INTERVIEW/PREVIEW: Jeremy Sassoon, (9th May Cadogan Hall)

Jeremy Sassoon. Photo credit: William Ellis

On Saturday 9th May at Cadogan Hall, Richard Pite’s Jazz Repertory Company will be presenting The Genius of Ray Charles and The High Priestess of Soul, Nina Simone. 

The first half features Liz Fletcher and her quartet (see feature), and for the second half, Jeremy Sassoon will be bringing his 17 piece Ray Charles project to London for the first time. 

Richard Pite  asked Jeremy Sassoon a few questions about his career and his upcoming show:

LondonJazz News: Tell me about the Ray Charles Project – how it got started and why your fascination and love of Ray Charles’s music.

Jeremy Sassoon: I had the idea of the Ray Charles Project in 2009 and it debuted at the Manchester Jazz Festival in St Anne’s Square in the pouring rain. We knew it was going to be a hit when 700 people braved the weather and stayed till the end. As well as the jazz enthusiasts, all the passers-by started joining the crowd, captivated by the music. It was a great vibe. As for the music, I always felt a strong affinity with the Ray Charles sound because of his balance between jazz, soul and blues and even country music. It seemed to mirror my own influences very closely so I knew the show would musically excite me.

LJN:  You have a great voice for performing the hits of Ray Charles but you only started singing fairly recently – why the long delay?

JS: Yes, I'd been exclusively a keyboard and trumpet player for many years, and in fact I didn't sing that debut gig in Manchester as I'd originally designed the show to showcase my longstanding musical partnership with gospel/jazz singer Paul Bentley. It was only when I later lost Paul's services that I felt the show was too exciting to let go. I decided to take a deep breath, give singing my best shot and was delighted when it seemed to really click.

LJN: For the Cadogan Hall show did you just choose your favourites from the Ray repertoire or did you want to balance the big hits with more obscure and unknown material?

JS: I've always wanted this show to represent my own journey through the Ray Charles repertoire. No matter how long or short the set, I make sure there are a couple of unknown tunes that I'd no sooner take off the set list than Georgia on my Mind or I’ve Got a Woman. The mix works well and makes it unique. I remember a few years back (and with some trepidation) going to another Jazz singer's Ray Charles tribute to find we only shared one song in common, which is a wonderful tip of the hat to the breadth of Ray's repertoire..

LJN: Tell me about some of your sidemen – you’ve got some stars of the Manchester jazz scene in your ranks I believe.

JS: Yes, the show’s musical director is Iain Dixon (BBC Big Band, Michael Brecker, Bryan Ferry) whose arranging skills are fundamental to the success of the show and we’ll have the great John Parricelli on guitar as well as some fine London players such as the tenor sax master Robert Fowler.

LJN:   Had you always had that blues/gospel piano style or did you have to adapt your way of playing when you started on the Ray repertoire?

JS: It was a perfect blend for me from the start. I love blues and gospel. It must be my Jewish roots.

LJN:   Tell us about your backing singers - Ray had the Raelettes – what do you call yours?

JS: I'd say our Jaelettes are more than a match for Ray's Raelettes. On this gig, the mighty Annabel Williams joins forces with the incredible Sharlene Hector and Hayley Sanderson. You must check these ladies out.

LJN:   Have you got an all-time Ray favourite?

JS: The Jealous Kind was a relatively unknown tune with a compelling Rhodes-based-groove, borne out of the 1970's. The album, True to Life was discontinued so I'd refer you to my own version to get a taster. This tune will definitely be on the gig - watch out for an epic guitar feature.

RP:  Your previous career was as a psychiatrist. Does that help your band leading skills?

JS: I'm not entirely sure, but now you mention it, it does give an entirely different meaning to the phrase rhythm section.

The Genius of Ray Charles and The High Priestess of Soul, Nina Simone is at 7.30pm on Saturday May 9th at Cadogan Hall, Sloane Terrace London SW1. Ticket prices start at £16 – Box Office: 020 7730 4500.

LINK: Jeremy Sasson on How the Things We Handed Down

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