In 2003 I met John Barlow, a retired music professor at Wesleyan University in the small town of Middletown in Connecticut, USA. This unassuming man told of his experiences working with John Cage in the 60’s and ‘70’s on music which made such a mark all around the world, even reaching to the music department at York University, England, where I studied in the late ‘70’s. I asked how such earth-shattering work had developed in what seemed to be a sleepy bywater, rather than in the white heat of one of the USA’s big cities. The professor was perfectly clear: always look for the most interesting and innovative work away from the spotlight was his advice. So, given the rare chance to attend a concert in London, away from my home in Madrid, I searched Time Out online and searched for alternative venues to the Barbican and the South Bank concert halls, and was richly rewarded in finding out about a 20th anniversary celebration concert by Eclectic Voices, directed by Scott Stroman, in a venue I had never heard of: Union Chapel in Islington, N1.
Union Chapel is a Congregational church building, with regular services on Wednesdays and Sundays. According to the leaflet I picked up at the concert, the building was threatened with demolition in the 1980’s (difficult times in the UK, but let’s talk music not politics), and the decision was made to open the building for use as a commercial venue. This unusual decision has made funds available for a large scale restoration project, which you can follow at www.unionchapelrestoration.wordpress.com
The building is truly amazing, there are beautiful decorative windows, including a rose window, and the magnificent arch rises to almost 170 feet. The programme of artists and events for this summer is impressive, and you can find it all at www.unionchapel.org.uk
So, my search for an interesting concert was rewarded threefold: first, by visiting an architectural jewel which I had never even heard of; second, by hearing Scott Stroman’s wonderful music composed for Eclectic Voices, and third, by seeing live and up close the great English trumpet jazzman Henry Lowther.
I have heard Henry Lowther on disc many times and have admired his lovely sound and his melodic concept of jazz improvisation, equally at home on trumpet as on flugel horn. (I write this as an erstwhile trumpeter). For a real cross-over item, hunt down his solo on Elton John’s Mona Lisa & Mad Hatters Part II. Seeing him live for the first time, white haired and relaxed among a group of like minded souls, was really moving. Funnily enough, it reminded me of hearing Mr Alan Stringer, Principal Trumpet of the Royal Liverpool Philharmonic Orchestra, performing Haydn’s trumpet concerto year after year in the Philharmonic Hall when he was a senior member of the orchestra in the 70’s, sorry but even after all these years I can’t drop the Mr).
The connection? Both are examples to following generations: utterly professional, expert in their field, and performing in their chosen style, jazz or classical, to the highest possible standard but with a sense of modesty and self-effacement which is so often sadly missing in others. What a gratifying experience: Henry Lowther the man is as great as HL the jazz musician.
I suppose I should actually get around to writing about the concert… see Part Three.