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GOING IT ALONE - THE MAKING OF MY SOLO ALBUM BEHIND THE MIST




My new album, "Behind The Mist", is released for sale this week. I'm very pleased with it, and I'm hoping that listeners are going to enjoy it obviously. It's certainly one of the most personal records I've made, and, being an album of solo vibraphone improvisations with no edits, it's probably my most naked and honest recorded statement to date. I've been getting more and more interested in solo performances in recent years and I've had the chance to do it live a few times. There's a video of one of these performances, at Tuesday's Post, on the Home Page of this site. My first solo sets, while being full of improvisation, were nevertheless carefully planned. I used specific themes at certain points, and a lot of electronic treatment throughout. The music on the new record is something different, much more spontaneous. I decided to explore this freer approach after my experience playing at two HAT SPEAKS nights of improvised music organised by the wonderful Dee Byrne and Cath Roberts of LUME MUSIC. These sessions put together different combinations of musicians by throwing a dice and pulling names out of a hat. Cath sent me the recording of a duet I played at one of those nights with the extraordinary violinist Alison Blunt. Listening back made me think I need to do more music making in this way,  and I started spending time in my garden studio playing and recording improvisations. At first I was doing this just for my own reference, but my partner Sarah listened, and convinced me that I should put something out. 

As any listener to my music will know, I'm a sucker for literary inspiration. I was making this music at the bottom of the garden, and I thought that's where Faeries were meant to live. So I did some research, bought a pile of books, and started reading lots of tales of Faeries from around the British Isles. All these stories were hovering in my mind in the time that I made this music. I read about Asrai, water faeries that dissolve if captured, mischievous Spriggans, as well as tales of hollow hills and floating islands. The stories could be magical, but also disturbing, and always mysterious. 

It was Autumn as well, and I had to brush cobwebs aside each morning as I headed down to the studio; and taking walks up in Windsor Great Park I was in a world shrouded in damp and mist, and if you looked carefully you could find any number of strange, beautiful fungi appearing, as if by magic. The stories, and the atmosphere of those Autumn walks all fed in to the music recorded.

Most of the music I made is very quiet - some played with just bare hands rather than mallets - and, living as I do near the Heathrow flight path, that necessitated some midnight recording sessions - my little studio is just a hut with no sound proofing.

The experience of recording solo improvisations was a very intense one. Every decision about the shape and direction of the music is your own, you never have to respond to another musician's input. In this context improvisation really does feel like "Instant Composition". 

While out on those Autumn walks I amassed a collection of photos - of all the kinds of fungi, of cobwebs, and of mist shrouded lilly ponds, and some of these form the basis of the art work on the CD cover. So the whole project is very personal. My old friend and long time collaborator, artist Maria Hayes, helped with the design, and I'm delighted that she's producing some animated drawings to go along with the music, which will star to appear shortly.

I should also acknowledge the lovely mastering job done by engineer, and great musician, Jeff Spencer, who managed to sprinkle his own magic in coping with the deficiencies in my own recording technique.

So there you have it. My first album of solo improvisations is going out into the world. If you have time to listen I'll be delighted and honoured. You can find it on band camp HERE or on the ALBUMS page of this site.

Recorded Music costs money to make - so pay a little to listen

A brief and overdue post this time. And it's going to be a little bit of a rant I'm afraid! 


It's seemed to me for a while now that the prevailing attitude among many, musicians often included, be it conscious or sub-conscious, is that recorded music is now free.

It's easy to see how this has happened - spotify, youtube, apple music and so on. It seems all recorded music is available with a couple of clicks on your phone. I think we have to fight this attitude. It devalues music as an art form, and completely ignores the cost that musicians, record labels and so on, encounter in recording music and making it available.

If you value musicians as artists and want to support them, show some commitment. You can buy an album for less than the price of a round of drinks. If you don't want to clutter up your house with CDs download. You wouldn't expect a builder to do something for you for nothing - give musicians the same degree of respect. If you look at Bandcamp or CD Baby for example you'll find huge amounts of grass roots music there. You can get many albums for JUST £5!!! When you buy music from places like this it gets to the artists - it helps them to do more music, maintain their instruments - and musicians have to buy food and clothes as well, just like you. Perhaps more important is the statement of support that the purchase makes. It says thanks for creating art, keep doing it. That really matters. And please don't say you subscribe to Spotify. That £4.99 a month does not get through to the people who could really use it, and again it makes no statement of support or value. So please, try and get back into the habit of valuing music and musicians,  and buying recorded music.

Thank you!


FIVE YEARS OF GUILDFORD JAZZ! AN INTERVIEW WITH THE FOUNDER, BASS PLAYER MARIANNE WINDHAM.















A few years ago I did a local gig to help out a good friend, playing drums with a local big band - not the sort of thing I usually do. They also had a dep bass player in that afternoon, Marianne Windham. We hit it off musically and personally. Marianne told me sheíd recently started running regular gigs in Guildford - a big undertaking. Since then weíve become great friends and Marianne has invited me on many occasions to go and play. So Iíve found myself playing lots of straight ahead jazz gigs, something that I , with my left field leanings, certainly didnít see coming. But itís been a joy. Iíve met and played with some wonderful musicians. Whatís more Marianne has the knack of generating really great audiences. Itís a remarkable success story, and all done with no form of subsidy at all. This March Guildford Jazz is celebrating itís fifth birthday, so I thought it would be a good time to talk to Marianne about her own remarkable story, switching from business to being a professional bass player, and the experience of starting and running a successful local jazz organisation.


I started by asking Marianne about her background before starting Guildford Jazz:


[MP - You havenít always been a professional musician have you?]


MW: No. I played the cello as a teenager, but when I went to University I studied Physics. The people in the University orchestra seemed  a bit unwelcoming to non music students, so I ended up giving up playing. 

I finished my degree and worked in software engineering first for an international oil exploration company then a local firm that make MRI Scanners. From there I ended up managing software development, and then moved in to software consultancy.

Meanwhile, Iíd started playing the cello again a bit. Some friends had a band and asked me to go and play - doing stuff like Bonzo Dog Doo Dah Band covers - and then they asked if I could play electric bass, so I learned!

Then I went along with the singer in the band to a weekend Jazz Course at Southhill Park in Bracknell. Andy Crowdy was the bass tutor. I was hopeless - I knew nothing about jazz at all, had never listened to it - it was deeply embarrassing - BUT I thought the music was fantastic! So I went home and started listening to jazz and trying to play a bit. I realised soon I was going to have to get a double bass. So I found a bass I liked, that turned out to belong previously to Andy Cleyndert, and I actually ended up having lessons with him.

I got quite serious about it after that - but I was trying to practise between working and looking after the kids. It was frustrating! And then I was made a Company Director at work, which was great, but brought another shedload of responsibilities. And I thought , actually I just want to play the bass. And then I agonised for months because of the financial implications of quitting. And in the end I resigned - that was five years ago in January.


[MP - So that was pretty much at the same time that you started Guildford Jazz?]


MW: Yeah. Iíd left the job. And Kathryn Shackleton from Watermill Jazz in Dorking said to me if youíre looking for somewhere to play thereís a pub owner who had called them as he wanted to have jazz but they couldnít help him. So I went to see him, and I liked the room, and I thought Iíd like to run a thing there - thatís what I do, I organise stuff!

