“So as long as its good music, that’s the main thing with me. I’m just as moved by something I hear in Jazz, as something I hear in Classical music, as something I hear in non-Western music, as something I hear in Pop music.” – Rowland Sutherland
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 and composed three ensemble concerts under the moniker of ‘Enlightenment’ A re-envisioning of John Coltrane’s ‘A Love Supreme’, the most recent being the 50TH Anniversary Celebratory Tribute of Coltrane’s classic album at Union Chapel, London, 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 favoured venue for improvisers, LUME in London.
Michael J Edwards: Mr Rowland Sutherland, it is an honour and a pleasure to sit down with you at long last. Where were you born and raised.
Rowland Sutherland: Funnily enough, I was actually born near here… [At the moment we are at ‘Long White Cloud’ on the Hackney Road]. So I was born in Hackney. Basically I went to Hackney Downs School, it was a comprehensive. It used to be a grammar school and it was called ‘The Grocer’s Company’, then it became the Hackney Downs School. When it was the Grocer’s Company the likes of Michael Caine attended the school. When it was Hackney Downs School that’s when the likes of Eric Bristow and Marc Bolan I believe went there.
Michael J Edwards: Did you grow up in a family of musicians, and was music prevalent in the Sutherland household?
Rowland Sutherland: I would say amateur musicians. I use that term loosely, because in St Vincent where my parents are from, they were church people, good church folk. My mum used to direct the choir in the church, and my dad sometimes used to play harmonica. So they did a bit of singing and the usual church activities and choir and stuff.
Michael J Edwards: Did that translate into the home?
Rowland Sutherland: At home my dad had a wide taste in music; he was playing Soul, Funk, Gospel, Country and Western, Pop, and then obviously a lot of Reggae. Sometimes a bit of Calypso, so there was a wide mixture of music being played in the house. As well as with my relatives; every time we visited relatives music was always on the go.
Michael J Edwards: Was flute the first instrument you learned and if so how old were you when you started lessons?
Photo: Courtesy of Siobhan Bradshaw
Rowland Sutherland: How it worked was a really good friend of my mum was having piano lessons near to where we lived. One day she said to my mum, “Why don’t you bring your kids to come and see this lady, Mrs Cohen for piano lessons? It would be good for them to learn piano”. A lot of the kids would be playing in the streets a lot and stuff like that, so if we learned piano we’d have a focus and wouldn’t be playing on the streets so much. I was about six or seven at this time. Even before that I was going to the Salvation Army. The earliest I can remember was when I was three or four and we’d be playing percussion and trying to play bugle and things like that. There was something about music, music got me going; I was always happy doing anything that involved music.
Michael J Edwards: Had you dreamt of pursuing a musical career path when younger?
Rowland Sutherland: The funny thing is that I didn’t really think about what I would be doing in the future, but I just kept playing. I didn’t say that I wanted to be a soloist or I wanted to be a bandleader, or I want to be in this or I want to be in that. I sort of had thoughts about it, but I wasn’t gearing myself up to do that as a profession, I was just enjoying playing basically.
Michael J Edwards: If not music, what would you have turned your hand to?
Rowland Sutherland: There wasn’t really a significant other thing going on, apart from enjoying sports. I played football and I was into running, I did a bit of athletics. I did join a local football club and I played for the school teams a bit; both in primary school and secondary school.
Michael J Edwards: How was the flute introduced to your life?
Rowland Sutherland: There’s an interesting answer to that. An uncle came over from St Vincent and he pulled out a wooden flute from his bag and started playing in the house. He made it himself – a home-made flute. And I was really curious, my ears pricked up and I stopped reading my comic and I was like, “Can I have a go on that?” And he said, “No, sit there and read your comic, you can’t play this it’s going to be too hard for you!” Eventually, I persuaded him to let me play as soon as I worked out where my fingers go, I started playing little tunes on it. So that’s kind of what got me going. With piano; I sort of got so far but wasn’t really practising enough.
Michael J Edwards: What grade did you get to on piano?
Rowland Sutherland: I don’t think I was doing grades, it wasn’t until secondary school. I would say roughly I reached up to Grade 6 standard. I liked to play on the piano, but I was more into reading music. I was going to the library to get scores out, because I’d hear something nice. Back then there were loads of Classical music on the TV, adverts and programs. So I’d find out who the composer was, find out what the piece was, and then I’d go and buy the record.
