JJ 07/79: The Pizza Express Jazz Festival

First published in Jazz Journal, July 1979


With his undoubted ability to cater to the public’s desire for fast food in friendly surroundings and his idiosyncratic feeling for dietary variety in jazz, Peter Boizot, the impresario from Pizza Express, is unquestionably the right man to organise a jazz festival.

His first such venture, extending through from early evening to late, took place on April 20 in the imposing Logan Hall Theatre (University of London), its spacious format allowing listeners the choice between the main events in the concert hall, subsidiary jazz in the foyer and the culinary side-shows expected from so expert a restaurateur.

Food aside, the music satisfied any consumer’s needs for variety and spice, with substantial main fare including the stirring London Jazz Big Band at full blast behind ex-Basie trombonist Al Grey who, as visiting star guest, popped up in several spots on the bill. He was notably with the splendid Tony Coe Quartet, the improvisatory powers of the two hornmen well mixed and then in an intriguing group with the guitars of Ike Isaacs and Martin Taylor, supported by bassist Peter Ind. Grey is a facile technician whose extrovert qualities constantly break through any restraint the surroundings may impose.

Other elements of the bill included the revived Harry Gold Pieces of Eight, with decently played Bobcat material, the virtuoso harmonica artist Larry Adler and a climactic jam session, pushed along by compere Humphrey Lyttleton and featuring a buyer’s guide to mainstream brassmen.

Each set was interspersed by jazz ‘soundies’ from Dave Bennett’s collection, and this added to the free-flowing informality of the event made its success all the more understandable. I’m confident that similar promotions must follow — after all, the customer is never wrong!
Peter Vacher