Wednesday, 6 May 2009


You know how something seems a great idea and then life intervenes and the great idea relegates itself imperceptibly to the third division of not-great-enough ideas?

That's how it was with Krakow and Nigel Kennedy. The eldest boy had a Polish/American/French girlfriend whose mum had a flat going spare in Krakow, so he and the girlfriend used to go there for weekends.

And one day he mentioned, apropos of nothing “Oh we saw that Nigel Kennedy. In a bar. He was playing jazz when he happened to wander in...”

I wasn't sure the boy had got it right as I thought Nige lived at Malvern and was busy doing his viruoso violin thing in front of wealthy cultured folk in the world's largest concert halls.

He must have been doing that too, but unknown to most in those days, he was also escaping to the free and musically stimulating clubs of Krakow to enjoy jazzy jam sessions. It was mostly jazz in Krakow and mostly free, I was informed. You might spot Nige at the bar or Nige in his Villa shirt making music.

So I was dead keen to go to Krakow on the basis of good fortune enabling us to happen upon him in some anonymous, dingy dive. We never did make it. Eight or so years later, on Monday, however, the Nigel Kennedy Jazz Quintet made it to Cheltenham.

All eyes were on the band setting up on the Town Hall stage when long, low violin notes became evident and Kennedy walked slowly down the darkened aisle heralding the start of an unforgettable gig.

I've always admired Nige. He is a phenomenon. A true virtuoso and the world's best selling classical music violinist. The dynamic vivacity and the luscious sensitivity with which he plays classical pieces just knocks me out. The soul of Elgar inhabits him, no doubt at all. In Chelters on Monday Nigel provided further proof of an extraordinary assimilation of man and violin.

He plucked his electric fiddle, played it like a guitar, stroked it like a lover, abused it with vicious bowing. To me, he'd never looked more alive or released or relaxed or at home or at one with his fellow musicians.

We giggled as he sang his comical “shopping blues” and settled back for a set which sucked us into a mind-blowing maestrom – including a hint of Hendri, a smidge of Smoke on the Water – which displayed the exceptional talents of the keyboards guy, the saxophonist, the guitarist. Drummer Kryzychu Dziedzic was fabulously manic.

“We're keeping him out of prison” Nige joked. Dziedzic playing with such furious passion that he snapped three drumsticks and lost a fourth during the set.

Kennedy's bowing was sometimes blindingly fast too, the register ear-splittingly high at times but the magic was in the surprises; the tempo dropping to a pulsing whisper then giving way to a sudden sonorous, Vaughan-Williams style pastoral solo emerging pure and beautiful as sun piercing cloud.

There is always joy when Nigel Kennedy plays. Some might find him irritating and contrived but I like his obvious, childlike zest for music and life and most of all, the sharing of it. The enthusiasm was palpable at the Cheltenham. The crowd cried out for more (lyric, anyone?), there were two encores and the gig went on past 11pm.

We saw another side of Nigel Kennedy. It felt an intimate privilege, listening, watching his musical soul melting, fusing and fizzing with the brilliance of the others.

I found myself wondering whether any orgasm could improve on what Nigel was experiencing. Making out could only be second-best to what we'd just witnessed there on stage.