INTERVIEW: Peter Edwards (A Journey With The Giants Of Jazz, touring in July)

Peter Edwards
Photo from Peter's website


Award-winning composer/ pianist PETER EDWARDS has written a new work, Journey With The Giants of Jazz . It has already been premiered in Southampton, and the London premiere is on 8 July at the South Bank. He explained the background to Sebastian.

LondonJazz News: Peter, you are a pianist, a composer/arranger and an educator. Does the proportion of the time you spend doing each vary widely?

Peter Edwards: I guess you could call me a portfolio musician, which is the norm for most jazz musicians. I do love the variety of working on different projects. [I divide my time] 20% composition (large and small ensemble projects); 30% education (mainly private tuition and some workshops in schools); 30% as a pianist working with my own band or as a sideman; 10% arranging and co-writing; 10% musical direction.

LJN: Do you like the balance or in an ideal world which would you want to do more of?

PE: Ideally I'd love to do more composition and musical direction work. Doing two or three works for large ensemble a year would be a fantastic and would leave enough time for be to pursue my other small ensemble projects.

LJN: Let’s start with composer. You have recently had a commission with a London premiere coming on 8 July. What was the brief?

PE: The brief was to write a 15-minute composition to celebrate the legacy of six jazz greats who would have turned 100 in 2017: Ella Fitzgerald, Theolonius Monk, Tadd Dameron, Buddy Rich, Dizzy Gillespie, Mongo Santamaria.

LJN: Did you adapt the brief at all? Did the work change in scope along the way?

PE: Turner Sims [in Southampton], who commissioned the piece Journey With The Giants of Jazz gave me the freedom to interpret the brief. I decided to divide the piece into six episodes, one for each of the jazz greats. My approach was to find a particular characteristic or theme for each artist and compose to that. So, for example, I used the guajira rhythm that Mongo Santamaria used on his version of Herbie Hancock's Watermelon Man and Dizzy Gillespie's fusion of bebop and Afro Cuban music as inspiration for his section. I also wanted to feature members of the band with a few solos.  I used a motif from a Buddy Rich solo as the starting point of a drum feature in the middle of the commission.

LJN: Did you write this work with specific players in mind? Are there some young people in the band who we all need to watch out for?

PE: I knew from the beginning that I was going to be working with the Nu Civilisation Orchestra, an ensemble I have worked with since 2009. We have an amazing pool of musicians who we work with. There are some more familiar musicians like Nathaniel Facey on alto, Byron Wallen on trumpet, Binker Golding on tenor saxophone, Harry Brown on trombone and Gary Crosby on bass. We have some fantastic new faces in the band also: Rebecca Toft on lead trumpet, Sarah Tandy on piano, Cherise Adams-Burnett on vocals, Eddie Hick on drums, Rhiannon Jefferies on baritone, Rosie Turton on trombone and Noda Oreste on congas.

LJN: You have gone right through the ranks of Gary Crosby’s activity right? Is the current role of Music Director for Nu Civilisation something fixed now?

PE: Yeah that's right, I have gone through the ranks starting with being a member of Tomorrow's Warriors in 2007. I helped put together the Tomorrow's Warriors Jazz Orchestra 2009 and oversaw its transition to becoming the Nu Civilisation Orchestra and have been at the helm since. The musical director role has evolved over the years. At the beginning I played piano and directed the ensemble. Now I just direct and am enjoying it. We've got big plans for the Nu Civilisation Orchestra and I'll certainly be around to lead it.

LJN: We talked about your work as pianist. The first thing I notice is that you are working quite a lot with singers.

PE: I do ! I've been very fortunate to work with some phenomenal singers - Nicola Emmanuelle, Zara McFarlane and most recently Mica Paris.

LJN: Tell us about Nicola Eemmanuelle?

PE: I've worked with Nicola Emmanuelle since about 2008. She worked with composer George Fenton on many projects including the soundtrack to Cry Freedom. We've performed at  the Boisdale, Pizza Express Dean Street  and most recently have a residency at the Savoy Hotel in the Thames Foyer on Friday evenings. Most of the repertoire is the classic American Songbook. She's up there with the very best (VIDEO).

LJN: And Zara McFarlane?

PE: I met Zara through going to Tomorrow's Warrior's Jam Sessions. She asked me to work with her on her EP and we co-wrote it's title track, Until Tomorrow.



Since then I've been performing in her band have a few co-writes and arrangements in her catalogue of recordings . Zara is a remarkable vocalist, songwriter and bandleader and deserves all the accolades and awards that have come her way. Look out for her new album (launch 15 Nov, Rich Mix, Bethnal Green).

LJN: Mica Paris?

PE: I got the call from Guy Barker who was working on a orchestral album with Mica Paris, celebrating the music of Ella Fitzgerald. He asked me if I'd like to put together a small band to work with Mica playing some for the small band music that Ella did in the 1960s and '70s. I'm a big fan of Mica's work and so it's been a real pleasure getting to work with her. She's another great storyteller and really gets the crowd involved. The audience was on their feet for the majority of the our performance at Cheltenham festival.

LJN: And as leader… Your trio album A Matter of Instinct came out in 2016. Has the trio had to take a back seat because of all the other work?

PE: I'm really pleased that I've been able to do two studio albums and and an EP with my trio. It has been tricky to balance all my different projects. Ideally I would like every year to put together a run of dates for my trio and plan the next release. In the meantime, I think I'm trying to to integrate my trio work into some of the other projects. At the beginning of the year we released a single with the London School of Samba. It was the first time I ever arranged for samba band, and Zara McFarlane performed on it too. I'd like to put out some trio recordings in 2018. Watch this space!



LJN: Where was the premiere of A Journey With The Giants Of Jazz? How was it?

PE: It was a wonderful occasion. Turner Sims, who commissioned the piece, hosted the premiere in association with TW live. Before playing the premiere we had local school bands performing their own tributes to the jazz greats as part of the Jazz Ticket education programme. (VIDEO ABOUT JAZZTICKET HERE)

We had a great crowd at Turner Sims to see the performance. It was really well received.

LJN: Will the London version be the same as the earlier performance(s) or has the piece evolved in performance? Are there others planned?

PE: The London performance will be fairly similar to the Turner Sims performance. I think the difference will be that all the musicians will be more familiar with the material and take a few more risks.

The Schedule for the national tour is as follows:

2 July Hull Minster
8 July Southbank Centre, London 
13 July Manchester RNCM
13 October Bristol Colston Hall
14 November Brighton Dome
18 November Hull Truck Theatre

LINK: Nu Civilisation Orchestra


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