Rowland Sutherland Pt.2

“What I like to do in these instances, if its writing something that is taking influence from an original source, I absorb myself and I reacquaint myself with the person’s general persona and aura; I check out their material and things like that. Because obviously there’s a certain amount that I already knew about John Coltrane, but I wanted to delve deeper.” – Rowland Sutherland

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Photo: Courtesy of Siobhan Bradshaw

For over two decades Flautist, composer, arranger, bandleader and educator, Rowland Sutherland, has brought all these impressive qualities to bear through his work in ensembles, orchestras, bands and as a solo performer. His work covers a breadth of musical styles and formats including Jazz, contemporary, popular and non-Western music. 2014 has been a particularly monumental year for Mr Sutherland having performed at, composed and arranged two ensemble tributes to the late John Coltrane under the moniker of ‘Enlightenment’ A re-envisioning of John Coltrane’s ‘A Love Supreme’, as well as playing in numerous trio, quartet, quintet and sextet formations across the UK, Europe and Japan. Michael J Edwards caught up with self-effacing Mr Sutherland prior to his performances as part of a trio and a sextet at one of the more favoured venues for improvisers, LUME in London.

Michael J Edwards: 2014 was a particularly intense year for you, not least because you were handed the responsibility by Mr Paul Bradshaw to compose and arrange a re-envisioning of John Coltrane’s ‘A Love Supreme’, with performances at the Queen Elizabeth Hall for James Lavelle’s Meltdown in the summer of 2014 and most recently on December 9th 2014, the 50th anniversary of the recording of John Coltrane’s ‘A love Supreme’ at Union Chapel. Lest we forget he is a curator as well as having been a publisher and editor of the magazine Straight No Chaser, (yet has also often done exhibitions and such… plus also he sometimes DJs.) He then had this idea, and he spoke to his partner at Chaser Productions about putting together something that was inspired by ‘A Love Supreme’.

Rowland Sutherland: All it is, is that basically Paul Bradshaw and Orphy Robinson were speaking; and Paul Bradshaw being a curator as well as having been a publisher and editor, yet often done exhibitions and such. He’s also even been a DJ, as well as having done Straight No Chaser for quite some time; there were these other side him to as well. He then had this idea, and he spoke the partner of his at Chaser Productions about putting together something that was inspired by ‘A Love Supreme’.

Michael J Edwards: Around what year would this have been formulating?

Rowland Sutherland: Two and a half years ago perhaps. And then I think Orphy (Robinson) had ideas along the lines of the line-up and knew that he’d want to MD the project – The talking started sometime in 2011. My role was the music; so I was approached to write the music. It’s a composition, but there’s a difference between a composition and an arrangement, if you see what I mean… It is actually original music, but it draws inspiration from ‘A Love Supreme’. It’s also an arrangement, in the other sense of the word, with regards to the works form, (it has many different events within different sections)… and the way in which the instruments are organised within each section.

We were fortunate in that the Performing Rights Society Foundation (PRSF) provided the funds for this commission.

Michael J Edwards: So Paul (Bradshaw) sold them the vision?

Rowland Sutherland: Yeah, he had to put the applications forward and explain everything to them, and fortunately they were into it.

Michael J Edwards: What was your initial thought process when writing the re-envisioning?

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Photo: Courtesy of Siobhan Bradshaw

Rowland Sutherland: What I like to do in these instances, if its writing something that is drawing influence from an original source, I absorb myself and I reacquaint myself with the person’s general persona and aura; I check out their material and things like that. Because obviously there is a certain amount that I already knew about John Coltrane, but I wanted to delve deeper. Of course I took on board the troubles that he went through, and the struggles he had. The period and the struggles that they were going through back then, the injustices that African-Americans were faced with; the hardships, the general lows as well as the highs. Also, the amazing achievements that he made with the bands he played in, both as a side man and as a leader.

Coltrane managed to beat his drug addiction after going ‘cold turkey’ for a while. But then he found that all the special qualities he had in his playing had suddenly vanished. Coltrane made a plea and re-dedicated himself to God. It was fascinating that Coltrane grew up in the church and strengthened his spirituality from that point onwards.

