|Jon Shenoy. Photo credit:© Frantzesco Kagaris|
Saxophonist JON SHENOY's quartet "Draw By Four" is embarking on a 24-date UK tour (new dates are still being added) under another title with a visual art reference FRAMEWORK. There are also plans for an album. Questions by Sebastian:
LondonJazz News: Jon, for people who are not aware of you - where do you come from - where did you train as a musician what made you determined to make it your profession?
Jon Shenoy: Just like Lewis Hamilton I’m from that cultural mecca, Stevenage. It’s unsurprising that such an artistically rich town can keep producing motivated and successful individuals. Actually I went to school in Hitchin and kept Stevenage for skateboarding and buying CDs. After that, I went to Goldsmiths College, Uni of London followed by Guildhall School of Music & Drama where I studied saxophone on the jazz postgraduate course. Determination is certainly the right word, I just kept ploughing on and on with music, keeping my head down and working really hard after leaving the conservatoire. I’m not a natural musician by any means, and certainly not one of the jazz überkinder who turn up at the doors of jazz school already fully-formed. It’s just so fun when it’s going well, it’s hard to imagine doing anything else. Also there’s an artists’ Wall Of Fame at the Stevenage Arts & Leisure Centre (formerly Gordon Craig Theatre) which I’m hoping to get on to one of these days.
LJN: You are in the bands of other people / where might LJN readers have heard you recently?
JS: I straddle opposite ends of the jazz spectrum; you’ll see me on the woodwind chair of Claire Martin’s Hollywood Romance (we did a few nights at Ronnie Scotts in January), Arthur Lea’s Bootleg Brass (wonderful New Orleans inspired neo-soul) and for a few years I was part of Ivo Neame’s wonderful octet. I do a lot big band work, appearing fairly regularly with the Ronnie Scott’s Big Band and Syd Lawrence Orchestras. All pretty different ensembles.
LJN: You play flute, clarinet & saxophone. Do you have a "main" horn?
JS: Saxophone I suppose, from a creative point of view anyway. It’s all I play in Draw By Four, and how refreshing is that - not dragging around all the plumbing to every gig! I love the discipline of the clarinets and the ‘perfection' of flute but sax is where it’s at. I do a lot of alto in big bands but tenor and soprano are my favourite horns.
LJN: You have booked in twenty - two dates for this tour. You must like touring, and be mightily persuasive!
JS: There’s actually still more dates dribbling in at the end of June actually, we’ll work up some real momentum with this many shows. I’ve never had that opportunity with any of my projects before, I’ve done enough touring on musicals to last me a lifetime but this’ll be totally different. I’ve got road maps ready, cultural itineraries prepared and pocket money for scotch eggs. I’m not sure I’m that persuasive, you should see how many venues didn’t want us. I’m probably quite annoying. Shenoying in fact. I just grind people down until they say yes.
LJN: Your parents are both involved in medicine but you have always been strongly (does that mean rebelliously?) drawn to the arts?
JS: No rebellion required whatsoever, they’re supportive to the very ends. In my family we have a mutual bewilderment of each others’ careers, which is quite a practical family dynamic. At school it was just novels, music and art. I’m far too selfish to do what my parents do, they’re the most unwaveringly selfless people I know.
LJN: And there is an artist connection in the family which means a lot to you personally?
JS: One of the paintings featured in the FRAMEWORK suite is by my late great-aunt Gill Holloway. She spent her lifetime painting and travelling, keeping diaries everywhere she went and constantly making sketches. I’m sad to say I never really knew her but she is part of a strong lineage of artistic women in my family starting with my great-grandmother who used to design for the William Morris company, down to my two sisters who are both artists. The other painters who inspired the music in the suite are JMW Turner and Winifred Knights, I thought it would be nice to honour Gill by making her work part of the process too.
LJN: And you were inspired by Tim Whitehead's "Turner and the Thames" project…
JS: Yes! I thought that was a really unique starting point for a composition - row yourself out to the site of an iconic painting, improvise to what you see, record it and build a composition out of it. Looking at a painting was a great way for me to start a piece of music, and hopefully it’s an alternative way for an audience member to get something out of the music. A demystifying way to connect with jazz perhaps.
LJN: And the visual connection is why you have called the tour and the prospective album Framework?
JS: That's right I wanted to convey above all the notion that each member of the quartet provides part of the frame within which a musical picture is formed. I like to think that the music, whilst being strongly rooted in lyricism and traditional forms has enough flexibility that we can swap musical rolls – providing backgrounds sometimes, subjects at other times. There’s a lot of improvising in the tunes but I like deconstructing the compositions in the rehearsals, making sure we know each other’s parts so that when we paint a picture together we’re all working from the same palette. This whole Framework thing was an opportunity to indulge myself in my love of art. I’ve chosen some paintings that I’ve seen at recent exhibitions by British painters and used them as inspiration for a suite of music. Where possible we’ll be projecting the artwork while we perform. I used to paint all the time when I was at school and probably would have chosen a career in art rather than music if only holding a paintbrush could have given me the same currency with girls as my Grade 7 merit on the clarinet then things may have turned out quite differently.
LJN: People will enjoy your promotional video - but if they are eagle-eyed, they will be also be noticing a few personnel changes in your quartet. Who has remained?
