TOMMY TAKES HIS OWN SWEET TIME
and a round up of jazz news
by Norman Warwick
A previously unreleased solo recording by pianist Tommy Flanagan (left) titled In His Own Sweet Time. was made available on 26th February on Enja records (distributed by Proper Music Distribution in the UK). Apart from being a wonderful album (you can preview a track from the album on the Jazz In Europe Classic Jazz playlist) there is a great back story to the recording of this album.
In his detailed liner notes to the album Reinhard Kochl describes the circumstances around the recording that took place at the “Birdland Jazz Club” in Bavarian town of Neuburg in October 1994. It is a story well worth the telling.
Enja Records happily allowed Jazz In Europe to publish these liner notes (translated into English by Matthias Winckelmann) in their entirety. When inviting us to read them Jazz In Europe advised us to mark the date of 26th Feb as Tommy Flanagan day.
PHOTO 2 Manfred Rehm This is the story of a concert, which almost didn’t happen. The event created a culture shock that struck somewhere between an American metropolis and a Bavarian small town. What you will read is a story of a strong woman, who wants to shelter her husband at any price. it is, at heart, though, a story of a very special recording, which slumbered in the archives for over a quarter of a century and is now seeing the light of day for the first time. We all love a story with a happy-ending, but nobody could have expected such a denouement in this case, other than Manfred Rehm (right) and Matthias Winckelmann.
Rehm, an impresario for many years, had been involved in ´Birdland Jazz Club´ since it was founded in 1958 and as a chairman, would bring the club to absolute heydays in the nineteen eighties. Having Tommy Flanagan play there would have meant the fulfillment of a childhood dream. He had known and loved Flanagan and his music since the late Fifties, when the pianist appeared on one of the first records Rehm ever purchased by trombonist J.J. Johnson and his combo. A very small window would open in 1994 to attract the hero of Rehm´s youth into the historic old town centre, where three years before, one of the finest European Jazz Clubs had been established.
Tommy Flanagan had by then already enjoyed a splendoured career. For sixteen years he had worked the keys for the great Ella Fitzgerald, and recorded the jazz classic Saxophone Colossus with Sonny Rollins, and had also played on the milestone album, Giant Steps, with John Coltrane. He was ´retrieved´ by Miles Davis and was employed for his poetical and swinging narrative structure by Coleman Hawkins (left) , Dexter Gordon, Harry Edison, Roy Eldrige, Wes Montgomery, Charles Mingus and Benny Carter.
The quiet, modest Flanagan, in spite of his introverted, nearly shy, genial style was touring Germany at that time. German saxophonist and composer Klaus Doldinger had flown him in with a hand picked ensemble around Victor Lewis, Roy Ayers, Charnett Moffet and Don Alias to best present Flanagan´s acoustic. There were phone calls, negotiations,….and stalls.
Would Tommy come to Neuburg right after that short tour? Yes, why not, then „. maybe… then again „No!. There were contractual nuances.
´He is not too comfortable with something like this, carrying a full evening alone´, Tommy´s wife and manager Diana Flanagan declared.
There was a sudden glimmer of hope: ´But maybe we come. You said the club is in a nice area?´
Again phone calls, promises, questions, contractual hang-ups. At one point Matthias Winckelmann, who had released quite a few great albums on his Munich based label ENJA RECORDS, (see album cover, right) stepped into the communication process, scenting a unique chance of a solo concert recording. Then constant dripping wore away the stone: on a Tuesday night in September the final confirmation came through „
´Tommy will play in Neuburg!´ Diana Flanagan declared solemnly.
Tommy and Diana arrived in Neuburg the day before the concert, October 8th, 1994. The arched cellar of a historic court pharmacy, which hardly fits into the visual appearance of a small Bavarian town, rather reminding one of a New York jazz venue, seemed to surprise him. Politely smiling, the pianist overcautiously felt his way through the still unknown environment.
´Wow!´, a small but intense ambience, professional equipment, competent and friendly people everywhere anticipating every wish of their famous guest: this was all all good, enough for a thumbs up! the venue simply seemed the perfect place to celebrate Jazz in its natural biosphere of spontaneity and intimacy.
Nevertheless, the only photos of this concert were taken during the rehearsal on the Bösendorfer. Tommy is caught struggling through a pile of charts, playing standards, shy, but increasingly more refined, deeper. Standing just in front oh him is Diana.
´Play it like this, darling!´ she was whispering, giving a run humming the right direction “No, no this tune is not good enough… Don’t hurry, take your time, darling“.
No doubt, she knew something about music. And he, the great pianist, needed her feedback in all his tangible insecurity.
Then it was concert time: the organizer had all the tables moved out of the cellar, equipping the complete auditorium just with chairs, to meet the enormous demand. When the people, who had travelled from all over the country, saw the microphones, they sat down nearly immovable during the following two hours, not daring to cough, not to mention speak. Tommy Flanagan and the audience faced each other: two muted walls. Until the then 64 year old jazz man touched the keyboard.
