Trinity Laban Jazz @ Ronnie Scott’s – 22nd February 2016 review and Q&As
“The future shape of jazz”
On the night the Trinity Laban Jazz Ensemble and the Contemporary Jazz Ensemble play at Ronnie Scott’s, the crowd has a different attire: young, fresh, ready to listen, chatty.
Sitting at the bar again, hoping for a night of new jazz to start.
It is a slightly different line-up as there are three performances by three groups: the Harry Evans Quintet, the Trinity Laban Jazz Ensemble and, after a small break, the Contemporary Jazz Ensemble.
As Harry Evans Quintet start with Harry as band leader and on trumpet, it is clear the players are all excited and yet a bit tense, after all, playing at Ronnie Scott’s is a great achievement and all the students playing on the night are impeccably talented. They deserve to be on that iconic stage.
The quintet are a very tight and slick one. From a ballad to a Horace Silver piece, they engage and play together effortlessly. It is a joy to see.
A second giving in the shape of Trinity Laban Jazz Ensemble, a big band represented by some of Trinity’s best students, playing a selection of Duke Ellington, Billy Strayhorn tunes will also have some of the most remarkable voices I have heard for a long time.
An impressive saxophone line-up (alto, tenor and baritone) paired with some wicked trumpets and trombones is a treat, highlighting the likes of Nye Banfield (Tenor sax), Magnus Pickering (Trumpet), Madeleine Dowdeswell (trombone) to quote a few!
All eyes and ears were also on the vocalists. Outstanding were Taylor Notcutt, hers is a magical, spellbinding voice. Singing Strayhorn’s “A flower is a lovesome thing”, the audience is mesmerised. My other notable vocalist is Cherise Adams-Burnett. At the start of Ellington’s “Caravan”, for example, shivers go down my spine, this girl is breaking grounds with a voice that scatters perfectly and a power that would melt titanium!
The Contemporary Jazz Ensemble mark the start of the second set. It’s been a memorable night so far and again it is a very big band on stage, a few faces are recognisable already (having played already earlier).
This band will play pieces from established artists like Django Bates, Laura Jurd and rising stars (including some of Trinity Laban alumni).
Fantastic playing by all the trumpets and trombone section again, but James Pettinger on piano is my favourite of the Ensemble.
We are now in the realm of the modern voice of jazz. The diversity of the compositions and the verve with which the musicians are so eagerly playing on the night makes one love jazz even more. It is to be appreciated how this creative spirit of jazz (of all ages) can make such young faces the cool cats of tomorrow.
Awe-inspiring performances all round!
Trinity Laban’s Q&As
EY: How many of the students performing last night are graduates and if none, what year are they at on average?
Most of the students performing were undergraduates. There were 2 postgraduates. The students in Trinity Jazz Ensemble (TJE) are mainly years 1 and 2, and Contemporary Jazz Ensemble (CJE) are mostly years 3 and 4.
EY: What transpired out of last night’s performances is the sheer passion AND hard work that all musicians have put in. What is a typical day for them at the College?
The student’s day is made up of lots of different classes and one-to-one tuition including jazz improvisation, harmony, rhythm, jazz history, arranging and composition as well as a range of coaching sessions for rhythm section, horn-sections, and African, Brazilian and Cuban music. It is different for every year group and instrument type.
Students benefit from small ensemble work within their year groups, which play to members of the public on a regular basis. The jazz department also has an active masterclass timetable with visiting artists working with the students each term.
Alongside their department classes the students can select specialist options in later years, to enhance their overall musicianship, such as conducting or arranging.
EY: Is music still an important component in our lives? How do the students at Trinity see this?
Mark Lockheart (Tutor): I would have thought music is an essential part of most people’s lives, but that the effect and experience of music is different for everyone depending on how they experience it. Many people have it as a background to their lives whilst for others it’s an engrossing listening experience. I hope that students at Trinity Laban realise what an incredible position they are in being able to play and write music.
Malcolm Earle-Smith (Tutor): Although everyone has a different experience of music, I think it’s true to say that music is important to most peoples’ lives to a considerable degree. Just imagine a world without it. There are various kinds of music played at studied at Trinity Laban from classical genres to music theatre and of course, jazz. As an improvised music, jazz has the flexibility to move with the times. Depending on the performance situation, the mood of the players and the way they interact, jazz has a lot of potential to change and adapt to different audiences now and in the future. It’s a great pleasure and a privilege to work with young musicians who are very passionate about what they do. Many are engaged with a range of different projects inside and outside college. It’s always fascinating to see what they get up to after leaving!
EY: Witnessing both “big band” and contemporary style jazz, how easy is it for the musicians to find gigs to play at whilst they study, bearing in mind we are in the jazz realm?
Mark Lockheart: It’s much harder now earning money from music than it was when I became a professional musician in 1983. I believe the key to being busy – in addition to being good – and getting regular work is to be versatile and professional. Musicians should be comfortable in mainstream styles and contemporary music. Their time at university is a valuable period in which to develop their business acumen to some extent. This early professional approach doesn’t affect creativity but rather enhances it in my opinion.
Malcolm Earle-Smith: “Big Band” is term that can be applied to large jazz ensembles from the 1930s to the present day. Many people see it as an older style of music as it had most of its commercial success in the 30s and 40s (e.g. Benny Goodman, Glenn Miller). But there really are so many wonderful new things being written for Big Band! Mark Lockheart’s set at Ronnie’s was testament to that.
With regard to students finding gigs to play whilst they study, I am always impressed with how resourceful many of them are. Not all the gigs they do outside of college are necessarily fully fledged jazz (improvising) gigs, but they certainly make use of their skills as improvisers and composers whatever they are involved in. Jazz musicians can bring a nice twist to many types of gig be it pop, latin, funk, ska etc. All these types of music have jazz at their roots. Throughout the history of this music, musicians have always had to be flexible and we still are!
