Camilla George

“…I love the old school swing. And whilst I like all the old time signature stuff and I find it a challenge, my main thing at college was definitely learning how to swing in four bar… It’s that essence of Jazz; it’s that old school Jazz that I love.” – Camilla George

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Photo: Courtesy of David S. James

Camilla George is a talented saxophone player, composer, improviser and teacher hailing from London. Camilla graduated from the esteemed Trinity College of Music having won the Archer scholarship for outstanding performance to complement her Masters certificate in Jazz. Though still relatively young in years, musically Camilla is a seasoned musician with an extremely impressive CV to prove it. She’s played alongside Jazz/sax luminaries such as John Toussaint (Art Blakey’s Jazz Messengers), Julian Siegal, Tony Kofi, Jason Yarde and Soweto Kinch to name a few. Add to this her association with Tomorrow’s Warriors, Nu Civilisation Orchestra and Jazz Jamaica into the mix and it becomes evidently clear why this young lady is so in demand on the Jazz circuit, having played London’s most revered and prestigious venues and Festivals, such as Ronnie Scott’s, Queen Elizabeth Hall, The Cockpit Theatre (Jazz In the Round) and The Spice of Life and Ealing Festival.

Still riding on the wave of her debut EP release ‘Lunacity’ and a series of live gigs in 2015 with The Spice of Life being a particular highlight, an ebullient, radiant and eloquent Camilla spoke with Michael J Edwards prior to the Camilla George Quartet performing two gigs in one week (at Jackdaw & Bar Kiosk respectively) about all of the above associations as well as her forthcoming album project and her links with all-female band Venus Warriors, the brainchild of one of her musical mentors and fellow saxophonist Courtney Pine.

Michael J Edwards: Greetings Camilla George, we meet finally. You’ve been playing saxophone since the age of eleven when you won a music lesson. Where did that competition take place and how did it change the direction of your life?

Camilla George: The competition took place at school, and I believe it changed the direction of my life, because there was no way my parents were going to buy me a saxophone as I used to take stuff up and not stick to it. But when I won the competition they realised I was serious about it and I never looked back. I was attending the Bishop Ramsey Church of England School in Ruislip at the time.

Michael J Edwards: You’ve been an integral member of Tomorrow’s Warriors and Nu Civilisation Orchestra. Who brought you into the fold in the first instance?

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Photo: Courtesy of David S. James

Camilla George: It was definitely Gary Crosby; I went to see Jazz Jamaica, when I was eleven. I had just got my saxophone and I went up to Gary Crosby and Denys Baptiste and I said, “I think you’re fantastic!”. And they were like, “Do you play an instrument?” And I said, “Well I’ve just started saxophone” and they were like, “Ooooh, do keep in touch” So I did and then I don’t know however many years later I got into Jazz Jamaica! So it was amazing!

Michael J Edwards: In 2009 you made some enduring connections with other UK-based talents – Nathaniel Facey, Soweto Kinch and Jason Yarde when you joined the aforementioned award-winning band Jazz Jamaica leading to a collaboration with the revered guitarist Ernest Ranglin at Ronnie Scott’s. Was that a great learning experience for you as well as big fun?

Camilla George: It was my first time playing at Ronnie Scott’s; it was scary but it was great fun!

Michael J Edwards: Jazz Jamaica went on to be nominated for a MOBO in 2013 and returned to Ronnie Scott’s performing three sell-out nights at London’s Ronnie Scott’s. That period must have been a particular highlight for you?

Camille George: Yeah, it was brilliant and actually Sarah (Tandy) the piano player, she was at that gig and it was great! We did three nights at Ronnie Scott’s consecutively. It was brilliant, but also hard work, because you realise what it must be like to be a touring artist i.e the people who are doing the real high-end gigs, because it’s a lot of effort every night; and you have to bring it every night.

Michael J Edwards: Your debut EP ‘Lunacity’ showcases a myriad of musical styles with a leaning towards Jazz, Caribbean and West African music. I believe you’ve taken that fusion of tradition Jazz, Caribbean flavours and West African rhythms on your forth-coming album ‘Isang’. Please enlighten us further?

Camille George: With ‘Lunacity’ I really wanted to record something and I got offered a gig at The Crypt around January 2014…I thought that could be a good opportunity for an EP launch. It was a real test because we had to rush, as we only had a few months to get it together.

Actually, the EP was completed on the day of the gig, so it was really down to the wire. It was a great learning experience in terms of writing your own music, putting the band together, rehearsing it, then doing the whole thing of actually producing the album and subsequently getting it out there. That was a real learning curve and also it was a kind of introduction for me.

Michael J Edwards: How did you get the word out? Who was the EP released through?

Camilla George: It was self released, I didn’t have any record label, and it’s not available online, so I usually sell it at gigs. It was just supposed to be a taster to lead to better things; which it has done! It was my calling card. So now as a result of that we’ve just been signed to Ubuntu Music for my forthcoming album ‘Isang’, which is really cool. We’re in early talks and I’ve learnt a lot from them and I think it’s gonna be fantastic!

Michael J Edwards: How have endorsements from Jazz legends such as Courtney Pine and Jean Toussaint impacted upon your career and self belief?

Camilla George: Jean (Toussaint) has been great; he was my teacher for years from when I was about sixteen. So he’s been a great influence and also because I really respect him and I think he’s really underrated on the scene today. I think he’s really one of the top saxophone players around today, his revered worldwide. When I went to New York all the people there knew him. I’m a big Kenny Garrett and he knows him really well. Everybody knows Jean, so for him to be nice to me regarding my playing means a lot, because I know that he doesn’t say things just for the sake of it basically. He’s amazing!

