The Little Red Book: Thoughts from the Chairman
5 months later…
02/06/2014, 15:31pm. It’s been a fair amount of time (almost 5 months, as you can see from the timestamps) since I wrote anything here. This is largely down to the fact that my housemate Oliver recently introduced me to a new card game, which has taken up a lot of my free time, and the fact that the first 5 months of this year were unprecedentedly busy. Anyway, I’ll be writing a short section on each month detailing the key happenings and key meal events:
January: The Ronnie Scott’s Soul Jazz Orchestra
Much of January was spent orchestrating the music for the newly formed Ronnie Scott’s Soul Jazz Orchestra, a band which is the brainchild of Ronnie’s general manager Simon Cooke. This project involves a lot of contemporary pop and funk material, orchestrated for a new show called the Jook Joint that has run once a month so far this year. The gig debuted at Ronnie’s on 2nd February this year to rapturous applause from the mostly appreciative and only slightly inebriated audience. This writing gig led to the legitimising of the BreakWind Horns concept – and many of the added horn parts to the charts are well within the spirit of the band.
February: Irving Berlin
February saw me touring the country with Pete Long’s orchestra and the music of Irving Berlin. Featuring singers Matt Ford, Mary Carewe, Sophie Evans, and Spats Langham, we managed to do a whistle stop tour of everywhere from Edinburgh to Bournemouth in the space of 10 days. You can read about the music by Googling ‘Irving Berlin – from Rags to Ritzes’ and reading the reviews – sufficed to say, it was sufficiently excellent, and the trombone team of myself, Chris Traves, and Mark Frost put in some good work. Far more interestingly, the best curry was at Akbar’s in Leeds, and the best Chinese meal was in Birmingham in a little backstreet café that didn’t even have an English name, but did serve bitter melon with roast duck and proper chilli oil. The food highlight, though, was taking singer Sophie for her first ever Century Eggs and Congee at breakfast time in the Manchester Chinatown. For those of you who aren’t aware, a Century egg is basically a boiled egg that’s covered in chemicals and then buried for months, and they taste delicious (in my opinion). Sophie, unfortunately, didn’t agree. Her loss.
March: Close To You
Although I played lots of bits and bobs during March, the most memorable ones were the two gigs with Matt Skelton’s Close To You project, again featuring Matt Ford as the vocalist. Working with this ensemble of very high quality musicians is a real treat, and our debut gig at the Concorde Club in Southampton went down very well. Particularly impressive (and fun for me) were the Tippett Quartet – a bunch of very cool string players who really understand how this music works. If you want to hear Matt S’s best radio voice, and me making a bit of an idiot of myself in an interview while squinting at the camera because I had to take my glasses off due to the glare, you can watch this video:
April: Start Spreading the News…
April was a month where, at the start of it, I had three things in the book: the usual Ronnie’s gig, a recording session with my big band and Anthony Strong (fantastic UK singer – more on that one once the album comes out), and a Magic the Gathering tournament. I therefore decided to pop over the pond to New York, to visit my cousins David Peter and Vincent Au, and longtime comrade in arms Lucas Dodd. I had some great food and saw some great jazz while there: my top recommendation for anyone visiting is Ramen bar Ippudo, which serves amazing Ramen and a Japanese variant of the old favourite char siu bow. Here’s a photo:
While in New York, I also had the good fortune to meet up with trombone virtuoso (from Norwich) Elliot Mason, who has now taken up residence over in the former colonies and is working with the Lincoln Centre Jazz Orchestra. He’s rather good – here’s a video someone else took of the gig I went to see:
Lucas Dodd and I are out of shot on the right hand side sipping Old Fashioneds.
The Metropole Orchestra
The most enduring memory of May (perhaps unsurprisingly, as I did only just got back) is my time with the Metropole Orchestra out in Hilversum in the Netherlands. Earlier this year, I applied for a scheme to go and do a week long series of masterclasses out there with the conductor, arranger superstar Vince Mendoza, and famous pop singer Gregory Porter – I was very happy to find out that I’d got on the scheme. Long time friend from my former NYJO days Chris Whiter also got on the course, which was great – in total there were 7 arrangers – the others being Jenn Allen (USA), Rafael Piccolotto de Lima (Brazil), Ines Velasco (Mexico), Artturi Ronka (Finland), and Hans Christian Stephan (Germany). All of them are well worth checking out. I had a great time working with the orchestra – I couldn’t quite believe the amount of rehearsal time that they had (very different to how budgets tend to be divided in the UK) and the dedication of all the orchestral players. Also, very interesting to watch Vince Mendoza’s rehearsal technique, which is super efficient and effective. Thanks to everyone in the orchestra for putting it on!
Here’s something I wrote while I was there that the orchestra recorded – listen out for trombonist Bart Van Lier playing in the soft cup mute a la Dick Nash:
I’ll try my hardest to update this a little more often – and I’m sure I will. Coming soon will be a new Curry Tube map blog – where Pete Long and I are going to go round every station on the tube map and review the best local curry house for your reading pleasure.
Happy New Year!
06/01/2014, 14:53pm. I probably ought to explain why this blog-thing has gone over a month without being updated before I start writing anything new. As a musician, December tends to be very busy, largely because it is the season where people have parties and things to help themselves forget how cold and miserable it is outside. Oh – and that birthday of Heracles/Horus/Mithra/Quetzalcoatl/ thing – hopefully I didn’t forget anyone there! My December was no exception – and on top of all the usual gigs this month, I had to prepare new pads for two full gigs of my own and orchestrate all the string parts for this year’s Monte Carlo Sporting Club New Year’s Eve Elvis Spectacular. Following all this, I was supposed to be going to Qatar myself for NYE to play for some oil barons, but it ended up getting cancelled at the last minute because they couldn’t find a suitable flight. This meant an unprecedented period of rest and relaxation during which time there was much eating, drinking, and general merriment by the way of board and card games introduced to me by my housemate that are too geeky for mention in a public forum.
