Simon Spillett Big Band: Dear Tubby H

The saxophonist revives the big-band charts of his hero in company with Pete Cater, Alan Barnes, Freddie Gavita, Mark Nightingale and more


This year marks 50 years since the untimely passing of British jazz star Tubby Hayes and it’s maybe thanks to a recent rush of reissues, an insightful documentary and a comprehensive book on the London-born saxophonist that public interest and love for the Little Giant’s music has undergone a resurgence.

As author of said book, contributor on the discussed doc and a prominent saxophonist on these shores himself, Simon Spillett has long been one of the most active promoters of Hayes, especially since forming his own orchestra dedicated to the repertoire of the multi-instrumental tenor player three years ago. Spillett’s sleeve notes for this, the band’s first release, reveal that his dream of recording an album zeroing in on Tubby’s rarely heard big-band material stretches back 30 years. It has materialised only now following the extensive research involved, opportunely accruing or transposing vintage charts, transcribing barely audible audio and what you would imagine to be a hell of a lot of arranging and rehearsal time, judging by the results.

Another important factor in the record’s release is drummer Pete Cater, big-band connoisseur and long-term Spillett associate that not only drove Spillett’s well-drilled band and produced the session, but set up the cleverly christened Mister PC imprint to get this disc to distribution. Thanks to Cater, and Spillett being as meticulous in his hiring of the 15 other peerless players on this date – truly the elite of British jazz – all 12 tracks here were remarkably recorded in a single day in the music block of the Trinity School in Croydon. Additional booklet quotes and notes from writer Louis Barfe vividly paint the scene of the session, and with Cater’s opening break around the kit and the blare of loud brass announcing opening swinger Dear Johnny B, that dynamic day is brought to life.

First performed in 1968, Dear Johnny B is the first of eight Hayes originals featured here alongside the tenorist’s own arrangements of Horace Silver’s Peace, Don Raye and Gene DePaul’s Star Eyes, Victor Feldman’s Seven Steps To Heaven and Ian Hamer’s brassy and sassy Fish Soup. While MD Spillett naturally plays the Hayes role and has his name on the sleeve, the album equally promotes the playing of each member of this crack band. In fact, the set is invariably lit with preeminent solos from almost all of Spillett’s men, amongst these fellow tenorists Simon Allen and Alex Garnett, bassist Alec Dankworth, baritone saxist  Alan Barnes, pianist Rob Barron, trumpeter Freddie Gavita, trombonist (and head transcriber on this project) Mark Nightingale and, giving the melodic-mind of a young Tony Williams a run for his money on the aforementioned Feldman tune – Pete Cater.

From the warm, rich lyricism of ballads such as Soft And Supple and Solweig, to the intense firepower unleashed through the busier charts like Rumpus and funky closer She Insulted Me In Marrakech, Dear Tubby T astutely evokes the style and sound of 60s Soho, right down to the chic sleeve design typical of the time. Much more than that though, the album is a remarkable win for British jazz that, hands down, plays as one of the most exciting big band recordings in recent years. For Tubby enthusiasts, this soon-to-be-discussed disc will undoubtedly fill many holes relating to the tenor star’s lost or unheard big-band work, but for the rest of us leave one burning question – how will Spillett and Mister PC top this?

Dear Johnny B; As Close As You Are; Take Your Partners For The Blues; Fish Soup; Star Eyes; Soft And Supple; Rumpus; Peace; Seven Steps To Heaven; Solweig; Blues For Pipkins; She Insulted Me In Marrakech (68.00)
Spillett (ts, md); Sammy Mayne, Pete Long (as, f); Alex Garnett, Simon Allen (ts, cl); Alan Barnes (bar, cl); Nathan Bray, George Hogg, Freddie Gavita, Steve Fishwick (t, flh); John Stokes, Mark Nightingale, Ian Bateman, Pete North (tb); Rob Barron (p); Alec Dankworth (b); Pete Cater (d). Trinity School, Croydon, England, 3 April 2023.
Mister PC MRPC321