Michael J Edwards: As you did your research did you discover things about him that surprised you?

Rowland Sutherland: Like I said. There were things I kind of knew about, but I wanted to delve even deeper. So I wanted to get into the right frame of mind, because to do such a monumental work you have to do it justice. You’ve got to do more than just listen to the stuff, you need to know even more about the person and get an idea of what that person was like from good sources. So that’s what I did, and then I just got on with writing the piece. I then felt I could get into the right spirit of it.

Michael J Edwards: How long did it take you to complete from start to finish?

Rowland Sutherland: I had to write it quite quickly because there were lots of things to tie up, because they didn’t know for sure what was happening, because they hadn’t had the final word yet. And I couldn’t go ahead and write it straight away at that point because I knew to write it, I’d need to go abroad to get away from everything and clear my head and just get on with that. Which is what I did, I went to Greece, I went to Thessaloniki. I like to be where the sea is, and there’s a big port there. So in the end I only had a month more or less to get it done, and then we rehearsed.

Michael J Edwards: How did it work logistically regarding getting everybody together for rehearsals and the final performance, or was it a case of build it and they will come?

Rowland Sutherland: Once it was clear that the funding was going to happen and I started writing, then they had to quickly get the venue in place. There were a lot of things to tie up, and then we had to sound out the musicians. There were provisional dates at first, but then we had a rough idea of what the exact date would be.

Michael J Edwards: You’re referring here to the first re-envisaging at Kings College, London, June 21, 2012, on the day of the summer solstice?

Rowland Sutherland: Yes, the summer solstice in 2012, that’s right.

Michael J Edwards: You’ve now composed, arranged and performed three Re-envisionings of John Coltrane’s ‘A Love Supreme’ the last of which, on December 9, 2014 coincided with the 50th Anniversary of the recording of said classic album itself. In hindsight can you see the progression that was made over the three performances?

Rowland Sutherland: They’ve all been different, evolving all the time and it is always maturing. What’s been really interesting, is that there’s been members of the audience that have been to all three – including yourself – and they’ve seen the difference, they’ve seen it grow. They’ve felt the growth and maturity, and it’s become more and more powerful. It reaches higher up in spirituality.

Michael J Edwards: Can you feel that when you revisit this music?

Rowland Sutherland: Yeah, I can feel it definitely! I can feel the energy; and it’s brilliant because all the players are out of this world and have such a strong affinity with this music. I’m just really overjoyed that they took to what I wrote in such a positive way, and they showed a lot of commitment to the music. And they always add something really fascinating to it as well; they give a lot of themselves. They’re all soloists and leaders in their own right.

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Photo: Courtesy of Siobhan Bradshaw

Michael J Edwards: I believe I was first introduced to you properly at Nexus (one world music), put on by Cleveland Watkiss and Orphy Robinson from jazz Warriors International at St Georges church. I believe you played alongside Robert Mitchell and Adriano Adewale. What are your thoughts on the concept of Nexus, and how Orphy and Cleveland bring these combos together?

Rowland Sutherland: I think it’s an excellent idea, because it brings the audience something that they don’t see too often, and it’s really focused in the way that it is programmed with regards to each of the concerts. It sits really comfortably with introducing soloist who are at home in classical music, who are at home in Jazz, and who are at home in non-Western music; and it brings them all together within one performance usually.

Michael J Edwards: On the evening you performed with Adriano Adewale and Robert Mitchell. Had you ever interacted with them before?

Rowland Sutherland: I knew of Adriano, but we hadn’t played together, so it was a great opportunity to be able to finally play together at last. Robert I knew from the Jazz Warriors.

Michael J Edwards: Do you remember any of the pieces you played?

Rowland Sutherland: Basically I played solo flute pieces, which were based on Classical compositions, so that brought in the Classical element. But I like to bring in, not so much typical classical music that you might hear umpteen times; like Debussy and people like that, I wanted to play something that has a different background to it and culture. So I played a Native American piece by Katherine Hoover. I like to incorporate female composers as well when I perform flute music; so there was Katherine Hoover and also a piece by Will Offermans, and that was Japanese-based, ‘Honami’. With Robert, we then played a piece by the African-American composer William Grant Still, and those pieces are rarely played in the UK, so I thought it would be a good opportunity to air those. They’re known in America really well, but not over here.

