Dr Steve’s Jazz Surgery: Jazz Standards

Steve Tromans‘ monthly Dr Steve’s Jazz Surgery at the Silvershine Jazz session always has a theme illustrated by musicans of Steve’s choice. Last night at Corks Club the theme was Jazz Standards, and the trio that Steve had chosen to illustrate it, Mike Green on double bass, Miles Levin on drums and Steve himself on piano, gave a masterful display of how a standard can be developed and deconstructed to create an original piece of work.

Steve began the evening by asking the audience to shout out three jazz standards that immediately came to their minds. The first was Autumn Leaves, and it so happened that this was to be the first standard that the trio was to tackle. The second shouted out was Stella By Starlight which the trio played in the second half. The third was Green Dolphin Street, which Steve explained would not be played for the reason he had in the past arranged the tune as Green Stromans Street, but it hadn’t worked too well.

Steve then talked about the use of standards in jazz mentioning how musicans in the 1930s and 1940s would use the popular tunes of the day for their repertoire, and how the playing of standards has often become a kind of rite of passage for musicians to show their skills. He also spoke of how John Coltrane’s playing of the perhaps surprising song My Favourite Things developed in later years into a free improvisation that only referred to the melody in passing. This was more or less the approach adopted by the trio; they played just four standards over two sets: Autumn Leaves and Black Orpheus in the first, Stella By Starlight and Watermelon Man in the second, coming in and out of the melodies and developing stunningly interactive improvisations. Nothing was pre-planned and Mike Green and Miles Levin reacted quickly and innovatively to everything that Steve produced.

The music often broke down into duo passages, Steve with Mike, Mike with Miles, and this added a variety to the flow of ideas. Steve often developed his ideas through short punchy phrases reminiscent of the minimalism of Steve Reich and others. In fact, Steve mentioned that he had quoted from Reich’s Two Pianos piece in the trio’s interpretation of Autumn Leaves, and from the opening of Stravinky’s The Rite Of Spring in the trio’s version of Black Orpheus.

In the second set the trio tackled Stella By Starlight with Mike leading off playing the melody on the bass; Steve tackled the tune by playing the melody backwards, and then followed up by playing the chords of the tune in reverse order. The final standard was Herbie Hancock’s Watermelon Man. Steve explained that it is a blues, but a blues with 16 bars rather than the usual 12 bars. The trio’s interpretation was strongly rhythmic with Steve delving into the inside of the passage, and developing repeated percussive patterns matched by Mike on the bass and Miles on the drums.

This was an exciting concert in which the trio integrated brilliantly in the ways they deconstructed the standards. It was enjoyed by a good crowd, including one person who had come down from Edinburgh, especially for the event. These sessions seem to attract an audience of both regular jazz and improv attenders, and others who come specially to hear Steve and the Jazz Surgery. People with open ears and curious minds will always enjoy challenging and innovative music played by a top group. This is certainly what happened last night.

The next Dr. Steve’s Jazz Surgery will be on Thursday 9th February. The photograph of Steve above is by Garry Corbett.

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