Karen Wimhurst, composer, clarinettist, and educator.

Sophie Wales catches up with composer, clarinettist and educator, Karen Wimhurst, based in Dorset.

We’ve been checking-in with jazz artists and musicians throughout the South to see how their lockdown experience has been, and how they’ve been adjusting to the new normal.

What was your first ever encounter with jazz? 

Well, I was a very late starter! I grew up in the world of classical music and in my early twenties went to San Diego to study with the composer Pauline Oliveros. However, she had moved to New York (no one thought to tell me) so I found myself tossed into the world of free improvisation instead with Anthony Braxton and other fabulous players such as trombonist John Silber.

Having embraced a world of abstract electronic composition, this gave me a pathway back to playing the clarinet again.

Name a track you wish you’d written.

So many great tracks of course but what comes to mind right now is the really loud, left of field big band extravaganza version of ‘New York New York’ by Django Bates. It’s just such a witty, crazed, irreverent and masterful decomposition.

Who have you been listening to recently?

This week I’ve been listening to the Swiss clarinettist Marco Santilli, CheRoba (Lorenzo Frizzera, Ivan Tibolla, Fulvio Maras), lovely playing and carefully composed alongside Martin Speake’s Trio ‘Always a First Time’ (Mike Outram and Jeff Williams).

In the stress of Covid-19 I’ve been drawn to the mellow tracks on each album to keep calm! I’ve also gone unseasonally for Ešenvalds’ ‘Passion and Resurrection’, just for the beautiful choral writing.

Favourite gig you’ve ever been to and why?

I find it impossible to select one. However, in reflecting on this question, I found myself being drawn way back to seeing Astor Piazzola in the Tramway Glasgow 1989, just a few months before he suffered a heart attack.

It was just so extraordinary listening to the New Tango Sextet, musicians who had collaborated together for so very many years, performing with such passion and virtuosity! The gig was only half full as the extraordinary sweep of his fame didn’t really hit the UK until after is death. It inspired me to head to France and take some lessons with the composer Gustavo Beytelmann who spanned the tango/jazz scene in Paris.

Any livestream concert recommendations?

Well, during lockdown I loved John Law’s gigs, a lot of his original material and such a wonderful player. The last one I caught up with was at the Soundcellar in Poole. The singer Helen Porter is also bringing out a new solo set which is sounding great.

What advice do you have for fellow musicians adjusting to the current situation, and the new normal?

For me, the usual fine balance of being creative and earning money just went up a notch stress wise although, in my experience living has always demanded working with what ever is coming over the horizon at the time.

I did hear someone point out that this is a good time to take a Zoom lesson from one of your true hero’s/heroines! That seemed to be a very positive take on the situation!

Have you been working on any new material recently?

Well, I’m just starting working on an improvised solo clarinet piece with backing called ‘Jump’ with the entomologist Peter Smithers. I’m experimenting with the calls of grasshoppers and crickets in the soundtrack amongst other things. It’s just something I hope I can perform to very small audiences and will take me through the semi-lockdown days.

I’m also getting Synthetica (a chamber opera) online in the face of gigs cancelled.

What are your post-lockdown plans?

Hmmm. Up until Christmas I’m just sketching out thoughts and ideas in a fairly non specific way so as not to get over excited.  Paul Hutchinson and I are working on a second album ‘Pagoda‘ having had our Australian Tour scrapped this summer.

I’m also reflecting on the philosopher David Abrams’s work ‘Spell of the Sensuous’ and ‘Becoming Animal’ as the basis of a work for voices and band. How to be in this time of Climate and Ecological Emergency…….that’s what’s on my back I guess. Bandwagon is on the tip of my tongue as a new band idea!

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