I thought nobody would want to hear me play, but I was getting to know a few people, names on the circuit. So I stuck my toe in the water - I asked Mark Nightingale to come. And it worked!I knew quite a few people in Guildford, so a lot of friends supported the first one. That was a one off, but as it was a success we went monthly. The landlord was quite keen to do it weekly but I felt that might be stretching it - we needed an audience and if youíre playing to an empty room itís a bit soul destroying . And I needed to make it work financially. We ran it to the summer to see how it went, and it was going great so we carried on - though every month was, and is, this terror of am I going to get enough people!


[MP - Youíve done the whole thing without any external funding so I guess youíre always balancing artistic decisions with the need to get bums on seats]


MW: Itís a tricky thing. And I struggle constantly with wanting to pay people a reasonable fee. The people who come to play, like Mark Nightingale for example, heís a world class player - he should be getting paid really well! And I come from this business background where people generally get well paid for being highly experienced and yet jazz musicians whoíve also spent their whole life developing their skills often donít seem to get paid all that much. I would like to be able to pay people much more but Iím limited of course by what I take on the door. And whatever I can pay the musicians I do, once Iíve taken away the costs of running the thing. In the early days I would have to underwrite it myself to guarantee people a certain fee. After the first year I ran it properly with profit and loss and so on, and itís more or less financially neutral now.


[MP - Did having the business background help?]


MW: Iím sure it did. Musicians are not always the most organised of people - creative people arenít organisers by nature maybe, - but itís a thing I do, and really enjoy doing. Bringing all the strands together, itís very satisfying! Sometimes I sit in the club and look at the people listening, and the people playing and think this is great - how privileged I am to be able to make something like that happen.


[MP - There seems to be quite a strong sense of community in what you do - both in terms of local community and in fostering a broader musical community. Is that a deliberate thing?]


MW: I think so. I feel quite strongly that jazz and music should not be this thing on its own, but should have a wider effect. Music is phenomenal! - itís uplifting to the soul, and to share that and enable other people to experience that and develop their own musicality - I think thatís important. And thatís why we run the jam session and the workshops and all that. I want to grow and learn more deeply what music is about, and maybe other people do too! I like bringing people together as well.


[MP - itís grown and grown hasnít it - youíve ended up with two venues regularly (plus programming Fleet Jazz in Hampshire!) - do you think differently about your two main venues?]


MW: I do slightly. The Electric Theatre Jazz Cafe is not quite such a straight ahead jazz gig . A lot of the audience who come are people who go to the theatre. Theyíre not necessarily jazz listeners as such. The audience at The Pavilion - theyíre much more of a jazz crowd. The Electric Theatre audience will take things that are a bit more on the side too maybe because it's more of an arts venue. They liked the Tim Whitehead gig with video for example. I think The Pavilion is more a straight forward jazz gig.

But I like both venues very much - theyíre just different.


[MP - Itís obviously a huge amount of work doing all this stuff. Whatís in it for you?]


MW: I get to play with some fantastic people, and thatís good for my playing. I donít want to be primarily a promoter, what I love most is being a musician! Being introduced to lots of different styles of playing makes my playing grow. Sometimes itís deeply uncomfortable as I feel like the weakest link in the chain, but it brings me on. And Iíve got to meet a lot of people which is really fun. And thereís the great  feeling that comes from giving people a nice evening. Itís really important to me that that the musicians go away happy, that Iím seen to have integrity within the jazz comminity, and that people enjoy coming.


[MP - So how are you celebrating your Guildford Jazzís fifth birthday then?]


MW: Weíve got a whole month of things going on in March as it turns out. Weíve got a special Anniversary gig at The Pavillion (9/3/16) which Alan Barnes is going to come and play for. Heís become a good friend over the last few years, and heís played for us several times one way or another, so having him play feels quite special, with my trio with you and Russell, the people I like playing with most of all. So thatíll be something of a party! And later in the month itís the Guildford Spring Music Festival and Iíve arranged for Tina May to come and do a gig at the Electric Theatre (18/3/16) and Nikki Iles is going to do a workshop for young people. And then for our Jazz Cafe gig that month at the Electric Theatre Karen Sharp is coming (29/3/16), which I'm looking forward to very much too


[MP - Looking ahead, are there any special plans for the future?]


MW: Keeping it going really! Every month I worry. If weíre still here in a year Iíll be really happy.

Plus of course we have a new annual afternoon of open air jazz in Wood Street Village, supporting the Challengers Charity. And I want to develop the education side of things more, inspiring young people to learn jazz!


CHECK OUT THE GUILDFORD JAZZ WEB SITE HERE: 

https://guildfordjazz.wordpress.com


Looking back - looking forward

On New Years Day it seems a good (if rather unoriginal) idea to look back at just a few personal high lights from the past year, and to look forward to new projects. 

This time last year I was in a state of shock following the sudden unexpected death of a dear friend Cheryl King, a wonderful musician and beautiful person, who I played with in a trio many times, mostly at gigs under the auspices of Guildford Jazz. In March Marianne Windham, who runs Guildford Jazz, organised a memorial concert for Cheryl. It was an amazing evening - a huge number of people came to listen, and a huge number of musicians came to play, ranging from very young wind groups, teen age jazz players, adult ed groups, right up to highly respected pros who had worked with Cheryl and had travelled a long way to be there. It was a real lesson to me. One musician working in her community had touched, shaped , and enhanced the lives of so many, and they were all so very grateful for what she did. We can all learn from that, and remember that all the work we do matters : sure high profile gigs and album reviews are great, but those little bits of teaching - lessons, workshops and so on - that we so often do to pay the bills really can and do make a difference. Music and musicians make the world a better place. Just before Christmas Marianne and I presented a new trio for the first time - Undercurrent - that's me on vibes, Marianne on double bass, and another good friend of Cheryl's Russell Jarrett on guitar. Our debut gig in December was on the anniversary of Cheryl's death. We played a mixture of standards and new tunes including a special piece in her memory. It's a band that feels "right" so I'm hoping to be doing much more with it in future.
Gigs for Busnoys were a little thin on the ground in 2015, but I did really put a lot in to developing my ideas for playing solo sets which was great. You can see some of the fruits of that work in a video I've put on the home page if you have time. I had particularly enjoyable shows at three eclectic nights in London - Tuesdays Post, Club Integral, and Sonic Imperfections.
Cath Roberts and Dee Byrne who run LUME music, have continued to be really supportive to me (and so many musicians), and I especially enjoyed being a part of their two Dice and Hat evenings, throwing together different combinations of musicians for some free improvisation. They were a joy to be part of. 
one of the biggest things for me in 2015 was really developing y creative partnership with dancer/choreographer Zamira Kate Mummery - working on the music for a big show at Arts Depot in the spring was a joy. Here's some video of the work in progress: https://vimeo.com/131295800  
As a sideman I've had the opportunity to back some wonderful musicians this year - too many to mention but personal highlights are Tenor man Art Themen, and singers Brigitte Beraha and Laura Zakian.
And speaking of Laura - one of 2016s projects will be trying to develop a new song writing partnership with her. That's on top of starting to record my solo repertoire, creating more music for dance, and creating a live score for silent film "From Morning to Midnight" with pianist Stephen Horne, premiering at The Barbican on February 21st. Plenty to think about there! Happy 2016 everyone

GOOD THINGS COME TO THOSE WHO DONíT WAIT FOR A GIG, (BUT GET ON AND PROMOTE ONE THEMSELVES!)







