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Postscript: A benefit for Kenny Wheeler

Reuben Fowler Big Band 2The concert organised for the benefit of Kenny Wheeler in East London on Friday night ended with an astonishing set from the Reuben Fowler Big Band. The 22-strong outfit played three of Wheeler’s compositions — “The Jigsaw”, “Sea Lady” and The 2005 Suite — and mastered their complexities with a verve and precision that would have delighted the composer, had his health permitted his attendance at the old Dalston Odeon cinema, now known as Epic.

Fowler, only 24 years old, left his trumpet in its case on this occasion but proved to be an adept conductor, exerting a degree of control that allowed the music to breathe. He began his musical life in brass bands in his native Yorkshire, which may be why he responded at an early age to Wheeler’s music, with its love of brass sonorities (here articulated by five trumpeters, all doubling flugelhorn, and four trombones). 

Wheeler’s role was played successively by Steve Fishwick, Martin Shaw and George Hogg, all of whom performed with distinction, as did Brigitte Beraha, singing the parts originally written for Norma Winstone. Evan Parker’s soprano saxophone introduction to “Sea Lady” was even more striking than on its original appearance as part of Wheeler’s 1990 ECM album, Music for Large & Small Ensembles. The suite, written by Kenny for his 75th birthday tour and originally featuring Lee Konitz, has never been recorded; that oversight should be rectified as soon as possible, preferably with the musicians who did it such justice on Friday.

The evening also included a remarkable set by the Alison Blunt Ensemble, in which the violinist led her dozen musicians — all strings, with the exception of Mark Sanders on drums and Neil Metcalfe on flute — produced striking interpretations of some of Wheeler’s compositions, with the benefit of a mere hour’s rehearsal but much empathy and spirit. 

A lot of people had taken considerable trouble to make this a memorable event, not least Parker, the principal organiser, and Blanca Regina, whose projections on a side wall provided a constant reminder of the evening’s subject. All the money raised will go towards defraying the costs of health care for Kenny and his wife, Doreen. When I wrote a piece on this blog in advance of the concert, some readers abroad asked how they could make a contribution. There is now a PayPal account for that purpose; its email address is Go to and click on “Send Money”.

4 Comments Post a comment
  1. Evan #

    Thanks Richard. Contributions are already coming in from the US and Canada.

    August 17, 2014

    Yes, it was a lovely evening at the Epic in Dalston on Friday – there was a lot of warmth and affection in the room for Kenny, both from the audience and the musicians. As you say, Kenny would have been delighted to hear his music performed with such distinction by so many fine young musicians. I was blown away by the Reuben Fowler Big Band – fantastic. There were many fine performances, but the one that will probably stay with me was Steve Fishwick’s, both with the Big Band and earlier in the evening with Ray Warleigh’s splendid quintet.

    I also enjoyed listening to DJ John Coxon’s selection of records between sets – I hope he digs out a copy of Micheal Gibbs’ debut album on Deram next time, though, and reminds us of Kenny’s remarkable solo on ‘Some Echoes, Some Shadows’.

    August 18, 2014
  3. update from Canada for Kenny! We are excited to do a benefit and tackle Kenny’s beautiful music next week in Montreal with large and small ensemble sets on September 4th. Hugh Fraser in Vancouver will do one in a few days as well. Looking forward to some lovely evenings of music here! Toronto and Ottawa are also talking of benefits. Will try to update you all, as Kenny has left such a huge legacy of his music in Canada through teaching, touring and recording with many Canadian jazz musicians!

    August 29, 2014

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