INTERVIEW: Jay Phelps (New album for release in 2017)

Jay Phelps.Photo credit: Carl Russ-Mohl

Trumpeter JAY PHELPS was for a time one of London's busiest jazz musicians. In the past year or so he has been less visible here  - because he has been in other places. Ahead of a new album due for release in 2017 he spoke to Sebastian about where he's been, the adventures he's been having:

LondonJazz News: We hear you've been travelling ...?

Jay Phelps:  I have been travelling quite a bit these days, yes! In fact I'm on a plane right now as I answer your questions.

LJN: It sounds like you've been everywhere ( where?)!

JP: Indeed, It has been quite a journey for the past couple of years, travelling more than ever before; In various different ways too. This year I was in NYC for the first three months of the year, checking out the scene for myself, after doing a Renault Clio advert with my long-time friend, bassist Neil Charles. I was on tour with two different Brazilian artists, Ed Motta and Banda Black Rio, so when I came back to Europe I went all around with them.

In between all that, I came back to the UK to see my wonderful mother, who happens to live on a very lovely narrow boat in Stratford-upon-Avon. During my last 5mins of staying with her and just about on my way to the airport, I was feeding the gorgeous white swans at the back of the boat and her dog (Biscuit!) was nervously barking at them (they really hate each other). When I put him on the land to continue my bread throwing, he fell into the canal, reminding me of a Charlie Chaplin type skit. With him being in an awkward position between the boat and the land gasping for air, I half-jumped in after him and picked his little legs from out the water and brought him to land. What I soon realised, was I actually landed on the ring that holds the boat to the land, breaking a rib in the process.

I was heading to Barcelona to continue to write my next album, luckily no gig straight away. The idea of the hospital entered my mind, but there's nothing they can really do but give you a few pills, so I decided to power through. Knowing that I still had a few painful shows left on the sporadic tour, I did what lots of people do when they're injured, I booked a flight to Thailand to continue writing. When I told my friend Kim I was coming; injured, she, without question, opened her doors to me and offered me to stay alone at her family's beach resort for a month. Along with bringing her full sized keyboard, which was set up in front of the entire sea; Rather the entire world, I wrote music everyday for a month, absolute bliss, apart from having to put down the trumpet for over month(for the first time ever).

More than that though, I started to understand what the next part of my musical journey will be. After two wonderful months in and around Thailand, I came back to Europe for more touring with BBR and to curate/perform with my quartet and Projections:of Miles band, at the Harrogate festival in September.

Next week I'll be back in New York for a month, playing at Small's with Michael Blake, great tenor man I've known since I was 3, and again reaching out to the scene.

LJN: Are you in the UK to stay or is your bag packed for the next journey?

JP: This September marked my 17th year in the UK, it will always be home, but I'm really enjoying the experiences that I'm gaining through travelling. My bags are always packed and ready, but one has no need for packing a bag, if that is his home!

LJN: What effect has the travelling had on your music?

JP: Though travel, I have literally been able to hear a lot of the worlds greatest music and musicians. It has broadened my understanding of music itself, in terms of its infinite variations, but more so the great deep spirit that finds its way to anyone's heart and soul, that's what I have wanted to now know more and more about. Music is Magic!

LJN: Tried any new instruments?

JP: I have been singing a bit lately. Something I've always done privately, but when I wrote my first single 'Angel'; due for release next month, it was intended for a singer to sing as a guest. After a few tries myself I realised that it was actually suitable for my own voice, so I took the plunge. I always write music from the piano, but I can't play it at any decent level, it's merely a writing tool.

LJN: Cuisines?

JP: Food Glorious Food!

I am definitely a big time foodie. On my recent travels I would have to say Thailand and Italy are my favourites for cuisine. I love spice and soul in food. Though Italian food isn't typically all that spicy, it's just so damn soulful. Carbonara in Rome!

Jay Phelps watching Charlie Rouse at
the Toronto Jazz Festival in 2008.
Photo credit: William Ellis


LJN: Remind us what was your last album and how have you progressed since then?

JP: My last album was entitled Jay Walkin - 2010. (REVIEW). It was a little while ago now, but sometimes that's how long it takes to find your voice again. Obviously I've been playing during that time and with various projects but a recording under my own name has just taken its own time. I've been listening to and involving myself in a much wider variety of musicians and music, other than straight ahead Jazz. I feel that it has helped my ear to hear other things in music, giving me the ability to start painting with broader strokes. Had I not been so full on with the straight vibe before, I would never have had the confidence to move on. It's all a process of self discovery. Also, the trumpet is a very demanding instrument and it takes a long time to have your own voice. I feel I have matured more as a trumpet player since my last album, with a better sense of identity. It never ends though!

LJN: Is there a theme or concept behind the new album?

JP: As a matter of fact the theme and concept behind the new album will be all about travel and self-exploration. That has been the most recent endeavour in my life of late and I want to express, through my music, the necessity of not only travel, but going out of ones comfort zone to enrich ones spirit and life experience .

LJN: You play in tricky modern contexts and crowd-pleasing dare one say simple stuff - which of the two gets your vote these days?

JP: I had started to realise after a little while of playing more crowd-pleasing stuff, that although it could be fun, I was performing mostly to drunks who didn't give a shit whether you were good or bad. That's not the reason I became a musician, but if the creative side of music isn't paying the bills, what are your options? I like playing creative music; to people who know why they are there and at least respect the fact that someone is pouring their heart and soul out to them. For me, it's been all about diligence. I haven't been afraid of being broke, because I've always had a particular focus. I know lots of my peers who have houses and nice cars now (and respect to them) because they took on and stayed in the world of pop, but that's just not me.

LJN: Tell us the story behind some of the tracks



JP:  - The first single 'Angel' is a love story that is set in a dream, a place that we all travel to for free and without the need of a passport.

- 'Amphitrite's bounty.' Named after the goddess of the sea and commissioned by the Harrogate festival, theme of 'water', this is a piece dedicated to our plentiful and ever-expansive oceans without which, there would be no life.

- Everyone's Ethnic- This piece opens the discussion of who is 'Ethnic'. All my life I have heard the term ethnic, relating to people or food, but only recently understood it to be a way to racially categorise certain groups. I think it's a very dated and archaic term that should be eradicated, because....we are all one race, just made up from many different and beautiful 'Ethnic' groups.

LJN: Can one still hear you as sideman or are you just a bandleader these days?

JP: As much as I love leading my own projects, I still can be seen as a side man, but I'm a bit more picky these days. I've been doing gigs with Soweto Kinch and Banda Black Rio because I enjoy the music, as soon as being sideman feels like a job I'm not really interested.

LJN: When will the album be ready?

JP:  The album will be ready before the year finishes, but due for release next year. In the mean time, I'm releasing 3 singles with music videos, starting with 'Angel'.

Next UK dates in November - Jay Phelps' Itinerary is on his website. 

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