Anyway – none of this is as important as the fact that, on New Year’s Day, as if a slightly late birthday message from Horus himself, my axolotls had babies. They laid about 300 eggs – of which only about 12 have survived until now. They’re in a Tupperware on my kitchen table surrounded by live water fleas, which are moving slightly too quickly for them to catch. Here is a picture.
Coming up this month are all sorts of interesting things. I have a total of three super-contemporary jazz big band things – firstly with Gareth Lockrane at the Forge, then with Reuben Fowler at King’s Place, then finally with Kieran McLeod’s new project Human Resource System at the V&A – a project for which all the music is arranged by Kieran in real time as it is played through the use of a fancy piece of computer software he’s written and a midi keyboard. I play tuba in that one too. On the Sibelius grindstone, at the moment I’m taking down a few things for Iain Mackenzie’s new project to pay tribue to Mel Tormé. Our first playthrough will be this Thursday morning – and I’m VERY excited. It’s a great lineup – with Ryan Quigley, Matt Skelton and Alex Garnett among others, and it should be great fun. Here’s the track I’m doing at the moment – the phrasing at 20s is tasty (not as tasty as a good curry is though).
Speaking of a good curry, and continuing the ever-growing food section of this blog-thing, my most recent restaurant visit is a place in Tooting called Chennai Dosa – and it is highly recommended. I took my housemate there yesterday for the first time. They serve South Indian vegetarian food – dosas, paratha, uthappam, bhatura, puri, etc. The food is great – really tasty and exactly the right level of spiciness. It’s also very cheap – bearing in mind that we ate a lot (5 main dishes total, though one main dish is slightly too small to be a meal for one), the bill came to about fifteen quid. The obligatory picture was taken after we’d already eaten about half the food because I forgot to take it earlier.
For Christmas, the BreakWind Horns (well, just me and New York sensation Lucas Dodd, because everyone else had better things to do) recorded with Justin Bieber and Mariah Carey to successfully hit the enviable position of UK number 1 in the Christmas charts. Here it is. Please bear in mind that all the high stuff is me on a Euphonium going through an octave pedal. I think that deserves bonus points for ingenuity.
4 Big Bands in 2 Days and Gold Mine
25/11/2013, 22:03pm: This weekend has been an exceptionally busy one. I directed a NYJO rehearsal, ran a gig with one of my own big bands, directed a NYJO gig for the LJF, and then did a dance band gig down in Sidcup for bassist Joe Pettitt and the Len Phillips Big Band. Altogether a very positive experience, although an extremely tiring one. As a musician, you can sometimes get a fair bit of downtime followed by a period of very intense activity – this weekend was one of those, with two days on the trot leaving the house at 9:30am and getting home after midnight. Here’s a bit of a summary of the salient points:
My own gig was, as I hinted at last week, a big Sinatra knees-up for the Freemasons at the Honourable Artillery Club in London. Fed up of playing off terribly copied, poorly transcribed music from the likes of London Orchestrations and Power House Music, I decided that for this gig I would take down the entire pad of popular syncopated classics myself. For those unfamiliar, to ‘take something down’ means to listen to a recording and write out the notes that each individual musician is playing – a process which results in creating a score like the one at the bottom of this page. It’s not exactly a difficult thing to do once you’ve got the hang of it, but it is definitely a skill which takes practice just like anything else. For a big band chart that is fairly standard in the way it is orchestrated, I can usually get it done in three to four hours nowadays. Anyway, this process has been ongoing over the past several months whenever I’ve had a spare minute; but it’s done now, so any future gigs that need this sort of repertoire will now require no additional work, which is always a nice thought. I even bought a set of hat mutes for this and gigs like it – for those unfamiliar, hat mutes (or derby mutes) are a sort of mute that the Basie band used a lot to make the brass blend better with the saxes. I had an amazing time – this repertoire is some of my favourite both to play and to listen to, and it’s always a real pleasure to play it with a great band. The partygoers were up dancing for the whole night too – which just goes to show that Jazz isn’t inherently unpopular.
Directing NYJO from the front was an interesting experience – my first time doing that formally. It was very nice to not have to carry a large heavy thing to a gig: since I was just arm-waving and making the occasional announcement, all I needed to bring was my Trader Joe’s bag filled with the band’s music. The band were sight-reading most of the repertoire, which is something that I think makes a good band sound better, since it improves concentration levels, makes everyone pay a bit more attention, and makes all the music sound fresh. I brought my pad of the music of Thad Jones and Mel Lewis’ great big band, which is now called the Vanguard Orchestra and continues to play at the Village Vanguard club in New York every Monday night featuring some of the best NYC jazz musicians around. Totally different repertoire from the Sinatra stuff – but equally good – tons of space for jazz players to stretch out and be creative – of which NYJO has no shortage at present.
You may have noticed that this blog seems almost of its own accord to be slowly transforming itself into a food blog. It’s not that surprising when you consider that a lot of the time, as a professional musician, you have to eat out as a matter of necessity – since you have no kitchen facilities when playing that all-important dance band gig in Clacton-upon-Sea. On top of that, I like to eat for fun as well – through either making food at home or going out with friends and family. On Tuesday night last week I took my housemate Ollie out to a London Cantonese eatery for his birthday. The place is called Gold Mine – it’s in Bayswater, and does the best Cantonese Roast Duck (and indeed some of the best Chinese food) I’ve had in London. Very reasonably priced too. Our menu was (for three people): 1/2 a Roast Duck, Crispy Belly Pork/Char Siu, Chef’s Special Tofu, Aubergine and Fish Fillet Hot Pot, and Beef Hor Fun. You can see a picture of it (with the Tofu dish in full focus) to the side.
Having been inspired by the Gold Mine meal, I decided to try cooking the Cantonese Roast Duck myself. I bought a small duck from the Brixton Farmers’ Market on Sunday for £5 (somehow managing to drag myself out of bed early enough to get there before the Hideaway NYJO show), and cooked it for dinner tonight. It was very nice – but, because it was a wild duck, it wasn’t quite as fatty and juicy as the ones that are served in Gold Mine – which are farmed and fed on lard I suppose. Here is a picture.
