Meet the Artist – Alex Hall

Our first event of the autumn at The Jazz Room features the songwriter and trumpeter Alex Hall. We caught up with Alex to find out more about his musical influences and inspirations, and how he makes sure his repertoire suits the audience and venue….


Who or what inspired you to pursue a career in music?

Difficult to say. Probably a combination of lots of small factors. Having good mentors, being surrounded by music/musicians growing up, always having a fascination with music – and trying other things and realising that I wasn’t much good at the them!

Who or what have been the most important influences on your musical life and career?

I think picking up my first professional tour at 26 was some sort of validation that I needed which gave me the confidence I could pursue music (also for my family – the road has been long!), so it was hugely important I got some kinda break – albeit it wasn’t doing my own thing. What I’ve learnt from those experiences is beyond that what goes on in the practise room. 

What have been the greatest challenges of your career so far?

Losing my voice for an extended amount of time was really horrible. I was like an injured athlete. I was very very restricted with work and it was emotionally and psychologically difficult. I ended up busking some classical guitar over in Bath that summer!

I think for any musician living in London who is starting out (or a little bit further down the line even) it is a great challenge and I commend anyone who is pursuing it. Especially with the housing market now. 

Which performances/recordings are you most proud of? 

I’ve done so many things in different genres it’s difficult to say. There are some recordings which are to be released later this year which I’m excited about and maybe it’s a good thing that I’m probably most proud of this as it shows I’m progressing! 

I’ve done some avant garde improvisations sets at The Union Chapel as part of their Saturday music sessions which have been hugely, hugely challenging and fun. The natural resonance in there is magic! 

How do you make your repertoire choices?

I’m quite meticulous about repertoire. I take into account venue size, who I’m performing with, even the day of the week, promoters, general audience etc. I think people are collectively much more in an upbeat mood on a Friday evening compared to Monday so it’s important I don’t ‘offend’ them with a 250BPM aggressive bebop track on a Monday evening, for example!

Do you have a favourite concert venue to perform in and why?

Brudenell Social Club, Leeds. Nathan the owner has done wonders there cultivating a community space, retaining the integrity of what it is, but at the same time developing the venue. I’ve done about half a dozen gigs there now with Martha Reeves and The Vandellas. I think it might be the only social club in England that is on the international touring circuit now.

What is your most memorable concert experience?

Cheltenham Jazz festival. We played the afterparty in this beautiful manor house – it was totally impromptu too, and I think because of that people were going crazy. We all looked at each other afterwards and just said “that was unreal!”. I felt like I was playing at a lavish Victorian banquet! Very surreal but beautiful. 

As a musician, what is your definition of success?

Being able to make a living in music has to be considered a success. It’s getting harder and harder and I think any musician should be, and probably is humble enough to say that! 

What do you consider to be the most important ideas and concepts to impart to aspiring musicians?

Learn your musical language. Listen relentlessly. Be as original and intuitive in your personal practise as possible. Collaborate. Write. Learn the business side of things (YouTube, Photoshop, Instagram), accept no one is gonna give you anything and that you have to go out and get it.

Where would you like to be in 10 years’ time?

I like the idea of living abroad for a while but we’ll see!

What is your idea of perfect happiness?

Happiness to me is a transient thing so I don’t think ‘perfect’ can ever be equated to it – but being able to creatively do music on my terms all the time would make me very happy! 

What is your most treasured possession?

My trumpet!

Alex Hall plays West Coast Jazz with his quartet on Tuesday 10 September at The Jazz Room at The Bull’s Head. More information and tickets


Known predominantly as the moniker Alec Sala, Alex Hall is a London based songwriter, touring musician and music producer based in North London.

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7 Star Arts presents…..an exciting autumn line up of artists and music

Classic Gershwin Showreel

A taster of Classic Gershwin, 7 Star Arts’ most popular mixed genre production, starring Viv McLean (piano) and Susan Porrett (narrator). Music by George Gershwin

 

Anthony Hewitt wows The Jazz Room

The Jazz Room in Barnes, SW London, affectionately known as “the suburban Ronnie’s Scotts” (and almost as longstanding as the eponymous Soho jazz club), resonated to a different vibe on Sunday evening when internationally-renowned pianist Anthony Hewitt – an artist more used to playing in hallowed gilded spaces such as the Wigmore or Carnegie Halls – gave a concert of classical music by Bach, Brahms, Debussy, Ravel and Gershwin – all performed on the Yamaha upright piano which resides in the Jazz Room. It’s a very good piano, but it ain’t a Steinway model D!

