Friday columnist Jack Davies writes:
Saxophonist Martin Speake has been conducting a comprehensive series of interviews with the generation of British jazz musicians that inspired and mentored him. He is currently in the process of transcribing the interviews and has begun collating them into what will become a website, complete with photos of each of the interviewees.
Below is a taster of what is to come, with excerpts from interviews with Pete Saberton, Pete Hurt and Dave Cliff - just three of the many musicians Martin has interviewed. Once finished this will be a significant resource cataloguing the thoughts of a great generation of British jazz players.
Pete Saberton excerpt
MS: So when did you get the idea that you should start composing?
PS: That’s a really good question, I don’t know really. I suppose it’s just listening to music and certain things catch you, you know like a chord or a way it’s placed and you think ‘what is that?’ so you work it out and then go ‘oh, that’s nice’ and start adding chords to it, etcetera etcetera, then building parts and then themes come in, and yeah, I just used to write kind of short stuff really.
MS: Have you got any of those?
PS: No, I’ve only got stuff from when I was about eighteen or nineteen... the old rippage
PS: Yeah yeah, I ripped a lot of stuff up and threw it away yeah...
MS: You didn’t like it?
Pete Hurt excerpt
MS: Oh, OK. Did you learn solos then, or just play along?
PH: I think I learned bits of solos, I can’t…it wasn’t a very…I didn’t learn in a very ordered way. You know, it’s been my one big failing in life. (Both laugh)
MS: Not necessarily!
PH: Well not being sort of…
MS: Makes you quite unique though.
PH: well (both laugh)…ordered and methodical about things.
PH: I’ve never been like that in my playing and writing, I mean my writing happens to be abysmal.
MS: What do you mean by that?
PH: Well, you know, sort of some people, they start to write a piece and start it then gradually work at it and then finish it, whereas I sort of start, I’m very good at starting things but terrible at finishing them.
MS: So do you have a lot of pieces on the go at the same time?
PH: Oh yeah.
PH: But there again, there is a good aspect to that: if you ever think ‘oh god I can’t think of anything, the inspiration’s dried up,’ you can always go back to the half-finished things.
MS: So there’s always something there?
PH: Oh yes. Oh I’ve got, well on computer these days I’ve got files and files of ideas.
MS: Oh right, well I hope you backed them up.
PH: Oh yes! (Both Laugh)
Dave Cliff excerpt
MS: No, I mean, you know it’s, a lot of people kind of know a bit about the Tristano method because its kind of used in jazz education, in terms of learning solos and all keys... Do you want to talk about that?
DC: Yeah, the key thing, one of the first things was, there’s two or three key things to it. First one is singing solos. The first solo I picked was ‘Cool Blues’ by Bird which was two tracks, two choruses of a blues and that really, I quite enjoyed doing that because I used to sing in a choir so I didn’t feel inhibited. I find a lot of guitar players were very inhibited about singing and I find students very reluctant to do it funnily enough. I enjoyed that - I took to that OK. I remember I transcribed, I didn’t actually write them out, I just learnt to play them. Some of the Parker solos I must confess I only I learnt to play them at half speed. 16rpm on the record player, an octave lower. But it opened up my ears, I started to enjoy jazz more intensely , started hearing it more vividly, it just became really clear how great Parker was. And the other thing was slow practice. Scales. One of the first lessons with Peter Ind we just played through the thirds or the triads of the major scales, he played them with me. That’s something I do with my students, I play the scales with them, I don’t just sit and listen to them. I play them with them. Very slowly.
MS: Yeah, I’m the same.
DC: I think it’s a great thing. It’s about doing things in a thoughtful caring way not just… Some of these people have a bit of a cross with scales, they think ‘oh yeah I know this scale’ dadadadadadadada. Rattle it off. It’s not, you’ve got to play the scale with feeling, that’s one of the things Peter went on about. That was another thing.
Then these rhythmic things. We used to clap in different rhythms- two over three, three against four, and again I didn’t take to it first. I didn’t understand it at first - I was a bit hostile, but I eventually got the hang of that and that made a lot of difference.
And the other thing was a general approach of trying to be self aware. Peter was into Freud and Wilhelm Reich and all these psychoanalyst people. So it’s about trying to be more self-aware, where your motivation is, what you’re doing, why are you really doing this. So it’s a whole re-education in all sorts of ways, it’s very compelling and fascinating yeah.
MS: And is that, do you feel that has stayed with you?
DC: Yeah, sure yeah totally, yeah sure.
There is a major benefit concert for Pete Saberton, who is unwell, at the 606 Club on Tuesday 27th March, featuring Norma Winstone, Henry Lowther, Jim Mullen, Pete Hurt and many other guests.