As you may know I firmly believe that small-scale promoters are some of the true heroes of the music scene - they are the people who provide the places that us musicians can use to indulge our ideas and turn creative fantasy into sonic reality.

Iíve written about LUME briefly in an earlier post here. I remember reading about it on Twitter when it was first being set up by musicians Cath Roberts and Dee Byrne. Something about the way they described what they were trying to do intrigued me, and when I could get away from Egham, I started crossing the capital on Thursday nights to hear new music, often by people I knew nothing about. LUME is now one of my favourite places to hear music - though calling it a place is deceptive - recently it has appeared on Thursdays at Long White Cloud on the Hackney Road, and on a Sunday once a month at The Vortex, not to mention touring around the country taking music by Dee and Cath themselves, in the form of their respective bands Entropi and Quadraceratops, to a whole new audience. Iíve been wanting to feature them here for sometime and towards the end of the summer we found time to meet at Deeís flat and talk.



I began the conversation by asking them about the original motivation for starting LUME:


DEE: Before we met I was running a live music night for a year by myself. I felt compelled to do that - it was a mixture of some originals and some jazz standards. I did that in a few places. I tried a multi media night as well, mixing poetry and music, but the venue put a stop to that - it was a bit too far out for them! I had problems with venues - they kept closing down! Then after a break Cath and I joined forces.


CATH: Weíd already met in about 2006 at a jam, and then there was a long gap while we both went to college and did Masters degrees. I hustled Dee for a gig at one of the venues she was promoting Ö


DEE:Ö and I booked her! 


CATH: Then we hooked up and started looking together at venues.


DEE: Iíd had to move venues three times. I learnt not to call your night ďJazz at the ÖĒ - I had to keep making new flyers!  I also thought - donít do it on your own - join forces! And so I asked Cath.


CATH: I was already doing a night with drummer Dan Paton, mixing genres, called ďCollisionsĒ. That co-existed with LUME for a while, but then lost its venue. And then LUME became much more of a thing after that.


M: Where did you both do your masters degrees?


DEE: I did mine at Trinity.


CATH: I was at Guildhall. Neither of us did a music undergrad - we both went back later on to study music. My undergrad degree was in English Literature and Creative Writing.


DEE: Mine was in Linguistics and Literature - I did it in Sweden.


CATH: I did a Cultural Studies Masters degree as well, at Goldsmiths. I was going to go into academia and then I decided to do music!


M: Thatís interesting. Maybe thatís why you come at things from a slightly different angle from many musos


CATH:  We have a lot of other things in common - itís bit spooky! We've also both had jobs in accounts - thereís a lot of common ground.


M: It makes sense to me. Youíre not stuck in the traditional ladder of musical progress 


DEE: No weíre not. We both chose to go back to music education. Itís a big decision. Youíve got to give up stuff, and invest time and money. Weíve both had these big journeys before deciding to be musicians.


M: So when you started LUME did you sit down and formulate a specific musical policy?


DEE: Yeah - it had to be original. We talked about it a lot, we wanted a clear identity for the nightÖ


CATH: Ö and for the night to reflect our own interest and our own music. We both write music, weíre interested in new music and improvised music. I wanted to put on music I liked, and music that was part of what I was interested in doing as an artist myself. Otherwise itís just doing a load of admin for people for free! There are a lot of places where you can see people doing 'The Music of...' type projects, which is fine, but itís not what we wanted to focus on. 


DEE: Öwe thought ďletís decide what this is, who is it for, letís get a name, how will it work? ÖĒ


CATH: Ö and itís programming - not just booking anything that comes along. You do have to turn some people away if something doesnít fit. Thatís not a diss: there might be a standards band we think is amazing, or a singer songwriter or whatever - but weíre not going to book them. And that can lead to some difficult conversations - especially when we know the musicians. Weíre not saying that the only music thatís good is this, but this is what WE put on.


M: Do you get swamped by demos?


DEE: People found out about the gig quite quickly!


CATH: To start with we booked people we knew and we liked, but then people started coming to us. We get sent stuff, and we have listening sessions. Itís really nice to hear stuff from people you donít know.


M: Youíve just gone past the two year mark which is quite something, doing it every week. Do you feel itís evolved in that time?


CATH: I think LUMEís changed a bit in terms of what it is...


DEE: Things have happened to it, opportunities have arisen that have changed it from just being a weekly night Ö


CATH: We got the Vortex residency, so then there were two things running. We didnít approach them - they asked us - which was a nice compliment!


DEE: And then we did the LUME tour, which felt like it was taking it to another level.


CATH: It seems now that LUME is basically us and our artistic output - it can be multiple projects, not just a weekly gig.


M: Is there a sense that like the AACM in Chicago it starts to symbolise an aesthetic?


CATH: Well, thatís a huge compliment! But I donít know about that - multiple aesthetics probably. We put on people who perhaps might not relate to each other usually. The two main things we focus on are original contemporary jazz and free improvisation. But that can mean a lot of things in both cases depending on who is playing it, and also there are lots of bands (our own included) where those things happily co-exist! So it's those areas and everything in between.


M: Even that is a statement - youíre bridging a gap between two often separate musical worlds


CATH: It can seem like there are separate audiences for those things, two separate scenes Ö


DEE: Weíre in the middle


M: One of the things that attracts me as a punter, is that itís quite unpredictable, so if I happen to be free on a Thursday I wouldnít worry about whatís on that week, Iíd just go!


DEE: Well thatís the goal!


CATH: Yes - ideally people would come anyway, even though the music could be anywhere on a spectrum from very free or experimental, to some very nice compositions.


M: Do you think itís a British thing - the slightly compartmentalised  audience?


CATH: I donít know - it might just be a London thing...


M: Running LUME has to entail a massive amount of work - work that could take time and energy away from creative projects. What are the benefits for you as artists?


DEE: Being able to perform ourselves, thatís a motivation. You can give yourself a deadline to make new music!


CATH: We wanted space to put on our new stuff. When we met, I was finding it really hard to get gigs, but now I can always try something out at LUME. 


DEE: And also, to provide a space for people, even established musicians, but who might like to try something new out. Itís exciting to hear it. 


CATH: Another benefit is the number of artists we meet. Theyíre inspiring - they become friends.


M: At your second birthday gig, musicians turned up to play from all over the place. 


CATH: I was putting the list together for that, and I thought, I canít ask anyone outside London because we donít have any money, and then I asked one person from out of town anyway... and then I found lots of people wanted to come, regardless! It was really quite a moving night.


M: And you did the tour! 


DEE: That was a big deal. It was great to take both our bands on the road.


M: Could you have done that without having done the night?


CATH: Well, itís another advantage of working together: we both had new albums coming out, so we thought letís do a double-bill tour, and make it a LUME tour!  Itís much nicer to work on something together, as well. 


DEE: It was a mad idea, but it happened.


CATH: It was also great to have ACE support for the project. With so many people involved, it wouldn't have been possible without that.


M: So, whatís in the pipeline?


DEE:
Well, first up weíre really excited to be curating an afternoon of music on the Barbican Free Stage for the London Jazz Festival on 14th November. 