The big band has just been provisionally booked for a show in Oxford early next year at the Dragon School: since they want something that is vaguely educational as well as entertaining, I intend to do a programme of music which charts the development of big band music throughout the last 100 years, with one chart per decade from the 1920s to the 2010s, while trying to incorporate as much of our own rep into that remit as possible. I’ve thrown together this list of things:
1920s – Sweet Georgia Brown (Pinkard/Basie)
1950s – Blues in Hoss Flat (Basie)
1960s – The Shadow of your Smile (Mandel)
1930s – Rockin’ In Rhythm (Ellington)
1950s – Something’s Coming (Bernstein/CABB)
2000s – Beloved (Gavita/CABB)
1970s – The Groove Merchant (Thad & Mel)
1980s – Liberty City (Jaco)
2010s – Far Beyond the Stars (Me)
1930s – Sing Sing Sing (Goodman)
1940s – Boyd Meets Stravinsky (Boyd Raeburn)
1960s – Wave (Jobim/CABB)
1940s – Saturday Night is the Loneliest Night of the Week (Sammy Cahn/Pat Williams)
1990s – Original Rays (Brecker/CABB)
1920s – Rhapsody In Blue (Gershwin/CABB)
We won’t have any singers, unfortunately, so the vast wealth of Sinatra rep that I was talking about earlier will be sadly absent. And I’m sure this list will go through several revisions before arriving at its eventual point of rest. But you get the idea.
Over the coming week I’m going to finally finish the Crusaders charts, which once again got procrastinated last week when more pressing work with deadlines materialised. Now I’m going to go upstairs and do the washing up from dinner, and then curl up in bed to watch some trashy Sci-Fi in a great conclusion to my day off. Until next time!
18/11/2013 – 21:13: Let’s be honest: to the vast majority of people, breakfast is the meal at which one eats food that no-one rational would even consider eating at any slightly more respectable time of day. Aside from the Full English, which, eaten regularly, is one surefire way to die very young, the other options, ranging from the relatively healthy grapefruit segments with low fat soy yoghurt, through the mundane toast with marmalade, to the utterly hideous Froot Loops with M&S 1250 kCal/l Chocolate Milk, none of it is something anyone really wants to eat. It’s just a stopgap designed to get you through until you can have a proper meal, like a curry, a big slab of meat, or some noodles, at lunchtime. However, I have recently discovered the food which actually makes me look forward to breakfast, to the extent that I am getting up half an hour early just to facilitate the substantial prep time. This is Okonomiyaki – a type of Japanese pancake. I first tried an Okonomiyaki in everyone’s favourite trendy London eating spot, Brixton Village, about a year ago. It tasted great, and I immediately set to work finding the ingredients. Alas! One of the main constituent parts, the tasty brown saucy stuff that goes on the top, is always labelled in Japanese, so I didn’t have a clue what it was before going to an enormous Wing Yip near Manchester and asking someone. Anyway, having found this, and the other stuff (ingredients list here for the curious, and having bought a cabbage bigger than my head in last week’s Farmers’ Market, I set to work making these for breakfast. And I’ve found a new favourite, to go along with fish ball and pork floss congee at the top of the ‘totally awesome list of great things to eat in the morning’. It’s a little easier to get a hold of the things to make it than it is Pork Floss as well. There’s a picture of one of the larger ones for the curious to the right of this post. I highly recommend it. Best of all, it really does set you up for the day’s work – I had my morning Okonomiyaki then took down the entirety of the Ella version of ‘That Old Black Magic’, having been annoyed at a dodgy takedown of the same earlier in the week, before lunch!
It’s London Jazz Festival week in the land of the working jazz musician, and suddenly, gigs that usually attract an audience of about 4, one of whom is only there because they got lost on the way to the loos, are attended by hundreds. An admirable effort by the Festival’s organisers – this year EFG (the big energy company) and Serious – although I do have a nagging suspicion in the back of my mind that half the crowds are probably actors paid by Serious to attend who you might notice from the background in a particularly high budget episode of EastEnders. My jazz festival week started off with a double big band extravaganza – first Gareth Lockrane’s band at the Spice of Life, then BreakWind Horns founding member Reuben Fowler’s band at the Southbank Centre. Some amazing musicians on these two gigs: in no particular order, Mike Lovatt, Mark Nightingale, Nigel Hitchcock, Sammy Mayne, Graeme Blevins, Matt Skelton, Ross Stanley, Steve Fishwick, Andy Greenwood, and plenty of others. It really is lovely to have a day of playing really great music with really great musicians for an acceptable amount of money. Seeing the number of people who do attend these gigs makes me wonder how it’d be possible to get them to come and see things the rest of the time – not just the one weekend in November. Maybe they are just actors and I’m reading too much into it, though.
Over the upcoming weekend I’m directing two big bands – firstly a band for a private do in Central London where we’re all going to wear white jackets and Iain Mackenzie is going to pretend to be Frank Sinatra for the debut of a whole new pad I’ve transcribed to avoid the monstrosities that are PowerHouse/London Orchestrations/Lush Life Music; and secondly NYJO’s LJF gig at the Hideaway in Streatham, where I’m bringing along my Thad Jones/Mel Lewis library. More on that later.
Food Blog & Ender’s Game
07/11/2013 – 00:09: I’ve just got home from watching the utter abomination that is the new Ender’s Game film. More on that later. First, though, a note on food. Now, those of you who know me will know that I love food more than just about anything else. And the week so far has been rather good in that regard.
