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Jammy Jam

I’ve spent the last couple of days getting myself out there again as a jazz player.  It is easy to get yourself stuck in a rut as a musician, find groups and gigs where you are comfortable and stop challenging yourself technically and musically.  I’m making a public statement here that I’m trying to challenge myself at the moment, and am going to push myself and my playing in the future.

So with that in mind, I grabbed my saxophone on Sunday afternoon and headed off to Brighton.  I heard there were a couple of gigs on with some bands that might welcome the odd guest and so i jumped on the train and headed down to the coast.  First up was a gig at The Seven Stars from Harry’s Tricks  I could hear the session was already in progress as I wandered down the sun drenched laines to the pub.  The band were really storming away in their first set with a blend of 20’s style slightly gypsy jazz accompanied by Dimitri with a really melodic trumpet and valve trombone sound.  A friend introduced me at their break and I was up and playing for most of the second set.  Lots of new tunes that I hadn’t heard before, and some unusual standards too.  The band were really accommodating and I felt immediately at home in front of a hugely appreciative (and often bopping) audience.

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Next off was a quick walk along the Seafront down the Lion and Lobster to see the marvellous Lawrence Jones and his band in action.  I had heard lots about Lawrence in the past from other musicians, all highly complementary about his encyclopaedic knowledge of jazz and his superb instrumental skills.  However I hadn’t ever met Lawrence in person until Sunday.  What a guy.  He is such a larger than life character both in his gritty stage persona, his intense jazz soloing, an his equally gritty vocal delivery.  I was slightly nervous just tuning up to Lawrence’s gig… he has a reputation for demanding the best out of the musicians around him, and to be honest I haven’t turned up and sat in on a band for years!  But nothing ventured, nothing gained, so I gladly accepted the invitation to come up and join him on a few numbers in the second set.  Lawrence’s band were really blistering and there was some great jazz happening in the pub that night.   His band have been a regular fixture at The Lion and Lobster for years and you can see why with the quality and variety of music Lawrence had put together.  And again some really unusual jazz tunes that I had never heard before!

Sitting in with these bands was a real treat, and I got to have a really worthwhile play at both sessions.  So Monday night I was all set for another outing, and this time headed down to Brighton with the aim of checking out some of the jam sessions that were on.

Again I haven’t played at a jam session for years.  I used to run a great session myself on Green Lanes in London many years ago, and I know there is a real skill in making these evenings work.  Making sure everybody gets a fair play, keeping the house band busy (and paid!) and keeping the egos out of the room as much as possible.   Some jam session can be really competitive, but the music I played yesterday in Brighton was all collaborative and supportive and musical!

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First up was the Acid Jazz Jam led by Simon Brewin down at the Latest Music Bar.  This jam was in a great venue, a real music venue with full sound system and monitors for the band.  Simon is just getting this session up and running but it has real potential with an amazing rhythm section, Tom Phelan on keyboards was as ever a true musical star and really kept a variety to the sounds and the tunes being played, (which can be a problem with the funkier sessions!)

I came and joined the band for an atmospheric rendition of Maiden Voyage (which I could barely remember the notes for… must practise…) and an extremely funky version of The Chicken.  It was all good stuff, but the funky, explorative style of the music meant we could move away from the chords and have a bit of freedom.  It was great to play with a band that were really listening and thinking musically!

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Next of was a walk across town to Chequers, a really fabulous, tiny pub which has just started hosting guitarist Tony Williams and his A Train Jazz Jam.

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Tony has gone through a few venues with this session recently, but I hope that he has found a permanent home at this new pub, as it is a great venue with a really relaxed vibe.  There is barely enough room for the band to be honest (was great moving around to let people get up to the bar!) but that meant you were really up amongst the audience who seemed to be really into the music going on.  Tony had a superb rhythm section on the gig with Alex Eberhart on drums and Andre Fry on bass,  I was amongst friends and joined the band for most of their second set.  Some great tunes, and lovely playing alongside Phillipe Guyard on some double tenor numbers.

And so for the last train home and some bit thoughts and aims for the future…  It is time to get practising.   Playing in new environments has thrown up some tunes that I know I need to work at now.. and some tunes that are too easy a choice, cliched and I need to avoid playing.

i just need a plan to help me juggle all the folk and the jazz sessions now!

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Posted by on July 21, 2015 in Performing

 

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Straight No Chaser Big Band Latest Vid

Managed to capture a good clip from our Straight No Chaser gig last month at The Brunswick.  This beautiful arrangement is adapted from the original Porgy and Bess version.  Performed by Jacqui Sampson on vocals.   Hope you enjoy.

 
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Posted by on February 22, 2015 in Pics / Vids / Audio

 

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After Supper

Performing with Straight No Chaser Big Band, at The Brunswick in November this year.

Count Basie / Neal Hefti classic  After Supper

 
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Posted by on December 7, 2014 in Gigs, Pics / Vids / Audio

 

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Straight No Chaser: It’s Oh So Nice

Recorded at our regular gig at The Hassocks Hotel, West Sussex, Sunday 2nd November.

