Performer, composer, improviser, and educator Ruth Hammond.

Sophie Wales catches up with Ruth Hammond, performer, composer, improviser, and educator, who is based in Bristol. 

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 encounter with jazz?

Jazz was played at home when I was very young – Night Train, Ella and Basie, Stan Getz with the Oscar Peterson Trio. I ended up stealing the CDs and listening to them on rotation, singing along to all the solos.

I was really lucky to have a thriving youth music service in our area when I was growing up; it was a massive part of my life and I played tenor sax in the big band. From there, I got invited to play in some of the other big bands in the area, the average age of the players was around mid sixties, with me maybe at 14. I was playing with some fantastic older pro players, who I was lucky to be around….

Also, from that age I was travelling up to the junior department of the Guildhall School of Music and Drama every weekend. It was there that I first got some tuition from top jazz players like Tim Garland and Matt Wates. I started hopping on the tube to Kings Cross for rehearsals with the junior NYJO band and it all grew from there.

Name a track that you wish you’d written.

That’s really hard to answer. In terms of a song that I feel a real kinship with, perhaps I’d say ‘Touch her soft lips and part’. I think William Walton composed it for strings, but I first heard an arrangement of it on a Peter Erskine album called ‘Sweet Soul’,  and then again on ‘As It Us’, a John Taylor trio album. It’s a heart stretching piece of music for me.

Who have you been listening to recently?

I found that I stopped playing or listening to music for quite a while during early lockdown. Then I sorted myself out, got a decent pair of headphones and have been tramping through the woods listening to all sorts…. Jazzwise, lots of sax players lately. Tim Garland in his trio with Gwilym Simcock and Asaf Sirkis, Joshua Redman, Joe Henderson, Joe Lovano, Josephine Davies’ trio Satori and the Tori Freestone trio. I’m getting into the pared down trio sound.  In the last few weeks,  I’ve been listening to Tim Garland’s ‘Refocus’, a new orchestral tribute to the Stan Getz ‘Focus’ album.

I’m also loving discovering new music through shared playlists that friends and other musicians are putting up on Facebook and Instagram…. so much music, so little time!

Favourite gig you’ve ever been to and why? 

Agh too hard! Anything involving Larry Goldings has to be right up there, he’s pretty much my favourite musician on the planet. He’s been to the Bristol Jazz and Blues Festival in recent years and I’ve seen him at Ronnie Scott’s a few times too.

Honourable mention would have to go to a couple of others ….. at the age of 11, I got the chance to see Michael Jackson at Milton Keynes Bowl and then a few weeks later, the London Community Gospel Choir. Both gigs have really stuck in my memory – I vividly remember how they blew my tiny little mind!

And I also have to mention seeing Oscar Peterson at Birmingham Symphony Hall, it was towards the end of his touring years, I felt pretty emotional just to be in the same room as a true jazz legend that I’d listened to all my life.

Any livestream concert recommendations? 

Tiny Desk home concerts, the Ronnie’s livestreams, Liane Carroll’s regular Facebook lives have been brilliant. In Bristol, we’ve had great support from some of the live venues. For a lot of lockdown, the Bristol Fringe put on live-streams almost daily. I took part early on in lockdown.  It was a lovely feeling of connection at such a weird time. I’ve loved seeing friends doing their thing online.

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

I’m figuring it out daily along with everyone else!! All I can say is what I’ve been doing to help me stay positive when things are in such a state of flux, not just as a musician but as a human…. taking care of my mental and physical health, staying connected to people I love, keeping an open mind on ways to use my skills to earn money, within music or otherwise (I’ve upped my teaching a lot, brushed up my tech knowledge for teaching and recording, smartened up my website and I’ve been seeking out new commissions and funding).

I’m also trying not to worry when I feel like others are being incredibly productive and I’m not…… Just trying to focus on what I can do each day to adapt.

Have you been writing any new material during lockdown? 

I’m just putting my own originals trio together, with multi-instrumentalists Nick Dover and Scott Hammond. It’s a vocally led project – so I’m getting my head around writing lyrics again, it’s been a while!

What are your post lockdown plans?

I’m looking forward to writing some new tunes with guitarist Matt Hopkins and drummer Scott Hammond, for our organ trio, the Hopkins Hammond Trio. We played a gig at Peggy’s Skylight in Nottingham a couple of weeks ago, our first gig since February. It fired us up and we’re aiming to get a little more original material written and to record our first album soon.

I’m involved in a project commissioned by Bristol Jazz and Blues Festival – a celebration of female composers called ‘What she said’. We were due to launch it last March at St George’s Bristol and tour it this October. I’m so looking forward to being involved in that again and performing with a fantastic group of musicians, including Rebecca Nash, Katya Gorrie, Sara Colman and Tammy Payne.

I’m also looking forward to getting started with the new trio.

Our next ‘Catching Up With…’ will be posted on 14th October. Follow the series on our social media: Facebook, Instagram, and Twitter.

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