Due to a rare Sunday lunchtime without an unpaid Big Band gig this week, I managed to get down to the Brixton Farmers’ Market. The regular Brixton markets are pretty good – lots of fresh meat and veg being sold on the street. The Farmers’ Market is even better – lots of very high quality fresh meat and veg being sold on the street. I bought a big chicken, some buffalo, a big piece of pork fillet, a cabbage bigger than my head, and lots of other miscellaneous vegetables. That night, we had roast chicken for tea with a proper giblets gravy; then the carcass became an oriental chicken stock, which subsequently became half ramen/congee broth, half chicken, crab and sweetcorn soup. The buffalo I made into a bolognese on Tuesday night for a lawyer friend who was down from Cardiff for the evening. The cabbage is due to become Okonomiyaki very soon. However, it is what ended up happening to the pork fillet that I’m most pleased with. Since the cut of meat looked like it was just the right size and shape and was very good quality, I decided to try and make a char siu out of it. A char siu is a Chinese roast pork dish, usually barbecued or flame grilled to finish. It is slightly sweet and sticky, and it has a similar flavour to bak kwa but is not dried. I looked for a good recipe online, but everything I found had odd, hard to find ingredients like maltose or that awful fermented bean curd that makes your whole house smell like unwashed feet for months. So, eventually I improvised the following recipe, which I will post for the benefit of anyone who wants to try this:
Ginger (about 5cm)
Garlic (about 6 cloves, more if you like garlic. I would have used more but only had 6 left)
2 Tbsp Sugar
2 Tbsp Hoisin Sauce
2 Tbsp Shao Xing (Rice Wine)
2 Tbsp Honey
1 Tsp 5 Spice Powder
1 Tsp Sesame Oil
The pork fillet I used was about 400g
I crushed the garlic and ginger in a pestle and mortar, then put all the sauce ingredients in a pan and heated it up, stirring until everything was thick and sticky and the sugar was all dissolved. I then marinaded the meat in about 3/4 of the sauce overnight, and kept the final 1/4 in the fridge to use as the topping, adding a little extra peanut oil to the top to keep it fresh. At this stage, the meat looked like this:
On cooking the meat, I oven cooked it at 190c for about 20 minutes, brushing the marinade onto the meat every few minutes to keep it moist. Then I turned the temperature up to about 210c and switched to the grill; grilling each side for about 5 minutes to get the barbecue effect, and brushing more marinade on at each stage. Finally, I took it out the oven, sliced it, and poured over the sauce from the fridge. It looked like this:
And it tasted just right! Ate about a third of it for lunch with edamame and konnyaku, and the rest will go well with ramen and okonomiyaki for the rest of the week.
This evening, prior to the utter abomination that is the new Ender’s Game movie, I went for dinner with my vegetarian friend Raph Clarkson in one of my favourite restaurants, Curry Ono Japanese Kitchen in the Brixton Market. The place really is amazing – the main chef is fantastic, everything is prepared from fresh, it’s all very classy food. All the starters (things like teriyaki, tempura, takoyaki, gyoza, etc) are home made and taste really good, particularly the gyoza – it’s great to see these when they come and have obviously not just been taken out of a packet. But it’s the curries that are the restaurant’s speciality. The menu claims that the curry sauce contains 20 different vegetables and 20 different spices – and it’s a very subtle blend of flavours that I’m fairly sure is at least somewhat addictive. Here’s some pictures of what we had. It’s all vegetarian (required after the above meaty lunch and given the company), though they do do plenty of meatier options for carnivores like me. In order, they are: Vegetable Kaki-Age Tempura; Potato Croquette; Vegetable Gyoza; Tofu Teriyaki Curry.
Now, onto the abomination of a film. I’ll keep this brief – if you want the full extended essay, all you need do is ask. I was a big fan of the Ender’s Game books while growing up. The characters were very well done, the plots intricate and detailed, and everything believable. The movie oversimplifies everything to the point where Ender and friends (of which there are about 6 rather than the book’s 12+) don’t seem like real people, and the shocking twist at the end (which I won’t spoil) is completely predictable. They miss out the whole Demosthenes and Locke subplot entirely (which is essential to stop certain characters from looking utterly two dimensional), and they have Fun with Physics (TM) when they move the Command School from the Asteroid Belt to a conquered Formic planet, thus ignoring the relativistic effects of space travel at near-light speeds, which are a huge part of the plot in the sequels. Oh, and the soundtrack is really really bad – again, pointless D minor ramblings with pointless repeated string patterns, pointless low brass, and pointless moogs spoiling everyone’s fun. Orson Scott Card may well be a horrible man because of his utterly archaic beliefs, but his books are amazing. This film is not. Don’t bother going to see it, you’ll only come out feeling disappointed.
I finished the new piece for NYJO early this week. I don’t know when they’ll be playing it, but it’ll hopefully be soon – I imagine I’ll probably go in and take them through it in a rehearsal at some point. After toying with calling the tune ‘The Lords of Kobol’ (very explicit BSG reference), I finally went for ‘Far Beyond the Stars’ as the title. This serves the dual purpose of a) sounding like the sort of pretentious artsy title that a certain sort of people will take seriously; and b) being the title of one of the best ever DS9 episodes. All required boxes ticked! Next on the list are a couple of big band takedowns for a couple of different people, followed by the mammoth task that will be Richard Pite’s new Crusaders project as mentioned a few posts ago.
The axolotls are growing slowly but steadily. They’ve managed to catch at least 3 of the shrimps now. Here’s a picture of the female sitting on a rock in the tank that makes it look a little bit like Pride Rock from the Lion King. She’s looking rather round – I expect she’s the one that’s managed to catch all three of the shrimps as the male never seems interested.
Now, I’m going to have a bowl of chicken and sweetcorn soup. Over and out.
The Book Of Mormon; NYJO
02/11/2013 – 20:59: I’ve just got home from a lovely day out with my flatmate Ollie Montague and his family. Due to a last minute absence there was suddenly a ticket available for this afternoon’s performance of “The Book of Mormon” on the West End. What a great show – hilarious! And I couldn’t agree more with the sentiment (hasa diga eebowai – Google it if you want a translation, this is a family blog) – thought the little guy founding his own religion at the end was pretty astute of him since it would basically guarantee him all the money, power, and women (or men) he could ever want. Great guitar playing from occasional CABB musician Tommy Emmerton as well. An all round excellent day – many thanks to Heather and Ray (Ollie’s parents).