Yet such is Anthony’s skill and sensitively that he wrought myriad sounds and colours from the modest instrument – and somehow listening to Bach (Partita No. 1) in a venue normally reserved for jazz, one suddenly becomes hyper-aware of all the jazzy syncopations and offbeat rhythms inherent in Bach’s writing.

The piano music of Brahms, more usually heard on a modern concert grand, had a lightness which lent a greater poignancy and tenderness to his Op 119 piano pieces; while in Debussy’s Estampes multi-layered lines and textures were revealed.

The second half of the concert swung to the sounds of Ravel’s decadent and sensuous La Valse and Gershwin’s Rhapsody in blue, his vibrant and exhilarating evocation of the melting pot of America and the sounds of the big city. Anthony did a remarkable job in drawing so much colourful sound out of the Yamaha upright to achieve brilliant results.

For the audience, the small size of the Jazz Room means one gets up and close and personal with music and performer in a way which is never possible in a larger or more formal venue. Such closeness creates a very special sense of communication and shared experience between audience and performer, and throughout the concert there was a very palpable sense of people listening really intently – a great compliment to the music and the pianist. In addition, Anthony introduced the music engagingly and audience members were able to meet and chat to him after the performance. As one audience member remarked “the Jazz room is a real gem and now to start a classical series there is an added bonus”.

The concert was billed as “Iconoclassics”, paying homage to the Jazz Room’s iconic status as one of London’s leading jazz venues. More like this please!

 

7 Star Arts says: audiences can enjoy more classical music, fused with jazz, world and original compositions on 10 April when pianist and composer Helen Anahita Wilson makes her Jazz Room debut. Book tickets here


(Reviewed by The Cross-Eyed Pianist)

Meet the Artist – Duncan Eagles, saxophonist

Saxophonist and composer Duncan Eagles chats to The Cross-Eyed Pianist (AKA Frances Wilson) about his musical influences and inspirations, and more…..

I think there are many moments that define what kind of musician you are / will become. One of the earliest I remember was borrowing a John Coltrane double album from school. It was probably the first jazz CD I checked out. The first of the two CD’s I listened to was “My Favourite Things” which I didn’t really get and can’t say I enjoyed. I got a few minutes in and then swapped to the second CD which was “Blue Trane”. This blew my mind. I was intrigued how someone could play the instrument in the way Coltrane does on that record. The sound, technique, composition were all completely new to me. That started me on the road to wanting to be able to get serious about playing, improvising, composing etc and also started to open up the history of the music to me. From here I found Miles Davis then Wayne Shorter then Art Blakey etc etc its all linked.

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Duncan Eagles and his quartet perform at The Jazz Room at The Bull’s Head on Thursday 15 March. Book tickets

Interview with Niklas Walentin, violinist

Ahead of his appearance with the Walentin Trio at Craxton Studios on 16 March, violinist Niklas Walentin talks about his influences and inspirations, significant teachers, repertoire, performing and more……