Michael J Edwards: How old were you at this time?
Rowland Sutherland: This was when I was about eight, nine, ten and eleven.
Michael J Edwards: How did that sit with your peers, because normal eight to eleven year-olds don’t rush to buy classical music scores?
Rowland Sutherland: If something got me going, I’d need to know more about it, and so I’d do my own little research. Sometimes I’d ask the piano teacher and she would say, “Oh is that Tchaikovsky?” Do you remember the ‘Fruit and Nut Case’ advert? (Laughs) I was really into that, it was really jolly and I found out what it was and I was straight there and I bought the record. I was a very inquisitive young person, especially when it came to music.
Michael J Edwards: Who were some of your early influences on the flute? I have a short-list of twelve flautist compiled in 1967, I wonder if any of them cause a stir within you when I read their names out: Herbie Mann, Charles Lloyd, Roland Kirk, James Moody, Yusef Lateef, Paul Horn, Jeremy Steig, Frank Wess, Hubert Laws, Jerome Richardson. James Spalding, Buddy Collete. A more contemporary artist would be Bobbi Humphrey.
Photo: Courtesy of Siobhan Bradshaw
Rowland Sutherland: I was listening to so much, but actually come to think of it Herbie Mann might have been the first Jazz flute based record that I owned. I remember the track ‘Comin’ Home Baby’ (Herbie Mann). And then, Hubert Laws, his playing was the one that really stirred me, more so than Herbie Mann. For me at the time he was the most accomplished. He was the most diverse, he was the most rounded, he was the most musical.
Michael J Edwards: At what age did you discover Hubert Laws?
Rowland Sutherland: With Hubert Laws it was probably around eleven or twelve. But I have to say that James Galway also caught my ear, because he was on TV also at the time. He was doing his own TV programme, and he did a few series as well. His sound really stood out; on an instrument that was the closest to the human singing voice that I had heard. Whilst I was at school I started doing my grade exams on flute and I got to about Grade 3 and then Grade 5. One of the other teachers at my school, Hackney Downs she was a viola and violin teacher she said to the Head of Music, “I seriously think that this chap should attend the Centre for Young Musicians”. It was a Saturday school and a special music school for youngsters. You had to audition to get in, and that’s what I did. The Head of Music came with me. I was nervous as anything, but I went down there to Pimlico School. I was fourteen and I managed to get a place and I was really delighted. And then when you go on a Saturday, it covers lots of different aspects of music and learning. So I was doing piano, choir, wind band, general musicianship and history of music.
Michael J Edwards: So you were getting a rounded musical education even before your transition to the Guildhall School of Music?
Rowland Sutherland: I had a really good teacher in the late Harold Clarke. He was the head of Wind, Brass and Percussion at Trinity College Of Music at the time, so I was in pretty good hands. I had him for about two and a half years, maybe three, and then I had Kathryn Lukas, for about a year or two – she was from Chicago. They both specialised with flute; I think Harold Clarke was with the Sadlers Wells Royal Ballet and Kathryn Lukas was doing a whole load of different stuff but particularly contemporary music. So that was a really good schooling because also CYM was attached to the London Schools Symphony Orchestra. So I was able to plan also, and that’s where I gathered my symphonic repertoire learning, which was great because it also brings out the music in you. At the same time I was mixing with some of the other guys who were into jazz, and we were woodshedding at each other’s houses, we’d go to jam sessions and we’d pick up a lot from each other. We learnt the stuff on the street as it were, so we’d just dive into the deep end and get our hands dirty.
Michael J Edwards: So this was outside of school hours?
Rowland Sutherland: We were enthusiastic, so we’d woodshed at each other’s houses, play along to records and that; just sharing the experience. But also I should say that when I was about twelve and a half or thirteen maybe I joined a Big Band. It was called ‘Young Jazz’ at the time and then it became ‘Super Jazz’. A lot of the members in it also played in the National Youth Jazz Orchestra. In fact I was trying out flutes, because the ones at school were a bit mashed up. So I was trying out flutes in an instrument shop, and this chap came in and just heard me and said to my dad, “You should bring your son along to my Big Band”, and that’s what I did. At that point because I was only like twelve or thirteen, I hadn’t actually improvised or anything yet. I had sort of messed around just by myself, but I hadn’t really got into it, so that was great because it meant I could sit there – I could already read music, because I had played the piano – so I could sight-read the parts, and then observe how the others played Jazz, how they improvised, how they got round chord sequences and stuff.