At the moment, I’m writing a new piece of big band music for NYJO (the National Youth Jazz Orchestra, for those of you who aren’t aware). I was asked to write this by the band’s MD Mark Armstrong outside the Dog & Duck Pub on last month’s Ronnie’s Big Band gig – a place where many music jobs like this get fixed up due to its central West End location. It’s shaping up to be an alto sax feature for their current alto soloist Jim Gold, as well as containing a trumpet solo for an as yet undisclosed victim. I’ve gone for a Jaco Pastorius/Steps Ahead Big Band-ish sort of vibe – a nice simple but catchy melody with deceptively complex harmony, surrounded by lots of extended buildup sections with shifting polytonal key centres. Lots of room for the rhythm section to go mad as well, particularly the percussionist.
Speaking of NYJO, I’ll be going into the band to take them through some of the Thad Jones/Mel Lewis repertoire at their London Jazz Festival gig at the Hideaway Jazz Club later on this month. That stuff, in my opinion, is some of the best and most inventive modern big band writing of all time – it manages to incorporate complex harmony, rhythm, and jazz elements while still being insistently swinging and instantly accessible – not the easiest of things to do! So I’m looking forward to that one.
As mentioned in the last post I did, I was interviewed on Clare Teal’s Radio 2 show last week about the big band. It’s just about gone from iPlayer now, but just in case any of you 3 readers want to listen again, you can hear it below. Please do share this if you feel so inclined – if people listen to this once in a day rather than the latest mostly synthesised boy band nonsense that is laughingly referred to as music and will be soon forgotten as soon as one of the boys in question gets fat or kills himself by accidental drug overdose, I think it’s a small victory. Just a small one, mind you.
The Radio, Socks, and Riddle
23/10/2013, 21:00: Another short-ish entry – this time because I need to be done in time to get the Armburg Jennings signature ’12 Keys All The Things You Are’ Jazz Method out the way before 10pm when the neighbours might get cranky. Three brief things:
It turns out that this Sunday evening I’ll be being interviewed on Clare Teal’s Radio 2 show as part of a special feature on my (previously new, now almost middle-aged) big band album. I’m going to be saying a few words about where I come from, what I do, and why, before they play ‘Maria’ from the West Side Story suite, which is sung by Iain Mackenzie and features fellow BreakwindHorns-ite George Hogg. Apparently their aim is to prove to their listening audience that Big Band music isn’t just for your grandad and his golf buddies – it’s played and enjoyed by young people too. Which of course it is. I really do think that, a lot of the time, people will like whatever the media tells them to like: put enough money and marketing behind whatever the latest terrible boy/girl band happens to be, and people will think that they like it because it’s been drummed into their heads enough times. So the solution is obviously to saturate the mass market with concert orchestras playing big band vocal jazz (see below) so that it becomes even more popular than One Direction. Hopefully this is a step in the right direction!
Just before writing this post, I spent a good 15 minutes pairing up socks. This is the first time I’ve done this since about 2009, and I still find myself feeling rather puzzled as to why, since all of them look the same outside of the shoe anyway. I put to the reading public two questions: 1) Why do people think it’s better to wear paired socks even when the majority of the difference is indistinguishable 99% of the time; 2) Why do people think it looks better to wear clothes that have been flattened? I mean – if someone wants to pay me to flatten my clothes, I’ll do it, no questions asked, as I routinely have to far more often than I’d like to. But it seems totally arbitrary – why are flattened clothes good and wrinkly ones bad? Answers on a postcard.
Been listening loads to the Ella Fitzgerald Gershwin Songbook. Great lead trumpet playing from Conrad Gozzo and arranging from Nelson Riddle. Amazing in time and swinging bass trombone too. That music is just outstanding. Here’s one of the best ones.
Lots of writing work has come in at once – most of which doesn’t have a deadline until January at the earliest. Going to be very difficult to stay off the sci fi with that sort of timescale… I’ll keep you posted.
18/10/2013, 18:38: You’ll notice a fairly big gap between this entry and the last – that is because I had nothing on for a while, then all of a sudden a wave of things threatened to drown me in their relative suddenness – so I successively haven’t had the content then the time to say anything new.
One of these recent things was what turned out to be a really nice gig with the Big Band at the Two Moors Festival in Barnstaple. We all got in six cars (with two stragglers on the train) and drove down to Barnstaple in Devon on Wednesday morning, to play the big band versions of Rhapsody in Blue and West Side Story that I’ve done. The Two Moors Festival is largely a classical music festival, sponsored by Classic FM – but they have one jazz act every year – and this year, that was us. We had a lovely time – a very appreciative audience, a nice acoustic, and the biggest piano you’ll ever see – a full size concert Bosendorfer with 8 extra notes on the bottom. We also got to use my new set of Hat mutes, which I think I was more excited about than anyone else. The best was still to come though – they put us up in a nice country hotel down the road called Trimstone Manor with a late opening bar, great local beers, and a very nice cooked breakfast complete with black pudding in the morning. Now, why can’t we have one of those on every gig? Maybe I should start including it on the rider…
Coming up next is some arranging stuff – including what is possibly the oddest thing I’ve ever been asked to arrange – below. Apparently George Formby ‘told his baby with his ukulele, he bashed her with it over the head’. That’s not very nice, is it?
I’m also doing a lot of takedowns from Wayne Henderson’s Jazz Crusaders for a new project of Richard Pite’s. This project will be premiered at Boisdale in early 2014 – watch this space!
The BreakWind Horns will be recording very soon with One Direction and Beyoncé. That’s all I can reveal at present – but trust me, the wait will be worth it.
Three Small Things
27/09/2013, 23:09: Due to having very little on at the moment, this entry will be mercifully short – despite the fact that, given the last week or so’s activity, I could talk about Babylon 5 at length, I don’t think many people would really be interested in that, and there’s plenty on Wikipedia already for those who are. Three small points to make, all conveniently illustrated for your viewing pleasure:
1. It seems my album (or at least one track from it) is being played on Singapore Airlines flights to Australia. I found this out completely by chance: my good friend and former housemate Henry Armburg Jennings has just popped off to Australia to get married, and his now wife Karina spotted this one the plane (pictured below). I have no idea how this came about – or if I’m being paid for it. I suppose there’s no way to find out really. A Luck Dragon was probably responsible.
