Bray Jazz Festival – ‘This music came from the basement, not from school’
International performers at this weekend’s festival reveal their influences and tips
Paul Towndrow, Brass Jaw
Who or what first got you into jazz? When I first started playing saxophone aged 11, my English teache
r lent me three records: Sonny Rollins’s The Bridge , John Coltrane’s Coltrane Jazz , and Oliver Nelson’s Screamin’ The Blues . I still listen to those albums all the time. For me, as an alto sax player, all jazz stems from Charlie Parker. It is virtually impossible not to detect his influence in all but the most abstract contemporary improvisers.
Which rising star are you tipping for the future? Scottish piano and organ prodigy Pete Johnstone.
What’s the biggest challenge you see for jazz ? Jazz is in tremendous shape. It just needs to be funded and marketed more appropriately. An argument keeps cropping up that negative connotations with the word “jazz” exist. This is damaging and based on misinformation and misapprehension. On the contrary, one of the things jazz has going for it is a pre-built marketable identity, and a history of being cutting edge and cool. In fact, the word “cool” itself is a product of the jazz scene.
What’s the best piece of advice ever given to you by another musician? “The world does not owe you a living,” Dave Leibman.
Brass Jaw play Bray Town Hall on Sunday, 7pm
Who or what first got you into jazz? In the 1960s I had a rock trio playing Hendrix tunes. The drummer was a jazz drummer and he liked Elvin Jones. He told me to listen to various jazz guitarists. When Hendrix died a few years later, I totally went into jazz as I found more inspiration there.
What’s the biggest challenge you see for jazz in the future? The musicians I play with are all playing in about 10 different bands (me included). Years ago, for example, in OM (1972-82), we just played in one band, with rehearsals three times a week. It was very focused. Nowadays we are all playing a lot, but to concentrate on a band and to really get it flying has become more difficult.
Are there any particular collaborators that you felt an immediate connection with? I played seven years (on and off) with trombone player Ray Andersen in the 1990s. That was a great match. Later we played in trio with drummer Han Bennink and made two CDs for Hathut Records. As for being intimidated, well, playing before John McLaughlin was quite something – but that’s over 40 years ago.
Christy Doran’s New Bag play the Mermaid Arts Centre, Bray on Friday at 8pm
Who or what first got you into jazz? I had just started to play the electric bass at the age of 13 and joined a rock band at school playing music that matched the growing length of my hair, such as Rush and Queensryche. The first records I ever bought were Europe’s Final Countdown , Bruce Springsteen ’s Born in the USA , and Tears For Fears’ Songs from the Big Chair .
Through our marching band (I also played the tuba) I got offered lessons on the electric-bass, and I was introduced to Jaco Pastorius and Charlie Mingus.
What particular artists do you go back to again and again? Keith Jarrett with Jan Garbarek/Palle Danielsson/Jon Christensen is always a point of reference for me. I am especially fond of Personal Mountains . It has got everything – melodies, good compositions, inventiveness, creativity, dynamics, improvisations and great solos.
What’s the biggest challenge for jazz ? To be able to keep the attention of the listener. Since everything is going so fast today, and we are supposed to multitask while listening to music in the background, it is hard for instrumental music to cut through the noise of information.
A lot of our music requires the listener’s ears and their full attention.
Not necessarily because it is so much more difficult to understand, but because it has more details, more dynamics and a developing story being told.
What’s the best piece of advice ever given to you by another musician? Jon Christensen, the great drummer, was once asked by a bass player during a gig: “Where is the one?” Jon answered: “Where do you want it?” It says a lot.
Is there any instrument you cannot stand? I really have problems with the harmonica. Not when Stevie Wonder or Toots Thielemans play it, but almost everybody else. I have learned to like Bob Dylan. He is a great songwriter and has a lot of good songs and lyrics, but his harmonica-playing is just terrible.
Outside of jazz music, could you mention a major artistic influence? I really enjoy taking photographs. It is great to be inspired by other creative people and processes that are not directly usable for your own projects. But it is more the spark for going back to your own work. After moving to the countryside, I find I spend much more time outside in nature, allowing musical ideas and thoughts the time and space to grow. A lot of inspiration comes from nothing; for example, chopping wood.
Are there any particular collaborators that you felt an immediate connection with? The first time I played with Bobo Stenson was really strong for me. He obviously was such a big star, but when we started to play I felt that everything I did had an impact and an effect on his playing. I played this bass note, something happened in the piano-voicing.
It is not about being a fantastic individual player; it is what you do together as a group on stage that matters.
Mats Eilertsen’s Skydive play the Mermaid Arts Centre on Saturday, 8.30pm
Who or what first got you into jazz? It’s hard to say why a little girl at the age of 10 would be so moved by a recording of Red Garland that it brought her to tears but that was my case.
Is there any instrument you cannot stand? It’s more a register thing. I don’t like sounds in the upper register too much, especially metallic sounds. It makes my ears hurt.
Are there any particular collaborators that you felt an immediate strong connection with? Marc Johnson. We both love the piano-trio format. As kids, we grew up listening to much of the same music and have very similar musical sensibilities. I can’t think of another bassist I would rather play music with.
Also, Herbie Hancock. Herbie and I had an immediate affinity. We approached most of our duet playing by not having any structure or destination and allowing the music to take us somewhere, but this is only possible when musicians speak the same language as we do.
W ere there any collaborators that you felt intimidated sharing a stage with? Confidence in one’s ability can come from different places. For me, it’s a simple place of knowing my capabilities and having the confidence in what I can do. I hope no one will think me immodest when I say, I have prepared myself so well as a jazz pianist and improviser that I have never felt intimidated sharing the stage or recording studio with anyone.
Eliane Elias plays the Mermaid Arts Centre on Sunday, 8pm
Cyril Yeterian & Robin Girod, Mama Rosin
Who or what first got you into jazz? It was a short and direct meeting with A Love Supreme from John Coltrane.
Which rising stars are you tipping for the future? Casey Benjamin. He’s totally involved in the present.
What’s the biggest challenge for jaz z? Jazz today is becoming a music that comes from school, and people forget this music came from the basement. The challenge is to get back to the basement.
Are there any particular collaborators that you felt an immediate strong connection with? Mick Collins. This Béack guitarist from Detroit is the reason why the White Stripes exist. He was the singer from The Gories, a garage band from Detroit. Today, we’re in NYC to record an album with him.
Mama Rosin play the Martello on Saturday, midnight
What’s the best piece of advice ever given to you by another musician? Even without the drums, rhythm is still here. Play even when you’re sick: you’ll be half healed. The harmony equals the form: each key never comes alone. Silence is important, moreover when you have something important to say.
Is there any instrument you cannot stand? Strings instruments when they are wrongly played, or tuned wrong – this is hell for my soul.
Could you mention a major artistic influence? I’m often more influenced by classic or contemporary colours than jazz. That’s my original culture. It makes the harmony richer. I really admire African and Indian music, it’s rhythmically inspired. And it makes me feel and think slower when I play fast phrases.
Are there any particular collaborators that you felt an immediate strong connection with? More than people, I like to talk about the “cooking process” between the musicians I choose.
Médéric Collignon’s Le Jus de Bosce play the Mermaid Arts Centre on Friday, 8pm
Bray Jazz Festival takes place from Friday to Sunday. brayjazz.com