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Catching Up With… John K Miles

Composer, instrumentalist and writer John K Miles

We’ve been checking-in with promoters and artists throughout the South to see how their lockdown experience has been, and how they’ve been adjusting to the current situation.

This week Jamie Harber catches up with one of Jazz South’s Radar Commission artists; composer, instrumentalist and writer, John K Miles, ahead of the release of his commissions piece podcast, as part of the Jazz South Online Festival in April.

What was your first ever encounter with jazz?

In terms of the genre of jazz, probably my dad’s record collection, which at that time included some Art Pepper records. But in terms of the spirit of jazz and improvisation I discovered that through a piano my mum rescued from a skip. I didn’t come from a particularly musical family, but my mum liked the candle holders on this particular piano, so she brought it into the house as a piece of furniture. I spent quite a bit of time making things up on it, until I eventually had lessons. That experience ignited the joy that can come from being creative on a musical instrument.

Name a track you wish you’d written.

So many! At the moment it’s Duke Ellington’s ‘Far East Suite’. I love impressionism in jazz and classical music and this piece is so evocative of image and narrative. Duke also has that concept of factoring in individual improvisatory voices to his compositions, which I love. With small group jazz it’s obviously not just the melody/arrangement that makes up the piece, it’s the subsequent improvisations and interaction. You could say albums like ‘The Bridge’, (Sonny Rollins), or ‘Three Quartets’, (Chick Corea) are pretty much perfect in their overall composition because of the quality of soloing and interplay.

Who have you been listening to recently?

Apart from Duke’s ‘Far East Suite’,  I’ve had Jerry Bergonzi on random shuffle, ‘Lineage’ in particular. There’s so much to learn from Jerry’s playing and Mulgrew Miller is magic on that album. I’ve also been listening to a lot of Ravel, one of my favourite composers. My kids play a lot of Hip Hop, so that’s been a big part of the lockdown sonic vista too. Nate Dogg & J. Cole are on loop at the moment!

Favourite gig you’ve ever been to and why?

I saw Wayne Shorter at the Wag Club when he was touring ‘Atlantis’ in the late 80’s. It was a bizarre gig because the venue was tiny and the band made a massive sound (artistically and dynamically). It felt strange because there wasn’t really a stage and I ended up standing about two metres away from Wayne. Obviously a lot of regular jazz gigs are like that, but Wayne Shorter was someone you were more likely to see playing at a concert hall. As a young person who had aspirations to be a professional musician it was an incredibly inspiring experience to see one of your heroes up close like that.

Any livestream concert recommendations?

606 and Ronnie’s have been putting on some great gigs, but I’ve also been enjoying the concerts being put on by UK individuals; Paul Booth, Liam Noble and Brandon Allen to name a few. That said I can’t wait until lockdown is over and there are some gigs we can attend in person!

Can you tell us about your Radar Commissions piece, River and Ash – Play A Mighty Groove? What can audiences expect and look forward to?

‘River and Ash – Play A Mighty Groove’ is a reimagining of the myth of ‘Orpheus in the Underworld’ for 8-11 year olds, focussing on the themes of friendship and the power of music. It brings together my interest in storytelling with composition and improvisation.

The story is told using prose and poetry, interlaced with music that draws on a mixture of accessible generic grooves; including Swing, Shuffle, Afoche (Brazilian), Ska & Funk. I use various textures to underscore my spoken narration, playing saxophone, flutes & rhodes at various points in the piece. The stellar Winston Clifford (drums & voice) and Dave Manington (electric and double bass) form the rest of the band. As ever they’re a joy to listen to; creating beautiful grooves and interplay throughout.

What inspired you to write an accessible reimagining of the Orpheus in the Underworld myth for 8-11 year olds?

I have always been inspired by myths and fairy tales as they hold so many fundamental truths about the human condition and experience. I’m also inspired by fantasy and science fiction and have just written a SFF novel. (For me) fantasy, science fiction and fairy tales free you up to talk about the world we live in from a different perspective.

‘Orpheus’ has always been a favourite due to its focus on the power and magic of music. Writing the piece for this age group felt like a natural way to go, because Greek myths are often a vibrant part of the Key Stage 2 education curriculum. It’s an age group that has ‘open ears,’ and I wanted to introduce some of the sounds and grooves associated with jazz to a younger audience, possibly as a ‘way in’ to wider listening.

‘River and Ash – Play a Mighty Groove’, has evolved out of my work as a composer in film, television and on myriad orchestral education commissions, where I have routinely developed and collaborated on narrative. Recent notable examples are the orchestral collaborations with storyteller/animateur Claire Henry: ‘The Wish‘, nominated for ‘Outstanding Classical Music Education Initiative’ in the prestigious Rhinegold awards 2019, and ‘The Spark,’ which I’m currently composing for City of Birmingham Symphony Orchestra, as part of the opening celebrations for the 2022 Commonwealth Games.

How do you find the process of writing for trios compared to duos or larger ensembles?

I love trios. There’s an intimacy about the musical dynamic when you improvise; an immediacy. My second album ‘Trane Ride’, (back in the day) was a trio with Julian Crampton and Tristan Mailliot, so it’s a consistent medium of choice! It’s been refreshing to return to the jazz/groove/world fold, after many years away predominantly working in orchestral music and tv/film. And this particular trio is special. Winston has been a good friend since the age of sixteen and Dave for a decade or so. We have worked and hung out together a lot, particularly on education projects, so there’s a mutual understanding about what we’re trying to achieve. The recording was a joy; so relaxed and a lot of fun.

It sounds like this commissioned piece already has an exciting future. Can you tell our readers about your hopes for it?

We’re really excited, because the piece has just been commissioned for an online production by The Little Angel Theatre, which will be coming out later in the summer. So the characters of River, Ash, The Ferryman, and The King of the Underworld will literally be brought to life! I always conceived the project as a multi platform piece and other potential future projects currently being planned include a picture/audio book and a live interactive education show.

Have you been working on any other new material recently (in addition to your Radar Commissions piece)?

Yes, over lockdown I’ve been working on material and ideas for a duo album, that I can create at home, playing rhodes and sax’s/ flute’s.

In addition to this I’m looking forward to the final phase of the commission with CBSO for the Commonwealth Games celebrations and planning further narrative driven pieces, including a Christmas show. I’ve also begun preparing a brand new arrangement of my full orchestral piece ‘Carnival Suite’, for a performance in the summer with Sinfonia Viva and about a hundred beginner instrumentalists!

What advice do you have for fellow musicians adjusting to the current situation?

