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So Essex Youth Jazz Orchestra: How soon were you playing your instrument before you joined the Essex Youth Jazz Orchestra? Had you been playing for many years?
Yes, well I started playing clarinet that was my first main instrument, I actually played recorder at school of course, most kids tended to do, that was my very first instrument. I started having clarinet lessons when I was eight in Chelmsford with Mr Hales from Gold Lay Gardens. So that was 1977-78 I first started playing clarinet, I had private lessons and then I went to the, what was called the Chelmsford Junior Music School which took place at Chelmer Valley High school on Saturday mornings, so that’s just the local music centre for kids playing a whole variety of instruments, so I joined that in 1979, so I was having clarinet lessons there and also music theory and whatnot. But I got my first saxophone, my granddad bought me my first saxophone, but sadly he never got to see me play it he died, we were due to go up to visit him after I got this Tenor saxophone. I played it to him down the phone, but we were supposed to go up on the Saturday but he died the day before unfortunately he never got to see me play it, that must’ve been about ’82 something like that, I was about 12 or 13. But I did the audition for Youth Jazz Orchestra in ’84 that’s when I started playing.
Was it already established by then?
Yeah, my knowledge of it was that the Youth Orchestra started in 1982, directed by Roger Lawrence, who I believe was director of music at Felsted School, and the Youth Jazz Orchestra started because there were a number of people in the classical orchestra who were interested in playing Jazz and so there was a movement towards having a big band formed that was part of the umbrella of the Youth Orchestras, so that’s how it started, and then when I came into it a couple of years later, there was a young guy called Scott Strohman, who was an American musician who came to study at the Guildhall School in the early 80’s, he was studying classical conducting and composition but he was also obviously a Jazz player, trombone player, and he’d taken over running the band.
Was he living locally then?
He was living in London, so he was travelling, not far obviously, just to come to Chelmsford and around about to run the band, and in those days it wasn’t a weekly or monthly rehearsal, we just used to rehearse in the school holiday periods and then do odd gigs and things like that, and then was sometimes a tour in the Summer or something like that. And he was great, amazing musician, he was only very young when he was running the band, he was only like in his mid-twenties, but he was a fantastic musician, really knowledgeable about the music and really knowledgeable about how to teach youngsters how to play Jazz, to improvise, and also how to play in a big band because he had a lot of experience coming from the states and playing college big bands and stuff like that, which of course is that massive tradition of college big bands in America, so I think he was really really important because not a lot of people in those days, I guess, apart from the National Jazz Orchestra, not a lot of people knew actually knew how to run and rehearse a Jazz big band over here, especially from an educational point of view, teaching youngsters, so he was really important, certainly an important figure in my life at that time, because when you are at school, you got lots of well-meaning teachers, as I had, really fantastic musicians, but they weren’t necessarily Jazz experts, they were always enthusiastic and encouraging, but if you want to move on to the next level, then obviously if you got somebody with expertise that’s good, and Scott Strohman has masses of expertise, so he was the right person at the right time.
What size was the orchestra?
It used to more or less be a big band line up, so, usually around 18 piece band, five saxophones, four trombones, four trumpets and four rhythm section, but we used to have a few other people around that, sometimes it would go up to between 25 and 30. It would always be lots of saxophones, hardly any trombones sometimes. There may be a time, where we may have two or three drummers in the band and they would rotate on certain numbers or one guy would play percussion, so if you had any doubling up on any instruments, especially the rhythm section, then people would just rotate, alternate. There was one time, when we had some singers in the band as well and they wouldn’t just sing songs, they would sometimes join in with the band parts, they would stand in the trumpet section and sing trumpet parts and stuff like that.
No all youth. I don’t know what the average age of the band was at that time, I don’t know probably about 16 or 17 something like that, so the age range usually was between something like 15, well there were a few old boys, one of my best mates was a guitar player called Mike Watkinson who was a bit older than me, I think he was still playing in the band when he was about 25. He didn’t want to leave! That’s similar to the National Youth Jazz Orchestra because when that’s been running, again, there was people often in their mid-twenties in that group, sometimes even older, mid to late-twenties.
