Preview/ Frank Griffith Interview: Pizza Express Jazz Club String Quartet Festival (3-6 April)

Brodowski String Quartet. Photo Credit: Dave Stapleton
Sebastian interviewed clarinettist Frank Griffith by email about the String Quartet Festival which runs from 3-6 April at Pizza Express Jazz Club

LondonJazz: You've been arranging for strings for a long while?

Frank Griffith: Yes, my first arrangment was while I was at university in 1983 at City College of New York where I arranged Hoagy Carmichael's Skylark for the faculty string quartet. I will be performing it on 3rd April at Pizza Express along with 2 other works, including a premiere of Taking Five- a Fantasy co arranged by Nigel Waddington.

LJ: And string arranging has got you involved in some interesting collaborations?

FG: Indeed. I arranged a CD for baritone saxist, Joe Temperley (charter member of the Lincoln Center Jazz Orchestra since 1990) entitled Easy To Remember for Hepjazz in 2001 - string quartet and rhythm section. I also arranged several pieces of Native American saxist/composer, Jim Pepper (1940-1992) for the Brooklyn Philharmonic in 1990.

LJ: And you had a commission from Brunel?

FG: In 2004 I composed Round About for Clarinet and Strings originally for a 30-piece string ensemble and it has been subsequently adapted for string quartet. It was premièred in December 2007 in Norfolk by the Bravura Ensemble and will get another airing on 3 April with the Brodowski Quartet.

LJ: What is happening at the festival  / who is appearing?

FG: Each night will feature a different soloist accompanied by the Brodowski Quartet (

- The first night, Thursday 3rd, will include myself and Julian Stringle on clarinets with the resident Brodowski Quartet.  I will do the first set and Julian and The Dream Band will play the 2nd set with his Its Clazzical programme. Julian has kindly invited me to guest on his arrangement of One Note Samba which I look forward to.

-  Friday 4th April, will feature vocalist, Tina May, and her quartet with Nikki Iles on piano doing arrangements of popular songs by Colin Towns, Clark Tracey and John Jansoon. In addition, Tina and Nikki  will be appearing on Radio 3's In Tune programme on the same day at 5pm. So Tune In Tune.

-  Saturday 5th, will have Gwilym Simcock's trio doing music from his recent CD on ACT Music Instrumation. Of this Gwilym says "All of this music is neither 'jazz' nor 'classical'. What I feel is important in music is lyricism, subtlety and clarity in harmonic and rhythmic movement and an overall sense of an emotional connection with the listener, whatever the context of the music may be".

- The festival will close on Sunday 6th, with a set by the Liane Carroll Quartet featuring trumpeter, James MacMillan. The set will include selections from her recent CD Ballads, arranged by Grammy winning orchestrator, Chris Walden, for a slightly enlarged string septet. Everything from Only The Lonely, Will You Still Love Me Tomorrow to Calgary Bay. Something for everybody.

LJ: Where did the idea for this festival come from?

FG: The sparkplug for this was a performance I attended (and reviewed for the LJN) in October 2012 at the club with pianist/composer, Tim Lapthorn, (a member of my nonet since 2005) with the Kerenza String Quartet. There was something special about the fully gowned up quartet  tucked into the intimate Victorian cellar confines in Soho’s' finest jazz club that resonated with me. The intimacy of the two quartets (Tim's and the Kirenza) were just so well suited for this music and ambiance. I met with Ross Dines shortly after for a quiet lunchtime coffee and two hours later a festival idea was hatched. This, of course, adds to the existing annual ReVoice!, Steinway, Latin and many other festival held at the club. Many thanks, of course, to Ross for supporting and encouraging this festival idea which we hope to make into an annual event.

The Festival's Facebook page ("String Quartet Festival") has more news and details about the shows and performers.

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