I’ve been posting myriad practice videos and arrangements on Facebook, which has helped keep me sane! Generally I’ve been trying to make the most of lockdown as an opportunity to reflect, practice and create ideas and projects for the future. It’s tough though, especially financially, so talking to other musicians regularly has really helped, to think about possible creative strategies for a  post Covid/Brexit world!

What are your post-lockdown plans?

Hopefully the music industry will recover quickly, but either way I’ll be planning to initiate more projects. This commission was one of the few times I’ve formally applied for funding and I’ve gained confidence through its success, so I’m definitely going to try and apply for further grants. Artistically this project has been a catalyst for the coming together of long form composition, improvisation and storytelling and I’m hoping to build on that in the future.

A special podcast about John K Miles’ Radar Commissions, will be will be available to listen from Sunday 25 April, 11am on all major podcast/streaming platforms, and accessible here

Find out more about Jon K Miles on his website.

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Catching Up With…Olie Brice

Olie Brice

We’ve been checking-in with promoters and artists throughout the South to see how their lockdown experience has been, and how they’ve been adjusting to the current situation.

This week Jamie Harber catches up with one of Jazz South’s Radar Commission artists, double bass player, improviser and composer, Olie Brice, ahead of recording and broadcasting his new commission as part of the Jazz South Online Festival in April.

What was your first ever encounter with jazz?

The earliest I can remember was an open air gig at Hackney City Farm, when I was not much more than a toddler.  Ya Basta! were playing, a great free jazz/funk band that my uncle Ivor Kallin played bass in.  I remember being amazed by the saxophonist – who I now know to be the great Alan Wilkinson, someone I’ve been lucky enough to play with a fair bit in the last decade or so.

Name a track you wish you’d written.

I don’t really think about other people’s compositions that way, but I am pretty obsessed with Julius Hemphill’s composing at the moment.  Dogon AD is probably his most perfect track.

Who have you been listening to recently?

Loads of different things, always!  I’ve been spending a lot of time with a recently released box set of previously unreleased Julius Hemphill, an incredible overview of his very varied and personal voice.  Other people I’ve listened in to in the last few days include Yo La Tengo, Daniele Roccato playing Schubert, Kim Kashkashian playing Berio, Dexter Gordon, Nusrat Fateh Ali Kahn and Betty Carter.

Favourite gig you’ve ever been to and why?

Again there are loads I could mention, but the one that sticks out most of all was a quartet of Paul Dunmall, Evan Parker, Paul Rogers and Tony Levin, at the Vortex in 2009.  I’ve seen all of those musicians countless times, and even as a quartet a couple of other times and they’re always wonderful, but there was something really incredible on that occasion.

They really took off into the stratosphere, completely mind blowing.  Although I had already been a gigging musician for years by that point, it still changed my life – really made me reconsider how seriously I had to take the whole thing, and what I wanted to be experiencing. How I miss that feeling, of levitating in a little Jazz club!

Any livestream concert recommendations?

There was a wonderful series over several weeks called Deep Tones for Peace, featuring bass players from around the world.  Short solo sets were hosted almost every day, and I really enjoyed listening in regularly – lots of people I already loved, like Mark Dresser, Mark Helias, Joëlle Léandre, William Parker – but also plenty of new names to me.  I contributed a piece, and it was great to feel like part of an international community of bass players during such an isolated time.  The contributions are all archived here.

I also really enjoyed watching Archipelago’s streamed piece for the London Jazz Festival, they’re a great band from Newcastle, that’s still online too – you can watch it here.

Can you tell us about your Radar Commissions piece, Fire Hills? What is the inspiration for the piece (and the name)? What can audiences expect and look forward to?

Fire Hills is a piece for trio, which I’ll be playing with two wonderful musicians, Jason Yarde on alto sax and Nick Malcolm on trumpet.  The name comes from a section of the cliff tops I love walking on, heading east out of Hastings.  I liked it partly because I love the area, and partly because it made me think of the Mal Waldron tune ‘Fire Waltz’, a great tune from one of my favourite albums.

The piece involves several short sections of composed material that we will improvise connections between, with some of the material being layered or repeating in different permutations at different points in the piece – the system Cecil Taylor named ‘unit structures’.

I consciously decided not to have any overriding external influence for this piece – a lot of the music that I’ve written has drawn on Jewish liturgical music or been influenced by poetry or other literature – this time I wanted to just come up with some musical material I liked and then find different ways to use it (although there is a tiny bit of transcribed birdsong in there so I didn’t quite manage to keep it influence free!).

How do you find the process of writing for trios compared to duos or larger ensembles?

Most of the composing I’ve done has been for small groups, so the biggest difference in writing Fire Hills was in conceiving a piece without drums.  I love playing with great drummers more than anything, but it was an interesting process writing a piece where I would have all the responsibility for the bottom half of the sonic space.  Writing for Jason and Nick was pretty similar to writing for my Quintet – I know and love both of their playing, and they both share my interest in the overlap of jazz and free music.

In addition to your Radar Commissions piece, have you been working on any new material recently?

My main focus recently has been on developing my sound, technique and approach with the bow.  Arco playing has been a meaningful part of my voice for quite a while now but it’s getting more and more important to me.  The double bass is essentially a huge violin, and I want to find a way to bring that out more in my playing.

What advice do you have for fellow musicians adjusting to the current situation?

I’m torn how to answer this question – everyone’s situation is different, and I’m aware that for a lot of people this has been a period where it’s been really difficult to focus on your art, whether for emotional or practical reasons.  So probably the best advice I could give is be patient with yourself, spend time outdoors, eat well, talk to people who care about you.  That said, it has been really important to me to use the time to keep growing and developing, and I do think that being able really to focus on my work has helped in terms of mental health and coping with lockdown.

What are your post-lockdown plans?

I’m nervous about making too many really specific plans – not sure how much more disappointment I can take… I’m excited about playing with people again and seeing friends and family.  I have booked a week off to walk the South Downs Way, a five day hike I’ve done a few times and really love.

There are some projects waiting to get off the ground though, including a band that both Jason and Nick are in, called ‘Out Front’.  It’s a quintet (the other musicians are Jake McMurchie and Dave Smith) that plays the music of Andrew Hill and Booker Little.  We managed one gig last year before lockdown which was a real joy, and I hope we’ll be able to get going with that this year.

Olie Brice’s Radar Session, also featuring Jason Yarde (alto sax) and Nick Malcolm (trumpet), will be broadcast on Jazz South’s YouTube channel on Monday 26th April at 8pm as part of the Jazz South Online Fest.

Find out more about Olie Brice on his website and check out his latest releases on Discogs.

Sign up to our mailing list to get your latest Jazz South news and opportunities direct to you inbox.

