FOR Jools Holland, music is a form of time travel.

With his Rhythm and Blues Orchestra, the renowned pianist and presenter evokes memories of the days of the great bandleaders like Count Basie and Duke Ellington.

And the 61-year-old is always keen to unearth forgotten songs and put them back in the spotlight when he is creating his setlists for audiences around the world.

Jools said: “We’ve got a whole big band, which is unusual, it’s not just like a horn section, it’s a whole five saxophones, three trombones, three trumpets, organ, singers and all of that. Drums, guitar, bass, led by the piano.

And that is the same configuration that people like Count Basie or Duke Ellington would have had. It’s a very dynamic configuration. As well as playing our own modern things we’ve got things from the past just boogied up a little bit more, like Lionel Hampton stuff or ska music that kind of gets you wanting to dance, and I think it sounds magnified by putting it through a big band, which outside is just even better.”

Recreating the past has its challenges though for Jools and his musical ‘monks’.

Jools, who was a founding member of the pop band Squeeze, added: “There was this great bandleader called Lucky Millinder in the 40s. There’s one that he did called Let It Roll, and it exists on film somewhere. But I realised it wasn’t on record anywhere. There is a version of it on a record but it’s not the same as the film, so I had to record it off the television with my phone and then play it to the band so we could all learn it. We’re like monks going through ancient manuscripts to bring out the greatest thing to the people, and hopefully that works. But also that informs and inspires what we do ourselves.”

Jools will be playing an open air show at Walton Hall Gardens on Saturday, July 20, and said the setlist can differ quite a bit for the outdoor concerts to keep pace with the different atmosphere.

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Even the weather – which obviously has an effect on people’s moods – can make the bandleader spontaneously change the songs.

Jools said: “I think it’s probably one of the ancient things in the human psyche. Music and dancing outside in the summer inevitably leads to feelings of well-being. Hopefully the weather’s is great and it’s all fine, but say for instance suddenly there’s a bit of rain, then we’ll suddenly pick out something.

“Because you’ll think: ‘We’ve got to get the people moving here’, because we don’t want them cold and wet, so you’ll play for that. And if it’s really hot, you’ll change it again to try to cool them down. It’s great when we just try something once or twice in a rehearsal room, but our real way of playing it is in front of people because then when you’re looking into their eyes, and you can see them starting to involuntarily move, then you know it’s working.”

That spontaneity is what sets Jools’ band apart from many others.

Jools, whose Rhythm and Blues Orchestra includes former Squeeze drummer Gilson Lavis, added: “I suppose because it’s been a lot of the same people in the band for a long time, they’ve grown with that. I think some musicians would start to fall apart with that. Dr John once said to me that the ‘best side’ of many musicians is never caught, because their best thing was doing a gig, and it’s never caught on record. Other artists were really great on record and some people somehow mastered both sides of their artistry – it was captured, both on record and playing live.

“I think it’s a funny mix of doing those two things, so I’ve learned a lot by looking at old films of people that had big bands. But even somebody like Paul Weller, he’s a great bandleader, because he organises his band to play what he wants. Van Morrison is a great bandleader, Eric Clapton’s a great bandleader. They’re all people that direct the musicians.”

Each of Jools’ shows also becomes something of a party thanks to all the special guests from Ruby Turner and Alison Moyet to Chris Difford and Marc Almond and everyone in between.

He said: “It’s quite an enjoyable challenge for some of the guests, because they don’t always work with a big band, and so it’s a different dynamic. So they’ve got to be pretty tough and confident to get in and be able to deliver the strength of what they do over a big band.”

Jools Holland and his Rhythm and Blues Orchestra perform at Walton Hall Gardens on Saturday, July 20. Tickets are available via the Parr Hall box office. Visit