Catherine Ford spoke to horn player Anna Drysdale:
Catherine Ford: Tell us more about what you do as performer and educator
Anna Drysdale: My jazz background is largely in big band and ensemble stuff. I’ve had the horn chair with the National Youth Jazz Orchestra since I was 16; I also did a Birth of the Cool project last year with the Richard Shepherd Nonet, where we headlined the main show at Ronnie Scott’s in March. I improvise as well though – sometimes with NYJO, sometimes abroad on tours doing symphonic pop stuff with classical orchestras and occasionally at the Late Show at Ronnie’s!
Education-wise, the National Youth Jazz Orchestra runs quite a lot of workshops for young jazz musicians, but aside from that a lot of the outreach work I do is focused on classical music. That doesn’t mean that improvisation doesn’t come into play though – it’s a really good way to generate ideas, and I used it a lot when I was co-leading workshops on Prokofiev with young brass players for the London Philharmonic Orchestra.
CF: Who/what inspired you to get to where you are today?
AD: I’ve always been quite driven as a person, and the thought of having a career you enjoy is something of a good motivator. I’d say the things that have made me want to carry on, though, have been giving really electric performances – at the BBC Proms, at Ronnie Scott’s, places like that where people really want to hear what you’re playing. That’s inspiring.
CF: Was there a woman in jazz who served as a role model or mentor for you?
AD: Not particularly actually. I was really lucky that when I was growing up, I was raised (by very supportive, but not at all pushy parents) to believe that the world was basically my oyster – I could probably do whatever I wanted, and whatever I wanted to do was an OK choice. I think in that situation you grow up not really needing a role model to be motivated.
CF: What is the best piece of advice you ever been given?
AD: I literally have no answer for this!
CF: Is there enough encouragement at school to nurture musical talent in young people? Have you noticed an increase in the number of girls studying jazz?
AD: I wouldn’t say I’d noticed an increase. It’s kind of a steady few every year! To be honest, I think most of the reasons there are so few girls in jazz are quite deep-seated – most standard-line-up jazz instruments are more stereotypically “male”, especially things like trumpet and trombone, and people choose instruments when they’re quite young so it’s really a very ingrained problem. I’m the only female brass player in my year at the Royal College of Music, so it’s not just an issue confined to jazz!
As for schools, they always struggle to organise things like ensembles (which is what really gets most people interested in music, I think) because they’re by nature so small – all the stuff I did that developed me as a musician was borough-wide stuff, in my hometown of Harrow, which has a brilliant organisation called Harrow Young Musicians that I owe a huge amount to. I think actually that it’s not so much that schools that need to nurture young musicians – it’s bigger organisation, music services and music hubs, and I think unfortunately that’s the kind of thing that’s underfunded and that people don’t recognise the value of, both educationally and also just socially, in terms of developing as a person and a musician.
CF: Do you think girls find it hard to improvise musically?
AD: Not at all – there’s literally no reason that that should be the case, given that there are plenty of women who are both technically capable of playing their instruments and creative, which are the only real preconditions of being able to improvise! I think there is an issue during adolescence that girls can have a bit of a confidence crisis in their teens and think that often all but the most confident girls don’t necessarily put themselves forward as wanting to improvise, which is obviously a pretty vital first step to doing it more seriously. When I was in youth orchestra as part of Harrow Young Musicians (a long time ago!), I remember conductor Mark Gooding going round and round over a simple-ish jazz standard and getting everyone to take a few bars of solo. The people he asked to subsequently take bigger solos were a pretty even mix of girls and boys. It was an interesting exercise…
Catherine Ford: What is your next project?
Anna Drysdale: The National Youth Jazz Orchestra is going to Germany in September to work with Bujazzo, the youth equivalent of the WDR band, which should be exciting. I’m also putting together Moon Dreams from Birth of the Cool for my final recital…