Twenty musicians in total will be performing from 12 noon till 7pm. Itís a fantastic opportunity to spread the word about what we do and get the music out there in such a prestigious venue, plus itís free entry! 


CATH:

And then after that weíre starting off our new season of gigs for 2015/16, in December. Itís a bit different this time round as weíve got support from Arts Council England for the whole yearís programming, plus weíve changed the format a bit. Whereas before we were doing the weekly gigs plus the Vortex monthlies on top, now weíre going to condense it down into two gigs each month: so the Vortex residency will continue, and then each month there will be one additional gig. These non-Vortex gigs will be in all different spaces around London, and not all of them are music venuesÖwe want to get out there into other artistic spaces. 


M: And what about your current musical projects?


DEE: Iíve got an experimental sound art duo, Deemer. Tom Ward recorded an installation we made in an empty house. That recording will be the first release on the new LUME record label, which we're calling Luminous. The album launch is at the Vortex on 6th December Ė the first gig of the new LUME season. So itís very excitingÖplus on the other side of the bill weíve got Chris Sharkey doing a solo set! Iím also doing a mini tour this month with my quintet Entropi, which kicks off with a spot on the LUME Barbican Free Stage on the 14th November.


CATH: My duo Ripsaw Catfish with Anton Hunter has a few gigs around the country this Autumn, and weíre planning stuff for next year. Sloth Racket, which I put together for the Gateshead Jazz Festival, is recording this month and playing on the LUME LJF stage. And thereís Word of Moth, a band Dee and I do together. We started it last February for a night at LUME, and weíve got some plans for that tooÖthereís a lot going onÖ



So there you have it - LUME continues to grow, flourish and evolve. Dee and Cath have done a tremendous service to the new music community (musicians and listeners!) over the last two years and have also managed to produce an amazingly rich range of artistic work themselves in that time.


Check out their website for details of the next chapter in the story, and have a listen to Cath and Deeís own musical projects while youíre at it!


lumemusic.co.uk

luminouslabel.bandcamp.com


cathrobertsmusic.co.uk

deebyrnemusic.com 












A composer's path to writing for jazz musicians: an interview with Jeff Spencer





 
 
 

 
 
 Some years ago Jim Barr (of Get The Blessing fame) told me he knew who would be the perfect bass player for my trio Busnoys. Jeff Spencer was his recomendation , and he was right. Jeff has become a valued friend and colleague. He has a really wide frame of reference musically, so no problem if Iím referencing Alison Krauss in one tune, and John Cage in another, and he always plays in sympathy for the musical situation. Jeff is much more than a bass player though Ė heís a superb sound engineer, and a massively talented and original composer of music.

One of the main vehicles for his writing in recent times is his 12 piece band ďCrocodileĒ which features a truly staggering line up of some of the most talented young players on the British scene. I well remember going to their debut gig and asking him, who was that trumpeter playing an amazing solo on the last number?  Iit was Laura Jurd , then still a student. That was also the first time I heard sax player Joe Wright, who I wrote about here a while back. It speaks volumes for Jeffís writing that he is able to attract players of this calibre.

For some time Jeff has been working on a Phd in composition based at Goldsmiths College in London. Heís very interested in bringing the complexity and subtlety found in modernist classical music in to the music he writes for jazz musicians. I wanted to talk to him about this, and he had some fascinating, and , dare I say it, occasionally provocative thoughts and observations.  I started off by asking about his musical experiences when he was growing up:

 

 

JS: Yesterday I went through an enormous box of paper and saw my earliest teenage compositions ad was quite pleased. It was really solid. I totally came from a classical world. I didnít listen to jazz properly until my mid twenties. I was totally influenced by my education and my Dad Ė he was a composer. His staple diet was early 20th century English composers Ė Frank Bridge, Moeran, Howells, and a bit of Ravel. I did all my piano and viola grades really young. I was the youngest in the Gloucester Young Peopleís String Ensemble, so in my first year of secondary school I was playing Bartokís Divertimento. It was great! I did tons of really good repertoire and playing viola, youíre right in the middle of it, playing the parts that no-one notices, hearing the mechanics of the harmony. And I was a pretty good piano player. But, as a performer, my heartís never been in it. I remember in the 6th form, a decision point: I went to France on a string course. I had a really good time, but I realised how much practice people were doing, and I never did. I was just interested in too many other things, and performing is pretty myopic, isnít it? I was itching to do everything else! I was really interested in electronic music Ė I mean pop music, the studio side of things; at school, our music teacher bought some gear, but he didnít know what to do with it. So I just feasted on these old synths, and reel-to-reel tape recorders. I was always trying to get things together.

MP: What sort of pop music did you listen to?

JS: I was obsessed with Van Halen and guitar Gods. But I was also listening to more synthy things like Tangerine Dream and Kraftwerk. And weird 80ís pop stuff like Nick Kershaw! So, programming. And then, that led into 1990ís dance music. Drum and bass came along, and that was it. It was quite grandiose, I guess. The classical music I was writing was always long-form, extended compositions, and thatís where Prog battles with pop music Ė pop musicís like sushi, but Prog is these long ideas. So my classical sensibilities demanded these more extended, multi-dimensional pieces. Dance music, electronic music, allowed that: you didnít need a band! It was like composing, but in a machine, and the machine never went wrong! I was building these soundscapes that would go on for an hour. Iíd never listen to it now, but I got a lot out of it. I was limited by finances, though. I was dreaming of having a sampler, but they were just impossibly expensive. You needed a house full of kit, but now, you can just do it on your phone! Then I went to University, and thatís when I thought, Iím going to be a composer, and thatís what Iím best at.

MP: Itís interesting that you didnít get into jazz until you decided that playing wasnít your focus, as for most jazz musicians, playing is the thing!

JS: I always knew I was interested in jazz: when I was growing up there was the Gloucester Youth Jazz Orchestra (GYJO), but I played the viola! I watched them Ė I loved it Ė I was really jealous, and that was that. And I never met any jazz musicians. I had a passing interest in 70ís fusion, blurring into the music that I liked anyway; it wasnít until I met piano player Andy Novak in my late 20ís, and he opened up the jazz world for me. I didnít even know what the Real Book was. I never absorbed the Bebop language, and I donít think I ever will. I think too much had gone into me already for Bebop to have an effect any more. If I have any regrets, itís that I feel it would be nice to be able to do it, and then choose not to. I think Bebop functions like a hermetically-sealed musical language, and serves a similar purpose in jazz education to that which Bach serves in classical music education. I find Bebop quite irritating to listen to Ė the obsessive II-V-I, Dominant tonality: thereís so much more to music than that! As a composer, composing the sort of music I want to compose, that is the last thing I need in my head.

MP: Did you ever find yourself identifying with the great jazz composers?

JS: Not really, no. In my PhD Iíve had to look at some of the more ambitious jazz compositions, like Ellington, Mingus, and others who are lauded. I see a hugely limited orchestration/textural technique, or lack of textural devices. Everythingís together; itís just three lines, but big, painted with an extra-big brush. Big stripes of sound. And itís just not interesting to someone whoís grown up with classical orchestration when youíre weaving as many instruments as youíve got into this intricate web of sound. You have all these options. Jazz orchestration looks like youíve just got primary colours and thatís it.  And structurally, I donít identify with it either. The one composer who I do identify with is Django Bates, and thatís someone I listened to in the 6th form: Summer Fruits and Unrest. And I wasnít listening to it because it was jazz, but because it was exciting music: absolutely as detailed and fascinating as any classical stuff. Iíve been quite worried writing the PhD, that Iím really harsh on the jazz composers! Itís a challenge, as someone coming from a classical background, not to look down on it! (laughs). But the excitement in jazz is the improvisation Ė thatís the whole point of it. Most jazz compositions are just vehicles for the players.

