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Bebop Spoken There

Jazzmeia Horn: "Sometimes my grandmother visits me in my dreams when I feel like I want to give up or I'm too tired, just for inspiration and encouragement." - (Jazzwise, Dec., Jan., 2019/20).

Archive

Today Thursday December 5

Afternoon

Jazz

Vieux Carré Jazzmen - Holystone, Whitley Road, Holystone NE27 0DA. Tel: 0191 266 6173. 1:00pm. Free.

Evening

Jazz

Maine Street Jazzmen - Sunniside Social Club, Hollywell Lane, Sunniside, Gateshead NE16 5NJ. Tel: 0191 488 7347. 8:30pm. Free.

Tees Hot Club w. Middlesbrough Jazz & Blues Orchestra - Dorman’s Club, Oxford Road, Middlesbrough TS5 5DT. Tel: 01642 823813. 8:30pm. Free.

New Orleans Preservation Jazz Band - Oxbridge, Oxbridge Lane, Stockton on Tees TS18 4AW. 8:30pm. £2.50.

Blues/Soul/Funk/Etc.

Jools Holland’s R&B Orchestra - Newcastle City Hall, Northumberland Road, Newcastle NE1 8SF. Tel: 0844 8112121. 7:30pm. £47.50. & £34.00. Second night of two.

Chris Farlowe & the Norman Beaker Band + Teresa Watson Band - Newcastle Labour Club, Leazes Park Road, Newcastle NE1 4PF. Tel: 0191 232 8049. 7:45pm (doors). £22.00. (£19.00. adv.).

To the best of our knowledge, details of the above events are correct but may be subject to alteration.

Tuesday, December 03, 2019

Interview w. David 'Showtime' Gray

One of the better players to grace the northeast jazz scene in recent years is trombonist David Gray. BSH put a few questions to him asking him to say “a few words” about his career to date …

An obvious first question...why trombone?! 

An obvious first question with a slightly weird answer.  Okay, it’s probably not so weird that the trombone was an incidental/accidental thing.  I'd like to rattle off a little story about this.

I already had an inclination to try a flute or a saxophone.  My middle school (the late Lemington Middle School, formerly known as Claremont) didn’t have any saxes, but right at the start of year 5, I was falling asleep during a science class and noticed people putting their hands up.  Realising the chance to skip class, I also put my hand up and we ended up going downstairs to queue outside of the music room.

After a long wait, most had departed, but I ended up greeted by Gareth Weaver—no doubt a familiar name to you and many readers for his role in the Customs House Big Band.  I had a choice between trumpet, Eb horn and trombone.  Trombone looked more fun.  I struggled to pick the thing up, but somehow I took to it and surprisingly, my fellow schoolkids never really gave me grief for playing it.  In fact, it was pretty cool and I got a decent amount of praise for my assembly performances.

To be honest, despite this happy accident, my wonderful form tutor and music teacher—a very nice and endlessly supportive lady called Wendy Harrison, who’s been around the theatre/orchestra circuit over the years—had later encouraged me to try something from a different family.  I did one woodwind lesson and sacked it off, but had it been the other way around, I’d have probably still tried trombone and taken to it.  Maybe I’d be a capable reeds/brass doubler like Michael Lamb is now.  Don’t let him tell you he ain’t—I’ve heard his clarinet and I like it!

How old were you when you first picked up the instrument and have you gone on to acquire several instruments or are you happy with just the one? I seem to remember a multi-coloured horn that I think you won in a raffle or something?

It was an October in year 5, so I was 9—just before my 10th birthday.  Lemington let me keep what was a rather pristine Yamaha 354 peashooter, since they closed prematurely.  Would’ve been a waste otherwise.

During high school, I was of course encouraged to get a pro horn, so my parents and aunt pulled off some insane financial black magic to surprise me with it for Christmas.  This was despite them also getting me ‘The Legend of Zelda’ and ‘Guitar Hero III’ for the Wii, among other presents.  I was gobsmacked.

During the BMus, a trombonist called Ike Stow saw me performing and offered to loan me a small-bore Michael Rath, probably with direct intent to sell me it.  I enjoyed it and Mr. Weaver (who, come full-circle, was also my trombone tutor then), highly encouraged me to dig into some J.J. Johnson and Dennis Rollins repertoire. Ike eventually needed the horn back, so as I was playing lots of ska at the time, I panic-bought the cheapest beater horn I could—the blatty little Getzen horn you’ve seen me playing before I committed fully to my Bb/F again this year.

