INTERVIEW: Alyn Shipton (Damon Brown Quintet – Focus on Benny and Clifford, Spice of Life, 10 April)

Damon Brown
Herts Jazz,  2013
Photo credit: Melody McLaren


Broadcaster and bassist Alyn Shipton has been telling us about a special appearance by the Damon Brown Quintet (Damon Brown –  trumpet, Olly Wilby – tenor sax, Jez Cook – guitar, Nat Steele – drums and Alyn himself – bass at the Spice of Life next Wednesday 10 April. Interview by Sebastian:

LondonJazz News: Is this a new quintet?

Alyn Shipton: We played a one-off gig in Oxfordshire last year when Damon was back in the UK to visit family and friends. The saxophonist then was the brilliant Swiss player Luca Stoll, and he’s playing some gigs with us this year, but is heavily committed all over the UK, so cannot be with us next week. But Olly Wilby has been the regular saxophonist with my quartet with Jez and Nat for the last year and he’s joining us again for this very special London appearance.

What the audience loved best on last year’s gig was Damon’s amazingly deep take on the Clifford Brown / Benny Golson repertoire, so this year we thought we’d make that the focus of the concerts. What always amazes me is that although we all know the records, this band seems able to dig out more new ideas from the repertoire.

LJN: Damon Brown has put together a lot of interesting groups - has he put this quintet together?

AS: Yes, we have been emailing to and fro from S Korea, and this makes a real difference for him from the work he does there, where he plays a lot of his own material. It's a chance to go back to the music that inspired all of us, and we've been doing real 'jazz fan' exchanges about which pieces to play and how they’ll work with the band.

LJN:  Tell us about the individual musicians...

AS: Damon Brown is an exceptional trumpeter and he’s well known for his work with his own UK bands and with Killer Shrimp. What I love about his playing is that the hard edge is a carapace above an amazingly tender and emotional trumpeter (actually these days cornetist) and he can melt your heart in an instant. One of the biggest problems about playing with him is that he can be so lyrical and beautiful you want to stop playing to listen.

Olly Wilby is probably best known for his work with the Pasadena Roof Orchestra and Ray Gelato, but he’s a fabulous player in a much wider range than that. He came into my Buck Clayton Legacy Band working with the blues singer Michael Roach, and immediately stamped his authority on the band. We’ve worked together a lot in the last year and he is a really fine tenor soloist in so many different genres of the music.

Jez Cook and I have played together for many years in loads of different settings from French Chansons groups to Django-style gipsy jazz. He’s just one of the most consummate musical guitarists you could hope to work with.

And Nat Steele has been around the Oxford scene on and off since he was a boy, so we’ve known each other a long time and he is a brilliant swinging drummer.

LJN:  Nat Steele is less known as a drummer than as a vibes player.....?

AS: Nat’s current MJQ tribute quartet shows that he’s a formidable vibes player, and with that group he shows just how amazingly he has absorbed the Milt Jackson sound, but like so many percussionists, Nat is also a dazzling drummer. I think he is in the Jim Hart league as a double where whichever instrument he’s playing you immediately believe that it is his main speciality! His lightness of touch and underlying force makes him perfect for this repertoire.

LJN:  Is Damon Brown still based in Korea?

AS: Yes he’s a real Seoul musician...!

LJN:  What made you want to concentrate on the tunes of Clifford Brown and Benny Golson?

AS: It’s audience reaction. We just knew that the minute we launched into I Remember Clifford or Daahoud, the listeners were willing us on. Maybe it’s something to do with the record collector jazz audience in Oxfordshire! But we took so much energy from the enthusiasm of the crowd we just decided we’d have a crack at doing it all again a little bit further away from my band's home base!

LJN:  Is it a one-off or do you envisage more gigs for this formation?

AS: If Damon comes back again next year we'd be up for doing it all over again!

LINK: Spice of Life Soho bookings for 10 April

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