MP: So are there still developments to happen?

JS: For sure! Thereís so much crossover now Ė people are trying out stuff all the time. Laura Jurd is a prime example Ė sheís so excited about writing for string quartet. Trish Clowes as well. But if one minute youíre listening to Harrison Birtwistle and then youíre listening to most current jazz composers, itís like going back in time 50 years! Itís in the area of free improvisation that the sound worlds overlap. Jazz composition and classical composition havenít met yet.

MP: So, when youíre writing for your 12-piece band Crocodile, and when youíre writing for orchestra, is it all a continuum, or are they in separate boxes in your mind?

JS: Well, I think in separate boxes in terms of skills. In the improvising chamber orchestra piece I wrote [for Chaos Collective], I had to think of maximizing everyoneís potential. Youíre writing for specific players and for that piece to become transferable to another ensemble it then becomes difficult.

MP: Some might say that thatís in the jazz composer tradition Ė like Duke Ellington writing not for alto saxophone but for Johnny Hodges.

JS: Yeah. As a composer for improvisers, you have certain expectations of what the outcome of the improvisation might be, based on your knowledge of the player and on what input and context you give them. If I write just for an imaginary ensemble I might do it differently. I very much enjoy blurring the boundary between composition and improvisation, and knowing that composed music will affect the improvisation. In the piece for the Chaos Collective Chamber Orchestra, I was really enjoying an atonal soundworld, but using certain intervals and so on, to give a sense of unity, and I got to use my classical sense of layers, so it wasnít just blocks of ďHeadĒ: ďSoloĒ.

MP: I think that comes across in your 12-piece band, Crocodile. Each number feels like a piece of music with its own structure.

JS: Yes. I think with the Crocodile pieces, all have a strong identify. Thereís quite a few Iíve written which we wonít play again, as they donít have that. I have some more ambitious plans as well, with more flexible forms and notation.

MP: Youíre very much part of the Bristol scene, but you had a period of living in London when you put the band together.

JS: Well, thereís a certain type of player who tends to be in London Ė really good readers, and interested in new music. Bristolís got a tendency to be quite retro. And thereís an audience in London; in Bristol, if youíre not doing a tribute to Art Blakey, you struggle to get an audience. Thereís not an audience for modern music in Bristol like there is in London: itís a small town. The Resonation Big Band that I was part of in Bristol Ė we struggled to get people to come and see it. In London, I spent months getting 12 pieces ready; I did all the writing and preparation, then I called the people, and they can just read it! We had one rehearsal, and it just worked. I have 12 individuals as well as a band.

MP: Itís an extraordinary line-up; did you just stumble upon it?

JS: James Gardiner-Bateman helped. The vast majority came from the Royal Academy.

MP: So, whatís next?

JS: Trying to record. Diaries are difficult Ė I donít know how Laura [Jurd] managed it with the Chaos Orchestra. But we need to do an album. But I want it to be right Ė and I want each gig to be an occasion that I really care about. Iíd love to bring the band to Bristol for the Bristol Jazz and Blues Festival.

MP: Thank you, Jeff Spencer!

Jeff's soundcloud: https://soundcloud.com/jeffspen

London Jazz News article: http://www.londonjazznews.com/2014/02/profile-meeting-bristol-composers.html

A promotional dilemma! Is it too jazzy - or not jazzy enough?












I've been wrestling with a bit of a dilemma recently, in the wake of promoting some of my musical projects, partly triggered by the comments of some promoters / gig organizers. Before I go any further I should say I have no problem with any of these promoters or what they've said to me - anyone who puts on live music of any kind on a regular basis is performing a heroic selfless act of benefit to others in my book. It's just that I've been made to pause and reflect on the way I present my own music to the world.
For some time now the number one outlet for my work has been my band Busnoys - with Jeff Spencer and Trevor Davies - it's a group I love playing with and I'm very proud of the three albums we've done. I've recently had little luck in getting gigs for the band. Now I'm not the world's greatest hustler so that definitely has something to do with it, but I also perceive that we don't quite fit - I've had some very nice messages from quite a few jazz venues who feel we're not really what they are looking for. On the other hand some promoters of more experimental music find the music a bit too jazzy for them - they seem to prefer my solo work, and this had led to me really working on that, and I'm loving it - gigs on the way and my next recording project is likely to be a solo vibes/electronics album. 
Back to my dilemma with the band though. One of the things that I value most in music, and any art for that matter, is honesty , by which I mean an artist saying just what they need to say in the way they need to say it, rather than doing what they think they ought to say. That has very much affected the repertoire for Busnoys, and I think it does reflect my musical outlook in quite an honest way. I love soundtracks, and I often start to hear music when I'm reading (which I do a lot!) so a big strand of Busnoys' work reflects that. I'm quite a sentimental soul as well, so I have no qualms about writing a sentimental melody. Equally I love a bit of gritty dissonance, and humour. I listen to a lot of jazz, but just as much Americana and country, elecronica, and contemporary classical music - all of that feeds in to the band, and makes it a pretty good reflection of me I think. 
Is it eclectic, or is it unfocused and confusing - Jeff Spencer has said he could see promoters having trouble with how to present it. I'm still not sure - but I'm wondering if future projects should focus on particular aspects of what I do - but maybe THAT would be dishonest. I'm still pondering, but I'd be interested to hear any thoughts, either here or on Twitter ( @MartinPyne ).
In the meantime to help clear my thoughts I've started making some themed playlists on my soundcloud page - here are the first three :
Please have a listen if you have time!
In other news I have two more solo gigs on the way, on May 22nd at Club Integral, N. London, and on July 14th at Sonic Imperfections, again in London but south of the river in Peckham.
And I'm also busy working on a music for a new dance project with ZKDance, in collaboration with choreographer Zamira Kate Mummery, of which more anon!

Debut of a new project PENELOPE DREAMING

 

 

 






Just a quick one today! I'm looking forward to a gig this Thursday, 2nd April at LUME in east London, where I'll be playing with a new project, a trio called PENELOPE DREAMING. I'll not playing my main instrument, vibes, this time, but rather a fairly compact hybrid electronic/acoustic percussion set up. I'll be joined by the amazingly talented pairing of Tony Woods on sax, clarinets and flutes, and vocalist Nette Robinson.

In my mind this gives me an opportunity to try and translate the approach I've developed on my solo electronica albums "Long Voyage Home" and "7 Pictures", which were very much studio affairs, into the context of live performance (Indeed the band name is taken from one of the tracks on "Long Voyage Home"). Having said that I've made no stipulations about that to Tony and Nette, so hopefully the group will find it's own identity. The music is largely improvised within in certain pre agreed sound worlds so we could find ourselves in all sorts of unexpected places.

As ever it'll be great to see any of you at the gig, which is a double bill with LAST SUMMER'S TEALIGHTS.