2. I am stepping down from my role as BreakWind Horns Executive Fashion Designer, due to the fact that, just over a week after accepting the position, someone else came along and did a far better job. That someone is George Hogg’s girlfriend Nicola, who made the pictured items – socks, boxer shorts, and the group’s new mascot (name to be decided). An underwear shoot accompanied by aggressive swells and fortepianos will almost certainly be forthcoming.
3. If anyone sees this jumper anywhere, I want it for Christmas. It’s amazing.
Tomorrow, I’m off to West Malling in Kent to play James Pearson’s new arrangements of Rhapsody in Blue, An American in Paris, and Gershwin’s Piano Concerto in F. For those who don’t know, James is the Artistic Director at Ronnie Scott’s, and an incredible pianist for both jazz and classical repertoire – hence all the Gershwin. These new charts are scored for six musicians – piano, bass, drums, woodwind, brass, and percussion: I’m playing tenor trombone, bass trombone, and euphonium (I’m choosing to omit the trumpet doubling due to the fact that it would sound utterly hideous with me operating it), and I get to use my harmon mute for the seventh time ever. More on that later.
18/09/2013, 15:42: I have had my cousin Jonathan from Los Angeles staying with me in the “Brixton Forbidden Palace” this week, during which time he has been working very hard on a couple of film shoots as DP. This has had two fortunate effects: firstly, I have taken him on the full Brixton Market restaurant tour in the evenings, resulting in some very tasty meals; and secondly, I have been very strongly encouraged to get on with my work during the daytimes while he’s been out working himself, so as not to feel guilty about doing nothing all day while he’s out slaving away over a camera from 7am – 10pm. It really is amazing how quickly one can work when driven by guilt – I suppose that’s why the Pope has traditionally been so effective as a world leader. Anyway, as a result, on Wednesday afternoon, now 15:45pm, I appear to have finished my writing work for the week. Unless anyone has any bright ideas or wants to pay me lots of money to do some writing for them, I will be spending the rest of the week watching Sci Fi until the weekend’s gigs. This week’s show is Babylon 5. It’s rather good so far.
We also have decorators in this week – changing the colour of the Brixton Forbidden Palace walls from dirty white to clean slightly off-white. They seem to be doing a very good job, though, and are very efficient and practical. So effective house arrest while they are here makes for excellent Sci Fi watching time. On top of that, though, I intend to take a few of the scenes from the new Star Trek films and rescore them – mostly as a showreel for future work of that sort, but also because I think the soundtrack should have referenced the earlier TV series more than they did, and trying to fit as many references in as possible will be fun.
On the BreakWind Horns front, lots of developments. I have recently taken up the new position of BreakWind Executive Fashion Designer. This has resulted in a set of t-shirts for the band – which are pictured, alongside an Inevitable Curry. Unfortunately, the company who made them missed off the little streams of Wind coming from the bell of the trumpet while printing – we are enquiring about this at the moment and will hopefully have the complete version as the Designer intended very shortly.
We have also published a new horn section arrangement, which is available here: Love On Top. This is our horn section arrangement for Beyoncé’s hit ‘Love on Top’. Please get in touch with our management if you’d like horns adding to your tune – remember, we generally have to write the horn parts before the vocal has been done, so factor it in early in the creative process!
It also looks like a spinoff group is being formed in the USA, courtesy of our original principal Woodwind, Lucas Dodd. Although not much more can be said at this point, their logo and theme song have been released as a sneak preview.
Malcolm Reed Fish
08/09/2013, 22:36: Aside from a couple of easy gigs over the weekend and the piles of writing stuff I mentioned last time, much of this week has been spent plotting the revival of jazz as a somewhat popular art form in this country. Following on from an idea of Richard Pite’s and Pete Long’s, who have realised that they don’t actually have the time to dedicate to the project given their already busy schedules, I am taking over the musical side of their Jazz@thePhil: Reloaded project. The idea began as an outlet at which to play jazz music that would appeal to people who weren’t already jazz fans – shorter solos, lots of riffs and hooks, lots of horn players, all music danceable, no bass solos, easy to understand tunes – in the format of the famous Jazz at the Philharmonic jam session recordings. It’s worth bearing in mind that popular music wasn’t always melodyne and inane lyrics about umbrellas – jazz actually once was popular, and there is no reason why it should not be again! I’ve had a meeting to discuss all this with the project’s producer, Natalie, and we’re looking at starting it up on a Saturday at 2:30am as an alternative club night, in the near future, as well as on a Tuesday night in a more concert-ish format. That’s all I can say for the moment, but there will be more about this on the official side of the website in the near future, so keep an eye out if you’re interested.
Another Mandel record arrived – this time ‘The Sandpiper’. Got to love the trumpet solos from Jack Sheldon all the way through. And the harmony and orchestration is just peerless. There’s my music recommendation for the week in case anyone cares.
In aquatics news, I have just bought a Reed Fish. His name is Malcolm. Extra bonus points if you get the joke. Reed fish are very cool animals – they, along with the other members of the bichir family to which they belong, are a creature that have remained almost unchanged since the Jurassic period. Their scales lock together in a sort of armour plate that makes them almost impervious to predators, so effective that the US Army have used the same principle in their body armour technology. Unfortunately, despite all this protection, all the reed fish I have owned in the past have been suicidal – swimming up the filter chute or jumping out the tank. Both the filter and the lid have been affixed very firmly this time – so hopefully Malcolm Reed fish doesn’t end up the same way…
The BreakWind Horns have had an active weekend, with not one but two new videos! The first, featuring the compact two horns lineup and composed by George Hogg in the Hitchin Composer’s Workshop, is called ‘Anthem #5 – Not Possible Live’ – for reasons that will become apparent upon watching the video. The second features the Deluxe edition of a full five members (not seen since the Sword of Ice) and is called ‘Anthem #6: Sonata in G (Beethoven for Trumpets)’. Enjoy!