Obviously you’ve gone on to take over the Essex Youth Jazz Orchestra, up until that point, what kind of experiences were you having with the Youth Jazz Orchestra, were you getting the chance to travel, is it the kind of thing you compete with, or is it just a matter of just doing concerts?
When I was in the band we used to do various gigs around the county, and we would usually go on a Summer tour, so there were tours to Edinburgh, there was a tour to Italy there was a tour to Romania, which was really interesting, that was 1989, that was the Summer before the revolution, so Caucesau was still in power then, so that was quite an interesting trip, they really liked their Jazz over there. When I took over initially, there wasn’t as much activity as far as tours were concerned, when started again, it was a little bit like starting afresh, we had a whole new team of young players, we did a lot of rehearsing but we didn’t actually do that much gigging to start with.
How old were you when you took over?
23, quite young. So we did a lot of rehearsing, we would do the odd gigs here and there, usual sort of places around the county. But we were doing a few too many shopping centres for my liking. To be honest, I don’t think at that time the music service were that supportive, probably not allowed to say that, but I am saying it because it’s true, the Youth Orchestra is part of Essex Music Services, which is absolutely wonderful now I have to say, we’ll talk about that later! At that time I think there wasn’t that much interest in the Jazz orchestra it was kind of slightly side-lined, I think that was reflected in the number of gigs we were doing and it wasn’t terribly well advertised, in those days it was a bit of a struggle.
Was it up to the Council to organised the concerts, not down to you?
Not down to me, but I think that was part of the problem, was that I found myself having to do perhaps a little bit more than I was supposed to be doing. My job is to look after the music side of things, and they’ve got a team of organisers and administrators in County Hall to do that, so I think perhaps in those days the balance wasn’t quite right. But as we moved to the end of the nineties, there was some new people that came in and they really helped in actually turning that around and so we started getting more gigs and we were doing gigs in proper venues rather than just playing in Southend shopping centre on a Saturday afternoon, we were starting to play in proper venues and around the county, Harlow Playhouse and Cramphorn Theatre in Chelmsford, and various other theatres, which is good, and that certainly helped us to spread our wings a bit and just get a little bit more publicity, more interest and obviously if you’re playing in more high profile venues, it’s good for recruitment, it’s good for outreach, it’s good musically for the band, and then we started to do some more tours again, because we hadn’t done any tours for years, since I’d been in the band and then we went to Belgium, we went to Germany, we went to Poland, we’d been to Switzerland, we’d been to France quite a few times. So there’s always a Summer tour which now takes place every two years, usually go somewhere in Europe. So that’s where we are with it, you know.
Has it changed much since you took over? What changes have you made personally do you think?
I think musically there’s been quite a lot of changes, just in the way I run this band is quite different to a lot of other youth Jazz orchestras in the country, and that is that we are an improvising band so we play Jazz. We obviously read music, and there’s a lot of traditional big band music that we will play, we’ll play music by County Basie, we’ll play music by Duke Ellington and so on, but we also do some of my pieces and we’ll also make up our own arrangements of Jazz standards things like that, so we do a lot of things by ear, and I will actually teach them a song or we’ll make up our own arrangements during the rehearsals, so there’s a mixture of reading music and also being creative and making things up from scratch, I think that just reflects the kind of musician I am, Scott Strohman used to do a little bit of that in the band when he was running it, he would teach us music by ear, so he’s had quite a strong influence, I think, on my approach. That approach does differ quite a lot to a lot of other youth Jazz orchestras in this country, where there’s more of an emphasis on reading music and not so much emphasis on improvisation and how to actually go about doing that. Seeing as we are a Jazz orchestra, I think it’s important that we actually play some Jazz! So we are always trying to address those two sides of the things musically, in terms of what I’m trying to offer young people in terms of the skills that I think that they need, it’s important to be able to read music and to play your instrument as well, but it’s also important to have a bit of creativity and a little bit of personality and pizazz about your music, and being together in large group and making things up, not having your eyes and head buried in a music stand, you can’t communicate very well, playing any kind of music if you do that.
I’m sure a lot of these youth Jazz orchestras around the country, I wouldn’t mind betting that a lot of them are not contemporary like this, I’m sure it’s 'Pennsylvania 65000', it’s all down to who’s running the orchestra.
