It’s just before eleven and the band are preparing for the encore. Bobby Wellins sings a rhythm to drummer Trevor Davies. A few muttered instructions to pianist Vyv Hope Scott and they’re off. A breezy samba like groove has heads nodding and feet tapping then the melody of Billy Holiday classic Lover Man unfurls at medium ballad tempo over the racing pulse. The Jazz at the Vaults’ regular trio have known Bobby a couple of hours now, since he hurried in fifteen minutes before the gig, sax case over one shoulder and a pile of music under his arm. That’s more than long enough for them all to anticipate a dodge here and embellishment there and fragmentary phrases from the tenor that accumulate to build excitement over a long solo.
This was a special treat for the Wine Vaults club. Bobby Wellins has been a fixture on the British jazz scene since the mid 50s. He’s grown with the music. Some of the tunes we know as jazz classics he played along with when they were first recorded and has created a few himself. If he’s not always at the peak of his formidable powers these days (he is 77 now) there was plenty of his authority and magic on display on this evening to charm, excite and remind us why so many players cite him as a hero (and mentor). There were moments when I realised I was holding my breath as he etched a melody, working some subtle magic with it that was literally breath taking; some mysterious combination of tone and phrasing. He did it on the first tune of the evening. Another lilting vamp this time in 6/8 and a familiar melody gradually revealed through long notes and angular phrases – My Funny Valentine. The trio as ever rose to the occasion. Wade Edward’s bass solo on a less know Jobim tune had the boss egging him on ‘more… do another one!’ There was no mistaking who was in charge of this gig but the packed (again!) cellar bar should have been in no doubt they’d heard some outstanding playing and heartfelt music.