The colourful pBone is one that I was surprised to win in a Facebook giveaway--”like and share this post to win!”  I didn’t expect it at all.  Then it happened, but the slide’s seen better days now. I’ve used it on a few jobs and it has a punchy core and a mellowness that takes the edge off my often-brutal sound, but brass is definitely better.
(Photo courtesy of Ken Drew).

Bonus anecdote: towards the start of my jazz jam adventures, Ian Forbes was kind enough to sell me a weird old valve trombone on the cheap.  He mentioned it during a jam, then on the next jam he presented it in a bin liner! Plays fine, very pitchy, but I’ve used it on duo gigs as a feature.

Do you play any instruments other than trombone? 

Well, you’ve seen me rock a trumpet…  But yes, chronologically, I started with keys at a very basic level, as we had an electric organ in the house. We then ended up with grandma’s old piano, which took a lot of abuse when I was learning a load of Coldplay stuff and not a whole lot else. I’ve been shedding keys again—during the BMus, Gerry Richardson gave me a huge push into learning to play functional harmony and just about everything I’d need to know about A/B voicings, but I was never that confident until recently.  I’m even busking some Chic and Sister Sledge on keys here and there.

Everybody goes through a guitar phase and the only difference is that many/most of us are either bewildered by the thing or get sick of it, and the rest never kick the habit.  In my case, I could never get that comfortable with it, despite accruing a VERY thorough knowledge of it.  There was a time when I had ambitions to be the next Slash or Santana—I feel that a lot of my wannabe-guitarist tendencies comes out on stage, especially now that I’m exploring effect pedals.  Yes, that’s right.  The fact that I owned and played Guitar Hero to death probably didn’t help with that.  I still have some guitars and I very much use them to help with arranging.

I bought an entry-level Stomvi trumpet during the BMus so I could learn more about brass instruments and add a second string to my bow. It’s actually a very nice horn with a strong, responsive tone, but I often forget how little air I need to push through it compared to bone, so I overblow and destroy my chops and listeners’ ears.  It’s seen quite a bit of gigging action and I’ll be bringing it to more jams when I’m more confident again.

On top of that, a lovely Besson Sovereign cornet fell into my hands and I own a bizarre stylophone-like novelty instrument called an Otomatone.  I also have a tiny keyring harmonica in C.  Ask me about that on the next jam.

You studied at Sage Gateshead (on a course accredited by Sunderland University). Did you consider studying at other institutions or was it always going to be Sage Gateshead for you? 

For me, it was basically the BMus or Leeds College of Music.

At the time, I was only really bothered about the BMus, as James Birkett mentioned it when I was playing in his weekend school ensemble.  Given the handover from Newcastle College (and dare I say some dodgy organisation on the part of The Sage), I couldn’t actually find the course at the time, so I thought Leeds was my only option.

The BMus audition happened first and it went well, so I already knew I’d be able to enrol there—however, I still wanted to try Leeds too.  My poor parents had to drive me down there, I had to pay a £50 audition fee and even though I’d already taken their advice to buy a fakebook and learn standards to audition, I was still a bit rubbish.

Pete Gilligan and co. were gracious enough to let me record a piece, but I’d set the gain too high and it sounded disgusting.  I did ‘Ladybird’ in the audition and made a pig’s ear of the improv while a bunch of fellow trombonists were probably cackling away outside.  The interviewers gave me useful advice which could basically be summed up as, “learn to improvise, fix your embouchure and learn your modes.”  I still got an offer, but it felt pointless when I could study on my doorstep and, frankly, I sucked.  It would’ve felt dishonest.  They were probably trying to get bums on seats at the time, given their difficult situation back then.

So yeah, I still hate ‘
Ladybird’ and for some reason, its changes still don’t sit right with me, even though they are kinda simple.  I dunno.  The melody’s simple, but the changes do things I don’t enjoy while improvising.  Sorry.

I remember one Sunday afternoon when you wandered into the old Jazz Café and had a blow with Pete Gilligan, Paul Grainger and co. Was that your first musical foray without a musical chaperone?

