St Mary’s, the church Pevsner called “an exasperating puzzle”, paid scintillating homage to a baffling conundrum through Julian Bliss and his sextet. With enormous verve and assured musicianship the wonderfully balanced line-up of piano, trumpet, vibes, guitar, bass and drums, backing the brilliant young clarinettist, profiled one of the most contradictory giants of 20th century music.
Why was Benny Goodman, so generous in ways of inclusiveness and innovation – you don’t get to be called the King of Swing for just one hit number – so darned mean-spirited? A full house never quite cracked that one, but in the end who cared? We’d had an evening of sunshine outside the building and inside too as the musical colossus was dissected in wry, witty words and glorious golden sounds.
One minute we were in 1930s Chicago defying convention about mixed race bands, the next we were into some of the finest jazz and swing numbers ever penned, as we went Stomping at the Savoy, nice ‘n’ slow Up a Lazy River, did some Artie Shaw Moonglowing, met the Sheik of Araby and Sweet Georgia Brown, tried classics via Paganini’s Caprice (the old South Bank Show signature tune), Bebopped and Bossa-Novaed, and signed off with After You’ve Gone.
Classical training has given Bliss the discipline; now his new life as Benny is providing the freedom to reach fresh creative heights, and each member of the band more than justified the frequent, much-applauded solo spots. That, Mr Goodman, is what you call generosity.