A BALMY NIGHT ON THE FRENCH RIVIERA WHERE TEXAS MET GLASGOW...........
Sadly, I’ve only played once at the Nice Jazz Festival and that was back in 1980 – courtesy of the BBC - with the Bobby Wellins quartet (the original one with Pete Jacobson and Adrian Kendon).
In those days, the festival was held in the JARDINS DES CIMIEZ, which includes the ruins of a Roman amphitheatre. It is an impressive venue with several separate stages so that groups can perform simultaneously.
Of course there are plenty of large festivals like that these days but Nice was the first and glitziest of the European ones. It started in 1948 with the huge draw of the Louis Armstrong All Stars and grew from there until falling audiences forced it to move to a smaller, more central location (the Place Massena) in 2011.
Odd details I recall about our trip include
– the Cannonball Adderley tribute band led by his brother Nat following us on to the stage where we had performed
– Nat’s drummer Roy McCurdy being accompanied wherever he went by a glamorous French lady of the night complete with two poodles on a lead
– a late night jam session in the hotel bar at which Hal Galper played piano but we couldn’t persuade Horace Parlan away from his table to follow suit
However, two memories will always stay with me.
One is being confronted by the management while we were already setting up and being “told” that our set would now consist of accompanying a singer called Pug Horton.
This was not what the BBC had agreed when we were booked and we were unhappy. Ms.Horton’s husband Bob Wilber (a popular act at the festival himself) became very angry. Bobby Wellins politely but firmly stood his ground. Considering we had flown to the South of France for the sole purpose of using our short but precious 90 minute slot to introduce a European audience to Bobby’s unique compositions and saxophone style, I think he was both courageous and right to risk alienating the powers that be.
In the event, our undiluted quartet set was well received. My tape (which I will unearth and post on the music page in due course) includes a lone unmistakeably English voice shouting VERY NICE! from the back of the audience after the applause had died down.
The second incident at Nice which I will always treasure unfolded like this.
One of the performers also appearing the same night as us was the legendary Texas jazz/r&b tenor saxophone player known as Sam “THE MAN” Taylor. He boarded the coach ferrying the musicians from the hotel to the venue in impressive style. Well over 6 foot tall and dressed to the nines in a cowboy outfit including ten gallon Stetson hat and bootlace tie, belt, boots and chaps. Everyone fell silent as he strode to the back seat from which he held court.
Fast forward 4 hours to the end of the evening and musicians from various bands were making their way back to the waiting coach. I took my seat and then caught sight of a curious duo approaching. Sam The Man was clearly the worse for wear. He must have been celebrating for some time after his set. The ten gallon hat had gone. The bootlace tie was missing. His clothing was crumpled. At his side, supporting his weight and guiding his uncertain progress up the bus steps was wee pint-size Bobby Wellins, all the time offering a comforting commentary (you really need to know Bobby and to be able to conjure up his voice to savour this to the full!):
Come along, old chap. You just hang on to me. We’ll just get you up this step and find you a nice seat. Don’t worry. I’ve got yer horn safe and sound. Just a few more minutes and we’ll soon have you back to the hotel and into yer wee bed.
Dear Bobby. I’m sure Sam was suitably grateful when he woke up.