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?
I’m not sure for certain when I first encountered jazz, but I have some great memories as a kid of being taken to endless trad nights in village pubs across Norfolk, where I’d abandon my mother and take my coke to sit right up the front so I could see every note the clarinet player was playing. I’d talk to the musicians in the intervals or between songs, who were all fairly old guys and they must have been amazed that this kid was talking to them about Sidney Bechet and Acker Bilk.
Then I started to badger my parents for a tenor sax so I could join a “proper big band” – they got me one after years of borrowing an enormous (for a kid) baritone from the county music service. I still have a soft spot for Arty Shaw and Benny Goodman and all those great trad players.
Name a track you wish you’d written.
Oh gosh, there’s so many! I think that’s my default response to hearing a tune that I love – to wish I’d written it. If I had to pick just one though, it’d probably have to be either a blues standard like ‘Black Coffee’ (imagine how cool it’d be to have your chart in every Real Book) or something timeless and amazing like the Weather Report’s ‘Nubian Sundance’ or Herbie Hancock, ‘Butterfly’.
Who have you been listening to recently?
Nubya Garcia finally released an album last month which is (unsurprisingly) totally incredible – not just her playing, but the percussion has this beautiful kinda afro-cuban flavour which is soooo good. The opening track is this expansive odyssey of sound, it’s about 12 or 13 minutes long and it just keeps getting better and better. Also Sons of Kemet – any of Shabaka Hutching’s projects really are amazing, but the combo of him and Theon Cross on tuba is so sick.
Also a great new album by Lara Jones which is just her on sax through effects pedals and electronics – totally my jam. And I just picked up a compilation album on the Nonclassical label which features some awesomely uncategorised music.
Favourite gig you’ve ever been to and why?
OMG it’d have to be the EP release gig from Northern Contemporary Collective one freezing January night in Leeds. The gig was about 8 hours long, and featured soloists, the wonderful electronic artist Luna Pine, a 24-piece Sun Ra tribute band (complete with the costumes) and huge long extended improvisations from graphic notations and art projected onto a hanging gauze curtain.
The whole thing was in an unheated brick block somewhere on an industrial estate in Leeds. Everyone had a great time, I crashed on a sofa, and made some fantastic friends who are wonderful, beautiful people. Oh also my first gig post-coming out, so an evening to remember!
Any livestream concert recommendations?
I recently watched a stream of a completely improvised session from Cafe Oto with Charles Hayward, Evelyn Glennie and Kuljit Bhamra – a real feast of cross-genre improv. There’s also a complete recording of Frank Zappa’s legendary 1982 Barcelona concert on a certain well known streaming site which should be compulsory viewing for anyone interested in contemporary classical music, jazz, RnB or rock.
Also I’d really strongly recommend trawling through the Montreux Jazz Festival‘s back catalogue – there’s over 50 concerts to stream direct from their site, including the totally surprising festival visit of the Wu Tang Clan. Awesome.
What advice do you have for fellow musicians adjusting to the current situation, and the new normal?
I’m really lucky that I’ve been able to continue most of my teaching work online, and now starting back into face-to-face sessions. I think this is an enormously difficult time for performing musicians around the world – the gigs really are all gone at the moment, and online performances are neither attracting large paying audiences or really giving a full live music experience.
My advice is to use this time for practice, for catching up on listening, for trying new materials, and getting awesome sets ready for when music making resumes. This is a great time to build a network so when we’re back out there playing regularly, our friends and fans will be informed about the music and itching to come hear it!
Have you been working on any new material recently?
I’m always working on new material! I’ve just been accepted into a couple of composer schemes, which I can’t say too much about yet, but that’s really encouraging, and I’ve also got a small stack of commissions for various groups around the world to work through.
Then there’s the jazzstep-choose-your-own-adventure online opera project, which is really exciting, and my own ongoing material for (electronically modified) clarinets and electronics – I’m working on some stuff influenced by North African music, especially the voices of women and the LGBTQ+ community there who are extremely marginalised (and in most states criminalised too)
What are your post-lockdown plans?
I don’t know. I have some pretty un-fun mental health issues so planning ahead like that isn’t really my strength, but I do have some things I really hope to do, including a trip to Amsterdam to work with Black Pencil Ensemble (postponed from April 2020) and I’m creating material for a solo (clarinet & electronics) set that I want to tour around UK venues.
There’s also some people and groups I’d love to work with as soon as we can get face-to-face in the same space.
And sign up to our mailing list to get our latest Jazz South news and opportunities direct to you inbox.