INTERVIEW: Paul Towndrow (touring as a duo with Steve Hamilton + 'With Strings' on the Edinburgh Fringe)

Paul Towndrow. Photo from SNJO


Scottish alto saxophonist - and marathon runner - PAUL TOWNDROW, born in 1978, is a member of Brass Jaw and of the Scottish National Jazz Orchestra. In this email interview he spoke to Sebastian about his current projects, a duo with Steve Hamilton on tour this autumn, a trio with organ, and a 'with strings' project performing a charity concert on the Edinbugh fringe:

LondonJazz News: You have a new album, and a duo project coming to London?

Paul Towndrow: I’m very excited about a new collaboration with a long term friend and colleague, pianist Steve Hamilton. We have worked together for many years in different settings including my small group projects, and had discussed working in a duo setting for some time. So we finally went into the studio at the beginning of the year, and have just released our new album We Shine The Sun.

We launched the album at Glasgow and Manchester Jazz Festivals and we’re now looking forward to a seven-date run at the end of August / start of September.

The tour includes a special ‘double bill’ gig at Pizza Express Jazz Club on 31 Aug. The first set will be the duo project, playing tunes from the new album, and the second set will feature Paul Towndrow’s London Scots a special band with Steve on piano, Corrie Dick on drums, and Calum Gourlay on bass.

LJN: Are there jazz duos in particular that have inspired you?

PT: I find the duo a fascinating and exciting format for jazz. In many ways it has the potential to release the most creativity, as the opportunity for unhindered dialogue and collective creative flow is intrinsically greater. The duo in which I’ve heard this in most evidence is Chick Corea & Gary Burton. When they’re in full flow they sound like one instrument, and one continuum of ideas and expression. This is why touring is so important to me – because the music needs time to evolve in a way that only a live setting can facilitate. When I go and hear live jazz, the knowledge that I am bearing witness to this process is what makes it so exciting.

LJN: Your own projects seem to frequently vary in size and instrumentation. Why is this?

PT: For many years, I’ve been interested in exploring as wide a range of ensemble sizes and types, to convey the music that I write and to act as vehicles for performance. It’s a bit of a mission to keep things fresh, but I’ve never felt satisfied to stick with any one format for too long. With music there are just too many possibilities!

I started out in 2002 by touring and recording in a fairly standard quartet format, before recording sextet album (Six by Six) in 2007. In the meantime, I was writing and performing with Brass Jaw which is a rhythm section-less horn group, and that presented it’s own joys and challenges.

In 2014 I was commissioned to write a large scale piece for the Glasgow Commonwealth Games. It was a suite for Double Big Band, entitled Pro-Am and is by far my most ambitious compositional undertaking to date. It’s something that I really want to revisit and hopefully to record, if and when the budget allows!

This year I’ve scaled my main outlet right down to a duo format with pianist Steve Hamilton. It’s certainly more convenient to tour duo, than to tour with a double big band…fewer emails to send too. And I save a fortune on printer ink.

LJN: And - this seems like a creative time for you - wasn't there another project too ? 

PT:  I also have an organ trio with the amazing young Scottish keyboardist Pete Johnstone, and a long time collaborator, drummer Alyn Cosker. We have an EP out and recently represented Scotland at Made In The UK at Rochester Jazz Festival, New York. We’re planning more gigs by the end of the year including Teignmouth Jazz Festival on Sat 19 November.

LJN: You have a concert coming up with Ryan Quigley and strings, celebrating both Charlie Parker and Clifford Brown.... what led you to take on this project? 

PT: Ryan and I have always been big fans of both artists' ‘With Strings’ project and we had often discussed the idea of reproducing some of that great music again in a live setting. But again, it’s a pretty large scale project in terms of personnel. We figured out that we could either sit around and wait for a funding opportunity to magically appear, or take the leap and do it ourselves. So we booked a venue, a band, a string section, and bought, borrowed, and transcribed all the arrangements from the original sessions. Perhaps the main success of the gig in the bringing together of players from Glasgow’s jazz and classical scenes.

LJN: And the gig is for charity?

PT: One of the cellists (Clea Friend) involved in the first outing of the project has set up an orchestra called SONIC (Scottish Orchestra for National and International Causes), and the proceeds of the concert will go to go to the charity SAWA (website) who are working with Syrian refugees in Lebanon. /

The gig is on 18th August(5pm) at Stockbridge Church, Edinburgh, as part of the Fringe. (DETAILS)

LJN: What dates should we be getting in the diary?

PT:  Here they are.....

Paul Towndrow & Steve Hamilton Duo Tour

29.8.16 ASHBURTON – St Lawrence Chapel
30.8.16 CARDIFF - Dempseys
31.8.16 LONDON - Pizza Express Soho - Double bill with PT's London Scots (BOOKINGS)
01.9.16 BRISTOL - Jazz@FutureInn
02.9.16 BIRMINGHAM - The Red Lion
03.9.16 AMBLESIDE - Zefferellis
04.9.16 COLCHESTER - Colchester Arts Centre


LINK:  Paul Towndrow website

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