neil’s band. “They give us good feedback and say that we are doing a good thing.” As part of the set, Neil and his fellow musicians will perform the Brubeck Quartet’s most famous track, ‘Take Five’ which reached number 6 in the UK singles charts in 1961.

“Interestingly it is not written by Dave Brubeck. It was written by Paul Desmond,” says Neil, who adds that the audience can expect some other well-known tracks. “The other two very famous tunes are ‘Blue Rondo à la Turk’ and ‘Unsquare Dance’. We will play some slightly lesser known tunes like ‘The Duke’ and ‘In Your Own Sweet Way’. Dave Brubeck wrote that for his wife Iona. They did a great album called ‘Dave Digs Disney’ and we will do two tunes from that album – ‘Hi Ho’ and ‘Someday My Prince Will Come’ from Snow White and the Seven Dwarves. We are taking Dave Brubeck’s strange time signatures to the extreme and do a tune in 11-4, which is 11 beats in the bar.”

In theatre, actors need to stay true to Shakespeare’s original words and can’t improvise. I asked Neil whether the same rules apply when performing the music of a jazz legend to a discerning audience of fans. “There are two aspects of Brubeck. There’s what we call ‘the heads’ or the tune, and there are the improvisation aspects. Three-quarters of the Brubeck Quartet was improvisation. We don’t learn and copy their improvisations. We improvise ourselves,” explained Neil. The band doesn’t present a carbon copy, but they improvise in a similar style to the quartet.

Neil says that his audiences generally sit to appreciate the music. “People don’t get up and dance. We’re playing concert jazz,” he said. And he is proud to be performing with an accomplished group. “I’m so fortunate to be working with some of the Southwest’s finest musicians.”

Ashmore

Neil is highly experienced too. He has been playing jazz music professionally for a quarter of a century. Neil says that’s fairly unusual because jazz is not the most lucrative genre. “It’s really hard to make your way through jazz. It’s not the best financial rewards. There are not a lot of fantastic jazz musicians out there, so somehow I have been very lucky.”

It’s the group’s first performance at Ashmore Village Hall and Neil says he enjoys rural venues. “These halls can normally hold 50 to 100 people and that’s brilliant. It makes for a lovely intimate gig and we get a chance to meet people more personally than you would in a bigger venue. When you have a couple of hundred people it becomes a little more impersonal. Sometimes the (village hall) acoustics are great. They are rarely terrible,” said Neil.

You can get more information on the concert, which takes place at 7.30pm on Thursday 30th January, at Artsreach.co.uk. Artsreach is supporting the event. The Dorset charity brings live music, theatre and dance events to our county’s rural communities. Artsreach is celebrating its 30th birthday this year.