02/09/2013, 22:46pm: In Singapore’s Chinatown district, there is a small shop called Lim Chee Guan. The founder of this shop had a vision – to bring the ultimate in dried pig, in the form of Bak Kwa (pictured) and Pork Floss (rousong) to the world. Both of these things are utterly incredible. Bak Kwa is basically strips of barbecued pork done with some sort of marinade. Pork floss is slightly more complicated – essentially, you marinade a pig then put it in the oven for a long time on a very low heat, then remove it, shred all the flesh off into tiny bits, shallow fry it for a bit until it’s crispy, then dry it out. Because of the preparation method, it then soaks up liquid from anything watery, and therefore goes very well with things like soups, rice, and any other watery food. Both Bak Kwa and pork floss are immensely satisfying, and almost certainly addictive. And this week, after a year-long dry patch due to the only source of the stuff being that one tiny shop on the other side of the world, lots of it has suddenly appeared in my kitchen as if by magic.
There are substantial logistical difficulties involved in bringing vast quantities of dried meat across the whole Eurasian supercontinent – baggage weight allowances, keeping the meat fresh, and the chance of the airport sniffer dogs fancying a snack all have to be factored in. Obtaining not one, not two, but three (well, two and a half) bags of the treasured stuff almost seems like all my birthdays, Christmases, and special one-of-a-kind Pagan festival dates determined by the alignment of the stars in relation to some druid’s bodily orifices have come at once. Thanks must be given in vast quantites to Auntie Betty and Uncle Paul, my sister Lauren’s boyfriend Alex Koo, and Lauren’s poor taste in dried meats, for providing the fortuitous set of circumstances that led to these events, which are too boring to describe at length. As my cousin Lois and I have discovered this week, pork floss goes perfectly with everything – from plain rice, instant noodles, and congee, to Haagen Dasz ice cream. Both of us are very happy about this, and we promise we won’t eat it all in one go this time.
Anyway, enough about dried meat. I suppose I should at least mention music in passing. Yesterday was the infamous double Sunday Big Band day – with Jay Craig’s Orchestra in the morning at the Gunnersbury in Chiswick, and the Ronnie Scott’s Jazz Orchestra with Pete Long in the evening. Much fun was had by all – and Jay’s band had a trumpet section which may well be the loudest and highest I’ve ever heard (for non-musicians’ information, those two things combined naturally equate to ‘best’) – Andy Greenwood, Ryan Quigley, Louis Dowdeswell, and Tom Walsh. Top work, gentlemen. Plong also pointed out on the evening Ronnie’s gig that the whole upper trombone section came from Lancashire – with delegates appearing from Preston (Alistair White), Burnley (Barnaby Dickinson), and Blackpool (me). Whoever said the only useful things you could get from Lancashire were cotton, pies, and George Formby… was probably right, actually, considering that we’re all trombonists. Oh well, never mind. There’s always that Classics degree I suppose…
On the writing side, at the moment, I’m working on a few things which don’t require trekking miles across the country, which is a welcome change of scenery after last month’s three consecutive trips to Monaco and back. I’m doing a couple of charts for BadAss Brass to feature Natalie Williams, a new trumpet feature for Georgina Jackson, a couple of charts for Anthony Strong to play with a Czech big band, and a couple of Sinatra takedowns. All to be done by the 15th of September. Looks like Star Trek will have to go on a brief hiatus for a bit.
Since I don’t have a new BreakWind Horns video this week, here’s a nice bit of Sinatra from an LP I bought a couple of days ago that has been on repeat in the kitchen ever since. It’s ‘Let’s Fall in Love’ from ‘Ring a Ding Ding’, arranged by Johnny Mandel of Americanization of Emily/The Sandpiper fame. I’ll probably take this down as soon as I have a spare minute. Incidentally, for a few weeks while I was without a micro-SD for my phone, those two soundtracks were the only thing on there as well. So it’s been a bit of a Mandel-fest all round.
One more thing – for those of you who understand what this means, I beat Civ V on Deity this week. Venice, Diplomatic. That’s all I’m going to say on the subject, don’t press further; if you don’t understand already it will only disappoint.
The Great Wall and Gingers
26/08/2013, 4:30pm: I have finally managed to drag myself out of bed to write this week’s Little Red Book entry. For reasons that will become apparent later on in today’s proceedings (but involves the ‘Gingers’ part of the title), last night was particularly intense, and, to be honest, I’m pretty impressed that I’ve actually got as far as turning on my computer to write this. Two points to discuss today!
Saturday saw me making the trip up to Ramsgate, Kent, to play the trombone with Gareth Lockrane’s Big Band. For those of you who don’t know, Gareth is the best jazz flautist in the world – no exaggeration – and runs a storming contemporary big band filled to the brim with some ridiculous soloists (including Steve Fishwick, Laurence Cottle, Phil Robson, Alex Garnett, and many more) and lots of great charts from Gareth’s own pen. Much fun was had by all, particularly me, as it was a great change of pace from the previous few days’ sellotaping marathon. Enough about that though – otherwise it’ll start to sound like it belongs in the ‘sickeningly earnest’ section. One thing that I very much enjoyed about the gig was the location – the seaside locale reminded me of Blackpool (where I grew up), albeit minus the 12pm vomit and radioactive donkeys. As a matter of some mild interest, they have a thing called the Great Wall of Ramsgate (pictured below, taken on Saturday) – which was perhaps somewhat less impressive than its counterpart in China (also pictured below, taken when I took the Oxford University Big Band out to the Shanghai World Expo festival in 2010). I’m not entirely sure what allows a wall to qualify as a ‘Great Wall’ as opposed to an ‘Ordinary Wall’ or ‘Average Wall’. Judging by the below examples, it’s somewhat arbitrary.