Michael J Edwards: Robert (Mitchell) is someone who you can push that score in front of, because he can read music so well.

Rowland Sutherland: Yeah, exactly, because he’s trained classically, so we had a good report when playing together.

Michael J Edwards: What are your thoughts as musicians and people on Orphy Robinson, his fellow Black Top collaborator Pat Thomas as well the aforementioned Jazz Warriors International stalwart Cleveland Watkiss, and when did you first meet each of them?

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Photo: Courtesy of Siobhan Bradshaw

Rowland Sutherland: Well Orphy and Cleveland I knew them from the Jazz Warriors. But with all three there were many coincidences, because we didn’t know each other until Jazz Warriors. Myself and Orphy, we lived really close to each other, I went to Boys Brigade and he went to the Sea Cadets, and we did Marching Bands and things like that. We had an affinity already with each other’s music and we were playing in each other’s projects. With Cleveland I knew him mainly from playing in Jazz Warriors, but we didn’t do too much other than that. Whereas with Orphy I played on lots of his different projects and then we formed something together called ‘Creative Force,’ which eventually I took over and then it featured him. With Pat Thomas I met him in the late nineties when Orphy reformed something called ‘Nubian Vibes Ensemble’, and for that matter he introduced a singer who had just come over from Sardinia, Filomena Campus, and that’s how I first met her.

But during that time Orphy kept talking about Pat, but I hadn’t had the opportunity to play or meet with Pat, even though all three, have done stuff with him. But again, I had a real affinity with Filomena to the point where we started a band together called, ‘In Kimbe’ which means ‘Five’ in the Sardinian, and it was a quintet. (Laughs) So we played a lot of Sardinian Jazz, Brazilian Jazz; you could say Mediterranean Jazz and we improvised some music within it.

That was a wonderful project! That had Dudley Phillips on bass, Simon Pearson on drums and John Crawford on piano. And there were some other players involved in it as well, but above named were like the core. And then, because Filomena’s got a background in physical theatre, she had a theatre company called ‘Theatreralia’ and she put on a project called ‘Mysterioso,’ which dealt with Thelonious Monk and the last seven years of his life. That was multifunctional, it had multimedia and visuals; Cleveland (Watkiss) was narrating, and it had people who dance and sing at the same time and act as well. And we were the band, and we did movement as well. In fact, David Leahy was involved in it as well, the bass player playing here with me tonight at LUME. And so that’s how I met Pat, because Pat played the role of Thelonius Monk.

Michael J Edwards: I mentioned your fellow Guildhall School of Music and fellow alumni Steve Williamson earlier, what were your thoughts on him as well.

Rowland Sutherland: I met him in Jazz Warriors as well. He was great, because we would have pep talks every now and then. Back then I was still finding my way through Jazz and he’d already established himself quite well, so we’d have quite a few pep talks and he’ll be encouraging me and making some suggestions. And I was really, really into him, I found his playing really fiery and exciting and full of energy. Plus we both liked Steve Coleman, and he was well deep into that, so I enjoyed hearing him play that music. M-Base! So there was always mutual respect there. Even though we didn’t play much together after the Jazz Warriors, we’d always have a nice chat, and we’ve always got on. With the re-envisioning of ‘A Love Supreme’, that was kind of like the first time I played with Steve in a while, because he went abroad for a while and then returned. I’ve always admired Steve Williamson greatly.

Michael J Edwards: Who are you listening to at the moment, whether it’s Classical, Jazz, or other?

Rowland Sutherland: I listen to everything! I don’t pick a day or time to listen to things, I just listen. Sometimes a particular project coming up, then yeah, I might focus in the area of that music a bit more.

Michael J Edwards: You travel to Japan intermittently and no doubt have many friends there. How is the Jazz and Classical music scene out there?

