Bassist Calum Gourlay spoke to Sebastian about a new Thelonious Monk project which has its debut outing on Sunday January 11th at the Vortex downstairs, and about a new solo bass album “Live at the Ridgeway”. This interview also constitutes a landmark, it’s the 5,000th article to be posted on LondonJazz News:
LondonJazz News: You have a new Thelonious Monk project, on particular Sundays at the Vortex?
Calum Gourlay: Yes. With Martin Speake, Hans Koller and David Dyson. We want to learn all seventy-ish tunes Monk wrote. From Straight No Chaser and Epistrophy through to more obscure tunes such as Sixteen and Coming on the Hudson. There are some really tough tunes in his repertoire. Forget Giant Steps! Try playing a chorus on Skippy!
No new arrangements or “re-imagining” just playing the tunes. Something a little different to the scene of originals bands that the UK already has in strength.
Incidentally we’re still looking for a name!
LJN: Who came up with idea?
CG: Hans and Martin were looking for an excuse to play together I think. Hans suggested Monk tunes and they had a few plays and put the idea for a band together. Hans’ first instrument is piano (and composition) but on this he plays valve trombone.
Martin had been playing a lot with David Dyson the drummer and Hans remembered I had said something on a bus 5 years ago about Wilbur Ware (one on Monk’s great bass players) and thought of me.
LJN: And who’s leading the band?
CG: It’s not any one’s band in particular but the four of us have decided to work together and to work for the band. It’s different when the music doesn’t belong to anyone in the group. It seemed right for it to be a collective effort rather than the usual leader with sidemen.
LJN: And you’ve been rehearsing for a while now?
CG: Yes we’ve been getting together for the last six months since summer 2014. At one point we were rehearsing once a week. Which is great for a jazz band!
From my point of view the music is so amazing that as soon as we’d had a few plays I was hooked. Monk is such a large part of jazz history that I only knew a tiny bit about a few months ago. I had always been looking for an excuse to learn it a bit more in depth. Particulary the melodies.
In our short time working on one of the main things I’ve concluded is you can’t play a monk tune if you don’t know the melody. When Monk solos most of the time he’s playing the melody, and that’s it.
LJN: But it’s actually based on a band that existed before?
CG: Steve Lacy and Roswell Rudd had a band with the same lineup (Lacy on Soprano) called School Days. Their intention was to learn all the compositions of Monk, Ellington and Charlie Parker but in the end they settled on just learning Monk. There’s one bootleg recording of them.
Hans worked with Steve Lacy before Lacy’s death a few years ago.
School Days didn’t live very long but apparently they went through 27 different bass players! In fact on the one recording of them Henry Grimes the bassist is missing from the first few tracks because he was late!
LJN: Martin and Hans are very different characters!
CG: Hans is like an excited child and he already knows a bunch of the tunes better than the rest of us. Martin is like a forensic scientist who wants to know what every corner of the tune is about and how it works. Dave picks up things super fast and is super keen. It’s a great bunch of musicians to take on this task alongside.
LJN: Dave Dyson, the fourth member, that’s not a familiar name (…yet).
CG: He’s a young drummmer. He recently finished a postgrad at Trinity. He’s the current NYJO drummer so he picks up things very quickly. He can’t be with us this week as he’s visiting New York, but Jeff Williams is filling in.
LJN: When will the first gig of the new Monk project be?
CG: 11th January at The Vortex downstairs in an early evening slot of 6pm.
LJN: And you plan to keep going? How often?
CG: Every second Sunday of the month, after the London Jazz Orchestra residency, so at the moment the dates are…
– 11th of January
– 8th of February
– 8th of March
– 12th of April
– 10th of May
LJN: And on a different tack… I hear you have a solo album coming?
CG: That’s right I have a solo album Live at The Ridgeway coming out in March on the Two Rivers Label run by Alya Marquardt. Alex Bonney recorded live in my living room in Golders Green in front of an audience. No edits, no tricks, just a live gig with all the bumps and scrapes still there! The place it was recorded has been a musicians’ house for quite a while now, it’s the same house where the original outhouse – as in Dave Smith’s Outhouse – still stands.