And then they threw me in the deep end after about a year and said, “Right Rowland, take that solo!” It was a bit nerve-wracking because all the other guys had been there and done it years before, because they were much older than me… I was the second youngest. There was a girl, I think Laura was her name, she was a year younger than me, and she was in a similar situation to me. I think she was eleven going on twelve and I was twelve going on thirteen, all the rest were like fifteen, sixteen and seventeen. I remember seeing Fayyaz Virji on trombone.
Michael J Edwards: You went on to study flute at the Guildhall School of Music and Drama. You studied under the three very influential teachers amongst others; Kathryn Lukas, masterclasses with Geoffrey Gilbert and Jazz pianist and Educator Lionel Grigson in the mid-80s, whom your good friend and ex-Guildhall school alumni Steve Williamson cited as being a major influence. How did they affect your outlook on music?
Photo: Courtesy of Siobhan Bradshaw
Rowland Sutherland: First of all Geoffrey Gilbert, he wasn’t my main teacher, my main teacher was Kathryn Lukas who I studied with for about a year at Centre for Young Musicians; so it was like a continuation. Geoffrey Gilbert was doing some master-classes at Guildhall, so I attended his master-classes. He was the person who also taught James Galway. Geoffrey Gilbert studied with one of the greatest known flute players in the classical world), who was from France, and he was like a Guru. His name was Marcel Moyse. So people would go on a pilgrimage to study with him; he’s from the early part of the 20th Century. So Geoffrey Gilbert was carrying on Marcel Moyse’teachings.
Kathryn Lukas, she also had lessons with Marcel Moyse. You see the thing to remember is that although I had a strong interest in Jazz, Kathryn Lukas was very broad-minded, compared to some other teachers. Some of the other teachers would be trying to dissuade you from being involved in other forms of music. Some would try to stick to just Classical. Kathryn had interests in music from Latin America and music from India, music from different parts of Asia; she had wide interests. To her it wasn’t a problem that I played Jazz and other things, she just wanted to open up my flute playing and improve my technique as best she could, and get me as musical as she could; we worked on my musicality and technique.
When I joined Guildhall in 1983, it was in its second year of having a Jazz course, so the Jazz course was always crowded. So basically it was a good time, because I was meeting all these amazing Jazz musicians; you name it, I mean half of the Jazz Warriors were attending the Guildhall – Alan Weeks, Steve Williamson, Cleveland Watkiss, a whole host of guys I met in the Jazz Warriors I met at Guildhall. So I was able to flit between the two whilst studying. Lionel Grigson was great, he was very laid-back, he was quite relaxed. We would mainly go through tunes, and I’d memorise bebop tunes and stuff; and we’d play together. It wasn’t too much theory or anything like that; it was more just using the ears.
Michael J Edwards: Is it true that these music institutions strip away everything you’ve learnt up to that point, so that you’re a blank canvas for them to paint on a fresh as it were?
Rowland Sutherland: They probably do when you’re on the course itself, but although I was on the course I had access to Jazz lessons as an option. I was on what they call ‘The Classical Course’. Like I said, I wanted to improve my flute playing, my musicianship and my technique. So for me it was a course for that, I don’t like labelling things too much. Because of the nature of the teacher I had, I was able to do that, and not just focus on Classical music. I could focus on non-Western music, Classical music, Jazz and Contemporary.
Photo: Courtesy of Siobhan Bradshaw
Michael J Edwards: Obviously what you learnt resonated with you for a long time, because you are now a professor yourself at Trinity College of music and the Guildhall School of Music and Drama. How do you find it working in that capacity yourself?
