INTERVIEW: Stephen Keogh GMF London Jazz Workshop and Music Festival, Pizza Express, 16-20 August)


The final concert at the 2016 GMF London Jazz Course and Festival
Photo credit: Melody McLaren
The Global Music Foundation will be back in London in mid-August for another London Jazz Workshop and Music Festival running from 16 to 20 August. GMF Director, the Irish drummer STEPHEN KEOGH, explained the background to Sebastian in an email interview:

LondonJazz News: You are putting on a second GMF course and festival at Pizza Express - so - clearly - it went well last year both educationally and artistically?

Stephen Keogh: Well honestly this is the part I never really worry about. The people who come to play and guide are wonderful and I have complete trust in them. I just let them do what they do. They are all totally dedicated and in love with music, and they are all people who give themselves totally to what they do. All that comes across in the performance and the guidance given. What more can you ask.

The tough part, with an event like this, even if one has done all one can, can be the logistics. Having run these events in many different countries and faced the challenges that each particular location presents I'd love to be able to say that it gets easier, but in fact it's always as if you are beginning again, every time. You just get a little wiser and you pay close attention.

Arnie Somogyi coaching on the 2016 course
Photo credit: Melody McLaren

LJN:  Who are the stars in your faculty this year?

SK: As you can see from the previous answer, they are all stars to me, but the more known names are Perico Sambeat, Bruce Barth, Arnie Somogyi - who always manages to create magic and wow everyone with his ensemble. Jim Mullen and Nigel Price are guitarists "par excellence" and very well known in the UK.

LJN:   And tell us about the concerts?

SK:  There are a total of eight concerts over five nights:

- Wednesday is the opening concert with the All Stars.

- Thursday introduces a fantastic young alto player, Victor Jimenez, from Valencia. Obviously influenced by Perico but with his own take on things. He will be sharing the front line with the magnificent UK trumpet player Steve Fishwick (very well respected by leading trumpet players on the other side of the Atlantic) this promises to be a fiery night.

Bruce Barth in 2014
Photo credit: Antonio Porcar Cano

- On Friday and Saturday nights there a two concerts per night, four different bands. They are all strong bands.

- Bruce Barth's set - this is always one of my favourites as Bruce is such a wonderful composer and always comes with great new material full of fascinating rhythms, rich harmony and always containing a hidden surprise. His music is timeless in some sort of way. You could never date his original compositions. Then he will throw in an old ballad with that warm rich sound and lightness of touch that the great masters like Art Tatum all have. You can hear the history of the music, not just in the notes, but in the sound. He seems to conjure up the spirits of times gone by and they become alive and are in the room.

- Viktorija Pilatovic is a Lithuanian singer/songwriter, new to the UK audience, well worth coming to hear. Her writing and way of arranging a song is unique. And she can scat her heart out to if she wants to.

- Then we have the Guitar Summit (more on which below) .

- And Perico Sambeat's latest offering which is always special.

- On Sunday afternoon it's the turn of the students to get up on the stage, and then in the evening it's the Rising Stars, more about these below.

Link to the concert programme




LJN:   Maybe some introduction for a London audience of Perico Sambeat is required - can you remind us of his previous bands. What kind of presence he is on the world stage.

SK: I met Perico in Spain in 1991, but the first time I played in the UK with him was in early '93, I think, at Ronnie Scott's. The band, apart from Perico, was Brad Mehldau on piano, Dave Green on bass and myself. Both Ronnie and Pete were impressed by the band and they actually paid us a little more and gave us a bottle of Champagne at the end of the engagement. That was a joyous week indeed and there were several repeat visits along with other outings in Ireland and Spain.

Perico Sambeat is a huge musician. One of the biggest I've been fortunate to meet. I can't say enough good things about Perico. He is truly one of the great alto players in the world today. Aside from that he is a great composer and orchestrator. He is an example for every young musician to follow. He moves with complete ease and mastery between so many genres too. From the hippest, most thrilling bebop to Flamenco (check out his Flamenco Big Band) to Afro-Cuban and Classical. He has got it all. He is still practising, never slacking, ever learning, never comes with a big time attitude, always giving all of himself to the music. The genuine article.

I have no doubt that all of the people he has worked with over the years, including names like Pat Metheny, Brad Mehldau, Jerry Bergonzi, Kurt Rosenwinkel would likely say the same as me.

LJN: What's the story behind the guitar summit? Is it to some extent a Louis Stewart tribute?

SK: In 2016, 20 August (almost one year ago), Louis Stewart, one of the great jazz guitarists of all time, died. I was at Pizza Express Jazz Club when I received the news. I asked Jim Mullen to join us for this concert next August (18) as I know he loved Louis and I remembered that on the night of 30 August 1997 while playing a gig at the very same club with Louis, Jim walked in the door, sat in with us and the music was wonderful. Another great guitarist who was not known about at the time due to his youth was also there that week as a listener: Nigel Price. Remembering Louis' generosity of spirit, and how he loved to hear other talented guitarists play and help young players to be heard, I asked Nick Fitch to come and join us. Libor Smoldas from Czech Republic has something of the subtlety and soft touch that Louis could access at will. So with the four of these great players I thought it would be a fitting tribute to the guitar and a nod in Louis' direction, because we will never forget him.

Personally, I first heard Louis when I was 13 years old and he had a profound influence on me. His sound, his swing, timing, elegance and virtuosity were amazing, but even beyond that there was a magic in the room and you knew with every fibre of your being that this was special. He was my school; there were others of course but Louis was the main one. He influenced, inspired and helped so many people, but it was all done very quietly and discreetly. He did not get the wide public recognition that he deserved. But musicians everywhere knew how great he was. I remember one day in Dublin at a sound check in a theatre a phone call came for Louis. It was his wife saying that a package had for him arrived in the post from America. Mundell Lowe had sent him a Gibson L7 for his birthday.

LJN: You have a rising stars concert - what's the story?

SK: These are the talented young people who are taking their first big steps, but are already firmly on their musical path. They love the music to the degree that they have committed to the art form. Mostly there is no choice if you have really been bitten by the bug. This night is about giving them an opportunity to be heard playing material of their own choice, drawn from their own sources and including some original compositions too. They will put their own programme together and run the evening themselves. Nel Begley, a wonderful singer from Leeds, is the presenter of this year's offering, and we'll hear and see several different line-ups taken from the pool of great young players coming to this year's event.

LJN: The course is quite holistic - how does a typical day start?

SK: We start in "silence", listening, we train in pulse together, we play samba and Afro/Latin-influenced rhythms together, we sing together and we practice developing some body consciouness. That starts at 9.45am and takes us to 11.45am. Then we have a short break for air and coffee and then we split into groups for instrumental and vocal tuition. We have lunch - if possible all together - then we split into three ensembles and a choir to develop a band sound and prepare the structure of the pieces for performance on the student concert on Sunday 20 August at 5.30pm. After ensemble we have Singers Corner upstairs at Pizza Express (5.30pm) and then it's on to the main evening concert(s). After that it's on to the jam session which finishes up around 1.30am. It's quite "full on" as they say but music gives you energy. There's time to rest and assimilate later on.

LJN: Are all the places on the course filled or are there still places?

SK: There are one or two places left only for front line players and vocalists. Anyone interested should get in touch asap via THIS LINK  (pp)

Global Music Foundation website

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