It’s all down to who’s running the band. I think a lot of youth Jazz orchestras do play a wide range of repertoire, they will play a lot of contemporary music. One of the good things actually, is a lot of youth Jazz orchestras play a lot of British music, a lot of the contemporary Jazz composers that have become important over the last 30 years or so, people like Kenny Wheeler, Stan Sultzman, Django Bates music from the British Jazz boom of the 80’s when Courtney Pine and Andy Shepherd and Loose Tubes suddenly came into the media spotlight, that’s been a really good thing, as we know, for Jazz in this county, and a lot of the musicians that were associated with that period, a lot of young musicians will play their music, that music is around and available, so a lot of youth Jazz orchestras do play contemporary British big band music, but even so, there can be emphasis on reading the dots, without necessarily focusing on the Jazz aspect of the music, that’s just something I try to do in my approach, my teaching.
Would you give them homework to do, almost like a school?
That’s a really good question. In the last couple of years or so, parents have actually come up to me after the concerts saying what can they do when they’re not at rehearsals? What can they do for homework? Well of course the answer now is that everything is on the internet, so I say to them, look, most of the music we play in the Essex Youth Jazz Orchestra, is either classic Jazz, classic big band music or original more contemporary stuff, but everything is available on the internet, you can find the original recordings on CD’s or whatever, so this is why of course I say to them, go and listen, that’s how you learn, that’s how you learn to do it, all the answers are on the recordings. So I will say to them, this tune, you can find this, just find it, go and listen to it and most of them do, which is great. Of course back in the old days when we were at school, I used to go down to Chelmsford Library when it used be in Dukes Street and just pick out records, that’s essentially how I learnt how to play Jazz as well as being in Essex Youth Jazz Orchestra, at the time I discovered Charlie Parker and John Coltrane and everything actually just by going down to the library, I didn’t even know who these people were, I only found out that Charlie Parker was a saxophone player because there was a picture of him on the front with a saxophone and I’d never heard of him, this was when I was about 14 something like that. It would be pot luck as to what you could find, depending on what was in the library, but nowadays everyone’s hopefully got access to the internet and you can go onto You Tube and just find recordings, when I was their age you’d be lucky if you ever found it.
In a way you’d expect them to do stuff outside of the rehearsals purely because if they read some charts, and then the following week they just turn up reading the charts again, its just going over the same thing, it’s just picking up where they left off really.
It’s good, I think I’m lucky with the team of youngsters that we’ve got at the moment, they’re all really enthusiastic and most of them will do that, there are some who are perhaps a little bit more, you know, they might have ideas about going on to become a professional musician, maybe a professional Jazz player, so naturally they are a little bit enthusiastic than some of the other ones, but they all will get stuck in and I think they do go away and listen to stuff which I think is good, I have to say that again in my experience in teacher, which is now over 20 years, not all young music students do that, especially from the classical music world, I’ve done a few workshops and I’ve taught students classical music, taught them short courses and things like that and I’m always surprised when I ask them “Hands up whose heard this piece before” and very few hands go up, yet youngsters who are playing in symphony orchestras and they are playing music that’s in front of them, and they’ve never heard of it, never heard of the pieces that they are actually playing in the rehearsals. Some of them can’t be bothered to actually then, like you say, doing their homework some won’t and I find that quite odd, certainly alien to me anyway.
Were you still in Essex Youth Jazz Orchestra when you took over from?
No. Scott left in the summer of 1990. He was very, very busy at that stage in his career so he had to drop something. I was then at music college in London, studying at the Guildhall School, because it was a holiday band it meant essentially means that even if you were away at music college somewhere, or at university you could come back and still play in the band because it was in the holiday times. So that was my last summer as a player, summer of 1990 that’s when Scott left, and I think I started directing about a year and a half later, two years later something like that.
So was it in limbo for that time?
There were a couple of guys who briefly shared it, saxophone player from Colchester called Malcolm Miles, who was also a well-known educator and Mike Watkinson who was the guitar player I mentioned earlier, they sort of ran it for a bit and then Mike moved away and Malcolm had some other commitments, I got the call, would I like to do it, so I said yeah, that’s how I started it.
