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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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I Can Play The Big Bass Drum

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At the weekend I was lucky enough to be a part of the the audio visual spectacular that is Lewes Bonfire Night.

I was away from my normal instruments and instead had been promoted to playing bass drum with the Mid Sussex Brass Band.  It was a great night, frosty enough for you to appreciate the fires, but not cold or rainy enough to be unpleasant marching around the town for 6 or so hours.

It truly is a completely mad affair, with health and safety seemingly having been thrown by the wayside in a totally brilliant manner.  Bangers and fireworks going off in the streets, fire everywhere, and then of course the 4 competing firework displays on show on each side of the town.

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Playing bass drum was great!  I felt in many ways like I was really leading the band, driving it along, and of course I am sure it looked great too!  I was playing with a group of brass musicians, most of which I hadn’t met before.  But there were a few familiar faces, particularly the wonderful Paul Homewood, who has organised the band at this parade for many years.  There always seems to be a last minute panic getting this band ready, but it always comes together in the end.

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This year was particularly close to the edge… in that we didn’t have a snare player, until about and hour in, when we met a guy on the street with his own marching snare, who was just joining in with one of the samba groups for kicks.  A few coaxing words later and we was part of the crew, and a great addition to the group too.. even if he was wearing a Guy Fawkes mask rather than a regulation blue blazer.

The sounds going on that night were amazing, be it the carnival mix of samba, drum corps, brass bands, trad jazz… all to the chaotic beat of gunpowder going off all around.

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A fantastic experience and I really hope to be part of it again next year….even if I was rather bruised and sore from marching with that drum all night… apparently I was meant to have a tiger skin or something… (or vegetarian equivalent)

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Posted by on November 11, 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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I Drew My Ship

Latest video with the wonderful Elle Osborne.  Sadly she can’t play at the moment, but she makes up for it with some proper beautiful singing!

 
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Posted by on November 7, 2014 in Pics / Vids / Audio

 

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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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Love Supreme

Love Supreme

What a fantastic weekend of music at Love Supreme jazz festival!

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I hadn’t managed to make it down to the last year, but we managed to somehow sneak Straight No Chaser onto the bill for this years event and I am so glad we managed to hustle for the gig!

Lots and lots of lovely music from so many musicians. It was all too much in a way because you start to choose not to listen to some bands that normally would have been an amazing night out on their own, but then again there is only so much jazz that you can take in one serving…

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I’m really pleased with our big band set. The guys played amazingly with some blistering solos and finely tuned ensemble sections, despite the wind gusting and blowing sheets of music around before us. I know there were several videos being made of our playing so I hope to share them soon. I’ve already seen one of Susanna Alce singing with us and she was being a star as always, perfectly underplaying the soul in the music.

We chose a set of quite complex arrangements including several of Simons charts, which was a good decision. The crowds seemed to be drawn to the interesting and intriguing music… I’m so glad we didn’t sell ourselves out with a standard repertoire of Gordon Goodwin and Nestico. We did ourselves proud and I think waved a good flag for local Brighton talent at this prestigious event.

So what was the highlight of the event?

Well Jamie Cullum it has to be said was immense. I didn’t think I would have ended up watching him but he played like a complete star with a band to match.

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Who else, well there was Laura Mvula with her soul diva voice, but a band she has taken in different direction with strings, harp and arrangements to die for. And of course Courtney Pine, who must have been put on this planet to play festivals in the sun like this. (I’m sure he physically made the sun shine with his music today!)

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Snarky Puppy was also up there at the top of my list, complex and soulful but intensely funky. And Slowly Rolling Camera who provided me with the perfect hangover cure.

Really looking forward to this event again next year, definitely hope we can get the band there again too!

 
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Posted by on July 6, 2014 in Gigs

 

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