Who or what inspired you to take up the violin and pursue a career in
music?
I was first introduced to the violin and classical music “live” when attending a chamber music concert in Germany at the age of 6. The programme included, among other pieces, the famous C major string quintet by Franz Schubert. It had an immense impact on me, and I startet leaning the violin later the same year. At the age of 10, and not having found much interest in school, I decided to stay in the world of music into which I had been so luckily invited. At the same time, I had already been participating successfully in many competitions and masterclasses, so that taking the decision of becoming the best violinist I could possibly become, was not so far away.
Who or what have been the most important influences on your musical life and career?
The number of people and their endless support it has taken makes up a list longer than one could possibly imagine. I know of very few careers where from childhood, one is in the need of such strong and continuous support. But naturally, every member of my family is the initial answer. Then, my teacher and mentor, Søren Elbæk, who both as a violinist and musician has inspired me tremendously, but also his personality and as a human being has been a great support through my youth.
What have been the greatest challenges of your career so far?
It is difficult question to answer, as there are so many different things I have encountered at different times in my career. But looking back, I would say the most challenging thing has been to accept how the world of classical music works as a business. Even though it sounds quite harsh, and in some way ruins the romantic image of this wonderful world filled with so much incredible music, musicians, composers and so forth all need to make a living. To me, having slowly experienced how all that works, and to accept in some situations, that even though one has done ‘the job’ exactly as intended to highest standards, and all the work it takes around building up a career has been done, still sometimes, doors just simply won’t open. And that has been quite a challenge.
Which performance/recordings are you most proud of?
The perfect answer would and should of course in many ways be them all. Yet there are some I am particularly happy about. One of them was by debut concert in Carnegie Hall two years ago: it was a childhood dream come true, and a truly magical evening. I was at the time releasing my second album with four grand works for violin by Carl Nielsens, and even though my fourth album is on its way with my piano trio, I am still very proud of the recording of Carl Nielsen.
Which particular works do you think you play best?
I have spent a lot of time with Carl Nielsen and his music. He is definitely a composer woth whom I have strongly identified. I have a passion for playing solo violin, and have many plans of doing much more in the future. But next to my solo career, I have a very busy ensemble with my piano trio, Trio Vitruvi, and this spring I will return to Carnegie Hall together with my colleagues. We will be releasing our first album together, with the second piano trio by Schubert, and his music; being some of the first classical music I ever experienced, it has a very dear place in my heart.
How do you make your repertoire choices from season to season?
It is far from easy to choose, and a lot of the time, other circumstances do the choosing for me. But when I have my hands totally free, I choose pieces I simply can’t help but play. There comes an incredible and very naturally overflow of passion when performing pieces that you simply must play, and this is something that I feel always transmits to the audience very positively.
Do you have a favourite concert venue to perform in and why?
The Weill Recital Hall in Carnegie Hall is unique. But I have to admit that I have fallen equally in love with Wigmore Hall. Also, the Mariinsky Theater in St. Petersburg is to me, when performing violin concertos, a gem!
Who are your favourite musicians?
I would say the violinist Henryk Szeryng has had a very big influence on my playing. But my chamber music professor, founding member of the Alban Berg quartet, Hatto Beyerle, is a musician to whom I very much look up. Danish jazz violinist Svend Asmussen is also very high on the list!
What is your most memorable concert experience?
Lately it was when I was at the Verbier Festival, I had a free evening to attend a concert with Ana Chumachenko, who together with friends performed Schubert’s String Quintet in C. I had not heard the work for many years, and I was in tears more or less throughout the piece.
As a musician, what is your definition of success?
To remain yourself throughout your career and not to be confused by the many who want their influence to show through your character and way of playing. I have had many faces in my life, where I have been torn between two parties, and their way to do things would be the best. But when I finally learned to take the final decisions myself, a true sense of freedom followed.
What do you consider to be the most important ideas and concepts to impart to aspiring musicians?
One thing which can be difficult to impart is the experience of the life itself as a musician. How to overcome issues of not undestanding why things don’t come your way when you work hard, or to restrain the pressure of nerves when performing at a high level. So much time is spent on learning how to play the instrument and the pieces, but I find advice for when you are actually out there on your own, and you need to show your very best to an unfamiliar audience that demands the highest level of quality, is rarely given enough.

Niklas Walentin performs with Alena Walentin (flute) and Viv McLean (piano) at Craxton Studios, Hampstead on Friday 16 March in a programme featuring Franck’s Sonata in A for violin and piano. Further details and tickets here www.7stararts.com/event/walentin-trio-craxton-studios/

Iconoclassics at The Jazz Room

7 Star Arts announces the launch of a new series of concerts in the iconic Jazz Room at the Bull’s Head

Iconoclassics features leading, critically-acclaimed classical musicians, more at home in the world’s great concert halls than in a jazz club but all happy to break free from the conventional classical music scene. The small size of the Jazz Room creates a special connection between musicians and audience, and allows the musicians to present music in a more accessible and relaxed way.

In keeping with the main focus of The Jazz Room, programmes in the Iconoclassics series will explore links between classical music and jazz, and will include works by Ravel and Gershwin, two composers whose music crossed genres and pushed the boundaries of what we define as “classical music”.

Iconoclassics launches on 14 February 2018 with Classic Valentine – a special concert for Valentine’s Day featuring David Le Page (violin) and Viv McLean (piano). This will be followed on 11 March by a solo concert by internationally-acclaimed pianist Anthony Hewitt, who has been praised for his “fine, poetic and communicative musicianship” (BBC Music Magazine).

This promises to be an exciting and intriguing new series in an intimate and friendly venue.

 

Purists may balk at hearing classical music in a venue normally reserved for jazz, but the small size of the jazz room lends itself to the right kind of concentrated listening and intimacy of expression which this music demands and offers. And David Le Page and Viv McLean create a very special intimacy of their own – these musicians work together regularly and their empathy and mutual understanding is palpable in every note they play.

  • Frances Wilson/The Cross-Eyed Pianist

 

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Meet the Artist – Rowan Hudson, jazz pianist

The nature of improvised music means that it’s very rare that everything falls together perfectly in real time, and in a way that’s not the point.

