Why only jazz?
A question I hear fairly regularly: “Why does your agency only supply jazz?” The short answer: jazz is my area of expertise; it also happens to be my passion. I’m one of the lucky few who can make a living doing what I love to do – playing jazz.
The long answer goes like this: in my formative years as a musician my parents’ home was a place of many forms of music. My mum played piano and my folks’ record collection contained a lot of blues and jazz. I found myself gravitating towards the jazz end of the spectrum around the age of 15. By that age I had already studied piano and violin, and was playing guitar in a couple of bands. One band I was in had 2 guitarists and no bassist, so one fateful day we drew straws – I drew the short straw, so it was down to me to get hold of a bass guitar.
At first I was reluctant, but it started to grow on me. I soon realised that playing bass was about supporting the band and laying the foundations for the music – the showing-off the singer and guitarist had to do was never really my thing anyway – a role at the back of the band trying to be as solid as possible was much better suited to my temperament.
I went on to study A level music, mainly classical piano and Baroque music, but I have to confess my interest was waning, and I was starting to find my voice in jazz. It was only logical that I should get hold of a double bass and see where that took me.
After A levels I went to Chichester College to study jazz, and met other young musicians trying to find their feet – it was a great experience, and some wonderful tutors were there to help us explore the music. During this time I met a few musicians who I still play with to this day – including the tutors. I started to believe I had an aptitude for jazz when the tutors began hiring me for their gigs – a proper seal of approval.
After college I swiftly moved to Brighton as I was picking up a lot of gigs there. Fortuitously, I arrived in town the very same day another bass player left town, and I immediately picked up his gigs. I was still very ‘green’ and had lots to learn, but what better way to learn the ropes than on the job? Rockin’ in Rhythm is a Brighton-based swing band – much of my early experience was with them. The trumpet player Jo Hunter was in the band, and he had a wealth of experience playing with the likes of Billie Holiday. A young jazz musician is like a musical sponge, absorbing all the music he can. I joined other bands and listened to records, went to gigs and played my bass as much as possible. I joined a gypsy jazz band that eventually became Ultraswing, another band I still play with to this day.
In these bands I was clocking up hundreds of gigs, sometimes 2 or 3 a day. There was a day where I played four gigs, a feat I haven’t managed to repeat since. We were in high demand for weddings and corporate functions. Rockin’ in Rhythm became the band of choice for The Family Law Bar Association, Credite Suisse, Middle Temple and Lincoln’s Inn. Ultraswing became the preferred choice for PricewaterhouseCoopers, Intercontinental Hotel and Mercedes Benz – all brilliant experiences for my young self. I was also getting hired by some of the big names on the UK scene, such as Bobby Wellins and Jim Mullen. Playing jazz became my full-time job – and it still is.
A couple of the bands I was in started touring, mainly in Europe, and sometimes further afield. A week in New Orleans was a particular eye-opener – the standard of young jazz musicians in America is astounding. Since jazz is essentially American their schools often have a jazz band, so American kids get steeped in the music from a young age. Visiting New York and LA also got my juices flowing. I’ve been back several times to all these places just to hear what’s happening in the jazz Meccas.
In the early 2000s I started working on cruise ships, which was a nice way to travel around the world whist working. I think I was very fortunate to find probably the last ship on Earth where you could play proper jazz to interested people and have passenger status, with short contracts of around 2 weeks. These days they’ll want you for six months, give you crew status and pay peanuts – not my kind of thing any more, sadly.
Lately I’ve been travelling to Qatar to play jazz in hotels with the Sara Oschlag Trio, going to the Channel Islands for one-off gigs with the Jonny Hepbir Quartet and going to France for resident gigs of around one week. I’m always up for travelling, and I’m open to offers to get paid to see the world – I love it.
Anyway, this rambling, potted-history of my life in jazz serves to illustrate why I only supply jazz bands – it’s what I know about. You could safely say I’m an expert, and you can trust me to fix the perfect band for your event. If you’re looking for a pop covers band, I wouldn’t feel comfortable organising that as I don’t consider myself knowledgable in that field. I’ve been in bands that haven’t been quite what the client was looking for, because a non-expert agent has paired an inappropriate style of music to an event. I get enquiries from office temps at agencies and I can immediately see that the pairing is all wrong. Rather than being mercenary and just accepting the booking (some would), I prefer to guide them towards a more suitable band. I think it’s very important to have integrity in what you do, not only for your own self respect, but also because reputation matters. That’s why I will only supply jazz music to customers. See? I told you it was a long answer.