FEATURE: Presenting the 2016 Yamaha Jazz Scholars (Will Arnold-Forster, David Bowden, Ben Brown, Jake Long, Roz Macdonald, Tom Ollendorf, Mark Pringle)

The 2016 Yamaha Jazz Scholars
L-R Back row: Mark Pringle, Ben Brown, Tom Ollendorf
L-R Front: David Bowden, Roz Macdonald, Will Arnold-Forster and Jake Long
Photo courtesy of Yamaha


The Yamaha Jazz Scholars Evening was held at Portcullis House in Westminster on Tuesday 25th October 2016. This is Alison Bentley's report:

The seven 2016 Yamaha Jazz Scholars were waiting shyly in the wings at the awards evening, hosted by Jason McCartney MP and other members of the the All Party Parliamentary Jazz Appreciation Group, at Portcullis House, Westminster. Every year since 2007, Yamaha has given scholarships to nurture young jazz musicians, chosen by the heads of six UK jazz conservatoire courses; 54 young musicians have benefited so far. Saxophonist Pete Long presented the awards after playing a set of effusive jazz with his own quartet- welcoming the newcomers into the jazz community, as he introduced the Scholars’ set of original music.

What had brought the young musicians to this point? Scottish bassist Roz MacDonald (Leeds College of Music) is the second woman- and first female instrumentalist- to be given the award. She composes for her trio Ekacnap: ‘…it’s pancake spelt backwards…at the moment I’m quite into straight ahead stuff, swing. I really like Charlie Haden, Paul Motian and Geri Allen. My favourite bass player’s Paul Chambers. I really like Monk a lot- he’s more intriguing to listen to. I got into jazz though my dad- he used to listen to a lot of records and I used to steal all his music.’

She shared bass duties with David Bowden, (Royal Conservatoire of Scotland) ‘I’ve a band called Square One. We just released an album (In Motion) a few weeks ago. I write my own music. I’ve been living in Scotland, and there’s definitely a folk element there, quite melodic, good grooves. When I first got into music it was through other stuff: Motown and soul. The early recordings that really got to me were the classic Miles Quintet, Hank Mobley’s Soul Station; then the Brian Blade Fellowship and Brad Meldhau- and Larry Grenadier’s bass playing.’

Jake Long (Trinity Laban Conservatoire of Music and Dance) first studied sax before settling on drums. ‘I really like what was happening in the 60s and 70s: the music of Pharaoh Sanders, Alice Coltrane, Coltrane, Miles, drummers like Ed Blackwell. I think London’s such an amazing scene for jazz and at the moment I’m trying to be inspired by what I’m surrounded by. All the support is appreciated.’

Ben Brown (Royal Academy of Music) said, ‘It was a drum teacher I had called Colin Brady who made me want to play drums. I thought at the time that Chad Smith, the drummer in the Red Hot Chili Peppers, was as good as you can get, but then he showed me Dave Weckl and Vinnie Colaiuta, Tony Wiliams, Roy Haynes, Elvin Jones and Jack DeJohnette. My band is Waaju, West African grooves mixed with jazz, but with particular focus on the music of Mali.’

Guitarist Will Arnold-Forster has been gigging with former teacher Colin Oxley from the Guildhall School of Music and Drama, and Will is ‘really chuffed.’ ‘There were a few jazz CDs knocking around the house: Charlie Parker, Bud Powell, some Blue Note records. It’s still some of my favourite stuff. I’m a big fan of Jim Hall, Wes Montgomery, Kenny Burrell, Jimmy Raney, Barney Kessell, Charlie Christian; also Pete Bernstein, Joe Cohn. It’s lovely to be involved in this award.’

Guitarist Tom Ollendorff (Royal Welsh College) also loves Hall, Montgomery and Tal Farlow. ‘I slowly got more into contemporary guitar playing: Lage Lund, Mike Moreno, Gilad Hekselman, other instrumentalists like Ben Van Gelder and Aaron Parks. I play an archtop, made by an Italian luthier. It sounds a little different from a really traditional jazz guitar- a little better for playing in a slightly more contemporary way.’

Pianist Mark Pringle (Birmingham Conservatoire) has already whetted appetites with his 2015 album A Moveable Feast. The Yamaha award is the most recent of several he’s won. ‘ I’m doing a Jazz Masters (EUjam) Programme based in Berlin, but some of the semesters are on exchange so I was in Copenhagen for 6 months, and now I’m in Amsterdam. I would say that Keith Jarrett is my biggest guy over the years. Also British piano players like Kit Downes and Liam Noble who taught me in Birmingham, and Gwilym Simcock; and more avant garde Americans like Paul Bley.’

The Scholars had only just met, and it was a tribute to their musicianship and ability to listen to each other that they were able to play each other’s compositions together in so many styles. MacDonald’s strong pulsing swing was particularly in evidence in the first (Monkish) piece in the set. The audience enthusiastically applauded Bowden’s melodic bass solo in a laid-back Ellington-style piece. Long’s drum skills were evident as he surged into a 12/8 Afro-Latin piece with huge energy, as well as playing shakers in a slower piece. Brown revealed his versatility throughout the evening, his fluttering brushwork as strong as his swing and freer playing. Arnold-Forster particularly stood out in the final piece, with his thoughtful bop-edged soloing. Fellow guitarist Ollendorff’s sound was Metheny-esque and emotive, his lines smooth and speedy. Pringle was featured in a piece that began with Messiaen-esque solo piano, resolving beautifully into dark chords and free jazz.

A CD is in perparation featuring recordings of the Scholars’ own bands, as well as Pete Long, Georgina Jackson and Ronnie Scott’s house pianist James Pearson. The scholarship includes this recording opportunity, as well as £500. Several high profile British jazz musicians were previously Yamaha Scholars, (Kit Downes, Calum Gourlay, Elliot Galvin, most of Snowpoet) so it’ll be exciting to see what this year’s Scholars do next.

LINKS: CD Review - A Moveable Feast
CD Review: In Motion


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