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.

Read more

Meet the Artist – Natasha Hardy, singer-songwriter

I just love performing wherever I have an audience

We talked to Natasha Hardy about influences, inspirations and more ahead of her Lost in Love concert at The Jazz Room on 20 May…..

Who or what inspired you to take up singing and pursue a career in music?

The thought of singing and acting appealed to me from a very early age. I was always the performer in my family and as the middle child, it was the best way to get attention! Singing was a part of normal family life. I enjoyed singing at home, (although most of the time my brothers wanted to shut me up!) My parents always had music playing and were always singing. We sang regularly at our church, so it always felt quite normal to sing. I started to write songs from the age of 13 and had piano lessons from around age 9.

Singing always made me feel good, although I hadn’t ever considered it a career choice.  When I started to pursue my acting career, I took up singing seriously. Singing was originally to add a feather to my bow as an actress. However, unexpectedly, I completely fell in love with the classical technique; I had found a medium that would let me fully express myself. I was able to use my body in a way that allowed me to channel my energy and emotions. I could pour my heart and soul into it. It felt inevitable that this was going to be my career.

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

The most important influences on my career have to be my voice teacher Maryliese Happel, Mark Crayton and my mum.  Maryliese introduced me to classical repertoire and opera.  I had no idea about singing in this genre before I met her and to her I owe a tremendous amount of gratitude.  She taught me solid technique, taught me about my own voice and has always been an inspirational teacher.  She helped me ‘free the beauty of my voice’.

Mark Crayton (Roosevelt University, Chicago) who over the years helped me find my inner confidence through technique and performance master-classes. He has helped me find freedom of expression in my voice.

My wonderful mother, who calls me her little songbird, always wants to hear me sing. From the moment she wakes up, she is always singing around the house. My mother always made it feel really normal to just sing.

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

Self-belief and self-doubt. I have done lots of work to help myself through these challenges.  My top tips that have helped me include; meditation, positive affirmations, healthy diet & keeping fit.  I am a great believer in healthy body, healthy mind.

I always come back to a couple of sayings, allowing yourself to be both a work in progress and a masterpiece simultaneously, and my favourite quote from Martha Graham:

 “There is a vitality, a life force, an energy, a quickening that is translated through you into action, and because there is only one of you in all of time, this expression is unique. And if you block it, it will never exist through any other medium and it will be lost. The world will not have it. It is not your business to determine how good it is nor how valuable nor how it compares with other expressions. It is your business to keep it yours clearly and directly, to keep the channel open. You do not even have to believe in yourself or your work. You have to keep yourself open and aware to the urges that motivate you. Keep the channel open. … No artist is pleased. [There is] no satisfaction whatever at any time. There is only a queer divine dissatisfaction, a blessed unrest that keeps us marching and makes us more alive than the others”  
― Martha Graham 

Which particular works do you think you perform best? 

Puccini; I love his songs, his operas, and his characters.  On the surface they can seem simple, but underneath there is a complexity and strength to them.  The way he writes is inspiring. There is always a leading melody, and long beautiful lines.  As a songwriter, I know how hard it is to make something sound ‘simple’ and that is what I love about his compositions.  I also think I perform my own compositions pretty well, because I have written them. I know every feeling and every memory that has gone into the writing of every line, lyric and melody.  I do hope one day that other singers will want to perform them.

How do you make your repertoire choices from season to season? 

I try to choose pieces that are well known with the audience, combining them with unknown or rarely-performed works

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

Not really, I just love performing wherever I have an audience.

Who are your favourite musicians? 

Paul Simon & Art Garfunkel, Prince, George Michael, Faithless, Massive Attack, Andre Previn, Richard Rodney Bennet, Michael Nyman, Gabriel Yared, Hans Zimmer, Eric Serra, Puccini, Bellini, Rachmaninov, Debussy, Renee Fleming, Angela Gheorghiu and Maria Callas.

What is your most memorable concert experience? 

My first ever concert.

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

Practice smart, know your words/notes, know yourself.  Get trained in the business side of things. This can take up a lot of your time!  Be determined. Don’t give up. Try to get a little bit better every day. Make time for family & friends, and most importantly, have fun!

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

In my beach house in Bermuda.

What is your idea of perfect happiness? 

Any of the following: Summer barbecues, listening to old LPs on a Sunday afternoon with family and friends, roast dinners, long beach walks, my poodle every time I look at her, getting to sleep in a bed with my favourite pillow and a duvet, waking up to another sunny day, the sound of rain, the smell of a forest, the touch of my grandmother’s hand, skiing, ice-skating.

What is your most treasured possession? 

An 18th-century French dressing table which has been ‘dipped and stripped’ about three times, it was my mum’s dressing table from when my parents first got married, and it has finally been restored and I use it everyday.

What is your present state of mind? 

Excited – relaxed – grateful.

‘Lost in Love’ is on Sunday 20 May at 7.30pm in the Jazz Room at The Bull’s Head. Tickets here