Of the many hundreds of examples you could think of, what would you say, since being involved as the orchestra leader, what would you say has been your proudest moment since taking over?
What a great question! That’s a really good question. Well there are many, I think what it is, they play really great, I’m not just saying that, it’s not about me anyway, it’s about them. It is a little bit about me, it’s about me inspiring them, but I’m the coach, the manager, they’re the ones that play the game on the pitch and I am there obviously to help them. Those are the most important moments for me to see people really going for it and making some amazing music and they play incredibly professionally as well, especially for young people, some of them don’t have very much experience, but obviously the new ones who come in, some of them don’t necessarily play their instruments that brilliantly…yet. But what they do do, is play with a lot of commitment and passion and they play with a lot of enjoyment and they genuinely make things happen in concerts, that’s what I call proper Jazz, there’s a vibe in the room that they can create. They do that more often than not, so those are really good moments, I think maybe, we played at the Barbican in London fairly recently, last year, 2012, last summer, and that was part of youth Jazz orchestra festival, was actually a project called ‘Essentially Ellington’ which is a project that Jazz at Lincoln Centre and Winter Marsalis initiated a long time ago, and they’ve now brought that over to this county, and so basically what it is, is an opportunity for youth Jazz orchestras to get together and work on the same music and then come together and sort of play it in a kind of a festival atmosphere, in the States it’s a little more like a competition, basically everyone’s playing the same music and there’s a prize for the best band. When it set up over here, we said we don’t really like to do things like that, this is just an opportunity to sort of celebrate, it’s not British, can’t have competition! Music isn’t a competition. So we went to the Barbican and we played a couple of these pieces by Duke Ellington, but we also played one of my pieces as well, that was one of the good things about the festival that each band had to play a piece of music by a British Jazz composer, great. So there was a piece of mine that we had been playing quite well, so thought we’d do that, and it was improvised, and again it was a little bit of music but most of it was made up as you’re doing it, the arrangement is different every time you play it, because we’re a Jazz group. We were the only group that day that did anything like that, that’s what I’m proud of. The organisers of the festival were a little bit worried, I actually got a call from the guy from New York saying “I can understand what you are doing, I’m an educator as well, but this isn’t really what’s supposed to take place” and I said to the guy “I don’t care. This is my band, this is how we play, this is what we do and so this how we’re going to do it” now I didn’t want to be in a position where I was seen to be doing something different from all of the other groups, but I was absolutely insistent that this is a reflection of what this band does and how it plays, it’s always been, so we got an opportunity to play on the Barbican stage in London, you know, we’re going to show people what we do, which is what it’s all about, so I was insistent on that. They had this funny thing, because we had quite a large number of players for this event, again the band, between 25 and 30 people, and the Americans were very insistent on not having people doubling on parts, because again, that’s not in the tradition of big band playing, you have five saxophone players, you have four trumpets, you have four trombones, you have four rhythm players you don’t have anyone doubling on parts. But I said to them “But my band is bigger than that. This is who we’ve got, this is the band, everybody’s part of the team”. So the guy said to me “Oh well you’ll have to have substitutes bench, and you’ll have to have people sitting out on the side-lines.” I said “No”. If you’re on a subs bench you’re not playing, you’re not participating, which surely, you know, that means they’re not being engaged in the performance, that’s bad educating. So what we did, for the two Ellington pieces, where they were very insistent, we did have a little rota system, but when we played my piece in the middle, we got everybody on stage, everybody played together. So I broke the rules perhaps a little bit, but we got away with it, and it sounded great! They had a really great time, and I think the band sounded great and yeah, that’s probably my proudest moment in the band, so that’s a very long answer to your question!
Obviously we’ll come to your own career in a minute, because you’ve been incredibly successful, have many others from the orchestra, since you’ve been involved, gone onto become professional musicians?
Yeah they have. It’s been really good actually. There’s a number of players who started in that band who have usually gone on to college or university and then they’ve become professional players. There’s a young guy called Tom Farmer, originally from Maldon, he was in the band, he’s now one of the top young Jazz bass players in London, that’s just one example. There’s a lot, Sam Bullard another saxophone player from Colchester, Robert Gentry is a keyboard player, so there’s a few, there’s probably some names that I’m missing out and they’ll be really cross that I’ve missed them off. There’s a lot that have come through the ranks and gone on to be pretty successful.
