The 606 Jazz Club and the Budapest Jazz Club
Wednesday October 9 - Friday October 11
Continuing its burgeoning association with the Hungarian jazz scene and the Budapest Jazz Club in particular, the 606 Club is excited to present this three-day festival featuring some of Hungary’s finest musicians joining with British stars to perform in an extraordinary Trans-European jazz collaboration. Natalie Williams, Iain Ballamy, Huw Warren, Steve Rubie, Arnie Somogyi, Winston Clifford and Laurence Cottle are among the British jazz stars playing with the cream of Hungarian talent, including violinist Zoltan Lantos, pianists Peter Sarik, Robi Lakatos and Laszlo Voros, vocalists Kriszta Pocsai and Monika Veres, saxophonist Tony Lakatos, guitarists Istvan Gyarfas and Gyula Babos, drummer Marton Juhasz and percussionist Andras Des during this mini festival.
How did you and Steve Rubie come to meet?
As a jazz lover I used to go down the 606, so I had seen him long before I introduced myself to him on “business”. This came about in 2003 when, as Jazz Curator of the Hungarian Cultural Institute in London, I was working on getting the Hungarian singer, Bea Tisza and her pianist, János Nagy a gig at the club. Steve has a very good ear for talent and was most receptive to the idea. The idea was to have a mixed British-Hungarian act. In the event Arnie Somogyi – whose dad was Hungarian – played bass, Winston Clifford was the drummer and the evening was a roaring success. It was Steve who actually suggested that the same outfit, augmented by Ben Castle on tenor, make an album for a UK label. It turned out to be the best ever showcase for Bea’s talent. Eventually Steve and, on the behalf of the Hungarian Cultural Centre, I came to cooperate regularly which fitted in well with his European Exchange Scheme because I could find gigs in Budapest for the British artists chosen by him. Out of all the London club owners he is far the most willing to take a chance on gifted musicians not really known in the UK.
You've had quite an intriguing background: Head of Economics at a grammar school, producer at the BBC and then jazz club promoter at the Budapest Jazz Club. Are you musician yourself, and at what point did you become interested in jazz?
I used to play classical violin as a child. I stopped because my teacher was outraged when I came back to the capital after a lengthy stay in my aunt’s village and tried to play the way some of the Gipsy musicians did down there. Being that obstinate was one of the biggest mistakes of my life. Soon after that, in 1951 – during one of the worst years of Communist dictatorship - I was fiddling with the radio at home, trying to catch some Western stations for pop tunes and I hit upon a German one where I heard a guy with a terrible voice whose singing nevertheless knocked me out. There was also a trumpeter who, having played a discernable theme, went on to blow “all over the place”. What he did was most unusual to my ears but I was totally captivated by it. I carried that tune in my head for long enough to find out that the singer and the trumpeter were one and the same person. His name was Louis Armstrong. The tune was “Ain’t misbehavin’”. That was my introduction to jazz at the age of 13. As I soon found out, jazz was banned in Hungary at the time and so was listening to Western stations, even to music programmes. Talk of forbidden fruit, I became obsessed with jazz and soon spent hours trying to catch jazz programmes from Germany, Italy, Yugoslavia or France or the Voice of America, despite the heavy jamming (meaning deliberate areal interference by the Communist authorities rather than jam sessions). Jazz to me became the sound of freedom and my love of it I have preserved all through the years.
What was the genesis of the British & Hungarian jazz alliance, and what are its aims?
I suppose the genesis was the gig by Bea Tisza. As for the aims, both our countries have produced numerous jazz musicians and singers who would have been world famous had they been born on the other side of the ocean. Both Steve and I feel that these wonderful artists should be given wider exposure and these occasions when they play together are mutually beneficial from the artistic point of view too. It’s a sort of musical cross-fertilization every time they get together.
Steve traveled to Budapest along with several other UK-based players for some gigs last year. How did that go, what were the highlights?
It was immensely successful. We had three nights with full houses, and during the last two there was no standing room left either. All the British musicians were tremendously well received. It feels unfair to single out names. However, the biggest hit was probably Liane Carroll but, by now, she is a household name among Hungarian jazz lovers. That was her third appearance at the club and practically all the best Hungarian vocalists were there in the audience. She is an icon as far as they are concerned. Mark Cherrie on steel pan was another great hit. Most people in Hungary had never come across that instrument, let alone in a jazz context. But the atmosphere was the hottest during the jam sessions that followed the set pieces. And then everyone came on stage. Steve who had originally come just to enjoy the show ended up jamming every night.
Generally speaking, do you think there are differences between the two countries in terms of how they approach jazz music and/or music in general? What are they, and how might they translate to the music itself?
As far as the mainstream or hard bop is concerned there is precious little difference. When it come to branching out, the Brits have had more exposure to the music of the Caribbean or various parts of the one-time British Empire and there is a larger ‘free’ contingent in London than in Budapest. All that obviously influences the whole scene. In Hungary where at least 60% if not more of our top players are Roma, their tremendous musical heritage and passionately, romantic approach leave their stamp on their non-Roma fellow musicians too. There is also the exquisite classical tradition in Hungary that, on the other hand, produces a brilliant wave especially of pianists who play things that can hardly be distinguished from contemporary classical music.
Can you say a little bit about each of the shows to be presented over the three day Festival by way of introduction to the Hungarian players represented, as well as their particular style?
On Wednesday, 9th October the violinist Zoltán Lantos who has travelled widely in India and submerged himself in the music there brings an exhilarating mix of the sounds of India, of contemporary jazz with touches of D’n’B, Nu-jazz, free jazz and what have you. He has played before with Iain Ballamy and both these eclectic musicians have been waiting for a chance to get together again. The percussionist András Dés is a real magician on his instrument. When he played some years ago at the London Jazz Festival in Saddlers Wells, ex-Genesis guitar player, Steve Hackett was very keen on getting him to record together.