Review: Tom Harrison Quintet – Charlie Parker’s Bird & Diz @ The Jazz Café (London, 16th January 2017)

There are moments when you really think that London is turning into a ghost town when it comes to quality live music gigs. But then, a fully packed Monday evening show, unexpectedly and easily changes your mind, giving you back some hope for the future.

That’s what happened, is happening and will happen at the Jazz Café every Monday until the end of March. Thanks to a partnership with jazz lovers and promoters Total Refreshment Centre, the Camden venue is introducing its audience to some of the finest and seminal jazz albums that have characterised the 20th century.

A few days ago, we enjoyed a reinterpretation of Charlie Parker’s Bird & Diz, but the music series will include another nine episodes, shining a new light on superlative albums like Miles Davis’ Kind of Blue, Charlie Mingus’ Mingus Ah Um, John Coltrane’s Giant Steps, Dave Brubeck’s Time Out and many other masterpieces.


The risk for a musician, when it comes to challenging yourself with such outstanding works, is to lose your identity trying to look and sound like the original and getting close to perfection. Bird & Diz is arguably one of the most critical examples to measure with if you want to preserve your personality. During its recording sessions, Parker was supported by other jazz prodigies, among them Dizzy Gillespie, Thelonious Monk and Buddy Rich. Each of those musicians left a well-defined mark in that game-changer album and expressed their distinct personalities and artistries.

The task for London-based Tom Harrison Quintet, Quentin Collins and Cleveland Watkiss was indeed quite demanding, but they eventually succeeded in paying homage to the album, its authors and executors, and protecting their own integrity. The seven musicians didn’t simply revive Bird & Diz, depicting the self-assertive charisma and talent of the original interpreters. They also updated its sound, slightly refreshing it and making it more accessible to the large young audience attending the show.

In fact, presenting the album, Tom Harrison and Quentin Collins, respectively alto-sax and trumpet, fully brought back to life the instrumental “duel” between Parker and Gillespie, while Cleveland Watkiss with his expressive voice and stage-presence hooked everyone with solos, vocal effects, loops and trickeries.

Milestones is definitely an inspiring way to spend your Monday nights in London. As a matter of fact, you don’t expect to go out on a wintry Monday night and enjoy such a treatment with remarkable references, solid musicianship and engaging execution. Actually, you don’t often expect such a treatment on the other days of the week too.