That’s amazing. Obviously you’re very high up at Guildhall now aren’t you? What’s your position now?
I am Head of Jazz studies. I’m very lucky. That’s another job I inherited from Scott Strohman! I had to interview for it, but I was actually co-ordinating the under graduate Jazz programme there before I actually took over the whole thing, because I’d been teaching at the Guildhall school since I left as a student, it kind of overlapped, which was a bit strange, in my last term as a post-grad student one of the teachers couldn’t take a class for whatever reason, I can’t remember, so they asked me to fill in temporarily just to the end of the year. I guess I must of done a reasonable job because they asked me to carry on, so I’ve been teaching there actually since ’91. Just started off doing a couple of little classes a week, and then 1994 they actually ran a course for the first time which was an under graduate music degree but for people who had a specialism in Jazz. So I was there as an under graduate before that and obviously I was a specialist in Jazz, but there wasn’t specific pathway for people who were interested in Jazz, so that started in 1994 at the Guildhall School and they asked me to oversee that. In 2007 Scott Strohman, who was Head Of Jazz, decided to step down because he was quite busy, I got the job, so I’ve been doing that since 2007, Head of Jazz.
That’s remarkable isn’t it! You’re obviously a very established musician outside of that from a Jazz perspective, are there any specific artists that you’ve played with?
Luckily there’s quite a long list! Because when I went to college, I went to Guildhall as a student in 1987. So obviously going out then going out there and being in the London environment for four years, just as a student, I just got to meet and play with lots of people who were around in London. I supposed my first big break was playing with the pianist Michael Garrick, who sadly is no longer alive, he died two years ago in fact. But he saw me playing at the Guildhall School as a student, and he just called me up and said “Do you want to do some gigs? I like your playing”, and he was actually putting together a project that was a tribute to Joe Harriot, a West Indian alto player, used to live over here. Well Mike used to play with Joe Harriot and Joe Harriot was in Michael’s band in the sixties, so he was putting together this tour, recreating some of Joe’s music and with some of the original players who were still alive then, Shake Kean the trumpet player, and Coleridge Goode on bass and Bobby Orr on drums, so I go the Alto Sax chair. I was only 19 or 20 when I was doing that, an amazing gig to have, a major UK tour and we did some radio broadcasts. So that was really the beginning of my musical relationship with Michael Garrick, which, you know, has lasted up until his death a year and half ago. But I’ve also played with Kenny Wheeler, Stan Saltzman, The Dankworths, Clark Tracey, there’s an enormous list of people I’ve been lucky enough to play with, Jim Mullen, all sorts, Harry Beckett. More or less anyone who was around in London at the end of the eighties and going into the nineties, I was lucky enough to play with in one way or another, I’ve been very fortunate.
So Martin, how do think Jazz education has changed since you first became involved in it?
It’s a really good question. There are a lot more musicians and music teachers who are Jazz savvy now then there were 15, 20, 25 years ago. I think that’s really healthy, really important for the Jazz scene in this country and in Essex. I think that hopefully the Youth Jazz Orchestra might have had something to do with that, we talked earlier on about some of the people that have come through the band who were all really good players, and the other thing of course is that in the majority of cases, really good educators as well, and that’s part of your being a professional musician these days, being an educator and a teacher is often an important part of your life as a musician. Not everybody wants to do teaching, but some people enjoy it and some people have a natural affinity for that.
There’s two different types of education isn’t there. There’s those that believe in it and really feel that’s their vocation of theirs is to pass that knowledge on, then you’ve got the others that are perhaps not so good at educating, just a way of supplementing their income, therefore, they’re heart’s maybe in it, not necessarily in it, many I know, have a set way of doing it, and that’s it, they do their 45 minutes and get their money, that’s it.
