|Rick Simpson. Photo credit: Richard Kaby|
We interviewed Rick Simpson, whose debut CD as leader, Semi Wogan is about to be released. (Launch gig 12th September, Pizza Express Dean Street):
LondonJazz - Rick, can you tell us where your musical story started?
Rick Simpson - I grew up in Guisborough, a small town in the North East, near Middlesbrough. There wasn't much jazz there but when I was 15 I met an ex-NYC jazz pianist called Race Newton who was a huge deal in getting me started. Every time he came to the house he would bring me cassette tapes of wonderful music that I'd never heard - Bud Powell, Keith Jarrett, Bill Evans, Bob Berg, Django Bates (!!), Cedar Walton, Chick Corea, Wayne Shorter....it was by far the most exciting period of my development - hearing all this incredible music for the first time and spending hours listening to these cassettes!
LJ - And how did your parents react to that?
RS - My dad used to catch me listening to music till the early hours of the morning and I used to get it in the neck as I'd have college the next day but after a while they begun to understand that it was exactly what I needed to be doing. What a period! I'm eternally grateful to Race and those tapes! Race Newton must have been in his 80's but he was still listening to the newest things - that he brought me Bud Powell one week but then also this weird, alien music by Django Bates still blows me away - that's so courageous of a teacher to give someone new to jazz that music.
LJ - And then you moved to London?
RS - I moved to london when I was 18 to study at the Guildhall School of Music and Drama and I'm still as excited about this city as I was when I first arrived.
LJ - Is this your first album as leader? When and where was it recorded?
RS - Yes it is. It was recorded during two days in July 2011 at Derek Nash's great studio Clown's Pocket. I really like the Steinway Derek has but by far the main reason I wanted to go there was for the warm, friendly atmosphere that Derek creates. Nothing is a problem for him and he's an incredible engineer and person.
LJ - What excites you about playing music?
RS - What excites me about the music we play is that it covers a lot of different genres and territories but always comes from one central place, which I guess is whatever compositional language I've built up over the years that I've been writing. There are a lot of bands who really specialise in one area of jazz and play that music really well but I've never felt the urge to do that. I wanted my tunes to reflect my listening habits which have never focussed on one style of jazz, or indeed music, exclusively. I love all styles and periods of jazz and would hate to confine myself to just one.
LJ - And what inspired the tunes on the album?
RS -A whole range of different things. Chairman Meow,, for example, is a huge tip of the hat to Lennie Tristano and his school of musicians, who I obsessed over during my years at Guildhall. Other pieces like Day Of The Trippetts, Attack of The Tehranchulla! and Dog Eat Dogger are inspired by the modern NYC scene - musicians such as David Binney, Mark Turner and Kurt Rosenwinkel who I've been really inspired by. I try to capture the essence of other music that I like. That is often what brings me to write.
LJ - You work with a lot of singers
RS -Working with vocalists is something I've done frequently since I was about 16. It started thanks to Steve Berry, who asked me to work with the vocal students at his Burnley Jazz Summer School.
LJ - What do you enjoy about it?
RS -It makes you listen and think about what you can do to offer the most support whilst being creative. Also getting to play so many amazing songs over the years has really helped with my writing and knowledge of tunes. I am pleased that Brigitte Beraha sings on the closing track on the album 'Almost' - she's one of my favourite musicians and her voice was perfect for this piece.
LJ - Apart from Brigitte Beraha , then, who else is on the album?
RS -The quartet is made up of George Crowley on tenor saxophone, Dave Manington on double bass and Jon Scott on drums.
I really like playing with Jon Scott because he's so quick. He can play anything you put in front of him and it always sounds like knows exactly what you're looking for. Generally I tell Jon to thrash around as much as possible and he has a couple of great drum features on this record where he really shines.
Dave Manington sounds really great on all the rhythmic music we're playing - the outro to 'Tehranchulla' that he improvises with Jon just sounds so great to me.
George Crowley is great composer and player and he brings a great playful sound to the group. I knew that George is as enthusiastic about Lennie Tristano and Warne Marsh as I am, so I had to include Chairman Meow on the album just to give him space to blow. You can really hear how he's been influenced by Mark Turner on 'Dog Eat Dogger' too. George is a great player and his own album is well worth buying.
LJ - Are you by nature a soloist, a sideman/ accompanist. Or both?
RS - I don't think I'd define myself as any one of those. You have to put different 'hats' on for different gigs. One of my favourite things to do is to play standards in a piano trio and in that setting my soloist side definitely comes to the fore. In other bands, such as Fini Bearman's Quartet I get really excited about accompanying her on her incredible songs but also being able to really improvise and see where the music can go.
I also play regular pop gigs which is a whole different skill set to have. You have to put the jazz side of your persona away and enjoy trying to get as good a groove as possible. Its a different challenge which I enjoy just as much.
LJ - And you enjoy composing and bandleading?
RS - Yes., absolutely. The thing I like to do the most though is to be writing my own music and playing it as much as possible. I prefer being in charge which I guess says a lot about me! I'm currently writing for a sextet/septet and trying to make it as compositionally orientated as possible which I find really challenging and exciting. I can't wait to have enough music together to finally play it live.
LJ - What music inspires you, away from jazz
RS - I'm really into electronic music, hip hop, indie and folk music. Whilst I was in college I mainly listened to Jazz but the last few years has brought jazz to about 50/50 against other genres. It's only a good thing I think. Some of my favourite artists are DOOM, Madlib, Radiohead, Deerhoof, Akron/Family and Grouper. I couldn't stand just listening to Jazz - I need everything I can get. I'm always amazed that some people are content only listening to Jazz. I'm not sure it's that healthy. Everything leads to the same path in the end - good music.
LJ - What's the title about, 'Semi Wogan'??
RS - It vaguely refers to a photo of Terry Wogan I have wearing tight pants. I'm going to leave it at that.
LJ - It's a digital-only release, right??
RS - It was going to be, but I have physical copies and it's going to be released very soon on Amazon, iTunes etc. The album launch is at Pizza Express Dean Street on 12th September with George Crowley, Tom Farmer, Jon Scott and Brigitte Beraha. It should be fun!
LJ - Definitely looking forward to hearing the album.
Rick Simpson - If you don't want to wait, you can listen to a sampler, right now, on Soundcloud.
LondonJazz - Thanks for doing the interview Rick, and very good luck with the album!