Opportunities to hear the tenor saxophonist Tim Whitehead in the Midlands have been fairly few and far between. I think the last time he was here was for a jazz/classical collaboration with Colin Riley.
Now he has an excellent new album out (see CD reviews) and a tour on the back of it that includes a Coventry Jazz gig at Warwick Arts Centre on Monday.
Whitehead has come up by a familiar route - first in Graham Collier's band, then in Morrissey-Mullen, then with Django Bates, Iain Ballamy, the Arguelles brothers, Dave De Fries and the many others who made up Loose Tubes. It's the generation that has since formed what I suppose we must now consider the middle-aged (mature might be a more flattering adjective) core of British jazz.
While a lot of the Loose Tubes gang have continued to collaborate, he has forged a more individual path, mixing quite a lot of education in with a dedication to leading his own bands and making his own music.
In his current quartet are long-time drummer Milo Fell and bassist Oli Hayhurst, with a major role now being played by pianist Giovanni Mirabassi.
The Italian pianist who moved to Paris in the early 90s has a strong CV of his own which includes a slew of competition prizes and a series of records under his own name.
Whitehead's powerful tenor, which has a large dollop of contemporary soul in its timbre while never sounding "smooth", is admirably complemented by Mirabassi's springy, richly voiced playing which wears his Jarrett and Evans influences proudly. It's a sax/piano relationship which reminds me of Julian Arguelles's with Mario Laginha, and Tommy Smith's with Jason Rebello - deeply satisfying in other words.
The Tim Whitehead/Giovanni Mirabassi Quartet plays the Warwick Arts Centre Studio on Monday at 7.45pm. Tickets are £10 from 02476 524 524 or from warwickartscentre.co.uk
Before that is a heavyweight pairing of two American saxophonists, former Dave Brubeck collaborator Jerry Bergonzi on tenor and big band and session stalwart Dick Oatts on alto and soprano.
With David Santoro on bass and Andrea Michelutti on drums the two play Birmingham Conservatoire's Recital Hall on Friday at 8pm.
For saxophone students there should be a lot of food for thought - for the rest there should be ladles of classy jazz music-making.
Finally, it's booking time with two very tempting ways to spend your money.
Firstly, you'll be pleased to know that you can now book for An Evening with Oscar Peterson in Symphony Hall on July 3. Phone the Symphony Hall box office on 0121 780 3333, go to necgroup.co.uk and follow the links, or line up in person. Tickets are £60, £47.50 or £37.50.
Secondly, the full programme of the 2006 Cheltenham Jazz Festival has been released and you can start buying tickets at 9.30am this morning. It's an exciting line-up with the usual mix of big names and soon to be big names.
Look out for the World Saxophone Quartet, Dianne Reeves, the Herb-aliser and DJ Format, Abdullah Ibrahim with the BBC Big Band and the JQT Funk Orchestra all on the main stage, plus cutting edge New York stuff from Vijay Iyer, David Binney and Eri Yamamoto.
The Jerwood Rising Stars programme is also looking good with an intriguing transatlantic collaboration featuring saxophonist Julian Siegel, and the brilliant young pianist Gwilym Simcock not only leading his own band but also getting named billing in Lee Konitz's group.
See the full line-up and book tickets on cheltenhamfestivals.com and if you prefer a brochure you can page through you can request one there too. Box office is on 01242 227979.
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