A PACKED audience braved the weather to hear The Virtuoso Jazz Trio, fronted by George MacDonald, former principal clarinet of Northern Sinfonia, and featuring James Birkett, guitar, and Tony Abell, double bass.
This second concert in the autumn series drew in many new faces, as well as the regular supporters, who all enjoyed the entertaining varied programme the trio presented.
The Virtuoso Trio was formed in 1994 when George MacDonald invited James Birkett and Peter Stuart, their first bass player, to complete the trio. Their first engagement was at the Northern Sinfonia Centre where they played to a packed house. An enthusiastic audience spread the word and numerous festival and concert engagements followed. Peter Stuart was sadly taken ill in 2009 and is no longer playing. Tony Abell, their present bass player, joined the group in 2010.
George MacDonald spent his youth playing saxophone and clarinet in clubs with dance bands in his native Nova Scotia. At the age of 18 he became interested in classical music and went on to study at the Royal College of Music. He joined Northern Sinfonia as principal clarinet a few years later, holding the post until 1992.
James Birkett is one of Britain’s most acclaimed guitarists. He was formerly Director of Jazz Studies at the Sage, Gateshead, and has a Doctorate in Music and had two books on Jazz published. He plays with numerous ensembles and undertakes concert, festival and broadcast work.
Tony Abell is one of the North’s leading Bass players and is always in demand when a rhythm section is needed to back the best jazz musicians. He also freelances as an orchestral player.
The programme the Trio presented was packed with favourite jazz melodies, delighting the audience who demonstrated their appreciation with nodding heads, tapping feet and clicking fingers. The improvised passages brought spontaneous applause and vocal approval.
Benny Goodman’s laid-back leisurely Poor Butterfly was quickly contrasted by the upbeat Flying Home in which James Birkett demonstrated his amazing improvisational skills. Duke Ellington’s Don’t Get Around Much Anymore proved to be a great favourite with the audience, drawing extended applause, and Don’t Mean a Thing if you Ain’t Got Swing demonstrated three musicians in perfect harmony and synchronisation. Hoagy Carmichael’s Skylark allowed George to show his amazing breath control, proving him to be the master of the smooth, laid-back, jazz genre.
George’s amusing and informative anecdotes about the music and its composers added to an excellent lunchtime’s entertainment with the receptive audience applauding each of the musicians in turn as they demonstrated their undoubted talents and love of their music.
In order to maintain variety, the next Lunchtime Concert on Wednesday, November 14, will be a complete change and feature Nicholas Nowicki, a local young pianist. Doors open at noon. Tickets £3.