INTERVIEW/PREVIEW: Allison Neale Art Pepper Plus Eleven (Sunday 20th November , part of BopFest at The Elgin,W11)

Allison Neale. Photo credit Benjamin Amure
BopFest is a festival within a festival, running from 14th November to 20th November 2016 and nestling in the heart of the EFG London Jazz Festival. Now in its second year, it features the cream of contemporary British bebop and straight ahead jazz playing with nine gigs scheduled at The Elgin in Ladbroke Grove. The festival is run by Nat Steele and Allison Neale. 

Possibly the jewel in the festival's crown is a recreation of the great Art Pepper Plus 11 sessions from March 1959, which saw the West Coast sax prodigy Pepper playing alto, tenor and clarinet in the eponymous large unit under the direction of the hugely gifted arranger and composer Marty Paich. The result was a classic album. Robert Fowler will stand in on tenor and clarinet for Pepper at the Elgin, while ALLISON NEALE will play Pepper’s alto parts. Andrew Cartmel interviewed her:

LondonJazz News: Allison, you’re a Londoner but you were born in Seattle, literally on the West Coast. Do you think that geography has anything at all to do with your affinity for this music?

Allison Neale: Not really, no. It’s just a coincidence. I have British parents. My father was an aircraft designer for Boeing, which is why we were based in Seattle. He designed the 747 — not single-handedly! He’s a huge jazz fan, particularly West Coast, Stan Getz, Gerry Mulligan, and that’s really the connection. Paul Desmond was another big influence.

LJN: You’ve described Art Pepper as your main influence. How did you discover him and, crucially, the Plus 11 album?

AN: He’s quite a big influence. It’s a record I’ve listened to since I was very small because it was one of the big albums in my father’s collection. I was always very attracted to that soft melodic sound, which is the West Coast sound, really. It’s a long term connection. I was listening to this stuff since I was born. I think it’s one of the definitive albums that Art Pepper did, crucially because it features him on all the horns. Alto, tenor and clarinet. And it was just a fantastic showcase for Art’s talents in a larger ensemble. It’s a collaboration with Marty Paich that highlighted Art’s gifts in a really interesting way.




LJN: What gave you the idea or the inspiration to replicate this session?

AN: I think it’s something I’ve always wanted to do and it’s quite hard nowadays to do a large project. Nat Steele and I ran BopFest last year and we wanted to expand this year and do a large ensemble and this has probably never been done in the UK before. And we knew all the players who were right for it. It’s a great way to showcase them.

LJN: The original Plus Eleven sessions featured a galaxy of West Coast jazz stars, not just Art Pepper but Bud Shank, Richie Kamuca, Dick Nash, Russ Freeman and Mel Lewis. However, an absolutely crucial part of a larger outfit like this is the arranger, and Marty Paich was also a star here. We were wondering how you went about transcribing his charts?

AN: We actually have a wonderful transcriber Callum Au who plays trombone. He’s incredibly gifted and he does a lot of arranging. He has his own large ensemble/big band. He did half the arrangements, transcribing them off record by ear. These were the unavailable ones.

The other half are available, approved by Laurie Pepper, transcribed by Jeffrey Sultanof. These were copied from Paich’s originals, I believe. Sultanof is like a copyist or transcriber in the States.

LJN: Anything else you’d like to tell our readers about BopFest?

AN: We’re in our second year now and we’re trying to showcase the talents of the straight ahead musicians during the LJF, culminating in a large ensemble on the Sunday. Nathaniel and I really want to celebrate the kind of music we love within the jazz genre.

The full list of BopFest gigs is as follows: 

- Monday 14th November at 8.00pm, the Graham Harvey Trio. 
- Tuesday 15th November at 8.00pm, Allison Neale and Colin Oxley in a tribute to Paul     Desmond and Jim Hall. 
- Wednesday 16th November at 7.30pm, the Leon Greening Trio with support from the Ofer Landesberg Trio. 
- Thursday 17th November at 7.30pm, the Freddie Gavita Quintet in The Clifford Brown Story  with support from the Will Arnold-Foster Trio. 
- Friday 18th November at 7.30pm, the Artie Zaitz Organ combo with support from the  Gabriel Latchin Trio
- Saturday 19th November at 2pm, the New Steve Fishwick/Alex Garnett Quartet featuring US  bassist Mike Karn 
- Saturday 19th November at 8pm, The Nat Steele Sextet play the music of Dizzy Gillespie,  Charlie Parker and Milt Jackson featuring Steve Fishwick and Sammy Mayne. Sunday 20th  November at 1pm, the Andrea Pozza Trio. 
- Sunday 20th November at 7pm, Allison Neale and Rob Fowler present Art Pepper Plus  Eleven. 

 A few ‘Stroller’ tickets are still available, which provide access to all nine gigs at a discount of £11. The Elgin is located at 96 Ladbroke Grove, London W11 1PY. (WEBSITE/BOOKINGS)

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