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Photo: Courtesy of Siobhan Bradshaw

Rowland Sutherland: It’s more conservative; I found it to be a lot more conservative, and not quite as adventurous with regards to risk-taking. But what’s been really delightful is that I find the Japanese people really appreciate you being there and performing; they really take you to heart, and it’s really warming. Some of the standing ovations that we received from the performances were amazing! I was there with Colin Currie group and Steve Reisch himself who performed one piece with Colin Currie. And we played drumming and the percussionists played some other works of his. The hall absolutely erupted at the end.

Michael J Edwards: Where did you play this concert?

Rowland Sutherland: Opera City in Tokyo.

Michael J Edwards: What are your thoughts on contemporary jazz/classical music today as opposed to the past i.e. Coltrane, Charlie Parker, Miles Davis, Stravinsky, Mozart versus modern Jazz fraternity and modern classical composers?

Rowland Sutherland: Only that it’s always good to absorb what’s happened in the past, and to keep with you what happened in the past, because that’s always important to have an understanding of how things started and how they developed – paying respect to it really.

Michael J Edwards: How do you think the media could or should be promoting jazz music to a broader audience?

Rowland Sutherland: I might get into trouble for saying this, but sometimes certain promoters are only pushing music that they like, but they’re not thinking about what would be good for the general public. So a lot of musicians have been left by the wayside that have had something really good to say and to give to the audience, but it’s been neglected because certain promoters wouldn’t give them the time of day. And I think that’s a crying shame, because I think it denied the audience the opportunity to be really uplifted by some of this music that could have been heard. If you think about it, with ‘Enlightenment’ and the Re-envisioning of ‘A Love Supreme’, for two years we couldn’t get a second gig – two years! But it was great that it was part of (James Lavelle’s) ‘Meltdown’, in 2014; such a huge festival.

Michael J Edwards: Do you have any names of young talent within jazz or classical idioms who you foresee carrying the UK baton on into the future for a new generation and continually challenging people’s concepts as your generation have done?

Rowland Sutherland: There are quite a few actually. I mean, I’m not in touch with a huge amount, but there are quite a few, including the person that myself and Emi (Watanabe) have been playing with in the trio, Tori Handsley, who is part of the young up-and-coming artist who are on the scene. Obviously I’m familiar with trumpet player Laura Jurd, because I tutored her at a summer school. She was in the band that I was tutoring when she was fifteen or sixteen and we could really see the great promise that she had. Another young player of note is the bass and harmonica player Philip Anchille. I think he’s one to watch as well, he’s an amazing talent and a rising star. There are quite a few others, plus some whose names I haven’t fully grasped. There are also some trombone players and a tuba player who were recently at Guildhall. So the future looks promising.

Michael J Edwards: What advice can you give to emerging Jazz or Classical musicians looking to make their way in the industry, given your extensive experience and exposure to the business?

Rowland Sutherland: You have to be immensely dedicated, you have to be really immensely dedicated, and you have to really believe in yourself. You have to be prepared to take knocks and still come up rising. Try and surround yourself with people you can share a lot of things with and whom you can trust. Always have open ears, allow yourself to be inspired by a lot of the wonderful musicians that are around, but don’t be afraid to try to do different things. I found it a great help writing music, it does help my playing. It really helps your musicality, so have a go, don’t just say, “I can’t write!” Find out the basics and just get on with it.

Michael J Edwards: Which musicians alive or dead would you have liked to play with or have played with or composed and arranged for?

Rowland Sutherland: Henry Threadgill. If we could do some sort of collaboration that would be wonderful, I’ve been a long-time admirer. I had the good fortune of playing with Frank Wess and Ali Ryerson at a London Jazz Festival. Who else, Hubert Laws of course! (Laughs) There’s quite a few to be honest with you, Hermeto Pascoal.

Michael J Edwards: You’re playing here at LUME tonight with two very different trios; can you explain the concept of the evening and also little musicians you’re playing with?