Follow the series on our social media: FacebookInstagram, and Twitter.

Jazz South Online Fest

Image of 6 artists performing in the Jazz South Online Fest

We are delighted to announce a series of online broadcasts and events taking place from 22 – 30 April, celebrating jazz talent across the South of England.

Jazz South Online Fest will feature filmed and recorded performances showcasing new music by talented composers selected for Jazz South’s Breakthrough and Radar Commissioning schemes, two youth engagement projects with online workshops and gigs, plus a gig at Turner Sims Southampton on International Jazz Day.

Celebrating jazz talent, from emerging to established artists, the week-long festival offers music fans everywhere the opportunity to enjoy inspiring performances, plus workshops and other activities.

Tamsin Mendelsohn, Jazz South Manager said:

“Jazz South Online Fest is a great opportunity to showcase the breadth of jazz talent from the South of England, ranging from composers at the start of their career to those who have made a name for themselves nationally and internationally.

We are delighted to share new work from our Breakthrough Commission artists alongside two new works from Radar Commission artists that we were unable to broadcast last Autumn. Alongside this, two partnership projects with venues and other arts organisations in Dorset and East Sussex are offering local young people inspiration and a chance to participate in jazz projects as well as find out other roles in the music industry.”

View the full programme and details on our Online Fest web page.

Mike Westbrook selects: Duke Ellington

Mike Westbrook selects - with Duke Ellington - photo

Mike Westbrook selects – to celebrate his 85th birthday and to accompany his special ‘Catching Up With’ interview for Jazz South, Mike Westbrook has created a 10-track playlist for Jazz South audiences.

Mike chose to focus on his musical hero, Duke Ellington, selecting 10 of his favourite tracks. Here he explains the tracks he’s chosen and why.

Mike Westbrook selects – A Duke Ellington Playlist – listen here:

1. Duke Ellington ‘Blues in Orbit’ album title track. I fell under the spell of this track, not knowing who it was or how it was done. I still don’t know how it’s done. There is so much love, wisdom and mystery within that cool ‘wall of sound’.

2. Duke Ellington & Mahalia Jackson 23rd Psalm from ‘Black Brown and Beige’.
The greatest Gospel singer in a miraculous setting that uses the orchestra with a freedom that I find unique in contemporary composed music.

3. Duke Ellington & Alice Babs  ‘Heaven’ from ‘2nd Sacred Concert’
As I get older I find myself drawn to Duke’s late work.  At the point when time was running out, Duke had to concentrate on the essentials, to state the truth in plain language and with bold, simple effects. And here he introduces his newest instrument, the sublime voice of Alice Babs. As if that isn’t enough  we then get the equally incomparable Johnny Hodges.

4. Duke Ellington, Charles Mingus, Max Roach ‘Money Jungle’ from the album ‘Money Jungle’. As a lifelong fan of Duke’s piano playing it is great to hear him really upfront, and in such fast company.

5. Duke Ellington, Betty Roché ‘Take the A Train’ from the album ‘Ellington Uptown’.
Duke always seemed open to new ideas, and was well aware of the Bop revolution. Its influence can be heard in his work, but his orchestral vision would never fully accommodate such a distinctive style. When he invited Charlie Parker to join the band, Parker asked for such a big fee that Duke said ‘For that money I’ll work for you’. Betty Roché’s vocal on this extended treatment of the Strayhorn classic is a brilliant tip of the hat to Bop.

6. Duke Ellington ‘Flying Home’ from the album ‘Ellington ’55’.
It was someone’s bright idea to have the Ellington band play the big band hits of other composers, even Glenn Miller’s ‘In the Mood’. Of course they out-swung every other big band on the planet, even on Lionel Hampton’s theme tune ‘Flying Home’. Hampton’s band was the first live American jazz I ever heard, in Bournemouth in 1956. During this number Hamp took off round the auditorium, juggling drum sticks, accompanied by a wailing tenor player, while the band roared onstage. A taste of  Rock ‘n’ Roll show business to come.

7. Duke Ellington, Billy Strayhorn’s ‘Blood Count’ from ‘And His Mother Called Him Bill’
This was the last piece Strayhorn wrote, sent from his hospital bed. The last in a long line of exquisite ballads written to feature Johnny Hodges.

8. **Duke Ellington ‘La Plus Belle Africaine’ from ‘Soul Call – Live at the Côte D’Azure’ 1966.
A long version of one of the highlights of the Rainbow concert. An arrangement stripped to the essentials, put together with the master’s touch, with a remarkable arco bass solo (I assume by John Lamb), a passionate baritone solo by Harry Carney and, in this version fantastic drumming by Sam Woodyard and great stuff from the ‘piano player’.

9. **Duke Ellington & Paul Gonsalves ‘Happy Re-union’ from the album ‘Harlem’.
A performance similar to the one we heard at the Rainbow in 1973 when, ignoring the microphone, Gonsalves played acoustically. In that vast auditorium he held us spellbound, not daring the breathe.

10. Duke Ellington ‘Concerto for Cootie’ from ‘The Great 1940s band’
My father was an Ellington fan and gave me a 10-inch LP of the 1940’s band. The only LP I owned for years, it became my Bible. I’ve still got it. This beautifully constructed piece remains an inspiration.

** ‘The English Concert’ the album which approximates to what we heard at The Rainbow and includes these two pieces, doesn’t appear to be in the Spotify catalogue.

Catching Up With…Mike Westbrook

Mike Westbrook - early career photo and a more recent photo combined.

We’ve been checking-in with promoters and artists throughout the South to see how their lockdown experience has been, and how they’ve been adjusting to the current situation.

This week Jamie Harber catches up with legendary jazz pianist, composer and band leader, Mike Westbrook OBE, for an extended interview in celebration of his 85th birthday.

Mike has also curated a special Duke Ellington playlist for us. Listen to it here and find out about the tracks and why Mike has chosen them.

What was your first ever encounter with jazz?

Hearing Duke Ellington’s ‘Black and Tan Fantasy.

When & where was your first gig? What do you remember about the occasion?

Probably a café on The Barbican, Plymouth with a band I started at Art School. We had a repertoire of two tunes, which we simply repeated.

Name a track you wish you’d written.

The honest answer is that I wouldn’t want to have written anybody else’s composition, but I would like to have already written the piece I’m struggling with at the moment. The frivolous answer is ‘White Christmas’. Then I’d be rich.

Favourite gig you’ve been to and why?

Kate and I went to see the Duke Ellington Orchestra at The Rainbow in 1973, their last performance in the UK. A profoundly moving occasion.