Seems that way.  Interestingly, it was my eldest brother who got me in on that, as he mentioned it one day out of curiosity.  So I thought, “why the heck not?” I was surprised that I wasn’t terrified, but that was probably because it was a quiet Sunday afternoon, where there were only me, Crombie, Pete, Paul and some others.  I was already armed with a vague knowledge of some Ellington standards, as Dave Hignett’s always had a nice array of charts for Prudhoe Community Band when I played with them.

I sat down with my axe and faced the band, asked if we could try ‘Don’t Get Around Much Anymore’ and I bluffed my way through that and the rest of the night.  This is why I’m so thankful for our jazz community, when it can be so cut-throat elsewhere.  They welcome every curious soul with open arms and nurture them to their full potential.

You are known for playing in numerous bands - jazz bands (Gerry Richardson's Big Idea), function bands, big bands, street bands (Soznak) and, of course, at jam sessions. Do you favour one over the others or do you enjoy the variety? 

It kind of depends on my mood and whether I get “stuck” doing one or two jobs all the time, but variety’s definitely the only way for me. I always try to give every new or existing project a fair shake and while it can result in some double bookings, I always try to give everyone my time where possible.  While stable jobs are always good, I base my life around creating and enjoying memorable experiences, or otherwise making the best contribution I can to someone else’s vibe.  Personally speaking, that’s what we should all be striving towards as an enlightened species.

Gerry Richardson's Big Idea is of particular interest to Bebop Spoken Here - it's one of the great bands! How did you get the gig?

Gerry was one of the BMus course leaders and I was lucky enough to get on his good side.  Maybe he was amused by my big-boy attempts to talk back at him all the time.  I guess he liked my playing enough and, well, I was there at the time, so he asked if I’d like to stand in for Keith Norris.  (Photo courtesy of Mike Tilley).

I actually nearly screwed up immediately (he may have let it slide, though).  He wanted two rehearsals, but I’d accidentally double-booked the first to watch ‘Skyfall’ with my family.  In a “you couldn’t write it” scenario, I woke up on the day and somehow managed to call Gerry by accident.  He rang back asking me what was up and if I was still good to rehearse.  I told him what I’d done and was met with a soul-crushing, “You’re not gonna let me down, are you?”

In the end, I told him I’d cancel my family plans.  Mam, bless her soul, was furious, solely because I was so hopelessly disorganised.  My parents were always happy for me to prioritise music, but understandably a bit miffed when I made it harder for them to plan around it! Suffice to say, the rehearsals and gigs have been brilliant experiences and I’m incredibly happy to be a part of that band.

I should add that I rate Gerry incredibly highly as a composer, arranger and influence on my habits--’Another Dark One’ is my favourite piece of his, because he did what I’d do in making a cool funk/break arrangement of some form of electronic style.  That outfit deserves more gigs, man—and a successor to the fallen Jazzaction label to throw gigs at him/us.  I can say “us” inclusive of me now, right?

Influences? From Kid Ory to Jack Teagarden to Slide Hampton, JJ Johnson, Jimmy Knepper to Steve Turre to Mark Nightingale and countless others (too many to mention!) - tell us who you have checked out.  

I think that aside from misc. guitarists, I was first turned on by Rico Rodriguez’ playing.  His feel, phrasing and tone were perfect.  Everything about his playing was.

Some years later, I typed “trombone” into YouTube (I was young) and was graced with an incredible Fred Wesley solo, so he kinda stuck…  He’s basically my spirit animal.  I think that he, Wayne Shorter, Lee Morgan, Freddie Hubbard, J.J., Dennis Rollins and Tommy Dorsey have all swirled together in my sound.  At least, I hope so.  Of course, there are too many others to list as well.  Throw all of Ellington’s brass players in there as well.  All of them.

I’ll also add this—when I watched Nightingale this year, it felt like a switch had flipped and my sound concept was informed quite suddenly by a lot of approaches to tone and articulation that had escaped me somewhat.  He might be to blame for me shoehorning in lots of faster runs and slurring-across-the-break tricks, but there are so many things from the way he’ll sometimes give a note an airy splat, sometimes put bends and scoops in really fun places and at other times, hit one big note with the most wonderfully full tone you could imagine.

Are you a composer? Have you written material which is just waiting to be performed?

Pure composition has always been a bit of a struggle, as it can be hard for me to justify the development of stray ideas, but I have a few fully realised pieces which will eventually see the light of day.  However, I’ve been on and off with writing my own jazz charts and arrangements, which will be thrust mercilessly upon future jam sessions and eventually presented on my own gigs.