Listen to Long Voyage Home here: https://soundcloud.com/busnoys1/sets/long-voyage-home
Listen to 7 Pictures here : https://soundcloud.com/busnoys1/sets/7-pictures
Listen a new recording by PENELOPE DREAMING here: https://soundcloud.com/busnoys1/turning-the-dial-penelopendreaming

and check out the LUME website here: http://lumemusic.co.uk/

Flying solo





 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Just before Christmas last year, I performed my first extended solo set. I'd been asked by Resonance FM presenter Carole Chant if I could bring Busnoys along to the studio for one of her shows. Unfortunately the available dates didn't work out with Jeff and Trevor, but I decided to use the opportunity to try and present some of my music in a solo format. Over the years I've often performed solo items at gigs and on recordings but playing alone for an extended period is a slightly different kettle of fish. I've done it in the context of dance shows, but never when the music has been the sole focus of attention. It's something I've thought about doing for a while now, particularly as the vibes / electronics set up I've developed for Busnoys seems well suited to it. There's a rich sonic palette available there. Inevitably though I found myself having to think about a music that works differently to an ensemble format where so much is generated by interaction with other musicians. It's a stimulating challenge though - no floating over supple bass lines or driving grooves provided by colleagues - solo music works in a different way. I guess it must be a little like that when an actor has to deliver a soliloquy , or even a one person show , as opposed to being involved in ensemble dialogue. Either way I hugely enjoyed the experience - you can hear the Resonance broadcast, including me chatting with Carole, here . 


On Sunday March 1st I'm delighted to be doing it again, as I've been invited to do a set at TUESDAY'S POST in Stoke Newington. Details here  ....and I'm mulling over the prospect of a vibes / electronics solo album for the future.
 
 

Music and lyrics: Joe Wright on composing songs for Nightjar

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Night Jar playing live

I first came across saxophonist Joe Wrightís music  through my friend Jeff Spencer (Busnoysí bass player), who invited me along to a gig at the Vortex: the two of them were playing together in Joeís band, Night Jar. I was really struck by the music and found it fascinating that a young, rising jazz instrumentalist like Joe is actually writing songs (as opposed to ďtunesĒ).  I wanted to know how Joe came to this approach, which I think is unusual Ė jazz musicians donít often write songs unless they are singers themselves.  So I met up with Joe and he very kindly answered my questions.

Joe described to me how he started writing songs: having enrolled on a jazz course at music college, he started looking outside that genre for inspiration. He found himself mostly listening to vocal music: ďThe Old Blind Dogs Ė a folk band I grew up with in Aberdeen. I had an old tape recorder and three tapes Ė the OBDs, an African choir Ė Black Umfolosi, and Handelís Water Music!Ē Later, he also listened to Hanne Hukkelberg and Bjork. ďThe addition of words means the music has to be about something, you canít just write a tune about nothing, or if you do thatís more of a decision. I also didnít want to write some tunes and get a singer to put some lyrics to them, because if youíre going to write a tune with lyrics, you should write the lyrics, really.Ē

I asked Joe if that felt quite hard. ďItís bloody difficult, yeah! Iím very, very slow; Iím averaging about three months a tune or something like that which is partly a bi-product of peripatetic teaching and so on, trying to make enough money to stay here.   Itís quite a slow process...at the moment Iím working on three tunes ... I have a little image of something I saw or a story about something or someone, nothing particularly grandiose, just little things I thought were quite cool at the time, that stewed around in my brain while I figure out what the words might sound like...the character of the words, some are more like poetry....though I wouldnít go as far as to say Iím a poet.Ē

I asked Joe if he prefers to write music first or words first,  whether itís always one way: ďNo, theyíve all been different, some start with the melody, and I think about how I can put some words to that fragment. Probably more of them have started with words; Iím trying to make the words as strong as I can, then trying to fit the melody to them. Itís quite slow...not being a singer as well [is an issue],  sometimes I donít write things because I think theyíre going to be too hard. Or vice versa...[itís about] taking things to Alice [Zawadski, Nightjar's vocalist] in rehearsal and seeing what she makes of it.

Iíve noticed that Joeís music often has a free feeling to the vocal line, in contrast to the rhythmic underpinning. Heís influenced by Bjork in this respect, and the folk music he grew up with Ė the Old Blind Dogs in particular (one of the three tapes Joe owned as a youth). ďAgain they have a very tight rhythm section, but the vocalist would push and pull the lyrics around,Ē explains Joe. ďI usually try not to write too much, because you can get carried away and you get to the point where it sounds OK, but it would be better for a non-improvising ensemble to play. Another challenge is to try and give space for everyone to improvise and do what they do. Often I turn up to a rehearsal and find Iíve written too much, and I have to ďdecomposeĒ it, as it were!Ē

Iím familiar with that experience myself, working in Busnoys.  I also relate to Joeís admission that sometimes it works to take even a ďhalf-bakedĒ tune to a rehearsal, and let the musicians play with the material. ďItís great having a band like that, with the right balance of musicians, where you can write next to nothing but know the way that someone will treat it...you donít have to tell people what to do. Itís taken quite a while for me to find a band like that.Ē

They are a superb line-up:  other band members include drummer James Maddren Ė the two of them played together as a duo at college, which gave the original impetus to Night Jar; Joe met Alice at the Royal Academy, and first worked with Jeff in the big band, Crocodile (Jeffís own band).

Joe admits that he still slips into ďjazzĒ mode, playing standards without knowing the words - the original meanings - though abstract improvised music (such as he plays with the band Duck Rabbit) can still feed into his work with Night Jar. ďThe danger of that is that I can get into a very spontaneous mindset, and get carried away playing things that arenít necessarily appropriate [to the song] Ė but I do enjoy having that chaotic element in music, so my challenge now is to work out how I can work in that amount of freedom, while still keeping relevance to the tune. ď

There is a down-side to writing your own lyrics, Joe admits: theyíre personal: they carry a lot of emotional weight. ďI think the kind of introverted jazz musician in me starts getting a bit bashful when I start writing things that mean something! As a result of bearing your soul, I get quite fixated on specific ideas, things, when sometimes the best thing is to let it go. Jeff will look at it objectively as a composer. ď

I agree that Jeff Spencer is a useful person to have in a band Ė heíll speak out, in a very nice way; he has a bullshit detector, and heís very clear! Heís certainly helped me, and Iím feeling inspired by Joe too: the idea of writing music thatís actually about something is more and more important to me. Several tracks on Busnoysí new album, Weaving the Spell, evoke specific moods, atmospheres and narratives Ė I enjoy responding to words, and feel that my music is often a soundtrack to the books I'm reading. Iím looking forward to hearing Night Jar again soon: theyíre going to be playing at Lume  in East London on May the 22nd, and you can check out their work on You Tube. Just click here, and check out their new website here.

 

Improvised music isn't dying - just evolving!













Playing some improvised music at LUME


It's been a little while since I posted - the beginning of the year has been taken up with checking edits and mixes for the next Busnoys album which will appear later this year. I also got to play the inaugural gig of a new duo I've set up with Corey Mwamba at Lume in Hoxton. Cath Roberts from Lume joined us on baritone and the whole thing was a real joy. AND I got to play (on drums, not vibes) with Art Themen again, courtesy of Marianne Windham at Guildford Jazz.

