Blue notes

PUBLISHED : Sunday, 03 January, 2010, 12:00am
UPDATED : Sunday, 03 January, 2010, 12:00am

It's time for the annual look at what has happened over the past year and what will be happening this year in the world of jazz and blues, and as usual the grim reaper figures prominently.

There is no way of knowing what the headcount will be for 2010, but there was at least one noteworthy casualty for every month of 2009. It was a bad year for Ray Charles' saxophonists, with both David 'Fathead' Newman and Hank Crawford checking out, and for drummers, with Louie Bellson, Rashied Ali and Uriel Jones among the casualties.

Farewell also to George Russell, Charlie Mariano and Ian Carr, while an era truly came to an end with the passing of the relatively little known Lawrence Lucie at a venerable 101. The guitarist was believed to be the last surviving musician to have played The Cotton Club with Duke Ellington.

The blues mourns, among others, Snooks Eaglin, Eddie Bo, Koko Taylor and Willie King.

Not all the fallen made their greatest contributions as musicians. Pete King was a tenor saxophonist but he earned his place in jazz history as the managerial senior partner at Ronnie Scott's London jazz club, remaining at the helm after Scott's death. The club has since changed hands and style, but King and Scott between them maintained it as one of the great jazz venues of the world for almost five decades.

Art D'Lugoff, who founded the Village Gate club in New York, was a contemporary and in some respects an American counterpart of King and Scott, and he also died last year. Sadly, there were too many more keepers of the flame snuffed out to list.

With regard to CD releases, internationally it was a good, but not vintage year, while locally nothing much happened except for the release of Tan Hanjin's debut as a jazz singer - watch this space though for new recordings by Hong Kong-based artists due out in the coming months.

Live, 2009 was notable for the success of the second Hong Kong International Jazz Festival, the performances at the Hong Kong Arts Festival of Omar Sosa, Chick Corea and John McLaughlin's Five Peace Band, and Lisa Ono.

Backstage Live and the Fringe Club continued to present a steady stream of local and international artists, many of the latter from the Scandinavian countries, and a varied bill of local and Asia-based artists performed at Grappa's Cellar, notably in the ongoing Allen Youngblood Presents concert series.

The Leisure and Cultural Services Department's previously annual Jazz Up concert series did not take place; it is to be hoped that it will be reinstated in 2010.

Looking ahead, the Hong Kong International Jazz Festival looks set to sail into its third year, while over the next few weeks the Hong Kong Arts Festival will bring us what promise to be great jazz performances from the David Murray Black Saint Quartet and the Guy Barker Jazz Orchestra, as well as a star-studded tribute to Nina Simone featuring her daughter, Simone, with Liz Wright, Patti Austin and Diane Reeves.

The City Festival will shortly be under way, and Big Band Fest 2010 taking place on January 15 and January 16 at City Hall promises to be a highlight of it.

Jazz in Hong Kong is an under-watered plant, but it continues to grow, with new bands and musicians emerging, new venues presenting it - at least occasionally - and old stalwarts sticking with it. Ned Kelly's is such an institution that we sometimes forget live jazz of a high standard is performed in Hong Kong every night of the week and can be heard for nothing more than the price of a beer.

Most jazz lovers have a conservative streak, and it is tempting sometimes to stay home and just spin the well-loved CDs. Live jazz, however, needs support if it is to survive and thrive. Let us all make a resolution for 2010 to get out more. Happy New Year.