INTERVIEW: Jeremy Price - (newly-formed Birm. Cons. Ellington Orch., launch concerts 3 Feb Birmingham, 5 Feb Southport)

Trombonist and head of jazz at Birmingham Conservatoire  Jeremy Price
Photo credit William Ellis


Birmingham has a new jazz orchestra and it will be launched at a concert in the city’s Town Hall on Friday 3 February. It is made up of students at Birmingham Conservatoire and its director is the Conservatoire’s Head of Jazz, JEREMY PRICE. He spoke to Peter Bacon.

LondonJazz News: You have a new student jazz orchestra planned at the Conservatoire?

Jeremy Price: Yes. Ellington has always happened for us in a repertoire Big Band coaching sort of way, but now it is far more of a feature.

LJN: It’s called the Birmingham Conservatoire Ellington Orchestra. Why Ellington?

JP: The more I explore Ellington, the more fascinating I find it. From the Ellington/Strayhorn conundrum to the individual soloists to all the Ellington music in the context of jazz history.

But I'm not just indulging my intellectual and musical interest! The important thing for the ethos of the Jazz Department and the development of the students is that Ellington inhabits that crucial space between art and entertainment that is so important to jazz. Whenever you play Ellington, it's an object lesson in communication and reaching out to an audience.

It's especially good that Ellington speaks to the man/woman in the street as much as the educated jazz aficionado. It's always groovy, soulful, danceable even, with constantly beguiling orchestration. It's dramatic and showy but when quiet is often very moving and deliberately sensual and beautiful. We could do with a lot of these qualities permeating through contemporary jazz, which is why I want it installed as a regular fixture, so that students are permanently around these qualities, and somehow it will influence their own music and and how they communicate with an audience. The important thing for me to emphasise here is that the Ellington orchestra isn't a retro step, it's to bolster the contemporary scene which is still our main aim.

LJN: What will the audience hear at the launch gig on Friday?

JP: A lot of the favourites. Harlem Airshaft, Flirtibird, Happy Go Lucky Local, Across The Track Blues, and of course Take The A Train. That's most of the first set. In the second set we are playing The Far East Suite, with piano tutor and excellent pianist on the contemporary scene, John Turville taking Ellington's role in the band.

LJN: Tell me briefly about the Eastside Jazz Club (part of Birmingham Conservatoire’s new home opening in September 2017) and what will be the BCEO’s role in the club?

JP: Lots of ideas at the moment around the club, waiting for full crystallisation around the logistics, but Monday nights look like Big Band night, which will alternate Jazz Orchestra and Ellington Orchestra. We are all looking forward to regular gigs as part of the routine, for as we all know, jazz develops through regular gigs with the same band so that the personnel gel, get more cohesive and braver in the risk taking.

LJN: What’s your personal favourite Ellington Orchestra tune/arrangement? Will we hear it at the launch? Or maybe in the future?

JP: I have an irrepressible grin standing in front of the Ellington Orchestra for pretty much every tune we are doing, but favourites in The Far East Suite are the baritone feature, Agra, and the finale, Ad Lib on Nippon, which despite the ridiculous title is actually very moving. One of the band favourites I'm surprised to say is one of the oldest: Across the Track Blues. I'm always impressed with the students that they find Ellington hip and relevant to today. Good for them.

Birmingham Conservatoire Ellington Orchestra plays Duke Ellington: We Love You Madly, their debut concert, in Birmingham Town Hall at 7.30pm on Friday 3 February 2017. Tickets are available here 

The band will also be playing at Southport Jazz Festival on Sunday 5 February, in Royal Clifton Hotel at 2.30pm.Tickets are available here.

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