Today I wanted to share a few thoughts in response to an article that was pointed out to me by Cath in The Wire magazine, written by Richard Thomas and titled "The Symptom is Death". He contends that the once vibrant free improv scene in London is now moribund, may soon need an obituary writing. My instant reaction was, like that of a few people I know, that of an angry rejection of his argument. After all I'd just played a small part in an amazing day of improv at the Jazz North East fundraiser. For an ailing patient the music seemed very lively indeed. On rereading the article I now think that his observations are often accurate, but that he may be drawing the wrong conclusions from them.

Thomas describes the music as Non-Idiomatic Free Improvisation or NIFI for short. I think therein may lay the reason why I believe that this musical approach is evolving and developing, in a way that perhaps reflects a younger generation of artists, rather than dying. At one stage, in the sixties and seventies perhaps, it was very necessary for some musicians to make an improvised music that did break with established idioms, in particular perhaps the core jazz tradition. By 2000 I would argue that that particular battle had been won, and moreover that European Improv had in many ways become just as much of an "idiom" as anything else. I think that now we are in a period where boundaries between idioms are crumbling rapidly. Creative musicians are happy to draw on a wide range of approaches and sound worlds to say what they have to say - the vocabulary of European Free Improv, Jazz, Rock, Classical etc are all available resources - and that one can argue makes the music truly free.( Of course there is always the need for artists who strive to find sounds and approaches that have never been heard before. ).  I remember a moment many years ago hearing Steve Noble playing with Alex Maguire, and being amazed and liberated by the idea that grooves and beats could happily emerge in the course of a free improvisation - now I laugh at the embarrassing idea that I could ever have thought otherwise!

It remains my view that in creative terms the new music scene in the UK right now is fabulously vibrant and varied. There is so much great stuff out there, the only real problem is to find a way of taking it all in!



SOME PERSONAL MUSICAL IMPRESSIONS OF 2013

Well here we are in that strange little time between Christmas and New Year when I for one can never remember what day it is! A time for reflecting on the past year and looking forward to the next twelve months.
In artistic terms I think you could argue that jazz and improvised music in Britain is in a bit of a golden age at the moment (economically it's another matter!). There's a real wealth of creative stuff going on right now, and so many musicians seem refreshingly unencumbured by issues of genre and style. I always say what I want most from music - or any artistic activity for that matter - is honesty, by which I mean music where the player/composer does what they really want to do rather than what they think they should do. I've been fortunate to hear a lot of honest music this year.
Here's just four examples from my gig going this year -  

1. Corey Mwamba/Dave Kane/Joshua Blackmore trio. I've caught them twice - at JazzRefreshed and at The Vortex. Corey's my favourite vibes player. I'm always buzzing with ideas for my own playing after hearing him, and this trio is extraordinary - their empathy is a thing to behold. It's free music in the truest sense.

2. Olie Brice delivered a lovely quartet set at Lume, with George Crowley, Alex Bonney and Tim Giles - fabulous freewheeling music.

3. Jeff Spencer's big band Crocodile took over George Crowley's Jazz @The Oxford in Kentish Town last May for a superb night. Jeff is such an original composer and it's wonderful to see so many great players giving up their time for this venture.  

4. A double bill of Dee Byrne's Entropi and Cath Roberts' Quadraceratops again at Lume. Cath and Dee started this great Thursday night club last Spring, and I've heard some tremendous original music on my visits there.

In addition I finally got to see Medeski Martin and Wood live in November at Ronnies, and they didn't disappoint! Amazing how they've stayed so creative as a unit for so many years.

I spend a lot of my money on recorded music, and I've heard some terrific albums this year - far too many to list all of them but I'd particularly like to mention the unique gem of an album by Alex Bonney and Dave Kane. I've never heard anything quite like this. Beautiful and mysterious! And I'm happy to join the chorus of approval for Sons of Kemet. Stepping away from from jazz I've found the recordings by early music vocal specialists Graindelavoix to be a revelation. A much more earthy sound than say the Hilliard Ensemble. The album Ossuaires to my ears brings out links between the Arab world and Europe in the middle ages. I've also caught on to a few musicians that I've missed out on up to now - Louis Sclavis is one whose back catalogue I've been exploring. But most notably I've suddenly realized how brilliant Anita O'Day was. I've been listening to loads of her albums - her rhythmic inventiveness and ability to swing at absolutely any tempo are just remarkable. And I've just had a sneek peak of the forthcoming Get The Blessing album - they've pulled off the difficult trick of doing something really fresh while still sounding exactly like like themselves. Lovely stuff -  look out for it next month.

As to my own music - a highlight was the gig Busnoys shared at The Forge in Camden with composer Paul Robinson last summer. It was great to continue our collaboration with visual artist Maria Hayes. And speaking of Busnoys a couple of weeks ago we were recording our next album. More on that when it's ready for release next year. As you may know working with contemporary dance is a big part of what I do, and I was lucky enough in September to work again with choreographer Sheron Wray, who's developing fascinating ideas regarding improvisation in dance. This was a really enjoyable project, not least because it gave myself and Corey Mwamba the chance to play together as a duo - something we've talked about for ages. We're hoping this will be an ongoing thing - Corey and myself have gigs lined up soon, at Jazz North East's fund raiser on January 26th, and at Lume on February 6th. Very exciting! (More on dance in a future post). On top of that I've had the unexpected delight of playing quite a few straight ahead gigs on drums for Marianne Windham at her amazingly successful Guildford Jazz. It's been such a pleasure and very good for me. AND I got to play with one of my all time heroes the great Art Themen! Thanks Marianne!

Finally one of the most inspiring stories in British music this year has to be the good people at Jazz North East refusing to lie down and die despite losing all their funding. Here's to you and all the people giving up time to promote creative music around the country. Have a great 2014!








STAN SULZMANN - A TRUE GIANT OF BRITISH MUSIC



Stan Sulzmann is 65 years old this month. For me, he is one of the great figures of contemporary British music : - a saxophonist with a supremely lovely sound, and an amazingly fluid melodic inventiveness, he is instantly recognizable, an absolutely unique voice.
As a teenager, one of the first bands I heard was the Frank Ricoti Sextet who for a time played regularly at The Bell, in Codicote near Hitchin. The band featured drummer Harold Fisher, Chris Laurence on bass, Tony Hymas on piano, the much-missed Derek Watkins on trumpet, Mr Ricoti fronting from the vibes, and, of course, Stan. It was an amazing group who typified all that was great about British jazz, and Stan's wonderful playing was at its heart, as it has been in so many bands over the years, notably many ensembles led by Kenny Wheeler and John Taylor.
Stan is a leader as well of course, and has over the years put out many gorgeous albums. I wore out my vinyl copy of "Aspects of Pargonne", and a later favourite is "Feudal Rabbits" featuring some fabulous compositions for a quartet featuring two bass players. That is a great example of Stan's willingness to try new things and stretch the boundaries. Most recently, while busy teaching many fortunate students at London's conservatoires, his performances have focused on the sensational Neon Quartet, which sees Stan once again stretching and challenging himself by working alongside some of the finest young players on the scene.
I've been fortunate to play alongside Stan, something that makes me proud and to shake my head in disbelief. I was playing in an improvising percussion duet with Simon Allen, who one day told me he'd met a sax player who fancied having a play with us. It turned out to be Stan, which left me excited and terrified in equal measure - he was one of my heroes after all. That led to the improvising trio Dangerous Kitchen. We played many times, did some broadcasts as well, and made the album that was the first release on Tall Guy Records. The sheer beauty, sonically, and melodically, of what Stan played in that group regularly left Simon and myself shaking our heads in delighted disbelief. It really is an honour to make music with someone so gifted.
Right now Stan is taking some wonderful large scale compositions out on the road played by The Neon Orchestra on a special birthday tour. We should all celebrate being around at the same time as a musician of his calibre.
On top of all that he's a lovely man - kind, funny, and very generous. I'm lucky to know him.

