A couple of years back I attended a jazz workshop weekend at the mac and the saxophone tutor was giving an introduction to jazz styles and the key modern players.
He played a familiar tune and then said: "Now here's how Charlie Parker would play it . . ." And, lo and behold, he played a chorus so accurately in imitation that Parker could have been in the room.
As if that was not achievement enough, he went on to do the same for Lester Young and John Coleman Hawkins and Stan Getz. Should we have called for John Coltrane or Paul Desmond or Lee Konitz, he would doubtless have done them too.
That saxophone tutor was Alan Barnes, on the face of it as ordinary a Northern, beer-drinking regular bloke as you could hope to meet. But behind that friendly face and easy manner lie an extraordinary musical understanding and a frighteningly fine instrumental technique.
Barnes is extraordinary too in his ability to please the old guard who like their jazz swinging easily as if bebop had never happened and yet draw impressed nods from those with more modern tastes.
His understanding of jazz history and the crucial British figures in its development has been honed studying at Leeds College of Music, playing in Tommy Chase's hard-hitting band in the 80s, then joining Humphrey Lyttelton for a lengthy stint.
He's always kept up a tough freelance schedule as a session player and has played behind Bjork, Bryan Ferry and Van Morrison as well as being leader of Michael Parkinson's house band.
For his latest album, Yeah! ( Specific Jazz SPEC002), Alan has chosen to focus on the compositions of Horace Silver, the pianist who brought a light touch and a sunshiney disposition to the Blue Note recordings of the 1950s. It's a marriage made in heaven, for Barnes shares that disposition - even when playing the blues ( especially when playing the blues) he conveys that good-to-be-alive feeling that leaves his audience smiling.
On the new disc, possibly his best yet, he has Dave Green, Steve Brown, John Donaldson and Steve Waterman to help him; on Sunday in the Moulin Rouge tent in Centenary Square he will be bringing the 2005 Starbucks Birmingham International Jazz Festival to a rousing finale as he and his All Stars present Swinging Down Broad Street, a celebration of Birmingham's own jazz history.
Among the All Stars are promised to be Bruce Adams and Simon Gardner on trumpets, Iain Dixon on tenor, Mark Nightingale on trombone, John Donaldson on piano, Matt Miles on bass and Ralph Salmins on drums.
The fun starts at 8pm on Sunday night, so be there and smile right through the following week.
And, of course, there are all kinds of fun before then at countless Birmingham Jazz Festival events. For the full programme, go to www.bigbearmusic.com/festival/ festival.html
Also this weekend is that little gem of a festival L'Esprit Manouche, when the spirit of gipsy swing engulfs Moseley Park. This year's line-up includes the exceptional Rosenberg Trio giving their first performance in the UK, and singer Dotschy Reinhardt, as well as local favourites Trio Gitano who show how contemporary the music made famous by Django Reinhardt can sound.
L'Esprit Manouche is from noon till late on Saturday and Sunday and you can find out more on www. lespritmanouche. com or phone 0121 249 2303.
And aside from all that there's a busy Friday to be had, starting out at Symphony Hall for the Rush Hour Blues slot before heading north to the Lichfield Garrick Theatre.
At the Symphony Hall bar you can hear pianist Tim Amman and his X-Tet (there's a neat way of not committing yourself to the size of the band). Amman, the linchpin of the Walsall Jazz Orchestra is a fine composer indeed and an exciting pianist, and for this gig he has Russian tenor saxophonist Oleg Kiryev and trumpeter Ray Butcher in the line-up.
It starts at 5.30pm. Scoot up the A38 and you can here the first jazz gig of the Lichfield Festival, a set by singer Clare Teal and her band: Pete Long on saxophone, Simon Wallace on piano, Simon Little on bass and Chris Dagley on drums.
Whether wrapping her voice around a jazz standard or bringing a little swing to a Beach Boys song, Clare Teal shows she's the real deal.
The Clare Teal band play the Lichfield Garrick Theatre on Friday from 8pm. There's more on www.lichfieldfestival.org and you can book there or by calling 0121 412121.
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