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July 5: Charlatan Tours of London — A chance discovery in Primrose Hill — Jazz Italian Style



Yesterday we held the 8th Charlatan Tour, a series of walking tours of different parts of London organized with the help of friends here. The Sunday afternoon tours, about three hours long and finishing up at a pub, are given by Kristen and I and our friends, the nervy Charlatan tour guides, and whoever is willing to undertake to lead. The tours are definitely influenced by my wonderful experience of doing similar tours with the Society for the Preservation of Wild Culture, which were called Landscape Readings.

So far we’ve done the City (financial district), two different parts of East London, Harringay and Green Lanes, Hampstead (north-west corner), Islington, North London (Crouch End, Highgate Wood and Alexandra Palace). The tours are free while we do them ourselves. Of course there are many people in London who lead tours — it's a hobby for quite a few Londoners. But doing it ourselves is best, of course. "Every artist was once an amateur." — Emerson.

At the end of yesterday’s tour of Regent's Canal and Camden Town we landed at a very fine pub in Primrose Hill, the Lansdowne, and then later a friend and I discovered some live music at another pub nearby, The Engineer. The band was the Laura Long Quintet and they played swing and jazz and Latin, and carried it all off with excitement & taste (my simplest two word definition for good musicianship). The personnel was Francesco Lo Castro, guitar, Saleem Raman, drums, Fulvio Buccafusco, bass, all fine players who Laura had picked up some new players for the gig.

Laura Long is the kind of singer who is capable of rising to the level of good jazz players, and in turn inspires them to dig deeper into their own abilities. In jazz, little more can be asked of a singer, since what jazz musicians want is to get high on their communal work of the moment, and play with the best players they can. Ella Fitzgerald was a good example of this, and Frank Sinatra, of whom Ellington's drummer, Sonny Greer, said: "He swings me!"

The accordion player, Maurizio Minardi, an Italian pianist, soprano sax player and composer as well, was truly inspiring playing jazz on that instrument. I played accordion for a couple of years when I was ten, and I own one, though don’t have much dexterity on it. There are few instruments that can provide the nuance of expression that the accordion can; in the hands of someone like Mauricio it is a powerful axe. I’ll be going to hear him at The Engineer with Maurizio Minardi, July 14, 18:00, playing for a Bastille Day party.

It appears that in London there are many musicians coming from other European countries who are adding some deep skill and good taste to the mix here, making music that is sometimes very surprising. The downside is, based on listening to the MySpace tracks of various European artists here, is they are so eclectic as not to give a clear sense of what they do or where they’re going. Perhaps they will settle into being valuable sidemen for other more focused leaders.

Now that I am beginning to make contacts with musicians, in the next few weeks I'll be able to report on more of what I discover here. A friend who lives in the East end, the younger and hipper part of London, says there is excellent jazz there. Other than the handful of tourist trade/international act jazz clubs — like Ronnie Scott's and Pizza Express on Dean Street — there appear to be a few hundred venues that are welcoming to jazz players.

Wanting to share my excitement about this wonderful accidental musical  discovery, I dip my toe into the blogiverse, or whatever it's called..