The reason for today’s somewhat late start as described above is entirely the fault of my big band’s principal alto saxophonist, Mr. Lucas Dodd. Lucas, deciding that, despite his considerable ability at music, he needs even more questionably necessary education, has decided to move to New York for the next two years to study jazz alto saxophone at the Manhattan School of Music. I have known him since my days with the National Youth Jazz Orchestra, and between me and a few other former NYJO members we gave him a proper London sendoff. Proceedings began in Brixton (like so many good things) in what is without a doubt my favourite restaurant in London, Curry Ono Japanese Kitchen. There we had a proper Japanese lunch (takoyaki, agedashi tofu, gyoza, charhan, chicken teriyaki, katsu curry) with ample sake. Following this, we quickly recorded Lucas’ BreakWind Horns swansong (which you will see below) involving the more sensitive BreakWind WoodWinds, featuring Lucas on piccolo and me on Shakuhachi, before heading to the Dog and Duck for beers and Lucas’s trademarked Special Pint – double Archer’s, Southern Comfort, Tequila, Malibu, Blackcurrant Cordial, and Lemonade (pictured). Then, we went straight to Mr. Kong’s in Chinatown for more sake and their signature soft shell crab. The night ended in the Hippodrome Casino, where we stayed for a good six hours. Final scores – me: +£20; Lucas: -£50; Tom Walsh: -£** (amount filtered for the public good). Casino wins overall. Miraculously, Lucas managed to make his flight to New York, who have stocked up on protein shakes in preparation. He will be missed! His piccolo playing, on the other hand, will not.
PS: The axolotls are now eating happily and seem generally less scared of life. More pictures to follow soon, once I have some good ones.
An Introduction: Sellotape, Axolotls, and the BreakWind Horns
19/08/2013: As a musician, I often get asked what exactly it is that I do for a living – people aren’t sure whether it consists mostly of fancy trips abroad to places like Monaco and the Seychelles, or long road trips up to Scunthorpe, Grimsby, or Clacton to play for approximately four people and earn substantially less than what a minicab driver would have made going there and back. This section of my website will hopefully help to answer that question: it is dedicated to the stuff that doesn’t quite make the glossy public news announcements filled with infectious optimism that adorn the rest of the site – all the stuff that I do that isn’t the aforementioned fancy trips abroad or gigs with my Big Band – and can thus have a slightly less irritatingly earnest tone, which suits me just fine. It’ll probably cover some other bits and bobs as well as I see fit.
You will see that this section of the site is called the Little Red Book – a reference (in characteristically poor taste) to the fact that, due to my surname rhyming with ‘Mao’, I am often called ‘The Chairman’ by those I work with. This nickname bears no relation to my political views. Honest. As an introductory post, I will cover three things that have taken up some of my time in recent days.
Having just returned from a trip to sunny Monaco (pictured) with the amazing Peter Long and his Orchestra, all of a sudden and without adequate warning one of the most mundane aspects of my job reared its ugly head, in the form of eight rolls of masking tape. Sticking bits of music together is a job that will fill any arranger or bandleader with dread – as it takes an enormous amount of time for very little return. In preparation for a couple of private dos with the big band coming up featuring a heavy Sinatra/Basie emphasis (my choice), I sellotaped together over 1200 sheets of music over Monday/Tuesday this week. Luckily, this gave me a chance to catch up on some Star Trek – I’m on to the Original series now that I’ve exhausted Deep Space Nine, The Next Generation, the good bits of Enterprise, all the movies, and Battlestar Galactica (don’t get me started on Voyager). Although the whole thing is rather silly and incredibly dated and sexist, one point of interest is that the soundtrack is absolutely amazing – and actually makes it entirely worth watching in and of itself. Ironically, this is the polar opposite of the recent films – where the soundtrack team somehow managed to mangle the harmony of the main theme (?!) and don’t seem to realise that any instruments other than looped strings, contrabass trombones, moogs, and very loud drums exist, rendering the films themselves utterly unwatchable.
With some of the profits from the aforementioned Monaco trip, I recently bought two axolotls. For those of you who aren’t aware, an axolotl is a neotenic salamander – essentially, a salamander
that retains most of its juvenile features throughout its entire adult life, like a tadpole with legs. They kind of look like real life Pokémon with big smiles. I have kept tropical fish for as long as I can remember, and have half-wanted to expand the collection to include these creatures ever since I saw one that belonged to a family friend as a child. Spotting a couple of photos of an old school friend (Emily Wilkinson)’s axolotl on Facebook finally made me cave and buy a new tank specifically to house them. Their names are Jerry and Gary – named after two of the most famous and brilliant trumpet players of all time, Jerry Hey and Gary Grant. Currently, Jerry is very inquisitive and happy, and Gary is scared of basically everything – air, water, open spaces, confined spaces, bloodworms, the filter, me, and life. More updates later – for now here is a picture of Jerry the Axolotl sunning himself at the front of the tank.
Speaking of Jerry and Gary, this is a very good opportunity to introduce one of the concepts that I’m sure will keep on resurfacing throughout this slightly less-than-serious section of the website. A group of like-minded young musicians – George Hogg, Reuben Fowler, Lucas Dodd, Tom Stone Jon Shenoy, and me – have recently set up a new horn section dedicated to the very potent mixture of the horn section, double Cs, and comedy. The group is called the BreakWind horns (as a dedication to the famous SeaWind horns), and we are dedicated to improving classic tunes by providing our own special interpretation of them – usually chock-full of silly horn lines, under-rehearsed choreography, and lasers. We employ a unique method of writing original material – we write horn parts to songs before the vocal lines to the songs have been written. This, of course, ensures the most appropriate horn lines possible. There will be plenty more of these to come. Lots of information here: https://www.facebook.com/thebreakwindhorns
Here is a video of one of our originals – Hairy Jay. You can see others in the related video section.
George Hogg – Trumpet 1
Reuben Fowler – Trumpet 2 and Flugelhorn
Lucas ‘The Lord of Ginger Chaos’ Dodd – Alto Sax and Tenor Sax
Chairman Callum Au – Trombone and Euphonium
Tom Stone – Tenor Sax and Overdubbed Baritone Sax
Jon Shenoy – Alto Sax and Clarinet
Georgina Jackson – Stylist
Freddie Gavita – Choreographer
Rob Barron – Executive Producer
David M Hopkins – Undertaker
Martha Davies – General Secretary for Defence
Sally Potterton – Executive Laser and Light Operative
Emma Fry – Principal Laser and Light Operative
Chloe Porter – Lyricist
Jun Ishihara – Trained Assassin
Mark Hough – Mute Polisher
Mark W Hough – Accountant
Tom Walsh – Muse