Regarding Courtney Pine, he’s really nice also; he let me sit in on a couple of his gigs and he’s very nurturing. We’ve had loads of chats on the phone. I haven’t spoken to him recently, but definitely when I was first thinking about doing this I would chat with him on the phone and we spoke about different aspects of composing and stuff. I found him to be really; really helpful considering he’s such a big name he’s very humble.

Michael J Edwards: Please expand on the female band Venus Warriors that Courtney helped establish?

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Photo: Courtesy of David S. James

Camilla George: It’s a massive band actually, there’s Nubya Garcia on tenor saxophone, Rosie Turton on trombone, Juliet Roberts (voice), Cheryl Alleyne (drums), Shirley Tetteh (electric guitar), Delphina ‘Panness’ James (steel pan) and Sara Dhillon on piano with me on alto sax…The thing was that we all brought our own tune or composition that was special to us individually. At that time I had just started getting into writing, but I hadn’t written anything that I thought was good enough to put in front Courtney (Pine). So I played ‘Nica’s Dream’ by Horace Silver and I love that tune. It was such a great opportunity and we got reviewed so that was good.

Michael J Edwards: You did an album launch with the group at the Hideaway, London back in 2014. Anymore live performances in the offing going forward?

Camilla George: Every time I see him (Courtney) he says, “We’re gonna do it again! We’re gonna do it again!” But he’s such a busy man that we haven’t organised another gig, but I did have a great time. Also, not everyone was a jazzer in that band, so it was quite interesting to play different music.

Michael J Edwards: The Camilla George Quartet play their first gigs of 2016 at Jackdaw, London and Bar Kiosk respectively within one week. Please tell us about the musicians playing alongside you on each night. I understand your good friend Mr Winston Clifford is depping for your regular drummer Femi for the Jackdaw session?

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Photo: Courtesy of David S. James

Camilla George: I’m so lucky to play with them. On piano for the Jackdaw gig I have Sarah Tandy, she’s a great piano player and very well-respected on the scene… She’s one of my favourite piano player’s without a doubt. Then there’s Dan Casimir; what can I say about Dan, he’s an amazing bass player. He plays with Jean Toussaint and Clark Tracey. The regular drummer is Femi Koleoso from the Ezra collective; he’s an amazing drummer. And the thing with this rhythm section is that they make you sound good, because they’re so good! It’s just always so nice and exciting to play with them and I think the thing that’s there is the trust, you can take more risks because you know they’ve got your back. With Winston Clifford, who is depping for Femi at the Jackdaw gig, we’ve known each other for years. He has depp’d for Femi before at The Crypt. Winston is amazing, we all love playing with him, so whenever he is free to play with us it’s brilliant.

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Photo: Courtesy of David S. James

Michael J Edwards: You cite Kenny Kirkland, Wynton Marsalis and Kenny Garrett as strong influences on your band’s music. What qualities attracted you to these artists?

Camilla George: I think essentially it’s the swing aspect. Through college and subsequently Music College it became a bit of a dirty word to be a swinger, but I absolutely love that, I love the old school swing. And whilst I like all the old-time signature stuff and I find it a challenge, my main thing at college was definitely learning how to swing in four bar… It’s that essence of Jazz; it’s that old school Jazz that I love.

Michael J Edwards: You’ve played the Ealing Jazz Festival in the past, are you keen to play more festivals in the coming year?

Camilla George: The Ealing Jazz Festival is great and we’d love to do more festival stuff. Everyone loves playing festivals, It’s a great vibe. Also playing small Jazz venues like Jackdaw and Bar Kiosk, those kind of places are amazing, because they’re dedicated towards Jazz. The big venues are great also, although a bit scary, but still great for experience.

Michael J Edwards: Did your parents have any impact on your passion for Jazz music?

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Photo: Courtesy of David S. James

Camilla George: My dad’s Canadian and has an extensive vinyl collection of Jazz records. His dad was a saxophone player, so he was always into Jazz. He had all these LPs and he used to play them on Sunday’s. I used to listen to Sonny Stitt, Charlie Parker, Cannonball Adderley, Sydney Bechet and Stanley Turrentine. They’re really the people who if I think about what was formative for me, they’re the ones I was hearing when I was younger, because that’s the music that he loved and I loved. The first concert I went to see was Sonny Rollins, he took me to see him and I just thought it was a fantastic gig! And I can remember him playing a ‘Nightingale Sang in Berkeley Square’ and it was just amazing!

Michael J Edwards: You’ve certainly carved a path for future generations to follow. What advice would you give to young musicians/saxophonists, especially female musicians entering the profession?

Camilla George: I think the main thing is not to get too bogged down in the gender stuff. It is hard for girls, I’m not saying it isn’t, but one thing I found to be true is that if you’re going to jam sessions at Ronnie Scott’s, if you’re good you’re good and it’s down to that. The only thing I find with younger girls, and I suffered from it myself, is the confidence to get up in the first place. Once you get over that and think it’s okay to make mistakes in order to learn, then I think you can fully take advantage of the situation.

Michael J Edwards: What are the plans for Camilla George and the Camilla George Quartet going forward?

Camilla George: Obviously we’re doing the new album, we’re recording in April 2016 and touring in the autumn and then I’ll think about writing more music I guess; and of course playing loads of live music to explore things further.

Michael J Edwards: Thank you very much for your time Camilla. I’m looking forward to the performance.

Michael J Edwards

Essential Website: http://camillageorge.com/index.html

Essential EP: Lunacity (2015)

Essential Album: Isang CD (Released 13th January 2017 on Ubuntu Music)

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