RSS

Tag Archives: saxophone

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.

11703063_10153423429575871_3561567287731295719_n

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!

FullSizeRender-22

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!

FullSizeRender-23

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.

11707619_10153476229864747_3702750693428013221_n

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!

Advertisements
 
1 Comment

Posted by on July 21, 2015 in Performing

 

Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , ,

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.

 
1 Comment

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

 

Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , ,

Love and Attention

My Saxophone is a beautiful instrument.  I wrote that without even thinking that I have a large selection of saxes that I play, but my true and only sax is my tenor.

SAMSUNG CAMERA PICTURES

I have owned this sax since I was 18, when I had saved up what to me was a small fortune at the time!  I bought the sax of a lovely old gentleman whose brother had recently passed away and who was hoping to pass the saxophone on to somebody who might use it well.  I knew this was the instrument for me straight away and bought it (after some, what seem now like quite cheeky negotiating) for a bargain price.

The sax is a MKVI Selmer Super Balanced Action sax dating from 1960 and is a completely gorgeous instrument that often I feel I am quite unworthy of playing.  It makes a full rich sound but has its quirky side as all MKVI’s do with its dodgy low notes, and dubious altissimo tuning.  It has a really unusual Nickel plating, which stays flawlessly bright and shiny, but also helps bring out its tone with its original lacquer removed.

I’ve been playing this instrument for 23 years now, and it has been well used, and I don’t take nearly as much care of it as it deserves.  I am a musician who believes that you should be able to take care of your own instruments… however my style of care often involves gaffer tape, elastic bands and always the wrong type of glue…. Much to the amusement of saxophonists who sit in my section in bands!

Anyhow this last summer I got in touch with my long time friend Chris Peryagh to see if he could help my put the instrument in order.  Chris has in the past been a member of my Big Band: Straight No Chaser and is a fabulous bari sax player, but is currently much called upon for his oboe skills.  He also does a great line in marching bass drum playing… (much like myself!)  and inexplicably also plays the harp!  Anyhow apart from all this music making Chris works as an instrument repairer for Howarths and, when asked very nicely, takes on some private repair work too.

I know how much care Chris takes in his repair work, having seen much of his work in the past.  He loves to use the finest quality materials  and really likes things to be done properly or not at all.

I was away for the Summer so I thought this would be a good time for Chris to take the instrument off my hands.  I don’t think he was impressed by the work laid out before him, with years of gigging having taken its toll.  Lots general wear and tear, leaky pads, and the like but also some serious damage to the octave mechanism which somehow I had still managed to keep playing on!

Chris had the sax for several weeks… he insisted on getting authentic Selmer original pads that were a special order from the States.  But the waiting was well worth it.   Suddenly I had a instrument that played easily again, made a massive rich sound, and worked beautifully.  It wasn’t all simple, Chris needed to do a little bit more fettling to get the action working as I needed it, but he was happy to take the time to get things working how I wanted.

SAMSUNG CAMERA PICTURES

Now I have a beautiful instrument that also plays flawlessly!  If something goes wrong I know its my fault now!  Having the sax working again has got my inspired and I’m practising and improving again all the time.   Come and see me playing it at a Straight No Chaser gig soon!

 
2 Comments

Posted by on February 8, 2015 in Performing

 

Tags: , , , , ,

New Saxophone Case Review

Its been time recently to sort out some bit and pieces on my saxophone.  I have a beautiful mk6 Tenor that I have played for over twenty years.  The sax is great and after a recent overhaul is playing amazingly, but some of my equipment has been starting to show its age.

My old case was barely hanging on by a thread, with broken handles it was in urgent need of replacement.  It was a great case that had been really well used.  Not sure on the make but it was super lightweight made from expanded polystyrene with a flexible outer casing.  It was super light, which was great when I was a student cycling with saxes and numerous other instruments to college but the time had come to replace it.

I had a good look around but found some super cheap rigid cases by Gator on eBay.  They were so cheap that I thought it worth a punt, and when it arrived I realised I had made a great call.

The case is strong and well made, holding my tenor snugly inside with no perceivable movement.  It has two storage spaces, one fitting the crook well, and the other has space for reeds and mouthpiece.  The catches close really well and it has clips for a carry strap too.

It does everything I need from a case, and have no worries that my sax is safe inside it.  Its also not to much heavier than my old case, although it does take up a little more volume as it is larger than my old case, but not enough larger to worry me.

