Al’s ‘little big band’ blow into town for romance

Al Wood

Al Wood

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A Valentine’s night with a swing is on the cards when Al Wood brings his ‘little big band’ to Lancashire on Saturday, February 14.

Esteemed big band leader and multi-instrumentalist Al Wood has been entertaining audiences across the jazz world for decades.

He returns to his Lancashire roots for this concert at Clitheroe’s Grand Theatre with his more ‘slimline’ ensemble, a nine-piece band featuring five saxophones, trumpet, bass, piano and drums.

“I have been running the nine-piece band for four years now so it is well established,” said Al.

“Scaling things down a little makes it easier to run and means there are more venues available for us to play. Not all theatres have a stage big enough for the full big band.”

“It works really well and there’s still a healthy level of noise!”

Al’s first foray into playing music came when he picked up a recorder as a young child.

“I suppose I took to it. I would listen to the music on the radio and Big Band music was the popular stuff of the time, I’d just play along and by the time I was 10 years old, my parents said maybe it was time for a proper instrument.”

“I wanted a trombone but that was probably bigger than I was, so I was given an alto sax and it went on from there.”

Al’s natural ability saw him go straight into professional music from school, working for the Blackpool Tower group where he fulfilled his ambition to take up the trombone.

He joined the Ken Mackintosh Band in 1962 and went on to play for the great Canadian Big Band leader Maynard Ferguson.

“He was an extrovert,” he says of Ferguson.

“He had so much nervous energy. Playing in his band was an experience that could not be missed and I’ll always remember it very fondly.”

Al eventually returned to the north and formed his own Big Band in 1968, going on to work the dance halls of the Mecca group, and appearing in the BBC and Northern Radio Orchestra big bands.

He became director of jazz performance at Leeds College of Music and led the Big Band there for many years, producing many special arrangements for them. After he left the college, ex-students persuaded him to recreate a big band as the experience and training he had given them was so enjoyable.

The Nine is a cut-down version of that band, with the only brass input from Al’s own trumpet.

What you can expect is the tightest playing of fine arrangements of jazz from the classic era, powerful and entertainingly listenable music with terrific soloing.

“The main thing is keeping the Big Band movement alive. I still love working with young bands and it is a pleasure to perform with these fantastic musicians.”

The Al Wood Nine perform at The Clitheroe Grand, Saturday, February 14, from 7.45pm. It costs £12.50 for an advance ticket, (01200 421599, www.thegrandvenue.co.uk).