The King Porter Stomp

The Lincoln Center Jazz Orchestra brewed up a special night in London.

There was a regional superlative shortage in the City of London on Saturday 10 February 2001, when The Lincoln Center Jazz Orchestra played King Porter Stomp in The Porter Tun Room of Whitbread Brewery near The Barbican. It was the only dance-oriented event of their UK tour, and Lindy Hoppers from far and wide made the trip.

The event reeked of class; the wooden-beamed venue, complete with ramps, staircases and excellent dance floor, was ideally suited to the evening. It was a dressy affair, with an abundance of dress suits and posh frocks. This show, like so many on the tour, was a sellout, even though standing tickets were 25, and the well-heeled were paying 175 a head to enjoy a meal before the show.

Porter Tun Room
A blur of activity in The Porter Tun Room
Christine and Martin Christine Shaw and Martin Ellis jam it up

For the diners, the evening started at 7pm with pre-dinner drinks followed by a sumptuous menu, with smoked salmon, guinea fowl and cardamon ice cream among the gastronomic delights on offer. At 9.30pm, the riff-raff were allowed in to join the hoi-polloi. A huge ovation greeted the arrival on stage of Wynton Marsalis and his cohorts, and Marsalis then introduced the dance troupe Jazzcotech. "Don't be intimidated" he said, "Just get up and join in".

For the Lindy Hoppers at the back by the bar, no further invitation was necessary. They made their way down to the side of the stage, dumping bags and drinks on the way, and hit the floor. Jazzcotech hadn't got half-way through their routine before they were heavily outnumbered by the eager Hopperati. It really was the scene to be seen at, and the cream of the social dancers were there, including various Swinglanders, Lindy Circlers, The Ron Leslie Posse and tapper Tobias Tak. There was even overseas representation, with Bruno and Veronique David bringing some of their 144DanceAvenue team across the Channel for the night.

Warmdaddy and Tony Coe
Wess "Warmdaddy" Anderson and Tony Coe

When the LCJO appeared on these shores two years ago, it was to honour Duke Ellington on his centenary. This time around, Louis Armstrong is the subject of the main tour. But for tonight, the repertoire broadened to include Basie, Goodman, Henderson and more Ellington. There were also a couple of Latin numbers to sweeten the salsa side of the dancers.

So it was that consummate versions of Sophisticated Lady, Rockin' In Rhythm 9.20 Special and Big John Special (specials were on offer tonight) swung out across the floor and filled the rooms to its beams. The musicianship was immaculate, with many of the orchestra's names now familiar to UK audiences. This is in no way a one-man band!

The saxophones of Wess 'Warmdaddy' Anderson, England's Tony Coe, Walter Blanding, Jr. Victor Gaines and Scotland's Joe Temperley produced some marvellous five-part harmonies, particularly on the 50's arrangement of Stompin' At The Savoy. Ron Westray led the trombones, ably supported by Andre Hayward and Vincent Gardner. Marsalis himself was joined on trumpet by Seneca Black, Ryan Kisor and Marcus Printup.

But, as The Duke himself so aptly remarked, it don't mean a thing unless you have a rhythm section that really drives the whole unit along (well, something like that anyway). In the case of the LCJO, this function was admirably performed by Farid Barron (piano), Rodney Whitaker (bass) and especially the percussion work of Herlin Riley.

Call for more
The crowd calls out for more...
Marsalis marches out ...but Wynton Marsalis blows for full time

The orchestra played two sets, and at the end of each left the stage in a New Orleans street marching band style. The tune played was called The Woogie, a composition by Wyclef Gordon. For many of the diners, it was a special occasion, and none more so than John, celebrating his 70th birthday. He was brought to the floor for a dance with his good lady wife, and Marsalis and several of the brass section joined him there for a thoroughly swinging version of Happy Birthday. So here's a story he can tell his grandchildren now. "Oh yes, I had a band play at my birthday - The Lincoln Center Jazz Orchestra!"

Despite the numbers of people, space could still be found for a swing out near the bar or by the sound desk. One of the many highlights was a wonderfully loose version of the classic Moten Swing. This arrangement was reminiscent of the track from the Kansas City soundtrack. 

An enormous amount of credit for the success of the evening must go to the soundmen, who managed to achieve the seemingly impossible. The smooth, textured sound of the orchestra could be heard with equal enjoyment everywhere in the Porter Tun Room. This was no mean feat, with a crowd of 500 moving around between the bar at the back, and the stage, some thirty or forty yards away. The best place was up front near the speakers, which left no unpleasant ringing in the ears. A great benefit to those who find that the morning after an evening at The 100 Club they are picking the phone up at regular intervals.

This was more than a gig, or even an event. It was an occasion, the coming together of a fantastic swing  orchestra playing an abundance of danceable tunes in a wonderful venue with an appreciative audience. Be they drinker, diner or dancer, no-one went home disappointed. 

In the immortal words of Van Morrison: "Why can't it be like this all the time?"

© February 2001 Andrew Winton.

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