Looking back over your illustrious career to date, what have been some of the stand out moments?

Stockholm Premiere of ‘Citadel/Room 315 in 1974.
I had given up writing for big band or any conventional jazz group, and was concentrating on Street Music when I was commissioned to write for the Swedish Radio Jazz Group, featuring John Surman as soloist. I wrote most of it on a piano in Room 315 in Leeds Polytechnic, where Kate was teaching at the Art School.

I had a year to write it, and was really able to get into the structure of the music. For the first time, I produced a full score, rather than relying on my usual ‘trial and error’ method. John was brilliant. The Scandinavians were cool, but could really play. In Citadel I tried a lot of things I’d not attempted before, and they all worked!

The Premiere of ‘London Bridge is Broken Down in Amiens, France in 1987.
This was our first collaboration with a full classical ensemble. I took it as an opportunity to put into practice ideas I’d been experimenting with since discovering a system I called ‘The Smith’s Hotel’ chord. This was the most complex piece the band had attempted. Inspired by the Trio tours at that period, it was a European work that included English poetry and French and German poetry selected by Kate with the help of European friends. There was a long period of rehearsal in London, and several trips to Amiens, before the two ensembles met for the premiere. The excitement of hearing the music put together for the first time is indescribable.

‘London Bridge’ was long, and the conductor Alexandre Myrat proposed performing it in three parts. The concert opened with a popular French/Canadian Duo who clearly delighted the Jazz Festival audience. They came back again and again for encores while fifty of us waited in the wings. The first part of ‘London Bridge’ went fine. Unfortunately the message had not got through to most of the audience that there were three parts to the composition. A sizeable number left, thinking the concert was over. By the second interval it was really getting late, and a lot more people left, thinking this must surely be the end. We completed the concert to a small scattering of die-hards. We knew that we had achieved an important, perhaps historic performance, but couldn’t reconcile this conviction with the seeming indifference of the public. In fact we had given the Jazz Festival rather more than it bargained for… Next morning the organisers wouldn’t look us in the eye and the reviews were poor.

But it didn’t take long for ‘London Bridge’ to be vindicated. Further concerts were very well received and Virgin released the album on their new Venture label. That Christmas boxed sets were laid out temptingly in HMV, and ‘London Bridge’ lay cheek by jowl with a Beatles compilation.

William Blake.
Many of the Blake songs date from 1971, when  Adrian Mitchell and I wrote the musical ‘Tyger’ about Blake. It was staged by the National Theatre.

When we formed the Brass Band the songs became part of the repertoire. Over the intervening 50 years more settings have been added. The songs have been sung by Kate and Phil Minton in many countries with a succession of line-ups and have been recorded several times. Every Blake performance is a highlight. Particular memories are of The Foundling Hospital in London (2007), St Peter’s Church in New York (playing Billy Strayhorn’s Steinway (in 1983) and, in 2019, the Dom Club, Moscow.

Perth, Australia, with Kate and Chris Biscoe on our ‘World Tour’ in 1993.
The Trio, our most travelled group, will be 40 next year. With its combination of Song, Improvisation and Composition it has in many ways been the heartbeat of our music. In Perth we interrupted the concert and, with the audience, we went outside to watch a Lunar Eclipse, powered by Chris on soprano saxophone.

Chanson Irresponsable 2001 – A recording with an invited audience at Kingston University.
A 15-piece line-up combining jazz and classical voices and instrumentalists, including a string quartet, French horn and accordion as well as jazz group and soloists. With texts by Kate translated into French, German and Italian.

Following projects like ‘London Bridge’ and other classical collaborations, I decided to form my own mixed ensemble. I felt this was the direction I wanted to take. It was a brilliant band. I called it The New Westbrook Orchestra – rather optimistically as it turned out. Work like this finds itself in the no-man’s-land between the jazz and classical camps, between high art and popular culture. Charlie Parker said ’they try to tell you there are boundary lines in music, but man, there’s no boundary lines in Art!’ When was that? Seventy years ago? The barriers are still in place.

A Bigger Show 2014
The first sketches of the work performed in the back room of The Drewe Arms, Drewsteignton, North Dartmoor on a Sunday afternoon by the 20-piece Uncommon Orchestra. Double rhythm section, vocalists, brass and saxes. All of us were packed in with an audience, mostly made up of artists. And the realisation that something completely new and unpredictable was happening. A disparate collection of musicians, of all different ages and backgrounds, became a band. ‘A Bigger Show’ went on to become more organised, less chaotic. It was performed many times, and recorded. But it never lost that edge of excitement, of  collective liberation.

What are the most exciting changes you’ve seen in the development of the jazz scene over the years?

I can’t answer for the jazz scene as a whole, but for me the last fifty-plus years have been one long journey of discovery, with many exciting challenges on the way. I’ve always had a small band that did most of the touring, and an orchestra for particular compositions. But I never imagined that I’d find myself writing for Theatre, Dance, Opera, Classical ensembles, Choirs and all the many projects Kate and I have got involved in.

All this experience has contributed to our vision of Jazz as an all-encompassing Art form, a ‘gesamtkunstwerk’ in German, with improvisation at its heart, unrestricted by style or category. This finds its expression in huge productions like Turner in Uri, in Jazz Cabaret, small group pieces like Art Wolf and The Serpent Hit, and in Kate’s  ‘Neo-teric Music Hall’ Cuff Clout.

Who have you been listening to recently?

I don’t know why, but I’ve not listened to much jazz during lockdown. Jazz history is very important to me, and I’ve been an avid listener. But at the end of the day Jazz for me has always been about playing, not listening too much to what everyone else has done, or is doing. At the moment if I play any records, it’s Ellington, and some classical composers.

What advice do you have for fellow musicians adjusting to the current situation?

I’d be glad of any advice from fellow musicians. I can only really say the obvious – keep working at anything that comes to hand, any idea, any creative opportunity. The one thing lockdown gives us is time, if we can only find a way to use it. I am lucky as a composer, in that I am used to working in isolation a lot of the time. Also as a band leader I have to try to plan ahead and be in touch with the ‘music business’.

Even now Kate and I try to keep our ‘cottage industry’ open. We exchange messages from afar with fellow musicians, and, courtesy of Jazz South, recently recorded a track with Kate’s Granite Band ‘Says The Duke’ (you can find out more about this track here). Necessarily it was recorded ‘remotely’, without the band ever getting together. I admire the way in which many musicians are finding ingenious ways of playing together and reaching the public. I think perhaps the lesson we can all learn from this predicament is that we have to take greater control of our situation. Let the scene once more be Artist-led. The post-covid world is going to need all the Jazz it can get!

