INTERVIEW/ PREVIEW: Callum Au (Close to You Cadogan Hall 16th May)

On 16th May at Cadogan Hall there will be "Close To You: Sinatra and the Hollywood Quartet" . This is a reinvention of "Close to You", one of the great Sinatra recordings from 1957, with arrangements by Nelson Riddle, and featuring the  Hollywood String Quartet. One of the key figures involved is  arranger/ bandleader /trombonist CALLUM AU. Sebastian Scotney interviewed him :

LondonJazz News: Tell us something about yourself. 

Callum Au My name is Callum Au. I'm a London-based trombonist, arranger, and bandleader, I grew up in Blackpool, and I now live in Brixton. I'm the arranger and trombonist on the Close to You project.

LJN: Have you taken stuff off the record or what was the method?

CA: Matt Skelton, the drummer and bandleader for the project, approached me with the idea early last year. The beautiful Sinatra album Close To You, recorded in 1957, has a very unusual lineup - string quartet, harp, piano trio, one brass player, and one woodwind player. It's a great sound that mixes elements of classical music and jazz - and the result is quite unlike anything else you'll hear. We used this album as a starting point, and several of the items in our programme are note for note transcriptions that I've done of some of the album's choice tracks.

LJN: What do you know about Nelson Riddle and his brief?

CA: Nelson Riddle was the arranger on the original album. When it was recorded, it was a pretty big deal for a popular artist like Sinatra to be working with a top-flight classical ensemble like the Hollywood String Quartet - it wasn't really the done thing for groups of the two genres to mix. Riddle was heavily influenced as an arranger by impressionist composers like Ravel and Debussy, and this project really brings out that side of his writing.

LJN: And there's some Ravel?

CA:Yes - in the concert, we've programmed Ravel's Introduction and Allegro for string quartet, harp, flute, and clarinet. This gives us a chance to show off the amazing Tippett String Quartet, who are a truly essential part of the ensemble. Their leader, John Mills, is an expert on Felix Slatkin (the leader of the original Hollywood String Quartet), and he and the rest of the group are true stylists who really understand how this music is meant to be played. It's also nice to hear the Ravel next to some of Riddle's writing, so you can hear where it all came from! It's really great to work with an ensemble like this, hand picked from some of the finest musicians around.

I've already talked about the quartet - in addition to them, we have the rhythm section of James Pearson (p), Matt Skelton (d), and Jeremy Brown (b), who have been working together as a trio since their college days; harpist Hugh Webb, who is a stalwart of the London session scene; and woodwind specialist Jon Shenoy, who aside from being a great instrumentalist also runs highly successful jump jive group King Candy and the Sugar Push. To top it all off, we have Matthew Ford as our singer - one of the finest singers and musicians I've ever had the privilege of working with - who makes no attempt to mimic Sinatra but rather puts his own individual stamp on these classic songs.

LJN: And originals?

CA: Of course, the Close to You album, while beautiful, can't make up a whole concert worth of material - it's too short, for one thing, and it's all ballads, for another. So, we've added songs that epitomise Sinatra's Capitol years to make up the rest of the programme - from Old Devil Moon (Songs for Swingin' Lovers) to The Song Is You (Come Dance With Me) and I Won't Dance (A Swingin' Affair). I've arranged most of these specially for the ensemble, but there are a couple more again written for this lineup by the great Scottish arranger Andrew Cottee.

LJN: You've already played some of this music before?

 CA: Last year, we played a lot of this repertoire at a variety of music festivals and venues around the country: off the top of my head, West Malling Festival, the Stables, Henley Festival, and I'm sure others that I've forgotten. This will be the first time that we've played a major concert hall venue in London with the project, though.

LJN: First time for some material?

 CA: I'm sure there'll be one or two new things in the concert that we haven't done before. It's still quite a while away just yet, though, so it's unlikely I'll start writing it before the night before the first rehearsal!

LJN: What else is new in your life?

CA: I'm currently hard at work writing more charts for this ensemble, in collaboration with top arranger Tommy Laurence, for a new project we will be launching later on this year, to feature vocalist Claire Martin. This project is to be called "Hollywood Romance", and it will feature Claire singing songs with the ensemble that fit that theme. As the centrepiece for our project with Matt is Close to You, the centrepiece for this project will be a reimagining of Johnny Mandel's arrangements for Shirley Horn on the album 'Here's to Life'. Our first rehearsal and runthrough for this is next Wednesday, which is very exciting!

Other than that, I've been busy with a lot of different things - mostly freelance playing and arranging for all sorts of people. I've just finished an album for an American singer called Matt Forbes (not to be confused with Matt Ford) that was recorded at Capitol in February and will be released at some point this year.

My big band  (ALBUM REVIEW) has been on a bit of a back burner for a while, but there is more in the pipeline for the future!


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