 
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Posted by on November 11, 2014 in Gigs, Pics / Vids / Audio

 

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Lessons In Music

I had my first music lesson for almost 20 years at the weekend, courtesy of the great folks at http://www.dailyfrail.com. Pat (A.K.A Dear Old Dad) met up with me via Skype for a slot we had arranged earlier in the week and we had a good chat, and worked through some tunes. Pat was very kind and helpful, offering me some really excellent nuggets of advice. He had very thoughtfully already checked out my playing on some of my YouTube clips and so was prepared with some ideas that would be useful for me.

Not having a lesson for 20 years is not entirely true… I guess as musicians we are constantly learning from those around us. Every gig or rehearsal is a lesson in some way or another and I guess part of graduating to becoming a musician is your formal learning transforms into continual informal learning through experience.

Spending the time with Pat at the weekend made me consider how we learn, and how we teach. Having taught music for many years now, both in the classroom and in private instrumental lessons, I have learnt how to overcome musical problems and how to impart this to others. I know how to work out exercises to overcome technical difficulties. Unless there is some technique I don’t actually understand, or physically am not capable of, then issues are simply a matter of time and determination to overcome. (Some things take more time and energy than others though…) For pupils who have been learning for some time lessons are much more about coaching and encouraging. The pupils know inside what they need to do, they just need somebody to push them to do it! Expression and performance is a matter of experience. Go and see performers play, and watch what they do, listen to recordings, analyse, transcribe and learn. You just need a willingness to self analyse, and determination to improve.

So what is the point of the teacher?

I am very glad I met with Pat. Having seen him many times in his videos it was so nice to chat and play alongside him in real time. It was wonderful that he could give me confidence in what I was currently doing, and what I needed to work at. I kind of knew these things, but I feel better about what I am doing having talked it through with another person. The lesson did help me and I have improved because of it.

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So what next?

Well Pat has suggested we hook up for a ‘Skype jam’ at some point, which sounds great, not sure if i trust the laggy internet for this yet, but it would be a great thing to do, jamming with another guy thousands of miles away sounds like a great experience, so I may have to take him up on this!

Pat (and son Patrick) are offering all their knowledge for free through their Daily Frail videos, as well as currently setting up lessons via Skype to those that ask for it. (Please check out their website at http://www.dailyfrail.com ) I trying to work out how I can pass on my musical skills in a similar fashion. Being able to teach in order to share positive experience sounds like such a marvellous ideal, but how could I do so in my community? I need to work past my experience that my musical skills are a commodity that have to be sold, to a place where they are something I can share with others.

I haven’t got a plan yet… but I’m working on it….  Anybody need a music lesson in Sussex?

 
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Posted by on November 4, 2014 in Education, Teaching

 

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Blue Sky Thinking

Over the past couple of months I’ve been jamming and singing with a great fiddle player and singer: Elle Osborne.  After the first time we played together I met Elle at her ‘off the gird’ place on the South Downs overlooking Lewes.  We performed and sang some great tunes in the end of summer sunshine with the crickets and birds joining in with the music.  Since then we have played many times together and I have been working at filming some of the pieces that we performed under bright blue skies.

It really is amazing how easy it is to produce a quality recording even without power.  There have been some issues such as wind being picked up in the mics (Elle’s socks double up well as wind shields) and Fifi (the dog) having excitable moments with pheasants and other wildlife during recordings.  There is other noise to deal with too such as overhead aircraft (that we could never see!) or the neighbour along the hill setting to his trees with his chainsaw during all our good takes on a perfect recording day a few weeks ago… (Grrr).  But playing in a beautiful environment with the sounds of nature around you can’t be beat!

I’ve learnt masses doing these recordings.  Musically it has been a great journey, discovering Elle’s extensive repertoire and learning so much about the history of folk music in Sussex and across the water. Working out how to accompany another voice on the banjo and really following tiny nuances to get a performance with freedom that is still totally together.  The fiddle and cello work so well with the banjo, sustain and harmony pairing with percussion and rhythm,  I’ve also learnt back in my studio about the practicalities of video editing, syncing and mixing acoustic folk music too…

A couple of weeks ago we finally got together a recording that we were really happy with.  The light was right, (the chainsaw didn’t intrude too much) the equipment all worked, and we got a good image paired with a performance we were really happy with.

So please enjoy our version of The Ballad Of Alain Bain

Elle and I have also recorded a studio version of this song which is has been released on  Shirley Collins: A Life In Song

You can find out more about Elle’s music at www.elleo.com

 
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Posted by on October 10, 2014 in Recordings, video

 

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Koo Koo at Wo Wo

Ceara volunteered to take some video of me performing whilst we stayed at Wowo campsite a couple of weeks ago. Not a perfect rendition of this song, but I quite like it and I think it reflects the mood of that steamily hot and relaxed (hungover) day.

 
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Posted by on June 11, 2014 in Recordings

 

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