Have you been working on any new material recently?

I have got a piece slowly cooking on the piano, but I have to say that at the moment I am happy to let it simmer. No doubt there will be a deadline, and I’ll have to turn up the heat. Kate and I plus our friend and webmaster Chris Topley work every week planning our Moving Picture Show, which screens a new film on the website every Friday. In a way this is like planning a composition. It has now reached its 50th show. I am also spending time writing piano/vocal arrangements of our songs, with a view to publishing them  in some form or other.

You’ve had such a varied and long career and to still be writing & releasing music as you reach your 85th birthday is an incredible achievement. How have you managed to maintain your passion for so long and to keep things fresh and exciting?

Being a jazz musician is for life. There’s no retirement, no pension. And there’s always the lure of the next gig, the next project, which is going to be your best yet. As a self-taught musician I’ve had much to learn, and I still have. With a lot of luck, and not a little help from medical science, I can still get on stage. At my age a year long lay-off is not exactly what the doctor ordered. But I ain’t finished yet!

You’ve had a longstanding musical and personal partnership with Kate Westbrook – what are the secrets of your success?

Kate and I began this adventure in the 1970s, with no idea where it would lead us. We both knew we wanted to commit ourselves to each other and to Art. We didn’t want to teach – we’d done that – and neither of us was qualified for commercial music. It was Art full-time. There were hard times, financially, but then the answer often came from a surprising direction.

One  project cropped up at a lean time which involved forming a street band to play at fringe theatre   festivals and community arts events. This was a new beginning and the Brass Band, as the group became, was our main touring group and the nucleus of many future projects, including The Cortège. We’ve all gone on to other things but the Brass band has never disbanded. Nor will it while Phil, Kate and I are on the planet.

What are your post-lockdown plans?

The last Westbrook gig before lockdown was in Bath with a new quartet – Kate, me, Roz Harding and Marcus Vergette. It’s a shame to be cut off when we’d only just started. But we‘ll be back!

Our trio with Chris Biscoe will be forty next year. The trio has been so much of our lives. We long to play with Chris again.

There’s unfinished business with Kate’s Granite Band, which has not yet been able to follow through on the release of the second album ‘Earth Felt The Wound’. Kate’s lyrics are always a challenge, musically. Where will the Granite Band go next? September has been mentioned as a possible time for a re-launch.

We are keen to get together with Phil Minton and the others in the Blake band. The Blake songs have been the most viewed on The Moving Picture Show, and this is a time when we all need William Blake.

Our date at Ronnie’s with The Uncommon Orchestra has been postponed several times. Have we got to wait till 2022?

This year in the absence of gigs, Mike will be celebrating his birthday with the first screening of ‘We’ll Always Have Paris’.

Last year’s two-piano concert with Mike and Jonathan Gee at the Pizza Express in London was cancelled due to the pandemic. It was scheduled for March 21st, Mike’s birthday. As lockdown continues in 2021, yet again there will be no birthday gig.

This year’s birthday, his 85th, will be marked with the first screening of films made by Jon Hiseman of the sessions that produced the 2016 PARIS album.

Entitled ‘We’ll Always Have Paris’ the films will be shown on the Moving Picture Show over three consecutive weeks, starting with Show No 51 on Friday 19th March. You can watch it here.

Find out more about Mike Westbrook on his website.

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Catching Up With…Andy Hague

Image of Andy Hague

We’ve been checking-in with promoters and artists throughout the South to see how their lockdown experience has been, and how they’ve been adjusting to the current situation.

This week Jamie Harber catches up with Bristol-based trumpeter, drummer and composer, Andy Hague.

What was your first ever encounter with jazz?

I was lucky to attend a school with a strong music department and can remember when I was about eleven standing outside the rehearsal room listening to the school big band playing, probably one of the Miller things like In The Mood or American Patrol – anyway at the time it sounded amazing and made me want to be able to join in.

Name a track you wish you’d written.

Hmm that’s a really tough one, but I’ll have to go with the EastEnders theme for the royalties.

Who have you been listening to recently?

Well this varies wildly from day to day, but just by chance today has been Dave O’Higgins day.

I’ve recently started a Facebook group to promote UK jazz releases on Facebook and having seen a post from Dave I had to add his incredible big band album The Abstract Blues Big Band, co-led with his wife Judith and featuring many luminaries of the UK scene. It’s a reimagining of Oliver Nelson’s Blues & the Abstract Truth album. This led on to me listening to his Tenors Of Our Time album with Italian great Max Ionata. For a bit of light relief this evening I put on the Ronnie Scott’s big band recording live-streamed a couple of nights ago, and guess who was there in the sax section.

Favourite gig you’ve ever been to and why?

There are so many I could pick for this, but I’ll go with The Brecker Brothers at the Royal Festival Hall in 1992. They were touring to promote the Return Of The Brecker Brothers album and the sense of occasion was incredible. I think almost everyone I could think of from the UK jazz scene was in the bar before the show, some of them even went in to listen.

How has the Bristol jazz scene developed over the years? Do you think it’s an exciting time for jazz in the city (pre & hopefully post pandemic)?

I arrived at Bristol Uni in 1985 so have been around for long enough to see many changes in the jazz generations – but the scene has always been really strong and creative. I guess one of the developments over the past decade or so has been the profusion of good quality jam sessions springing up for which players are generally expected to be able to get up and perform without resorting to sheet music. There’s also been a resurgence of interest in earlier jazz styles tied in with the swing dance craze. However, if you pop in to a bar just up the road you are likely to hear some of the latest contemporary music. It’s all going on – or was, anyway.

Any livestream concert recommendations?

Well Ronnie Scott’s has been putting out some great concerts as already mentioned, but coming up we have Denny Ilett’s Electric Lady Big Band playing the music of Jimi Hendrix with a mixture of Bristol and London players – Sunday 7th March. You can watch it here.

What advice do you have for fellow musicians adjusting to the current situation?

What can I say apart from try to hang in there? I am fortunate in that I have managed to keep at least some teaching going online. Ironically some of the very best players who only performed and didn’t have much or any teaching as a back-up have been hardest hit. Alongside that you’ve got people who were starting out in the profession who perhaps didn’t have tax records going back far enough to qualify them for the SEISS grants. Here’s hoping there is light at the end of the tunnel. I recently saw a cartoon of someone arriving at the light at the end of the tunnel, there was a sign on the wall saying Please Turn Out The Light.

Have you been working on any new material recently?