HAPPY BIRTHDAY STAN!

HELP KEEP CREATIVE MUSIC ALIVE IN THE NORTH EAST



Further to last months post, where I extolled the virtues of independent promoters putting on jazz and improvised music up and down the country it has come to my intention that some of the people I was writing about are in need
of practical help (and moral support) from musicians and music lovers. For many years Jazz North East and Schmazz have presented an extraordinary range of creative music in Newcastle, including local musicians, national and international names. A while back they invited me to bring Busnoys up , and we had a great time, and found really knowledgeable and open minded listeners. It was a real pleasure! I know some musicians who think you can't do anything new or experimental once you get away from London because the audiences are too conservative. The programme of music put on by JNE and Schmazz shows how wrong this is. Led Bib main man Mark Holub once told me that the kind of folk who run these organizations make it worth working as a musician in the UK - no small praise.
Given all that I was amazed and saddened to learn that they have lost all of their Arts Council subsidy - not just a reduction, but a complete withdrawal of funds. Now they are not the kind of people to shrug their shoulders and walk away. They have launched a crowd funding appeal to raise enough money to keep going. They've made a good start but need your support to create a fund big enough to keep the music going. I know this is the sort of thing that should be getting public funding, but for some reason it isn't. If you think their work is valuable and you can spare a few quid give them a helping hand. Find out how here: http://www.indiegogo.com/projects/jazz-north-east-2014-programming-fund

In praise of promoters










A snapshot from my recent holiday...mysterious wheels on Filey beach!


A few words today in praise of some of the most important people in the contemporary music scene - independent promoters. Without them there is no grass roots music scene. They provide the environment where music can be aired for the first time, where collaborations that only existed in performers dreams can become a reality, and they offer listeners entry points to a world of musical discoveries. I've put on a few local gigs in my time so I have a certain limited idea
of how it feels to be a promoter. It can be a thankless task - it can eat up time, and, if not enough people come, money. Once people know you've put on a couple of gigs you can also become a target for musos from all over, all after a booking.
I send out a plea to musicians - whenever you can, go out and support these people, turn up at the gigs, and spread the word in whatever way you can. After all, many of the promoters are musicians themselves. They don't have to do this! A healthy, thriving and varied scene benefits musos and music lovers alike.
Here are a few of the promoters who I've had some experience of in recent times:

LUME present original and improvised music at various venues in the Islington/Kings Cross area of London every Thursday. It's all run by saxophonists Cath Roberts and Dee Byrne, who've put together a fabulously varied programme. I've been several times over the last few months and every gig has been different, and hugely enjoyable. And £5 for a night of superb music making is great value anywhere, let alone central London. Check out their website.http://lumemusic.co.uk/

Just up the road in Kentish Town George Crowley hosts JAZZ AT THE OXFORD - superb new jazz on Monday nights - again a mere £5.http://theoxfordjazz.com/

For midlanders head to Derby for Corey Mwamba's ONE NOTE SUNDAY gigs. This is a gig where anything could happen (musically) and I wish Derby was nearer Egham!  A night for the open minded and curious, so for me as a listener the ideal gig. As Corey has said get along there and "try something different". http://www.coreymwamba.co.uk/one-note-sunday/

There's an amazing vibrant scene especially for jazz and improv in Newcastle, largely thanks to organizations like JAZZ NORTH EAST, and SCHMAZZ. New music doesn't just happen around London!http://www.jazznortheast.com/  http://schmazz.co.uk/

Back down south bass player Marianne Windham has built a really remarkable audience for her GUILDFORD JAZZ promotions. I've had the good fortune to play on a few gigs for her and it's been packed every time. But that doesn't just happen - she spends hours making sure the publicity works, and makes apoint of chatting to any new audience members who show up. http://guildfordjazz.wordpress.com/

 Those are just a few examples but there are similar ones all over the country, but because they are run by real enthusiasts and individuals they are all different, and variety really is the spice of life. The people running these gigs do it because they love music - that's really all there is in it for them - so they deserve our thanks as musicians and listeners, and our ongoing support.


Improvising music for improvising dancers

Over the past three weeks I've been working on an exciting project that's given me the opportunity to work again with one of my most long standing collaborators, dancer and choreographer Sheron Wray, and also to begin a brand new collaboration, with fellow vibraphonist Corey Mwamba.

Sheron is one of the most exciting artists I know, in any medium, and it's always a delight to make music for her. She's the most musical of dancers, and has a really deep understanding of jazz. After leaving Rambert she set up her own company, JazzXchange and I was lucky enough to be able to work with them on a number of occasions. (Other musicians who worked with her and the company included Byron Wallen, Zoe Rahman, Julian Joseph and a certain Wynton Marsalis). In recent years she's been based in California, but a few months ago I had a call asking if I'd like to be involved in her latest project. Knowing Sheron as I do I didn't need to hear the details and immediately cleared my diary for the required time. She's been doing some fascinating research into the importance and function of improvisation in West African dance culture, and was now ready to start developing her findings and ideas in a practical way, with a team of dancers and musicians. She's built up a great range of strategies and techniques to enable a group of dancers to build a coherent and logical improvised language of movement, and moreover she's really got me thinking about my own improvisation in new ways.

When Sheron asked if there were any musicians I'd like to work with on the project Corey Mwamba was top of my list. Discovering and getting to know Corey's work over the last few years has been a big inspiration. There are some great vibes players around at the moment, in this country and abroad, but Corey is the player who has consistently surprised me and made me excited anew about the possibilities of my own instrument again. For some time now we've been discussing getting together, and this project has given us the chance to test the water, and so far we're really excited about the results. We're both playing vibes, in our own ways, I'm using a range of electronics and percussion, and Corey's also using a few other sounds. The "double vibraphone" sound remains at the heart of it though. We're sure we'll be taking this duo further in future unlikely as it may seem.

Under the title "Embodiology" Sheron's set up two performances this week to showcase the work we've been doing, both followed by Q & A sessions. The first is at :

Greenwich Dance Agency, Borough Hall Royal Hill, London, Greater London SE10 8RE on Wednesday 4th September at 3pm.

and the second :

On Thursday September 5th at WAC Arts, Interchange Trust, Hampstead Town Hall Centre, 213 Haverstock Hill, London NW3 4QP, 7pm.

If any of you can make it it would be great to see you - you can book a place by emailing

s.wray@surrey.ac.uk

or just turn up.
And watch this space for more news of the Mwamba/Pyne duo!

Welcome to Martin Pyne's blog!

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Greetings! The Tallguy News page has now become our News Archive. For up-to-date info, my new blog is the place to be! I'm going to be posting regular updates here on all our projects and plans, along with occasional musings on the world of creative music in general. You can leave comments here, too - look forward to hearing from you!

 

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