PREVIEW/ INTERVIEW: Sam Leak Big Band (Spice of Life, Sunday 16th Nov, 8pm, EFG London Jazz Festival)

Sam Leak. Photo Credit: Barbara Bartz

In this interview. pianist/composer Sam Leak talks about a new suite of music which he has just written for big band, and which will receive its premiere at the Spice of Life on Sunday November 16th: 

LondonJazz News: How has the writing gone?

Sam Leak: I’m definitely happy with how the writing has gone, although it has taken between 3-4 months of pretty solid work to complete , so it’s been a very long process (it took me 4 (very) full days just to write up the individual parts..). I’ve always wanted to write a suite for big band, so this gig has been a great opportunity to finally do it (thanks to Paul Pace for this). It’s been, and continues to be, a massive learning curve. It has been challenging for sure, but also really fun and an inspiring educational experience. I’ve also been very lucky to have been helped along the way by fantastic composers/arrangers such as Matt Roberts, Pete Churchill and John Warren. I’ve written around 70 minutes of new music for the gig, so that in itself feels good for sure.

LJN: What things have inspired you?

SL: I spent about a month analyzing and transcribing music by people such as Bob Brookmeyer, Duke Ellington, Fred Sturm, Julian Arguelles, Herbie Hancock, Kenny Wheeler and Thad Jones. On a structural level there’s probably a bit of Liberation Music Orchestra influence in there. There are also parts influenced by Ornette Coleman, Keith Jarrett and Messiaen…. So quite a diverse range of musicians have inspired me really!

In some senses the suite is a continuation of some of the ideas that I’ve developed in both my suite for Quintet and my two-piano suite with Dan Tepfer. Since getting into David Lynch’s films some time ago, I’ve liked the idea of using quite nostalgic moments juxtaposed against dark sections, and presenting music with an overall storyboard. I don’t make any effort to be particularly ground-breaking with my music; this isn’t to say that I’m musically conservative (I think I’m actually involved with and interested in a pretty wide range of music actually) it’s more that, in terms of what drives my composing, I prefer to just write the things that I hear and that mean something to me at that moment.

LJN: Are you writing with specific players in mind

I booked the band before beginning the writing process. I’m a big Ellington fan and I’ve always liked the way that he writes to suit the playing style and personality of his players. I’m lucky to have been able to put together a pretty amazing group of musicians for this gig. When it comes to improvising there are quite a wide range of different aesthetics employed throughout the group, and so I’ve tried to use this to my advantage.

LJN:  Has the writing lifted you, knackered you or both?

SL: It has definitely both knackered and lifted me. Alongside gigging, teaching and working towards a part-time PhD, the workload has definitely been quite stressful… (I effectively wrote off having a social life for most of the writing period – there have been a lot of late nights in and caffeine consumption has been at an all time high..). I've developed an enhanced respect for anyone that writes for large ensembles on a regular basis - the workload is huge and some people's ability to write for the instruments and internal knowledge of the available ensemble textures is seriously impressive (I've hopefully improved a fair bit through the process of writing this suite, but I've got a long long way to go).

However, the experience overall has been really exciting. I'd recommend anyone who has ever felt like writing for big band to give it a go - just make sure you leave enough time to get it done..

The line-up is:

Sam Mayne - Alto Saxophone/Clarinet
Simon Marsh - Alto Saxophone/Clarinet/Alto Flute
Alec Harper - Tenor Saxophone/Clarinet/Soprano Saxophone
Lluis Mather - Tenor Saxophone/Bass Clarinet
Sam Rapley - Baritone Saxophone/Bass Clarinet

Louis Dowdeswell - Lead Trumpet/Flugelhorn
Percy Pursglove - Trumpet/Flugelhorn
Robbie Robson - Trumpet/Flugelhorn
Miguel Gorodi - Trumpet/Flugelhorn

Trevor Mires - Lead Trombone
Tom White - Trombone
Patrick Hayes - Trombone
Simon Minshall - Bass Trombone

Sam Leak - Piano
Oli Hayhurst - Double Bass
Jon Scott - Drums


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