Well yes I have, I wrote some new tunes during Lockdown 1, and then amazingly managed to do one gig with a new line-up between lockdown 1 & 2. We subsequently went in to the studio in early November to record my new CD Andy Hague’s Double Standards – Release. It’s a 50/50 split between standards and other people’s tunes vs. my originals. The CD has already had some really nice reviews and airplay on BBC Radio and Jazz FM. It’s available on my website here or on Bandcamp here.

What are your post-lockdown plans?

Tied in with the previous question I’ve just spent half-term week writing a new big band arrangement for Ed Leaker’s Swing Machine Jazz Orchestra, which is based at Wells Cathedral School where Ed works. When possible a new big band album is in the pipeline, and it’s always a thrill to hear something you’ve written played for the first time.

I’ll also be trying to get the Be-Bop Club up and running again – I’ve been promoting jazz gigs in Bristol under this name for about 25 years. Between lockdowns I had a series of four gigs booked as a trial at a new venue for us, the Hen & Chicken in Bedminster, which has a large enough room to seat about 50 with appropriate social distancing. We did one triumphant gig at the end of October, and then I had to cancel the other three, so all being well my priority will be to reinstate those cancelled gigs.

Find out more about Andy Hague on his website and listen to his latest release on Bandcamp.

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Catching Up With…Kat Lee Ryan & Al Swainger

Image of Kat Lee-Ryan and Al Swainger

Jamie Harber catches up with Hastings-based singer songwriter Kat Lee-Ryan and  Bristol-based musician and composer, Al Swainger.

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

This week’s featured artists met online while attending Jazz South and Jazz Promotion Network’s online sessions. They decided to collaborate musically and have released a new piece of music, Ocean of Blue.

What was your first ever encounter with jazz?

Kat: Miles Davies’ Kind of Blue. I remember lying in a cot with a white net curtain billowing through an open window, streaming sunshine. I was under the window and this album was playing. I was born in 1965 so maybe this memory is summer ’66. Both my Mum and Dad were massive jazz fans, and had been Ronnie Scott’s regulars in their pre-child years. When I hear this album I just think of lying smiling in the sunshine.

Al: Hard to say. My Dad listened to a variety of music but I don’t remember talking about genres when I was young. The first time I really remember being knocked out and knowing I was watching a jazz band was seeing the Devon Youth Jazz Orchestra and really feeling caught up in it. They also had a French horn player in the band at the time so I knew it was something I could join in with if I got the opportunity. I was probably about 11 and French horn and piano were my instruments at that time. I don’t think it had really occurred to me that you could play piano in groups as everything I’d done had been as a wind player and the piano was something I usually played on my own.

Name a track you wish you’d written.

Kat: Be Good by Gregory Porter. It is the most beautifully evocative song, and in 3/4 my favourite time signature (or could be a slow 6/8, I’m not arguing!!!!).

Al: Where to even start! I’m going to say Hannibal by Miles Davis as the first thing to pop into my head. I loved the whole mix of moods, tension and release, arrangement – texture of this strange combination of synths and acoustic instruments – the ambiguous harmony. It was so far beyond my understanding of what music did at the time that it just seemed like emotional magic.

Who have you been listening to recently?

Kat: Kamasi Washington – anything and everything on Spotify by him. His cover of  Clair de Lune is absolutely mind blowing – every hair on the back of my neck goes up every time I hear it! Also the original version of This is What You are by Mario Biondi – I am a bit obsessed with it!

Al: I’ve been really enjoying Rob Luft’s Life is the Dancer, Fish – Weltscherz, Ajoyo – War Chant – they’re all quite texturally rich things pushing at what their styles usually do. I’m a prog rock fan from my teens and love music that plays around structurally as well as sonically. All three of these recordings do that in different but satisfying ways.

Favourite gig you’ve ever been to and why?

Kat: Recently – Omar at the Del La Warr in lockdown – because he is such an inventive and joyous performer; The James Taylor Quartet in January 2020, we got to be the  support act, and his Hammond playing is off the scale! His Debussy playing at the soundcheck was truly amazing too. Favourite ever has to be Mary Coughlan live at The Mean Fiddler in the 90’s. When she sings, she sounds like she is tearing out her own intestines, plus everyone else’s heart and soul. Absolutely spellbinding.

Al: That’s tough. I saw Jon Cleary a little while ago at the Lantern in Bristol and that was pretty much flawless for me. I loved the intimacy of that venue. The band were killer and clearly having so much fun, really nailing that New Orleans vibe. They made it sound like it was still fresh and exciting for them without being gimmicky. I just loved it. It’s very rare for me not to have a list of notes of things that I thought could be better!

Any livestream concert recommendations?

Kat: Jacob Collier‘s livestreams are fun, really enjoying them, such a lot of talent in such a young person.

Al: I’ve still yet to really get into watching livestreams on a regular basis. I grew up listening to studio albums so I’ve kind of defaulted to doing that again. Obviously you should check out Kat’s Lullabies with Miss Kitty – which is what inspired me to suggest collaborating. Also The Sound Cellar in Dorset run by Rob Palmer has some cool modern jazz things coming up on Sundays. I’ll be tuning in for Tim Motzer on Feb 7. Neal Richardson’s Splash Point Jazz are doing a regular Thursdays slot as a socially distanced mainstream quartet as well.

What advice do you have for fellow musicians adjusting to the current situation?

Kat: Take full advantage of your spare time, learn new riffs, improve your online presence and chat to your friends often. Don’t worry about the things you can’t control, just focus instead on what you can control.

Al: Collaborate to stay sane, get stuff out there and don’t be precious. With human contact so restricted it’s easy to feel ‘what’s the point’ but, certainly for me, just chatting to other people and finding opportunities to be creative together keeps me going. I’ve had some lovely messages from non-musicians as well saying that hearing the music I make and being part of the Pointless Beauty Community group on Facebook, where we share stuff that brings us joy, is really contributing to their mental health. It’s a symbiotic thing. We’ve just got to stay in the loop and make new loops when the old ones run their course.

Have you been working on any new material recently?

Al: I’m constantly working on new things and one off collaborations – it’s too much fun not to! My major project at the moment is to raise awareness (and funds) so that I can afford to record a new Pointless Beauty quintet album later this year. It’s tentatively titled Hearts Full of Grace and will feature Gary Alesbrook, George Cooper, Jon Clark & Ant Law. I’ll be releasing updates about that through my Bandcamp & website so you’ll get info if you follow me through either of those.

The collaboration with Kat was a bit of a whim on my part. We’d been on a couple of courses provided by Jazz South and Jazz Promotion Network and run by The Hub, so we’d got to know each other a little through those. Then I heard Kat’s Lullabies with Ms Kitty livestream and just found myself thinking. These are great songs. Kat has a fabulous voice. She’s always really positive and life affirming whenever we’ve interacted and seems to like what I do. I wonder if she’d be interested in letting me re-interpret some of her work from my musical perspective so I messaged her to ask. And here we are!

