I forgot that I'd be on holiday when I promised to go and see Byron Wallen play at Ashburton Arts Centre with the Blue Vanguard House Trio. So I made the 150ish mile round trip from where I was staying in Studland, Dorset to see and hear the gig. It was certainly worth it, and there was a good audience to take it all in. More of this later.
Because the A30/A35/A38 trip is notoriously difficult to judge because of traffic flow I allowed myself plenty of time and managed to arrive about half an hour early. It actually gave me time to talk to the man sitting next to me. What he had to say was, I thought, quite thought provoking. He moved down from south west London about a year ago - he described it as "a lifestyle change" and one that he had welcomed. He'd bought a motor bike the better to relive all those early extinguished dreams of early twenty something or others. He then went on to tell me how much better his cultural life was in Devon than it had been for the last years of his time in London. I was slightly astounded by this assertion, but when he went on to explain why, it made me realise that we tend to take what goes on around us in Devon, rather for granted.
He pointed out that since he moved he's seen more jazz, and usually of an excellent quality than he managed during his time in London. He'd been to see jazz in Torquay, Exeter, Crediton, Calstock and even a trip to North Devon Jazz at Appledore. He pointed out that the cost of seeing excellent quality performances was usually at least half of what it would cost in London, and also pointed out that at Ashburton Arts a flexible payment regime meant that you take a six pound punt on going to see something that you had doubts about, and he would (if he liked the performance!) pay more on the way out. He also though that the mixed age audience range that most of the venues attracted was a distinct advantage since many of the gigs that he attended in later years in London had tended to have audiences who sat back and almost challenged the performers with a "Go on then, entertain me " attitude that he hadn't found in Devon.
It was an interesting conversation, and one I hope to extend and build upon next time he and I meet (presumably at Ashburton!)
The gig was all I hoped it would be. It helped that the Blue Vanguard Trio are so well rehearsed and empathetic to each others styles. Craig Milverton is an excellent pianist - don't suppose he would much like to be reminded that I first saw him play as a 17/18 year old with Junkyard Angels an Exeter based blues outfit - he's certainly developed and refined his technique since then. Byron Wallen went through the full range of his repertoire with some of his own material alongside that of Thelonious Monk, Clifford Davis and Charlie Parker. He also visibly relaxed into the gig and told some anecdotes and stories about some of the influences on his writing and playing. I hope that when (if?) the Jean Toussaint Band tour again that they'll come to Ashburton, hopefully this time as a sextet- Dennis Rollins missed the Ashburton gig last time round.
Incidentally, Byron will also feature on the forthcoming Emily Saunders album, and therein lies another whole story which will wait for a future airing.