Rowland Sutherland: Yeah, I still teach there; I also teach at the Royal Northern College of Music; and at the Birmingham Conservatoire, I go over extended flute techniques with the composers. That means explaining a lot of the effects you can do on the flute; the avant-garde things and the contemporary things. I show the students what it sounds like, I demonstrate, I show them what the symbols are to use. They write a piece of music, I go over it with them and I record it for them, so that they’ve got something for their portfolio. It’s usually the ‘First Years’ that I see, but sometimes I see the ‘postgraduates’ or students in other years.
Michael J Edwards: Whatever they taught you, you put to good and full effect, performing in and composing for numerous ensembles, orchestras, various band line-ups, as well as being a soloist in your own right over a cross-section of different styles and genres of music. Which of these areas stimulated you the most?
Rowland Sutherland: I don’t have a preference as such, because I see it all as music. So as long as its good music, that’s the main thing with me. I’m just as moved by something I hear in Jazz, as something I hear in Classical music, as something I hear in non-Western music, as something I hear in Pop music…whatever the line-up.
Michael J Edwards: Do you still perform with and front the Brazilian/Cuban Jazz fusion band ‘Mistura’ and how was the name conceived?
Rowland Sutherland: With ‘Mistura’ I was kind of like just finishing college and wanting to start a band; because I was so into Brazilian music, more so than Salsa. The name ‘Mistura’ means mix, mixture, or mixing in Brazilian Portuguese. I originally called it ‘Mistura Brasileira’ as in Brazilian mix, as initially I was mostly blending a mixture of authentic Brazilian music with Jazz, plus playing some originals of mine.
Michael J Edwards: How many band members made up ‘Mistura’ initially?
Rowland Sutherland: We were a nine piece band with flute, trombone, trumpet, piano/keyboard, guitar, two percussionists, bass and drums. So the first person I met up with was a person called Richard Ajileye; at that time he was Richard Wallace and he changed his name to Ajileye. He was a percussionist and he became like my right-hand-man, because he would help me with the rhythms and the specifics of the rhythms. I had a rough idea of the sort of rhythms I would want, but he would know how to nail it. So anything to do with rhythm he was really good at establishing within the band. I would write practically all the tunes and do arrangements, and we had some fantastic gigs and times together.
Michael J Edwards: How long were you together for and what did you accomplish in your time together?
Photo: Courtesy of Siobhan Bradshaw
Rowland Sutherland: Altogether…It ran for about twelve or thirteen, maybe fourteen years. We did some great gigs all over the UK from 1989, but eventually became too difficult to manage and I disbanded the group just before 1992. I was getting a lot of requests to play with the band at different venues including Jez Nelson’s ‘Something Else’ nights at Jazz Café, on Gilles Peterson’s Talking Loud at the Fridge in Brixton. I was feeling a different sound by then, which was more Jazz Fusion with the Funk and Soul feel, surrounded by various Brazilian elements. After a year and a half I reformed the band as a septet and had just one percussionist, Richard Ajileye, who was a founding member of the band along with pianist Mark Donlon.
We had a great time playing at events such as Festival Mứsicas do Mundo in Portugal alongside Salif Keita and Irakere. We played at the likes of Glastonbury and Glasgow Festivals…as well as the events mentioned above; headed by Jez Nelson, Gilles Peterson, James Lavelle and Paul Bradshaw among a number of other DJs, promoters and curators who were, and still are, prominent in the music scene. Having released several EPs including with Mo Wax and Cedar Records, and appearing on several compilation albums, we went on to release an album on the FMR label – ‘Rowland Sutherland’s Mistura Coast to Coast’ which is still available online.
Michael J Edwards: When were you first invited to arrange and compose for the various BBC Ensembles?
Rowland Sutherland: To be honest with you it was only a small amount I did for the BBC, and part of it was improvised and part of it was sketches. I was involved in just a small number of plays, and for those they asked me to come up with some music. That was quite a long while ago, but then I went on to write for a percussion quartet called ‘Ensemble Bash’ and various other really good ensembles…
…In Part 2 Rowland talks in detail about his role as Composer/Arranger for ‘Enlightenment’ – A Re-Envisioning of John Coltrane’s ‘A Love Supreme’.
Michael J Edwards
Essential Improvisers Venue:
Essential Jazz on 3 Radio Broadcast: Enlightenment – A re-envisioning of John Coltrane’s ‘A Love Supreme’