I would highly recommend this case to any other saxophonists out there, particularly as it only set me back £65 which seems amazing value for more to me!  (although RRP for UK looks to be £174)

You can find the case here at:   http://www.gatorcases.com/p/115179-715/gc-tenor-sax

SAMSUNG CAMERA PICTURES

SAMSUNG CAMERA PICTURES

 
Leave a comment

Posted by on February 8, 2015 in review

 

Tags: , , , , , ,

Back in the saddle

Been a while since my last post.. was a good Xmas but I really need to find time and energy to write these blog posts every week… new years resolution coming on……  (whiskey by the fire every weekend with laptop on my knee… thats got to be the way….)

Anyhow todays blog is about teaching… I haven’t been doing much of it recently.  Even though I advise on teaching in schools as part of my job, other work has taken over and I haven’t been doing any musical teaching for the past six months.  But previous to that my teaching has all been based in schools for many years.

But teaching is a good thing…. so I have been trying to address this and today I started teaching my first private pupil for 6 years.

First off… part of the reason I started to stop teaching privately at home is that (anybody who knows me will vouch for this!) my house can be a bit of “chaotic’ at times.  So part of the ritual of teaching pupils at home is spending an hour or so before the pupil arrive tidying up, hovering, moving muddy bikes from my studio etc… I am not sure how the economics of this will work out…  But it is good to have a reason to sort things out… My music room has not looked so sparklingly lovely for a long time!

Today my new pupil was an adult learner.  She came along full of enthusiasm and keen to learn.  A library of new tutor books under her arm and a brand new saxophone that had been a christmas present at the ready.

A lot of the teaching I have done in the recent past has been in schools, in groups and in short compact lessons. The luxury of having a single pupil for a whole half hour is something I haven’t been used to for a while.  The lesson raced past, but we could cover so much ground with time, in a good space with no distractions around, and no pressure from the next pupils waiting at the door, (or me worrying that they weren’t ready at the door)

My new pupil did really well, she got the a really good tone, and got her fingerings without too much effort.  We looked at some basic notated music, and we even looked at some articulation, which was all in place ready for her to work at before the next session.   A model lesson!

I was at home, I was relaxed, I had not time pressures.  I had a pupil who was keen and had the right equipment.  I had coffee on tap.  I had a good musical space with all the equipment and resources I needed around me.  It was bound to be a good lesson.  But in a way it was a bit easy…  Having been away from private teaching for so long I can see the benefits and the draw as a way of earning a living.  But what about inclusion versus elitism.

I have blogged about Patrick Costello and his Dad who have passed on to me so much of their musical learning recently.  And I do feel a need to pass on the favours on in some way.  However having thought about I can’t think of a good way to offer free lessons to any takers without somehow demeaning what I do (people value things by what they cost…) but also being faintly suspicious to those who might be interested but don’t know me.

However if you happen to read this and you are interested give me a shout and I will happily give you a lesson (over Skype or here in Sussex) for free.   Just let me know and we will see what happens!

Alex

 
Leave a comment

Posted by on January 11, 2015 in Education, Teaching

 

Tags: , , , ,

Practising is cheating

After my dear friend Simon D’Souza was first diagnosed with cancer he was playing and composing with more vigour than ever.  I did have a chat with him about not wasting time and making every moment count.

Around the time Simon was first diagnosed he produced these two videos of his work and practice at a Joshua Redman transcription.  I hadn’t seen these films until recently but I had heard Simon working through the transcription at rehearsals and we talked about some of the interesting harmonies that Joshua had put into this solo.

I know that Simon motivated many people with their playing and music and he has now done so with me.  My saxophone practice has been laying low for some time now… (children, busy at work, and just plain not enthused in working at my sax skills…) In fact one of my little quips that I will often come out with in conversation would be …’so and so is really good’… ‘ yes but he practises.. and we all know that is cheating!’  I saw Simon’s videos of him performing the Redman solo and I set myself the challenge that I should be able to do this too. Not in a competitive way, just that I should be making each moment count and trying to push myself to be as good as possible at the instruments I play, not be content to just be ‘good enough’.

Have a look at Simons videos below.  His talk about how he has approached the solo is really interesting and it turns out to be very similar to how I’m working at it.

Watch this space for my own version of this in about a months time!

 

 
Leave a comment

Posted by on June 13, 2014 in Teaching, Uncategorized

 

Tags: , , , , ,