Saxophonist Jesse Bannister’s album ‘Play Out’ (United Sounds) is due for release on 13th October. We interviewed him:
LondonJazz News: You are known for your teaching on Leeds College of Music’s jazz, classical and pop degree courses, where you taught members of Roller Trio and Submotion Orchestra.
Jesse Bannister: My time teaching at Leeds College of Music went hand-in-hand with my own learning. As part of my preparation for teaching I was able to master my subject by gaining more knowledge and deeper understanding of the subject. I was also able to experiment with how to approach Indian music on a western instrument with a variety of instruments and musicians and was lucky to meet with musicians of a very high level. Also these were students (who like myself) wanted to take a different direction in music and didn’t want a “straight ahead” approach. They were inspired by what I was achieving already as a performer and this had a strong influence on some of them directly and indirectly. Notably two of the musicians, more recently from Roller Trio were heavily influenced by Indian music: this was apparently through Dave Kane who I taught in the early 90’s at Bretton Hall. In turn, I have been blessed with incredible teachers who have had a huge impact on me and my playing.
LJN: You were also known as a composer on the Bollywood scene. How does this compare with playing jazz in the UK?
JB: The Indian music and Bollywood scene is very vibrant, the music is very ‘of the now’. That said-When you’re creating (through improvisation) something people haven’t seen before and it is happening right there before them this creates a real buzz for the audience. Improvising and playing Indian material on a western instrument creates a new kind of listening. The jazz crowd are ready for this new level of intricacy and have a very open listening for Indian influences. For some –this is a brand new concept in the approach to music. It’s a pleasure to play for new audiences with an open ear and an enquiring mind.
LJN: Your lineage takes in multi-cultural Tottenham, Goan, and Scots/Irish influences. How has your heredity informed your music?
JB: I learned music on the dance floor when I was 15-16 years old. I used to go out dancing to Camden, Dingwalls, and to reggae parties. My taste was a reflection of the eclectic mix around me which included Reggae, hip hop jazz, blues, soul and pop. At the time I was dancing mainly amongst Caribbean people, so the movement of the music got into my body from a very young age. Influences from my Father’s side were also very mixed. From a very young age I was exposed to his vinyl collection of classical, new age and Indian as well as the likes of Bob Dylan, The Beatles and Van Morrison. Then there was the cultural aspect that my mum was Indian. Even though she didn’t listen to Indian music I had the culture of that Indian upbringing there as well…
LJN: Play Out, your new album, comes with a series of intriguing videos. What prompted these and what’s the background to the album?
JB: I’m glad you asked this question. I am really pleased with the videos and the responses I am having towards them. I decided that as part of this album and tour that I really wanted to communicate with audiences through various mediums I chose the still and moving image, music and words. The resulting videos have created more hooks for listeners to engage with me and my music. Added to that is an educational element through the written word. I talk about raga in more detail and also slip in details of the compositional side of the process. The videos hopefully create points of interest and maybe will encourage viewers to learn more and spark the appetite for knowledge on the subject of Indian styles of playing. The videos were all shot by myself and were taken mainly whilst on tour in America. Some of the images really seem to encapsulate the mood of the piece that is playing. The audio adds to the image and the image enhances the sound track.
LJN: Play Out has an extraordinary picture on the cover of you playing sax underwater. How did this come about?
JB: This photo came about as a result of my involvement with a piece of work by Balbir Singh entitled ‘Synchro’. This was a cultural Olympiad piece from 2012 and featured synchronised swimming alongside my compositions along the theme of Rivers of the World.
The photographer (who normally photographs whales) took some great shots as part of the promotion of the event and when we saw the results we had to have this as the album cover. The image really sums up the mood for me of the title “Play Out” and has certainly helped to promote the album.
LJN: That’s a stellar quartet you have, with Seb Rochford, Zoe Rahman and Kenny Higgins
JB: Seb is an all-round musician and his presence and personality really helped shape the album. His musicality as a drummer extends beyond his rhythmic input and he was a pleasure to work with. In regard to Zoe I was in awe of her playing and was really pleased that she agreed to be part of the project. It was an interesting process as we both found our growing points as players and established meeting ground as well as points of departure. Zoe’s style of playing, her unique ability as an improviser as well as her ability to quickly learn fixed material meant that the time spent in the studio was incredibly productive. She also worked really well with Kenny Higgins the bass player and did spend a fair bit of time playing his bass! Kenny is an amazing musician with a real sense of groove, melody and style. His contribution to the album was immense, Kenny is my first choice every time.
The London launch of Play Out is at Pizza Express Dean Street on 19th November as part of the EFG London Jazz Festival. TOUR DATES.