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Emi Watanabe (Japanese flutes), David Leahy (double bass), Rowland Sutherland (flutes)
Photo: Courtesy of Siobhan Bradshaw

Rowland Sutherland: I’ve played in different settings with Emi Watanabe, but I just felt that it could be nice to also do a trio. And we also needed a low-end instrument, so I thought of David Leahy who plays double bass, and he’s got quite an affinity with Japanese music as well. And then I also wanted to expand in different improvisational settings, because often improvisers will introduce a concept and we’ll perform around that concept. One other thing we did was to observe a piece of the soundtrack from a film that Toru Takemitsu had written the music for. He’s one of the really big Classical composers from Japan. We drew influence from that and did an improvisation based on what we heard on the soundtrack – and that kind of kick-started things, and we’ve done a few other concepts on from that… And with this other trio I thought it would be good to have something really contrasting, utilising established players on the Improv scene. So there’s Tom Jackson on clarinet, then there’s Neil Metcalfe on flute. He’s someone I’ve known of for a very long time, and it took ages before finally meeting him and playing with him. I play with him also in the London Improvises Orchestra.

And I see David (Leahy) also sometimes in the orchestra, as well as Neil, as well as Daniel Thompson, who is playing guitar in the other trio tonight. The main person I spoke to was Tom Jackson, because funnily enough we’d met each other doing school workshops and that was organised by an ensemble that I play in. It’s a Contemporary Classical Ensemble called ‘Lontano’. We went to various different schools and we did different kinds of playing during those workshops together. Then I discovered that he does a lot of improvised music. I mentioned Neil (Metcalfe) to him, but he had already been playing with Neil and also with Daniel. And then we do a sextet together.

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L-R: Emi Watanabe (Japanese flutes), Neil Metcalfe (bass flute), Tom Jackson (clarinet), David Leahy (double bass), Daniel Thompson (guitar), Rowland Sutherland (flutes)
Photo: Courtesy of Siobhan Bradshaw

Michael J Edwards: What future project lie ahead on the horizon for Rowland Sutherland and what motivates you to keep pushing the boundaries over such a diverse musical spectrum?

Rowland Sutherland: I just always want to just keep developing and keep expanding; I always want to try to reach more people. I’ve always got lots of ideas growing in my head, so I just wait until the right time and release them basically. I want to obviously keep doing things of my sextet. The quartet is brand-new, so I want to develop the quartet. Most of the stuff I do is live, but we do have albums with ‘Mistura’ and we have EP’s as well with ‘Mistura’. Coast to Coast is our album on the FMR label. There’s a Mo Wax EP that we did which did really, really well, especially in Japan, and that’s also called ‘Coast to Coast’. There’s another EP I’ve shared with the Brazilian vocalist Ithamara Koorax. And on her tracks she’s had a whole host of Brazilian stars and Cuban stars including Gonzalo Rubicada. It’s a double-A side, and on the other side is my band ‘Mistura’playing my tune, Good News.

Michael J Edwards: Is it a collectors’ item?

Rowland Sutherland: It is actually! (Laughs) We did various releases. I’ve also got material that is released by Contemporary Classical groups, and various Contemporary Classical groups have premiered my pieces, but I always tend to include the Jazz element with what I give them. And sometimes there’s space for improvisation as well. And sometimes I bring in Latin American or Brazilian influences as well as Jazz. So they kind of come to expect that type of writing from me when they ask me to do something. So obviously I just like to keep developing the writing and expanding as well as the playing.

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Photo: Courtesy of Siobhan Bradshaw

Michael J Edwards: A final message for the ukvibe readership and your Jazz, Classical and non-Western music followers across the globe?

Rowland Sutherland: Keep music live! Keep checking out live music, don’t just rely on recordings. Get out there and support live music, support the musicians. It’s like a treasure trove what you can find out there on the Internet and live on stage, so just keep enjoying it. We’re just going to keep bringing more and more stimulating music for the masses.

Michael J Edwards

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Photo: Courtesy of Siobhan Bradshaw

Essential Websites:
http://www.rowlandsutherland.com/
http://www.rowlandsutherland.com/recordings.htm

Essential Improvisers Venue:
http://longwhitecloudhoxton.com/

Essential Jazz on 3 Radio Broadcast: Enlightenment – A re-envisioning of John Coltrane’s ‘A Love Supreme’

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