You’re right, there are still some teachers out there that want to do that way, there’s lots of people I know, people I’ve taught, either through Essex Youth or the Guildhall School, who have now gone on, they have become professional players, but they do have a liking for teaching, and of course, they are able to give youngsters decent Jazz skills. When I was at school I had some fantastic music teachers who were really inspirational, but they didn’t really know anything about Jazz, they were always encouraging and enthusiastic, like I said before, but they didn’t necessarily have specific Jazz skills, so what’s changed is that you’ve now got young professionals who are going into schools, they might doing peripatetic music teaching, just instrumental teaching, or they might be doing music workshops, but they have specific Jazz skills that they can impart and pass on. It can only be a good thing, people always ask me this question, is Jazz dead, isn’t Jazz for old people, and of course the answer is no and the reality is that Jazz is spreading and there are more and more youngsters who want to play Jazz-orientated music now than ever before. You can see that in schools, every school’s got a Jazz band of some description, or they’re playing Jazz orientated music, not just Jazz, Pop, Rock, Funk, any music that’s associated with Jazz or blues, and that was certainly wasn’t the case when I was school, though my heads of music were very encouraging, I was the one that essentially started the Jazz bands because I wanted to play Jazz! But now it seems as though every school has got a Jazz band of some description, so that’s a really great thing, and we’re seeing this with all the youngsters that are signing up for Essex Youth Jazz Orchestra, we’ve now got three bands, in the old days as we were talking about earlier on, there was just the one group, now we’ve actually got three groups, beginners, intermediate and the senior group. So, the beginners group is called Essex Junior Jazz, the intermediate group is Young Essex Jazz, and the senior band is Essex Youth Jazz Orchestra. So, at the moment we’ve got something like 80 youngsters involved across the three groups, and we’re having auditions at least twice a year and there’s a waiting list, it’s having an effect, it’s good isn’t it? If somebody’s really keen, even if they’re a beginner, we try and give them a place if we can, it’s very, very rare that we turn anybody away.
I don’t know if he’s from Essex Youth Jazz Orchestra, but I know that there’s a young saxophonist that everyone talks about around here at the moment, Zak Barratt, who seems to be doing good things in Essex, I’m guessing at this time of this interview, he’s still only in his mid-twenties, I’m wondering whether he came through that route of Essex Youth Jazz Orchestra.
No he didn’t. I’ve heard of Zak, and I think I’ve seen him play, but I don’t think we’ve ever met. I think he might be a bit older than that now, but I’m not sure. I think he’s more Southend/Thurrock area, I think there’s a Thurrock Youth Jazz Orchestra, or there was, I don’t know if it’s still running. So I don’t really know Zak, I’d like to get to know him though. This is part of the thing we were talking about earlier on, about there are pockets of activity, and we know Essex is a big county, this is what I noticed ever since I was a youngster, there are pockets of interesting activity of music and Jazz orientated music. We’ve sometimes had a difficulty making those things connect. Also, in some cases, not in my case certainly, an unwillingness to actually connect up. I think a lot of that has got to do with something we were talking about earlier, about Jazz having so many different styles and not everybody likes all the styles.
Well you’ve got people that just will not listen to other forms of Jazz, that’s what I’ve found with people with Dixieland, they will not listen to anything other than New Orleans, literally it’s like anything else doesn’t exist. I found that quite intriguing.
