Tomasz Furmanek spoke to Ashley Slater about his gig at Jazz Cafe POSK on Saturday 18th January:
Tomazs Furmanek: Ashley – you were born in Canada, grew up in California and when only 16 years old you moved on your own to Edinburgh. What’s your story?
Ashley Slater: Where I grew up was a very remote area, a mountain village with only 300 people living there. We didn’t have enough money for me go to music college. As my dad was English, he suggested that I go to the UK and join the army as a junior bandsman. Basically, I would get paid for going to music college and, in return, all I had to do was stay in the army for a few years to pay off my education.
TF: Was there any music in your life at that time?
AS: When I was in the army, I had a very rich and varied musical life. I sang a lot with whatever army groups I could and also played with lots of civilian groups, even when I was in Northern Ireland. I think I got away with it because I had a very strong American accent and dressed quite flamboyantly. Not like a soldier. My first ever gig singing with a band was in Belfast and I was hooked.
TF: When did you start singing and how it came about?
AS: I started singing with a rhythm and blues band called Otis and The Elevators. I’d always enjoyed singing at high school and beyond, in fact my dream was to end up singing bass in the Manhattan Transfer. I was a big fan of close harmony singing and listened to a lot of traditional Dixieland jazz at home with my dad, so I had an ear for it already. My singing career really started when I formed my first band, Microgroove. Rob Partridge from Antilles/Island saw me performing with Loose Tubes at Ronnie Scott’s and basically offered me a deal. We made an album with that band and I ended up singing almost by default as I didn’t think anyone else would want to sing my stupid songs.
TF: How important is jazz in your musical thread and much space does it take now?
AS: These days, jazz is just part of my musical language and DNA. I often say to people that I’m a trombonist who can improvise in a jazz manner rather than a jazz trombonist.
TF: You and Norman Cook (a.k.a Fatboy Slim) formed Freakpower together in 1993 and then had 3 hit singles. What happened to that collaboration?
AS: That was a great time, obviously a complete change from playing jazz, where it was all about striving for perfection. In rock and roll, the main thing you need on stage is attitude. That may sound odd to a jazz player, but I remember one time doing a soundcheck and I was getting very frustrated with the vocal sound in the monitors. Norman just said to me ‘nobody cares if you sing in tune, they just want to see you’. He was right and after I learned that lesson, I had a much better time on stage. Total attitude adjustment from my days as a session and jazz player, but it worked.
TF: You have performed at the London Jazz Festival with Elvis Costello and Debbie Harry… what was this project like and how jazzy it was considering the quite unusual line up?
AS: Well, I think maybe Elvis had just started seeing Diana Krall at that time, so he had a particular interest in jazz. I think every singer who wants to improve will eventually turn to jazz singing, as it’s basically the most demanding singing one can attempt. One only has to look at people like Curtis Stigers, Debbie, Robbie Williams (whom I personally really don’t like listening to singing jazz) and even Rod Stewart to find proof of my theory.
TF: Any prospect of a solo album?
AS: Not really, I’m too focused on Kitten and The Hip to consider making another solo album. It would only divert attention away from Kitten and The Hip and that’s something I can’t afford to do right now. I make a lot of appearances on dance records these days and that keeps my ego happy. I had a big hit last year with ‘Why Did You Do It‘ with Terry Ultra, things like that keep me happy.
Tomasz Furmanek: Knowing your diverse musical incarnations and expressive personality we could expect from your performance at Cafe Posk practically… anything!
Ashley Slater: I’ll be doing a few of my own tunes and a few standards, a bit of trombone and a bit of singing. I think I’m one of the better scat singers alive today and I’ll be getting that out a lot too.