´I didn’t feel well´, he confessed in an interview the next day. ´I really do not like it, especially having been on the road with a group the week before. The changeover (of atmosphere) is hard, damn hard, believe me. One day you have the loud saxophone next to you, a couple of feet away from the drummer. Twenty Four hours later you are alone on stage. The audience watches your fingers, everything is so quiet that can hear yourself and the folks in the front row breathing, you are buck-naked, each mistake is registered without mercy. I truly realize that I, Tommy Flanagan, am a team player at the bottom of my heart. I am not good at presenting myself. In the past I‘ve always stayed away from these solo concerts, and I made a special point – when it had to be – that they were not recorded. That’s why there are no solo albums of mine.
A lump in his throat, he sat sweating. ´
´It wasn‘t the fault of the audience, neither of the club, nor the Bösendorfer Grand. „It was my own fault!´
Nevertheless, he admitted, he felt that the audience seemed to like it somehow. „´Though I thought they just had mercy with that fellow up there on stage, and just wanted to be generous!´
That is a sentence that many of his followers would say puts the very character of this extraordinary artist in a nutshell. Tommy Flanagan was neither a revolutionary nor a trend-setter. He never wanted to force change, or to protest. He simply wanted to be a part of the evolutionary process of fascinating music genre of jazz.
He was, perhaps, ´the sideman for all seasons´, who could be part of any band and enrich all the music without upstaging the bandleader.
At this gig, though, he was all by himself now, sheltered only by Diana. She it was who advised him to only play ballads in Neuburg, During the performance he was just ´takin‘ his own sweet time´, following his wife´s advice to take all the time in the world and not to rush anything.
Even after the concert Tommy still had concerns.
´It was horrible,´ he reflected at the time. ´I will never do something like this again.´ although ion the later years of his career Diana would control his performance tempo due to hi9s sever heart condition.
Of course, those Birdland recordings, that until now have slumbered in the archives of the ENJA record label archives, told a story that was a polar diametric of how Tommy had felt about them.. ENJA founder Matthias Winckelmann called them ´his treasure“ in all those years, and found vital supporters in Birdland‘s impresario Manfred Rehm and in the 156 ´live witnesses of the session. The pianist actually reconciled with Neuburg four years later when he returned with his Quartet.
“Only now could I enjoy the Club and the Grand Piano fully. Thank you to the finest club in Germany´, he wrote in the guest book.
Now that the legendary solo recording has been released we have our happy ending. A quiet, deliberate, wonderful final point closes the incredible career of Thomas Lee Flanagan, who everybody called Tommy, and who passed away on November 16th, 2001 he was A pianist whose ego was dwarfed by magnificent capabilities.
Recorded October 9, 1994 at the Birdland Jazz Club in Neuburg on the Danube in Germany on Bösendorfer Grand Piano. Recording engineer Wolfgang Meyscheider (Traunwalchen).
Concert supervision, liner notes and photography by Reinhard Köchl. English translation and production by Matthias Winckelmann. Art work by David Winckelmann
Tommy Flanagan, Piano
IN HIS OWN SWEET TIME.
Smooth As The Wind
If You Could See Me Now
Some Other Spring
How Long Has This Been Going On?
Who Can I Turn To
Just Squeeze Me
August is a very quiet month for jazz here on Lanzarote and Rob Adam of Music That´s Going Somewhere suggests it might be pretty quiet on the UK scene too. Nevertheless, he was the first listing organisation to get to us with news for the month, and thought he news be sparse it is pretty mouth-watering.
The Fergus McCreadie Trio follow up their recent, rapturously received concerts in Manchester with a festival appearance in Scone. Held in the grounds of Scone Palace, the Wee Solas festival features a reduced programme compared to previous years. Fergus, David and Stephen appear on Sunday 22nd and are currently due onstage around 8pm (subject to possible change). The guys recently recorded their third album, scheduled for release early next year, and might feature music from this as well as pieces from Turas and Cairn.
Singer Tina May (right) has three gigs in August for anyone who might be in Worcester, Nottingham or Essex. Tina plays Kidderminster Town Hall on Thursday 5th. She then plays Peggy’s Skylight in Nottingham, which won the Parliamentary Jazz Awards’ Venue of the Year title earlier this week, on Saturday 7th. And on Wednesday 25th Tina plays for Belvedere Jazz Club in the Chichester Hotel in Rawreth, about seven miles from Basildon.
Ola Onabule (left) plays two nights at the Pizza Express Jazz Club in Dean Street, Soho on Thursday 19th and Friday 20th. These are Ola’s first live dates since the pandemic began and he’ll be focusing on his latest album, Point Less, which has been likened to Marvin Gaye’s What’s Going On for its intensity and forthrightness. Like that Marvin Gaye classic, it has great tunes, too.
Where Rivers Meet is the Scottish National Jazz Orchestra´s celebration of saxophone heroes Ornette Colman, Dewey Redman, Albert Ayler and Anthony Braxton. It remains available to view on line until Wednesday 25th August. It features Konrad Wisznieswki in typically passionate form and artist Mana Rud, in the moment, responding to the moment.