Well it is intriguing and its frustrating, and again, with my work with the Youth Jazz Orchestra we always try to cover all the areas, hopefully, a) for their musical experience, and b) for people that come to see the band, hopefully there’s going to be something for everybody. I have come across, with the Essex Youth Band, and also my own career, resistance at certain Jazz clubs and certain people because of the kind of music we’re playing, that’s often been very frustrating, I’ve actually had people say to me, people who used to work in the music service or in the County Council, “People won’t go to see youth Jazz orchestras because they’re not very good’” Ridiculous statements like that, and these are people that are actually supposed to be working in education and promoting it, or just because they have a particular blind spot towards a certain style of music means that they won’t book the band. We have suffered that. You’ve got to see where it starts, as we know there are some really exciting musicians of all ages, just in Essex alone, people who are world class musicians and maybe that’s got something to do with it, because we are local, there’s the assumption that ‘oh yeah, well if they’re local they’re probably not very good’ that happens a lot, I’ve certainly had that, that’s one of the reasons why I don’t play that much as a professional musician in Essex. All my musical connections were made in London, that’s mostly where I play, I do obviously go on UK tours and I’ve played in Europe quite a lot, I’ve played in America, but I don’t play in Essex. I’d like to play more in Essex, but there’s not that many places to play. We’ve certainly been trying to get the Youth Jazz Orchestra to play in more places in Essex as well as outside, we want to try and branch out a bit, that’s the next thing we want to do with the Youth Jazz Orchestra, we played the Barbican, we played at the 100 Club a few years back, so it would actually be nice to go a little bit more national, play in London a bit more. But the Youth Jazz Orchestra doesn’t play in Chelmsford hardly at all, which I think is a real shame, here we are, this is the County town, city now, it’s now the city, we have a Youth Jazz Orchestra and we don’t have the opportunity to play in our own County city very much. People who run the Chelmsford Jazz Club, we need some more gigs! You’ve only let us play twice in 25 years! It’s about we supported our youth. After we’ve gone, we’ve got to spread the good word of Jazz, and that’s what a lot of Jazz clubs don’t realise, that’s not something that’s specific to Essex, but I see this going around the country, there are certain Jazz clubs that I play at, as a professional player, where the average age of the audience is probably 70, and that’s great, but where’s the next generation of Jazz fans coming from? Now we know they’re out there, and we know that they play, but we’ve got to give them the opportunity. I’d like to see that more in the county, when I play in London, I play at Ronnie Scott’s, the Vortex Jazz Club, and you go to those places and you see people in their twenties, that’s the average age of the audience, It’s much, much lower, there’s some really exciting cutting edge music going on. It would be nice to see that happening elsewhere, I’d like to see it happening in Chelmsford, in particular because it’s my home town, this is where I was born and brought up, there doesn’t really seem to be a scene for more, dare I say, more contemporary, that’s an emotive word, I don’t even know whether I necessarily mean that ‘cutting edge’, something different, there’s something for everybody, all styles, it would be great to see a really thriving club atmosphere going on here, get some new venues going.
I’m surprised the council don’t subsidise the orchestra playing at one of the theatres once or twice a year, in Chelmsford, purely because they’re funding it in the first place, so it’s worth their while.
They do a great job, don’t get me wrong, we do more theatre venues than we used to. In the mid-nineties there was time when we weren’t doing any proper gigs other than playing in car parks and shopping centres, which it’s good in some ways, but those kinds of venues are not conducive to good Jazz playing, playing in a shopping centre on a Saturday afternoon, a lot of this music needs to be heard in proper venues to Jazz fans. So we have played in the Harlow Playhouse, we done the Basildon Towngate, we done some nice venues, Chelmsford hasn’t really got a nice venue, it’s difficult sometimes to get into the Civic or Cramphorn Theatres unless we got some help via Chelmsford Jazz Club. Be nice to have a different venue, there was talk wasn’t there about a new concert hall being built somewhere in Chelmsford round the Wharf area, or new arts centre, I don’t know if that’s going to happen.
At the time of this interview, do you see yourself still running the Essex Youth Jazz Orchestra for the foreseeable future?
I think so yeah, I have no plans to retire just yet, because I’m really enjoying it. I’m still young.
You’re certainly taking on to another level.
I’d like to think so, yeah, we got some really great young players coming through, it’s always a challenge to try and keep it musically at very high level. I sometimes see it as being a little bit like a football manager. My team is Manchester United, people always say what’s a guy from Essex doing supporting Manchester United, it’s a long story, this is not the place to talk about it, so Alex Ferguson is one of my big heroes, he’s a really good example of someone, who, year after year, has maintained his standards at that football club, new players come and go, but you still have the ethos of the club, I guess that’s a little bit what my role is, players come and go, but we’re always trying to things slightly differently, find some new music, think about different ways of doing things, but keeping the standard really high and looking for some new venues to play, trying to spread out of the county I think and try get a little bit more national, so there are some youth Jazz orchestras who have got more a national reputation, well known, like the Wigan Youth Jazz Orchestra, Scottish Youth Jazz Orchestra and stuff like that, I’d like to do some things, get a little bit more national attention in some way, so that’s the next thing on the agenda.