Walsall Jazz Orchestra

Church Stretton School

Fri Aug 7 | 7.30pm

Walsall Jazz Orchestra
 Walsall Jazz Orchestra? Stunning – the town’s best kept secret  Terry Grimley (Birmingham Post)

The Walsall Jazz Orchestra is a 19-piece big band which, unlike the vast majority of big bands, plays contemporary, rather than traditional big band music. The band plays pieces written by well-known composers such as Pat Metheny, Mike Gibbs and Chick Corea, as well as a number of original compositions. WJO have released three CDs which have received rave reviews in the music press.

Peter Bacon (Birmingham Post) had this to say of the WJO:

“We’re so lucky to have Walsall Jazz Orchestra”

The constant things are the ones we most risk taking for granted. Like the excellence of the Rush Hour free sessions on early Friday evenings in the Symphony Hall Foyer Bar. And the Walsall Jazz Orchestra.

That rather dull town to the north of Birmingham has something of a comic reputation – people are likely to make nudge-nudge, wink-wink comments about the Leather Museum, and complain about the one-way system, or remark that it is one huge tip attached to Ikea.

But there are some redeeming features. One is the New Art Gallery; the other is the fact that many years ago a man called John Hughes got a whole bunch of young people together and called them the Walsall Jazz Orchestra.

They have been gigging ever since, have seen young rising players pass through their ranks and go on to fame and fortune, while the hard core WJOers keep doing the day jobs and relieve those post-work tensions by blasting out the joyous sounds of Jaco Pastorius, or Pat Metheny, or their own Tim Amann.

They’ve played in hotel bars, in tents in provincial city parks, at beer festivals, and on at least two occasions they have played at the Montreux Jazz Festival.

When that little funky electric piano figure from Tim Amann starts, Carl Hemmingsley adds the rim shot, Adam Gilchrist the bass line and the horns gently add a quiet pulse before the saxophones top it with the curling melody and Richard Sandford launches into his distortion-laden guitar solo, then I have no choice but to grin.

This is Amann’s Little Steps, one of their great showpieces, which really should be available on prescription from the NHS. It’ll cure most things.

The other thing I love about WJO is that it breaks strongly with the tradition for big bands to be all-male affairs. And, no, the good women of the band are not restricted to the genteel occupations of playing the piano and singing – they blow, and, my, how they blow!

The dedication, determination and good old-fashioned optimism of the band clearly won over the Rush Hour regulars who voted for them above all others in the annual Audience Poll.

The WJO has a Website