Frank Griffith Trio at Keen House

Annual general meetings might not promise to be the greatest fun but saxophonist Griffith and trio enlivened this year's Duke Ellington event

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The Duke Ellington Society held its 2021 AGM on the third Saturday in October. The venue – a new one this year – was Keen House, just off the Pentonville Road, King’s Cross, and home of the Model Railway Club. The entertainment (selections from the Ellington catalogue, natch) was provided by the Frank Griffith Trio – Colin Oxley, guitar, Dave Green, bass and Frank himself on tenor and clarinet.

I don’t normally do AGMs so I had nothing with which to compare it but it was definitely singular. I arrived 10 minutes early and found myself in a totally deserted Calshot Street, before the closed and locked red doors of an anonymous building which I had been assured was indeed Keen House, identifiable by those same red doors. The legend Keen House and/or Model Railway Club were nowhere to be seen nor any fliers identifying it as the venue of the AGM and my first thought was that I had the wrong day. Nevertheless I rang the bell and was eventually admitted without question, asked to sign the visitors’ book and told: “They’re on the first floor.”

As I approached an open doorway I could see the band chatting informally to members. The concert started bang on time with Frank calling off Don’t Get Around Much Anymore. Given that there was no vocalist and it was, after all, a concert for the Duke Ellington Society I was slightly surprised that Frank didn’t use the original instrumental title, Never No Lament. Ellington was noted for writing instrumentals, often tailored for individual members of his band, a case in point being Concerto For Cootie, written for trumpeter Cootie Williams in 1940 – the same year as Never No Lament – and supplied with a lyric in 1948 by Bob Russell and renamed Do Nothin’ Til You Hear From Me. Indeed it was Russell who provided the lyric for Never No Lament, albeit it in 1942.

The set continued with as many of the usual suspects as time permitted: Sophisticated Lady, Caravan, Mood Indigo and, inevitably, Billy Strayhorn’s Take The ‘A’ Train. The only non-major Ellington number was Squeeze Me, But Please Don’t Tease Me.

From my position at ringside I was suitably impressed to note that the trio were employing head arrangements throughout, with not a chart to be seen from first to last. All three were thoroughly professional and worked seamlessly. All in all it was a highly entertaining event.

Frank Griffith Trio: Keen House, 4, Calshot Street, 16 October 2021.