Speaking of Anthony Braxton, New Zealand saxophonist Jasmine Lovell-Smith studied and played with the master while living in the U.S. a few years ago. Jasmine and fellow saxophonist Jake Baxendale (a student of Dave Douglas, David Binney and John Irabagon) have been getting great press for their new album, Sanctuary. Italian webzine WIndout felt that the two saxophonist-composers were “exploring a wide instrumental palette in Vince Mendoza’s footsteps.” Being likened to Joni Mitchell’s arranger/orchestrator made Jasmine and Jake’s day, but discovering that their music was also being championed on a radio station in Count Basie’s birthplace, Kansas City, Missouri, trumped even that. Sanctuary is available on Bandcamp now.
Their countryman, pianist Ben Wilcock, has similarlñ been lauded for his new album, The River Tethys, which wioll be released on Friday 13th August. Simply Talk Jazz has praised the first class musicianship and particularly enjoyed the group´s spontaneous, energetic and inventive reading of Dizzy Gillespie´s Groovin High, Meanwhile over in Atlnta, Georgia radfio presenter Fergus O´keefe enthused about the ´unique and special sound´ offered by ben and his colleagues in their jazz interpretations of traditiona irish folk slip-jig, The Butterfly.
The 606 club in London is a venue our readers have ´visited´ with Steve Bewick in an article that remains in our music archive, and the site continues to stage live gigs for viewing on-line.
Don´t forget, by the way, that you can listen every week to the Hot Biscuits jazz programme, presented every week by Steve Bewick, (left), with his jazz detective Gary Heywood-Everett on www.fc-radio.c.uk
I hear that Steve recently attended a candlelight celebration in Manchester Cathedral of music associated with Nina Simone. I know that venue well, having attended similar events when I was living in England, and I´m sure Steve will be speaking of the event on his programme over the next few weeks.
Meanwhile, a number of musicians who have previously toured for Music That´s Going Places feature in August, including guitar great Jim Mullen with his wife, singer Zoe Francis who appeared last night August 1st. Superb saxophonist Tim Garland will appear on Saturday 28th August with pianist Jason Robello and bassist Yun Goloubeyand the amazing singer pianist Lianne Carroll will appear on-line on Sunday 29th August.
Music That´s Going Places represents an impressive collection of jazz acts and organises tours, festival and special concert appearances on their behalf.
They have dealt, in doing so, with an impressive array of venues too. Their services have included assistance with programming and PR.
That is why Music That´s Going Places encourage people like us to urge readers like you to Pass It On.
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Even as I was writing the above news from Music That´s Going Places, correspondence dropped through the e mail box from Jazz In Reading.
New jazz club in Crowmarsh welcomes celebrated guitarist and vocalist Denny Ilett, sensational pianist Maff Potts and virtuosic bassist Paul Jefferies to perform highlights from their recent album, featuring music that was popular between the swing/blues 40s era and the birth of the BeBop
This cross-over style celebrates melody and focusses on entertainment drawing inspiration from popular artists like Louis Armstrong, Dizzie Gillespie and Hoagy Carmichael. Expect a high energy, hugely entertaining performance with fun at its core!
Doors 6.45pm | Show 7.30pm.
There will be a bar available provided by local pub the Queens Head. We adhere to all current COVID Government guidelines. Venue: Crowmarsh Village Hall, Benson Lane, Crowmarsh Gifford, OX10 8ED. Plenty of free parking is available.
This article was assembled by Norman Warwick, song-writer, journalist and broadcaster. He was a founding member, with Colin Lever, of Lendanear in 1976, Just Poets with Pam McKee in 2001 and all across the arts in 2002 for the Rochdale Observer with Robin parker and all across the arts community radio programme with Steve Bewick in 2005.
Norman ´retired´to lanzarote in 2015 but in January 2016 began writing a weekly artscolumn for Lanzarote Information on-line. in 2019 he launched his won daily blog at Sidetracks & Detorus and formed the Joiuned Up Jazz Journalists (JUJJ) in 2020 with Steve Bewick, his former colleague on the all across the arts radio broadcasters, who now continues to ruin his own Hot Biscuits programme at
Steve´s researcher and production assistant at Hot Biscuits, Gary Heywood-Everett was another founding member of JUJJ and now also serves as an occasional jazz detectiove for Sidetrracks & Detours. The fourth and final member of JUJJ was Susana Fondon, a colleague of Norman´s from Lanzarote Information on-line for which she delivers news, previews, interviews and reviews from the island´s jazz scene.
The purpose of forming JUJJ was to enable us to better share and grow our individual and collective jazz knowledge to help us better serve the jazz world in synergy with already outstanding listing agencies such as Music That´s Going Places and Jazz In Reading and Ribble Valley Jazz And Blues festival
Norman´s aim is to provide an eclectic mix of art forms via his daily blog but is aware too that Sidetracks And Detours must also provide clear signals and signposts that send non-traditiona audiences to the already excellent and far reaching media press that includes titles like Jazz IN Europe, Jazz Times, Jazziz and JazzED.
Sidetracks is, and will always be a not-for-profit organisation, but although that means we cannot pay for any written contributions we publish, we are always happy to accept submissions for consideration. Any that we subsequently publish will be fully attributed. Therefore, if you do wish to send a story to us, please do so on a word document attached to an e mail addressed to
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