JS: My long-time pianistic collaborator and general lovely chap, Will Bartlett is still playing organ. I decided to keep myself in the band - for logistical reasons :)
LJN: And who is new?
JS: The ensemble took on a personnel change late last autumn with the arrival of Chris Draper on drums and Sam Dunn on guitar. Together they’ve brought a fantastic new energy to the music, fuelling the inertia of the group as we hurtle towards these forthcoming tour dates. I’ve been writing for this line-up for quite some time now but it wasn’t until recently that I thought I had the means to take the band around the country and show off the music. By this I mean that I’d finally gained ownership of the music and amassed the skills to lead an ensemble through the compositions. It’s one thing to put your tunes in front of other very capable musicians, it’s another thing to be able to really sing over them yourself and encapsulate the compositional processes in your playing.
Securing drummer Chris Draper to take the drum chair was a total result, him being so busy. I’d only really played with him a few times before but checked him out in Tim Thornton’s band and seem him at Ronnies. I asked him to do the tour with all my fingers and toes crossed and luckily he was really into the music and agreed. I’m really happy to have reconnected with (Sheffield-based) guitarist Sam Dunn - we went to college (Guildhall) together and were joint recipients of the spectacularly underwhelming Carlton Granberry award after scoring the joint highest mark in our recitals.
LJN: Organ trios / quartets why do you think they are so much "in" at the moment? And what is different about yours?
JS: Although the instrumental line-up is steeped in tradition, the idea was to write original compositions that took the format into new territory. There are strong rhythmic hooks, contrapuntal melodies, lots of lyricism, a bit of boogaloo and some really hectic stuff too. The only ‘standards’ we really play are covers of avant-pop songs. Introducing an organ-based band requires no defence these days whereas perhaps in the past you had to issue a disclaimer if you were going to play anything but a 60s soul-jazz set. These days there are so many interesting bands out there with an organ providing the sonic palette that it would be as presumptuous as watching a piano trio walk on stage and assuming you were automatically going to hear a set of swinging standards and nothing else. I personally love the sound of this band, the organ inhabits a wide sonic spectrum but it provides a beautifully complimentary harmonic cushion for the tenor saxophone and guitar, especially in the hands (and feet) of Will Bartlett.
LJN: Some influences you'd like to mention?
JS: The influences come from a wide range of places and it’s rather hard to distill them but I suppose there’s a nod towards the heavyweight tenor/organ bands led by Michael Brecker and Seamus Blake (impossible for any self-respecting saxophonist to ignore), the playfully cyclical writing of Dave Holland, a bit of Eddie Harris boogaloo, and indirectly some of Tim Berne’s brilliant music that straddles free playing and angular grooves. There’s definitely a cohesion to the sound we make, even if the influences span some listeners’ tastes.
LJN: You don't compose at the piano or straight into Sibelius how do you work and what does that imply for the way you write?
JS: I write almost everything from my horn which means I start with melodies or bass lines first before I get obsessed with harmony and chords. It takes a little longer but it really helps me to weave a picture together, starting with the outlines before I block the colours in. That’s kind of where the name of the band came from, this idea that we were all connected by something linear.
LJN: How would you describe this stage of your life?
JS: I’m 35, it’s an age perhaps when you start looking at the world through a different lens, wondering why you’ve turned out the way you have, wondering which features you share within your family and which mark you out as an individual. It may be that my Great-aunt's artistic urges came from the same place as the creative impulses that I share with my sisters and that’s something worth exploring.
LJN: And there is going to be an album too?
JS: Yes, plans are to have something ready by the end of the autumn. Which will probably mean we should go on tour to sell a few. (pp)
Draw By Four 2017 FRAMEWORK Tour
Thu 2nd Bulls Head, Barnes, London SW13 9PY
Tue 7th The Stables, Milton Keynes MK17 8LU
Wed 8th Olivers, Greenwich, London SE10 9JL
Sat 8th Brasserie Toulouse Lautrec, Elephant & Castle, London SE11 4RN
Tue 18th Parr Jazz, Liverpool L1 9BX
Wed 19th Matt n Phreds, Manchester M4 1LW
Thu 20th Davenham Theatre, Northwich CW9 8NF
Fri 21st Bebop Club, Bristol BS8 4SF
Sun 23rd Ashburton Live, Devon TQ13 7DD
Mon 24th Clifford Arms, Devon TQ14 0DE
Tue 25th St Ives Jazz Club, Cornwall TR26 2LU
Wed 26th Swing Unlimited, Bournemouth BH22 8SQ
Sun 30th Southampton Modern Jazz Club SO15 2BN
Mon 1st Pizza Express, Soho, London W1D 3RW
Wed 3rd Butterfly & Pig, Glasgow G2 4SQ
Thu 4th Blue Lamp, Aberdeen AB25 1BU
Fri 5th Jazz Bar, Edinburgh EH1 1HR
Sun 21st Herts Jazz, Welwyn AL8 6BX
Sun 25th Jazz East Felixstowe IP11 2AF
Mon 26th Bexley Jazz, Kent DA5 1AA
Fri 30th Verdict, Brighton BN2 0JB
July Mon 3rd Ronnie Scotts (Late Show), Soho, London W1D 4HD
Tues 4th Spotted Dog, Birmingham B12 0NH
Thu 6th Spin Jazz, Oxford OX1 4DFD