A few questions to Taylor Notcutt (vocalist)
EY: How did you get into studying singing?
Taylor Notcutt: I started piano lessons at the age of 8 because my mum thought I would like it and as a reward for doing touch typing (which I did not like). I only have 10% vision and was struggling with writing while attending a mainstream school.
I loved the piano and my mum asked the tutor to teach me music I loved rather than grades as I learned by ear and couldn’t read music. We always had all kinds of music playing at home and by the age of 13 I started a band. By the age of 14/15 my mum took my friends and I to open mics and festivals and I was singing more and more.
I did O Level music and learnt to do braille music so I could do A Level music. By 17 I had a PA system and was performing solo functions, gigs and festivals. I knew my passion and career choice would be in music so I looked into studying at the top universities and conservatoires. I was singing as much as playing piano so decided to put voice as my main area of study. However I’d never had any professional vocal coaching and hadn’t done my musical grades so I had to be assessed to see if I was good enough to audition. Nia Lynn (Jazz vocalist and Trinity Laban staff member) assessed me in June 2012 and said I had a lovely tone and the capability to audition that November. I had previously sang all varieties of music but never Jazz so she advised me to immerse myself in it all summer, and if I didn’t love it and crave more, then not to apply. I did as she advised and got hooked.
I auditioned in November 2012 and got an unconditional offer! I continued working with Nia that year to prepare me for my studies at Trinity Laban.
Your voice is majestic, incredibly moving: does singing a particular piece / tune make a difference in your performance?
I love all different styles and enjoy all tempos. Most people love when I do ballads, but I also really enjoy something sassy or funny.
The choice of song definitely affects the performance, when you love it and enjoy it, it shows. I also love poetry, English literature and songs that really tell a story and evoke reaction. I think this can bring out the best in a performer and the audience, especially if they’re moving or inspirational. One amazing lyric can make a song so memorable.
EY: What makes Trinity Laban such a special place in your opinion?
Taylor Notcutt: Trinity Laban is such a special place because it’s a place full of amazing, enthusiastic talent from a variety of cultures and backgrounds all connected by a love a music and need to share it. You can work on your craft gaining knowledge from tutors and fellow students alike. Not just technically but by practicing, listening to, and working with each other. Your own style develops and you create something unique. This all comes from a good understanding of music and its roots. You explore things you like and some that you don’t think you will, and sometimes find a talent or enthusiasm you didn’t know was there. You get to see and work with amazing people and make connections that hopefully will stay with you through your career.
EY: After such successful gig at Ronnie Scott’s, how does the Ensemble see itself moving jazz forward?
Mark Lockheart: The Contemporary Jazz Ensemble and the Trinity Jazz Ensemble change personnel and repertoire each year which is frustrating to a degree because just when the group gets familiar playing together it’s kind of over and on to the next project. When we first started working on the Ronnie’s set we couldn’t play any of it really, we had to strip everything down to single lines and rhythms and then rehearse incredibly slowly to learn the sound of it.
We did a wonderful gig at the Bonnie Bird theatre in Laban and the music had settled since those first rehearsals. This process of absorbing the music takes time. You can’t rush it. I’d love to see the group do a tour around the UK sometime and possibly playing at some festivals abroad.
Malcolm Earle-Smith: As Mark Lockheart says, there is a huge amount of work involved in getting groups to the standard required for playing at high-profile venues like Ronnie Scott’s. And of course, once you’ve done one gig, you want to do lots more to ‘play-in’ in the material. Although we are now doing larger ensemble gigs than we were doing a few years ago, it would be great to do even more. Perhaps a residency in a club for several nights, or a tour, either in the UK or abroad. I also hope to see more students composing for the band – and also having a role in directing rehearsals and gigs. I think giving students more ownership of future projects would enhance the end result in a special way. We’re already making moves in these directions, and I’m looking forward to seeing what happens in the future.
EY: Is passion in studying and teaching as important as technique?
Mark Lockheart: Most musicians I know teach to a degree and teaching can be hugely insightful and rewarding to a musician. Technique in jazz is not as important as creativity, artistic drive and focus. Of course you need to play your instrument as beautifully as you can and this takes a huge amount of time, if not a lifetime. Energy is crucial, but the process of playing together, listening and creating sound together with others is paramount.
Malcolm Earle-Smith: Without passion, musical technique is pretty worthless. There have been many examples of great jazz musicians who despite having modest techniques were able to produce great music and touch many people. This was driven by their passion for music and their need to communicate. Of course, it’s essential to acquire tools which enable you to say what you want to say – you need to work hard on this; but it’s important not to lose sight of the passion – which is why I think people become jazz musicians in the first place! I think that any teaching of jazz needs to be driven by passion and enthusiasm for the music. That’s a big part of helping students develop musically and it’s a big part of assuring the future of the music
EY: To James Pettinger – who is your favourite jazz musician and why?
My favourite jazz musician is Tigran Hamasyan, an Armenian pianist. He doesn’t play strict ‘jazz’, melding his own brand of fusion/metal/folk with jazz, creating an amazing sound world. He is very influenced by his Armenian heritage, and spent a while in his early musical development trying to incorporate into his improvising folk melodies and modes and techniques not often heard in jazz. The resulting sound is one of virtuosity, and breath-taking rhythmic and harmonic control. I love his compositions, which tend to be a fusion of genres, often using complex time signatures, which appeals to me. Always partaking in new interesting projects, he last came to England with a traditional Armenian choir, which was incredible, but I hope he comes back with a band to play his music, and hear him let loose.