Kat: Yes loads, I do write all the time, between 2 and 3 songs per month, which my band, The Fabulous Red Diesel arrange and play. We have been livestreaming on Facebook and I livestream there on Tuesday, Wednesday and Thursday evening at 9pm. I’ve done over 160 solo livestream shows and I love doing it.

My collaboration with Al began when we met at an online group mentoring course organised by Jazz South and Jazz Promotion Network and run by The Hub. I heard some of his beautiful improvised music online at his Pointless Beauty site,  and offered a bit of flute to go with it, which he accepted. I sent over a WAV, he added it and from there we progressed to me sending one of my songs, vocal WAV only, for Al to play with. The song is called Ocean Blue, and the resulting collaboration is absolutely beautiful.

What are your post-lockdown plans?

Kat: A lot of live gigs, I miss gigging so much! And  to carry on promoting our new album, The Queensbury House Sessions. Our lead track is Butterfly Mind, and we need to get it out there.

To perform our theatre show about suicide and mental health. Sparkly Bird, at Brighton Fringe, in June. It has dance, aerial performance and a narrator as well as 12 original tunes which tell a true story. Also The Rye Jazz festival in August, and hopefully the Cheltenham Jazz Festival – we were booked last year but – you know!!!

Al: Have a beer and a hug with everyone! I think it’s going to be really emotional when we’re all allowed to interact properly, in person, again. On a musical front I’m in discussions to organise a tour for my Pointless Beauty quintet next year through No Place Arts to showcase the upcoming album. It’s still early days so I can’t talk too much about exact shape of it yet but it’s an ambitious project for sure.

You can find Kat Lee-Ryan and her music online here and Al Swainger here.

We’ll be sharing their collaboration Oceans of Blue this week in our New Music Friday feature, but in the meantime you can enjoy it here.

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Catching Up With…Nick Malcolm

Image of Nick Malcolm

Jamie Harber catches up with Bristol-based trumpet player and composer, Nick Malcolm.

We’ve been checking-in with promoters and artists 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?

I was given a cassette in my Christmas stocking of Miles Davis and Gil Evans’ ‘Sketches of Spain’ record when I was like eleven. I remember being completely astonished that the trumpet could sound so dark.

Name a track you wish you’d written.

To continue the Miles theme I’m currently playing Wayne Shorter’s ‘Fall’ a lot, from Miles’ Nefertiti album. The emotional range of that quintet is remarkable and I think that piece shows them at their most emotionally eloquent.

Who have you been listening to recently?

I’ve been really enjoying Pat Thomas and Matana Roberts’ new duo album ‘The Truth‘ as well as my buddy (and fabulous guitarist) Dan Waldman’s album ‘Sources and Angles‘. Also on quite a Schubert piano sonata kick – check out the Wilhelm Kempf recordings form the 60s. Sublime.

Favourite gig you’ve ever been to and why?

The one that has stayed with me the most is Roscoe Mitchell at Cafe Oto in 2013. He was with his regular drummer Tani Tabbal and the great John Edwards on bass. Also Kikanju Baku sat in. It’s some of the most confrontational music I’ve ever heard, both from band to audience but also amongst the musicians themselves. They just stood there and roared and it was like ‘Can you deal with this?’. I remember finding the first half an hour very challenging but then it became one of the most amazing experiences I’ve had with live music. That was a big lesson for me I think.

Any livestream concert recommendations?

The Vortex. A true British Jazz institution and putting some lovely things on.

What advice do you have for fellow musicians adjusting to the current situation?

Lots of practice, exercise and good wine; minimal Social Media.

Have you been working on any new material recently?

Yes! So I have a new duo album out – ‘Chat‘. It’s a series of improvised duets with the great UK vibraphonist and improviser (and presenter of BBC Radio 3’s ‘Freeness’) Corey Mwamba. Hands down one of the best improvisers the UK has ever produced.

I’ll also be releasing an album from my originals band jade later this year.

What are your post-lockdown plans?

Really looking forward to getting out into the world with the band I co-lead with bassist Olie Brice, ‘Out Front’. It’s a quintet with Olie on bass, Dave Smith on drums and myself, Jake McMurchie and Jason Yarde up front. We managed to do one gig before lockdown and it was a great deal of fun!

You can find Nick Malcolm on Facebook, Instagram and Twitter, and visit his website here.

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Catching Up With…Eddie Myer

Photo of Eddie Myer playing bass.

Jamie Harber catches up with Brighton based jazz musician, composer, promoter, teacher and writer, Eddie Myer.

We’ve been checking-in with promoters and artists 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?

Probably buying a Thelonious Monk record that had been accidentally misfiled under ‘Reggae’ in the Notting Hill Record and Tape Exchange. A happy accident.

Name a track you wish you’d written.

Despacito because it’s the most streamed track ever so the pay-out would be huge.

How did you begin as a jazz promoter and what do you love most about it?

We started New Generation Jazz in 2015 – the best thing is getting involved with so many talented young musicians, hanging with them, watching them play and then seeing their careers take off.

Who have you been listening to recently?

I’m listening to Booker Ervin right now. I plan to check out Emmet Cohen’s latest video next.

What advice do you have for fellow promoters and musicians adjusting to the current situation?

Don’t give up. When music comes back, the public’s appetite for it will be immense.

What’s your favourite venue in the South and why?

Has to be the Verdict in Brighton because that’s where we started. A unique atmosphere in a venue that’s built around jazz music.

What’s the favourite gig that you’ve promoted?

Too many to pick a single one! The Bandstand and Friday Arena stages at Love Supreme have contributed some really special memories.

We put on Ezra Collective at the Verdict (Brighton) to around 60 people – they were so young! Then the next year we put them on at the Friday Arena tent at Love Supreme to over 1000, and the year after that they played a headline show at LSF to a capacity 3000 – that’s some impressive audience growth!

Cassie Kinoshi’s Seed Ensemble at the Verdict was special as well as we managed to get an 11-piece band onto the tiny stage, and felt so confident that we repeated the trick with Jonny Mansfield’s Elftet.

It was great to work with Jazz South on the Cinematic Sessions Weekender and shine a spotlight on our favourite artists from the Brighton area. But we’ve worked with so many amazing artists that it’s really not possible to single anyone out. There’s so much young talent in the UK right now that it’s ridiculous. 

Any livestream recommendations?

