Simon Spillett Big Band, Watermill Jazz Club, Dorking

Graham Thomas saw Simon Spillett's collection of Tubby Hayes big-band scores brought to life by a 17-piece orchestra

Simon Spillett Big Band at The Watermill, Dorking, 19 March 2024. Clockwise from top left - Simon Spillett (left) and Alex Garnett; Bruce Adams; Mark Nightingale; Alec Dankworth. Photos © Brian O'Connor

Marking the 30th anniversary of the Watermill Jazz Club on 19 March, the Simon Spillett Big Band took the stage to play arrangements associated with (and mostly written by) the late, great Tubby Hayes.

They opened with Tubby’s uptempo tune Dear Johnny B, originally dedicated to drummer Johnny Butts and  recorded on Tubby’s excellent quartet album, Mexican Green.  The hard-driving arrangement immediately displayed the band’s power to dramatic effect, with razor-sharp ensembles and strong solos.

Simon Spillett provided an interesting and amusing commentary, explaining how he had collected Tubby’s big band scores over many years, often receiving them from unexpected sources and in poor condition.  He praised trombonist Mark Nightingale’s expertise in cleaning them up and preparing brand new charts for the band.

The band also played compositions by other musicians associated with Tubby, including Fish Soup (Ian Hamer), The Scandinavian (Harry South), Blues For Bloody Morag (Jimmy Deuchar), and Russian Roulette (Jimmy Deuchar) – this one reminiscent of a James Bond theme!

Some of Tubby’s intriguing arrangements of standards were also featured: Star Eyes, Milestones (Miles Davis) and Peace (Horace Silver). The final number was Tubby’s She Insulted Me In Marrakech, which had a 1970s jazz-rock feel, showing his willingness to keep up with new trends.

Everyone in the band was given generous solo space, and there was a real sense of their commitment to giving a great performance worthy of Tubby Hayes’ big-band legacy. Truly a wonderful way to celebrate the Watermill’s 30th anniversary.

Line-up: Simon Spillett (ldr); Paul Jones, Tom Smith, Alex Garnett, Robert Fowler, Alan Barnes (s); Ryan Quigley, Mark Armstrong, James Davison, Bruce Adams (t); Mark Nightingale, Andy Flaxman, Ian Bateman, Pete North (tb); Pete Billington (p); Alec Dankworth (b); Pete Cater (d).

Simon Spillett Big Band, celebrating the music of Tubby Hayes and the 30th anniversary of the Watermill Jazz Club, Tuesday, 19 March 2024