#Womensday: LondonJazz Interview: Tori Freestone

Tori Freestone
Photo Credit: Cat Munro. All Rights Reserved

Catherine Ford spoke to saxophonist/flautist Tori Freestone about her trio, her musical aesthetic, her life, and her new CD: In the Chop House (released on Whirlwind Recordings).

Catherine Ford: Tell us about yourself

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Tori Freestone: I’m a jazz saxophonist/flautist and occasional violinist based in London and am involved in a number of projects (including my own trio and quartet) that are busy on the contemporary jazz scene in the UK.

CF: How did you come to play saxophone, flute and violin?

TF: My family all played music and there were lots of musical instruments in the house and people playing at gatherings and parties. I started the violin first and played violin/whistles and sang with my family in folk clubs from about the age of 7. I always gravitated to playing whistles and playing flute was a natural transition. There was also an eclectic mix of music played at home, so jazz, classical, flamenco, Brazilian, country music were all sounds I often heard and playing by ear and improvising felt more natural to me at the time than reading music. I joined NYJO when I was 17 and then went on to study jazz flute at Leeds College of music. I actually took up the saxophone much later when I was about 26 after my degree at Leeds College of Music which again was a natural transition as I was so influenced by so many saxophonists at the time.

CF: Who and what inspired you to get to where you are today?

TF: Simply the act of playing music with great musicians has always been the primary factor in my inspiration to keep playing and working. It’s quite simply something I have to do – like a drug which is why I continue to do it even at the times when it feels like a hard slog! In terms of people who’ve inspired me, a music teacher at my secondary school Will Michael (who was a great jazz pianist as well as an educator) was the first person to make me realise it was actually possible to do this as a profession instead of just being a hobby. In terms of the musicians who’ve inspired me (apart from all the musicians I play with), I would say Joni Mitchell as she has such a unique voice and has not been limited by one specific genre. It was listening to Joni Mitchell’s albums at home that introduced me to Wayne Shorter who became a big influence too.

CF: What made you want to do an album and why now?  Why the trio format?

TF: I’ve already had 3 album releases with a quartet that I co lead (and much of the music is co-written with that project) but I’d been working with the trio over the last few years and developing compositions that lent themselves to the trio format and were much more individual to me. I love the trio format and I’d already been playing with Dave and Tim for years in many different ensembles and formats and as well as being great friends, we’d always had a strong musical rapport. The sparser format allows a more open quality and it’s possible to push our own boundaries, playing openly and freely while having the knowledge that we can rely on each other for some solidity and grounding at any given point.”

CF: What is the story behind the album title: ‘In the Chop House’?

TF: Most of the writing for this current album took place after my involvement in the Manchester Jazz Festival 2010 ‘Surroundings’ project’ which was a large ensemble project led by trumpeter/composer Neil Yates. Having the opportunity to renew old collaborations with so many great musicians on this project plus Neil’s beautiful writing, inspired me to set up the trio and particularly to go back to my folk roots and infuse my own compositions with this flavour. I wrote the tune ‘In the Chop House’ when I got back from the festival, and it’s named after ‘Mr Thomas’s Chop House’ the Victorian pub in Manchester near St Ann’s Square where the band would congregate after a day of rehearsals (the front cover of the album features a painting entitled ‘Thomas’s Chop House‘ by a Manchester based artist, Liz Taylor-Webb, a mentee of Lowry too).

CF: What is it like to be on tour?

TF: I love it – it’s like a jazz holiday! You get to hang out with some great people, go to some lovely places and then play some great music with incredible musicians. I feel very honoured to be able to do this and it makes all the hard work worth it.

CF: Are there barriers that prevent women from being as expressive as men in music?

TF: I don’t think there are barriers preventing women from being as expressive as men in music. There are possibly other issues for women in the world of jazz as there are clearly less women involved in jazz than men at the moment, but there are positive as well as negative connotations to this anyhow and I always feel one usually balances out the other.

CF: What is the best piece of advice you have ever been given?  What tips would you pass on to young musicians re improvisation?

TF: I got told ‘you’re more than just your music’ recently, and that’s been a good mantra! I would say to young musicians to try not to let all the information that will inevitably be given to them overwhelm them and to try to enjoy the process of improvisation. To me it’s like learning a language – you need to hear the sound first, then start experimenting with it, and only after that give it some kind of grammatical label. I would suggest when this information is being handed directly to you in an educational environment, to take it on board and then put it aside until you’re ready to process it. To me the process is more organic and individual this way.

Catherine Ford: What is your next project?

Tori Freestone:I’m involved with other projects such as Ivo Neame’s quintet which I’m going to be busy touring with through April and we’ll be recording a live album as part of that tour which is really exciting. In terms of other projects of my own, I’m working with a quintet called ‘Solstice’ that features Brigitte Beraha on vocals, John Turville on piano and Jez Franks on guitar. All the members of the band write the material and I’m really excited about this new venture as we all have similar influences and I think the result is a unique but cohesive band sound. We’ll be recording later in the year.

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