I did slide one under the radar at a jam the other month, called ‘Silver Orcas’--named as such because it took some tenuous inspiration from Horace Silver and some harmonic motion in  On Green Dolphin Street’ (an orca being a type of dolphin).  The chart went well, given how chaotic I often am, and we had a grand old time.  It’s coming out again on the next jam, guaranteed, along with an intense jazz waltz called ‘Angular Momentum.’  Hopefully, you’ll enjoy them.

Have you thought about forming and running a band?

Loads of times.  I’ve been nurturing a few ideas for a while—for instance, I do want to form my own combo, which I’ll probably call the David Gray Flextet to accommodate for varying line-ups.  Too poncy? I dunno, you tell me.  I’ve thought about a Miles/late Miles/Marcus tribute and calling it something horrendously “ironic” like Kilometres.  I don’t think I’ll actually call it that.  Maybe a recurring J.J. project would be better.

It’s also been a dream of mine to do a Daft Punk tribute.  Seriously.  I performed two tracks off ‘Random Access Memories’ in my final performance and I have lots of funk ideas for their music.  There’s so much to unpack and Tomas and Guy are such gifted producers and arrangers.

This year, I also finally revisited my ambition to put together a videogame music band.  The logistics are more or less there and I have a brand and logo, but I struggle with the idea of making people give up their unpaid time for my sake.  Currently, a big stack of charts are sitting on my computer, ranging from rock and funk arrangements, to some strange fusion ideas and some bona-fide jazz charts.  I’ll try those on future jams, too—they genuinely came out pretty well.  Honestly, there have been some wonderful themes and soundtracks within the idiom, especially when audio hardware was so limited and a game was made or broken by how cleverly its music and SFX were programmed.

You have acquired the nickname of “Showtime”. Who bequeathed that title upon you and was it inspired by a particular incident?

Haha! As you can imagine, my dad hates it and he’s occasionally tried to nudge me into moving away from it.  I’m sort of halfway-house regarding that—as long as I’m actually living up to the name and doing cool stuff, I’m happy for it to stick as long as it may.  There’s no need for me to be overly serious about my persona.  I’m here to have fun and make friends and if my playing and competence can speak for themselves, then even better.

For the first of our assessed BMus ensembles, we hadn’t really come up with any band names.  Our course co-ordinator at the time (the lovely Hayley Whitefoot) asked us, backstage, to come up with some, lest we grace Sage Gateshead Hall Two as BMus Assessed Performance Band 2.  Nathan Newton, of Ten Eighty Trees fame, suggested the name Showtime Dave (which is, “officially,” my full adopted moniker) and we devised THE most cringe-inducing skit to introduce our band:

“Hey Dave, what time is it?”
“It’sssss SHOWTIME!”

“Woo! I feel good!” etc etc.

Unsurprisingly, James Harrison loved it and he blessed me with the permanent title.  In a way, it feels like incentive to bring my A game every time.

Finally, outside of music, do you have any other interests such as sport, literature, film, theatre or whatever?

I’m a massive gaming and tech/audio nerd, although I currently have slightly less patience for the former and not nearly enough money for the latter.

Videogames have basically been a huge part of my identity since I was about 2 or 3 and they’ve had a big influence on my musical tendencies as well.  That’s why I’m trying to revisit my youth through game music arrangements.  I’ve always been a Nintendo guy and my favourite franchise is an eerie sci-fi series called Metroid, which sucked me in with its immersive atmosphere and soundtracks. It does so many things right, including a minimal, see-it-for-yourself and subtle approach to storytelling.  I’ve never been one for having too much plot thrust upon me.

I’m not really one of those hyper-knowledgeable TV/film buffs, but there’s definitely a soft spot for sci-fi and good comedy.  Star Wars seems to be an ongoing love affair and I live for the cop spoof series Brooklyn Nine-Nine.  In fact, give me anything sciencey, astronomy-based or similar to read or learn about and I’ll be lost in it for hours.

As well as the above, I couldn’t be a jazzer-at-heart without having a profound love for coffee.  I have a grinder and brewing kit at home and it’s probably worth looking into a barista day job for all the free time I have through the week.  Oh, and I’m a little into watches/horology as well, but that’s too expensive a rabbit hole to explore properly.

Thank you Showtime Dave for sharing with BSH.

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