Saturday, 20 June 2015

Ray's Jazz at Foyles Bookshop: Fumi Okiji's Old Time Band | The Small Desk

Footage from a previous gig. At 3.30 there is an amazing jazz clarinet solo.

My strongest memory of Foyles on Charing Cross Road is going with my Dad to get some obscure piece of music he needed. We walked up what felt like hundreds of stairs to get to a rather dark and dingy part of the store filled with music lovers perusing the never-ending stacks of drawers filled with sheet music. I don't know if that part of the store still exists, I rather suspect that it doesn't. They've recently renovated the entire store and it now has a high-end glossy sheen to it. One thing I hadn't realised was that there is an auditorium on the sixth floor, along with a trendy cafe on the fifth floor. In this auditorium is where they hold Ray's Jazz. The gig I went to was of Fumi Okiji's Old Time Band. 

As the support band finished up the Old Time Band could be seen in the audience cheering them and encouraging them to play another tune. Before they even played you could tell this band was doing it for all the right reasons. It's not often you see the main performer at a gig rooting for the support band like this. Red wine in hand, the Old Time Band casually slid into their positions, checked everyone was ready to go and persuaded the audience to move closer to the front. The audience settled into their seats not sure what to expect, and then this incredible voice started singing everyone's worries away. 

Fumi's voice has such depth to it, such power, clarity, freedom and soul. When she sings she looks straight out into the audience as though she is telling you a story, taking you on a journey with her and inviting you to be involved in the music. It is one of those voices that takes you by surprise, one of those rare voices that makes you go: 'wow'. It gives you shivers down your spine and transports you back in time to the roaring twenties, where jazz was the music of the masses.

Then there is the band. With one of the most successful and well-known jazz cellists Ben Davis holding down the bass line, joined by Idris Rahman on clarinet, Stuart Hall on guitar and Roy Dodds on drums, they improvise together some pretty crazy solos, bounce off each other and joke around with each other through their playing. There were many occasions where the audience was enjoying the clarinet and the guitar taking the solos out-of-control-crazy so much that they started crying with laughter. Have you ever seen people laughing at a gig not because its bad but because its so good?!

The auditorium is a fairly large space, probably the size of an assembly room in a school, but there were only probably about 20 or so people in the crowd. An unassuming looking band, but with years of experience between them, a real passion for jazz and blues, and a enormous dollop of talent, this band deserves to be bringing in audiences of tens of thousands, not just tens. 

Make sure you support them by downloading some of their tracks from their album, Old Fashion.

Don't forget to follow Fumi on Twitter to never miss a gig. Let me know if you enjoy jazz or blues and have any recommendations!


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