Who or what inspired you to pursue a career in music?

It’s actually very hard to pin it down to anything very concrete, I think partly because I can’t remember a time when I didn’t want to be a musician I’ve forgotten what the original motives were (and they were probably very different to what they are now), but it was probably around the age of 9 or 10 that everything else became secondary to music. I don’t think I ever really made the conscious decision to play the piano rather than any other instrument either. We had a piano in our house growing up and I had taken lessons from the age of about 7, so that sort of solved it for me. The piano is such a versatile instrument that it was able to keep up with my changing tastes in music and I never felt like I needed to look elsewhere for the sounds I was trying to make.

Who or what have been the most important influences on your musical life and career?

Apart from a couple of years of just wanting to sound exactly like Bill Evans, I don’t think I’ve been one of those musicians who has one main influence who is their ultimate musical guide, which tends to happen a bit in Jazz. Within Jazz the players who have influenced me are people like Ahmad Jamal, Liam Noble, Monk, Kit Downes, and I like them all for different reasons. For example I don’t think my playing resembles Ahmad Jamal’s at all, but his use of space has had a big impact on me, and the way in which everyone in his trio with Israel Crosby and Vernel Fournier is equally important, but there are very few bass solos or drum solos has changed the way I think about trio playing.

Outside of Jazz Robert Wyatt has been a huge influence, both as a drummer and a songwriter. His music has always felt extremely honest to me and he manages to break conventions without it sounding self consciously ‘different’. Some classical composers, particularly people like Frederick Delius and York Bowen have influenced my writing and my improvising as well, especially in their ability to form long compositions from very small, simple motifs. I’ve spent a lot of time trying to decipher the harmony in Delius’ music (I even started writing an online blog on it) and i’ve noticed that starting to creep into my music as well.

In terms of writing music I’ve realised that I’m generally not inspired by the sorts of things that most people seem to be. Most of the music that I’ve written is much more a reflection of places than it is of people. I wrote a tune a few years ago called Lunar Blues for a quintet I was playing with at the time. I had been sitting up on the roof one night staring at the sky, and that song was a sort of musical portrait of the moon, something enormous looking over us but also incredibly calm and benign. That’s the kind of thing that inspires me to write music, and it doesn’t have to be something as ethereal as the moon, it can be something much more mundane, but I think that’s the kind of thing I want to be able to convey with the music that I write. If I was a painter I’d paint scenes of places rather than portraits.

What have been the greatest challenges of your career so far?

Obviously there are always things that I want to improve about myself, things about my playing and my writing that I’m not happy with, but I think what I’ve found the hardest up to this point is all the other aspects of being a musician other than playing the music. It’s partly do to with confidence but also because I’m just not very interested in (or very good at) promoting myself and making opportunities for myself. Like every other musician, I’d rather be sat at my instrument playing music than dealing the business side of things and I think that has held me back sometimes.

Finding a place to belong within music has also been difficult sometimes. I’ve come from a Jazz background where there is a fairly clear blueprint to follow in terms of making a career (study at university, go to a lot of jam sessions, form a group playing your own music, hopefully be in demand as a sideman) obviously that doesn’t mean that it’s easy at all, but there is a set of ‘rules’ to follow there. I’m starting to feel less and less like I want to be part of that. Equally I’ve never wanted to have a career as a classical pianist (which also has its established conventions), so I’m somewhere in the middle which comes with its own challenges as well. But a lot of the music I listen to, people like Robert Wyatt and Simon Jeffes have made wonderful music without being firmly within one camp, so it is completely possible to find a home outside of the established conventions for making music.

Which performance/recordings are you most proud of?

Some of the music that I’m now playing with my trio I think is getting close to the sound I’ve been trying to create for a long time. And the other members of the trio have brought things to the music which have taken it in other directions (particularly rhythmically) which is great, and I think our three personalities are all being heard in the music we’re playing now. I’m also writing a lot of music at the moment which is less based around improvisation and uses a few instruments like cello and clarinet which I haven’t written for before. I need to work on the writing for that a bit longer, but hopefully that will start to all come together next year

Which particular works do you think you play best?