The New Generation Jazz Cinematic Live series on our New Generation Jazz YouTube channel, of course! Plus our Cinematic Jazz Weekender co-promotion with Jazz South. When you’re done, check out Smalls Jazz, Emmet Cohen and Kansas Smitty‘s. Don’t forget to donate if you can.

As a promoter, what would you like audiences to embrace?

I’d like them to embrace each other once it’s safe for them to do so!

Have you been working on any new material recently?

I’m one-third of QOW TRIO with sax virtuoso Riley Stone-Lonergan and drum legend Spike Wells. Our debut album – QOW TRIO – is out on CD, stream, download and delicious vinyl on 5th February via the Ubuntu Music Label. You can listen and purchase the album here.

Thanks to Ubuntu boss Martin Hummel for giving us this platform. It’s a multi-generational exploration of the past, present and future of the classic tenor sax trio format. We recorded everything in a day with Ben Lamdin at the Fish Factory in Harlesden and captured the warmth and the freedom. We’re really proud of this music and urge you to check it out.

What are your post-lockdown plans?

Do everything and go everywhere. Look out for more from New Generation Jazz and QOW TRIO in 2021.

You can follow Eddie Myer on Facebook & Instagram, and visit his website here.

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Catching Up With…Ben Somers

Ben Somers

Jamie Harber catches up with jazz composer, musician and educator, Ben Somers, who is based in St Leonard’s on Sea, East Sussex.

We’ve been checking-in with promoters and artists 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?

My dad is a musician, predominantly in the field of Country Music, Bluegrass & Americana, but has a love for most music. As well as being a musician he was a radio presenter for BBC Cambridgeshire for many years. At various points I worked in the station answering phones etc, it meant I had access to loads of music. I  regularly raided the cupboards and took home records and CDs that they would be unlikely to play.

I think the first thing I really got into was Art Pepper, I forget the name of the album but it had his version of ‘Besame Mucho’ on which I became obsessed with. Shortly after that I got hold of another of his albums ‘Art Pepper + 11’ which is still one of my favourites. Marty Paitch, the arranger on this album is a big inspiration to me, I enjoy his unconventional line-ups and exploration of timbre.

Name a track you wish you’d written.

An interesting question. So much jazz I love is a culmination of the writing and the playing, intention & soul of the players which I’m not sure I can separate so I don’t think I can  answer with something from the idiom of Jazz.

I write lyrics and have released many of my own songs, great song writing is definitely a passion for me so I’m going to answer from that perspective. One of the first people to spring to mind because we lost him to COVID recently is John Prine. A diligent and prolific writer who could say so much with so little. His song ‘Souvenirs’ makes me well up every time I hear it, with its beautiful cynicism, maybe we should call it observation, and positive momentum whilst writhing in nostalgia. I wish I’d written that one!

Who have you been listening to recently?

I’ve been listening a lot to the releases on Dave Douglas’ record label ‘Greenleaf Music‘. They have a great Bandcamp page with many new releases. It gives me the feeling of being involved in something, to be around a new and evolving music scene.

I’ve also been listening a lot to the ‘NYC Jazz Podcast’. There are some wonderful inspiring insights from extremely interesting and thoughtful musicians. One I would highly recommend to any jazz musicians is the interview with saxophonist/composer Ellery Eskelin.

Favourite gig you’ve ever been to and why?

One of my favourites was in the old Vortex on Church Street in Stoke Newington, London, with Brian Blade and Mark Johnson with Wolfgang Muthspiel. Brian and Mark absolutely blew me away with their listening and dynamics. They played so quietly and intensely that they always had somewhere else they could take it.

Any livestream concert recommendations?

Yes! There is a great duo gig with Bill Frisell and Thomas Morgan. My girlfriend and I watched this on a dark night during one of the lockdowns. There’s something very special about the way these two play together. It gave back to us a sense of movement, development & sensitivity to another human, it just feels like real life to me. All of these things are seldom felt or experienced since March 2020. Check it out!

What advice do you have for fellow musicians adjusting to the current situation?

Keep talking! It’s very easy to isolate ourselves, particularly during this time when everything that we feel defines us as self driven, creative musicians has been taken away.

We can’t gig, airing our compositions perhaps feels pointless as there aren’t such outlets for their performance and no close end in sight. Although this is the case, we still have our individual creativity, inspiration and passion within us and I feel it’s our duty to support each other and talk and create together. The platform has changed for the moment but we haven’t.

I wrote and recorded a piece for three saxophones at the end of last summer. I had come to the conclusion that lamenting the loss of our ‘normal’ lives wasn’t helpful and that working with, even welcoming the new one made more sense. You can listen to ‘A New Dawn’ here.

Have you been working on any new material recently?

Frankly, I’ve been writing and recording obsessively since March 2020. A very positive aspect has been that I’ve really been forced to think about who I am as a musician/composer. I’ve enjoyed experimenting with my voice and the other instruments and genres that I’ve been working at since becoming a musician. Through this process and trying to find music to listen to that makes me feel the things I’m missing has helped me to realise the elements I crave in music are individuality, vulnerability and honesty.

These realisations coincide with having met up with one of my favourite bass players, Greg Cohen, back in December 2019 in Berlin. The concepts he introduced me to came at a good time. He talked about playing with Ornette Coleman and the great power of individuality, also letting go of ego and working one’s hardest to make whatever is happening around you sound and feel good at all times.

I’m lucky that my girlfriend, Josephine Davies, is also a saxophonist/composer so we’ve had each other to bounce ideas off and play with. We’re planning to release some music together of pieces we’ve written and played a lot over the last 9 months.

Josephine and I recorded an EP (Two Cities) in December with the fantastic Christine Tobin and Phil Robson, which was an enriching experience that hopefully we’ll gig when the universe permits. I’m currently working on some of my dad’s folk music for his new record and another EP with two of my closest friends and colleagues Rob Updegraff (guitar) and Wes Gibbens (drums). Two incredibly deep musicians who have distinct personalities in their writing and playing. We’ve played together so much over the years in many contexts (we had a weekly gig with my dad in London playing Country/Jazz). We’re also working on some original music for release soon.

You can listen to some of the music I’ve been working on over the lockdowns on my Bandcamp page.

What are your post-lockdown plans?

I’m planning, like most musicians, to do as much playing with other people as possible. I would really like to gig the ‘Two Cities’ project with Josephine, Phil & Christine and most definitely get back to playing with my dad.

I had been writing a lot for my quartet and sextet (I play sax in both of these), we had a monthly residency upstairs at Ronnie Scotts with the septet.  Both groups were really beginning to come alive so I would love to reconnect with both of those.

You can find Ben Somers on Facebook & Instagram at @bensomersmusic or visit his website.

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