Generally I like to play simple tunes, with not too many changes. In the trio that I’m playing with at the moment we all love playing Monk tunes, so much so that we’ve actively tried to cut down the amount of Monk tunes that we play because we were getting to the point where almost half of what we were playing was his tunes. It’s the simplicity mixed with the weirdness that I think appeals to us, and his tunes take us to the kinds of places improvisationally that we seem to like to go to. Aside from Monk, I think that as a trio some of the slower Latin tunes work really well. We definitely play better at slower tempos as a trio. I’ve been playing with JJ, the bass player, for years and we’ve always preferred playing slow music to fast. Although in general I think it’s harder to play, it gives you more space to really listen and make choices, and it’s much harder to rely on just blowing through the changes when you’re at a slow tempo.

Do you have a favourite concert venue to perform in and why?

The Vortex, in Dalston, for me is the best venue in London. I’m still yet to put on a gig playing my own music there, but I’ve played there as a sideman and I think it’s the venue which relates best to the kind of music that I’d like to make. Audiences tend to be very supportive there and people rarely go there without the intention of keeping completely quiet and listening to the music. Probably the majority of the really great music that I’ve heard in London has been there. The Bull’s Head, in Barnes, has a similar atmosphere and I’ve enjoyed playing there a lot recently. Some of the audiences outside of the UK have been really supportive as well. I did some playing in Hamburg in 2016 and the audiences there were great, completely willing to spend their money to come and listen to us having never heard of us before, that really surprised me.

What is your most memorable concert experience?

One of the most memorable was very recently actually, at the Bull’s Head in Barnes. We played a tune called Come Sunday, written by Duke Ellington. It was one of those rare times where I felt like the three of us in the trio and the audience were completely connected. I can’t think of a better way of describing it than that. I’ve only had that feeling maybe four or five times in all the time I’ve been playing. Very occasionally everything just fits perfectly in the moment and that was one of those times. And as a result we played that tune very differently to how we had been up to that point.

The nature of improvised music means that it’s very rare that everything falls together perfectly in real time, and in a way that’s not the point. There’s a Miles Davis quote where he says something like ‘I can play music all night, but there will only ever be about 8 bars where I really nail it’, and I know what he means, although for me it’s about 8 bars a year. I think I’d been playing Jazz for at least four or five years before I ever played a tune and afterwards thought ‘that wasn’t bad actually’.

As a musician, what is your definition of success?

To find my own voice. And to get to the point where I feel like I’m playing and writing in the most genuine and honest way possible. I don’t think I necessarily want to have a long long career in music and be doing what I’m doing now in 20 years. If I can get to the point where I’ve written and performed some music that I really believe in then that’s probably enough for me. That could take five years, or the rest of my life, but that’s the goal.

What do you consider to be the most important ideas and concepts to impart to aspiring musicians?

I think probably the best advice I could give is very boring – practice the fundamentals. A lot of people (myself included) neglect simple things like having good time, feeling comfortable in difficult keys (and minor keys), ear training, etc. too early in their development and move on to really complex concepts before the fundamentals are really in place. I definitely made that mistake and I now practice mostly quite basic things along those lines. Also, to me there seems to be a bit too much focus on harmony and not enough focus on phrasing and rhythm in Jazz education, maybe that’s just a personal thing. It’s difficult sometimes early on to see the timeline of your playing. The balance between getting the fundamentals together and also trying to find your own sound can be hard. I think most Jazz players now need to have very solid foundations to built on, maybe that wasn’t the case in the past for people like Ornette Coleman, who made his own rules. But nowadays it seems to be pretty hard to get anywhere without good reading, ability to play in different time signatures, ability to play modal tunes, etc. That’s not necessarily a good thing, but I think it is the way things are now.

Classic Gershwin on BBC London

Susan Porrett (actress and writer of Classic Gershwin) and Yvonne Evans (Director of 7 Star Arts) will be appearing on the Jo Good show on BBC London at 1pm on Wednesday 10 January to talk about The Cinema Museum London & “Classic Gershwin” (which plays at The Cinema Museum on Saturday 13th January). Featuring music from the show played by acclaimed pianist Viv McLean.

Book tickets to Classic Gershwin at The Cinema Museum

 

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http://www.bbc.co.uk/programmes/p011nd8m

Win a pair of tickets to Classic Gershwin at The Cinema Museum

Classic Gershwin, 7 Star Arts’ acclaimed portrayal of the life of George Gershwin in music and words, will be at The Cinema Museum in Kennington, south London for one night only on Saturday 13 January 2018. For a chance to win a pair of tickets to this “terrific” concert, answer the following question:

How are GEORGE GERSHWIN & Charlie Chaplin (who lived as a child in the former Victoria workhouse where the Cinema Museum is now located) connected?

Email your answer here

 

Don’t forget to include your contact details so we can let you know if you have won!

Good luck

 

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