Issie Barratt will host her 50th birthday concert at Kings Place on 24th January. Composer, saxophonist, educator, former Head of Jazz at Trinity Laban, founding Artistic Director and CEO of the National Youth Jazz Collective (NYJC), winner of Jazz Educator of the Year at the 2014 Parliamentary Awards, founding Director of Fuzzy Moon Records, Issie is a pivotal figure in British jazz. As she prepares for her concert, Sebastian interviewed her about the background to the event:
LondonJazz News: What was/ were your first thoughts when you started planning your 50th Birthday gig?
Issie Barratt: Believe it or not, the first thing I thought about (when planning the gig back in January 2014) was the venue! It needed to be somewhere that would feel welcoming to both the audience and my music. I have such a strong relationship with Kings Place through my work there with NYJC and I love its vibe and programming – Of all the venues I’ve played in around UK, it’s the one that feels most like home (Partly because it’s such a beautiful venue and so familiar to me, but also because of its programming. I love it there!). Next came the line up, and from that came selecting the list of landmark pieces for the programme and thinking through any adaptions/additions (like lyrics) necessary so it could best fit the ensemble.
LJN: So who’s playing, and where do you know them all from?
IB: First, here’s who’s playing:
Rowland Sutherland flutes
Mick Foster clarinets
Issie Barratt baritone sax
Corrina Silvester percussion
Dominic Ashworth guitar
Matt Ridley bass
Tom Hewson piano
Juice Vocal Ensemble – Anna Snow, Sarah Dacey, Kerry Andrew
With a guest appearance by trumpeter Laura Jurd in the 2nd set!
I’ve worked with Rowland Sutherland and Mick Foster since the mid 1990s – They’re really important members of all I do and really know and understand my creative processes as well as being familiar with most of the pieces I’ve written. I’d be lost without them -They’re my creative brothers! Both are on my Astral Pleasures & Meinrad Iten CDs.
Dominic Ashworth joined the quartet in 2013 after our darling Mark Donlon moved to New Zealand and was part of the octet collaboration I ran in 2012 with my quartet and four Indian musicians. He’s such an inventive player!
Matt, Tom and Laura were students of mine from Trinity (1999-2012), but they outgrew that relationship years ago! All three are award-winning musicians in their own rights and I feel blessed to have them as such close colleagues and friends.
All of these instrumentalists come and support me in the work I do as key tutor on the week long Sound and Music Summer School each August –which is where we first met Juice (2008), as Kerry Andrew is one of the other four tutors teaching on the course. What a staggeringly brilliant vocal trio! Such a special addition to this evolving collaboration.
Last but by no means least is the terrific Corrina Sylvester, whom I only met last year! I was really keen for the concert to use an intimate acoustic ensemble rather than big band (Is the type of line up I’ve been using in my more recent Scandinavian and Indian projects) and so wanted to use a percussionist rather than a kit drummer. I hadn’t really worked with any in the UK so asked colleagues to recommend players and then spent a week dipping into a wealth of recordings until … BINGO…. I discovering Corrina on Yazz Ahmed’s CD Finding My Way Home. Her choice of sound, feel and groove so work in my music. She’s definitely got a strong sixth sense!
LJN: You’ll be presenting your compositions?
IB: All the music’s by me, as are most of the lyrics (others are by Carol Grimes, Dee Byrne and Kerry Andrew)
Three are totally new works written specifically for this new line up:
– Foxy Lady (for the full dectet)
– Digali (for the rhythm section)
– An a cappella setting for Juice (vocal trio) of Kerry Andrew’s beautiful poem “Zoetropes”
The other 9 pieces are a selection of landmark works from major projects of the last 9 years (since I stepped down from being head of Jazz at Trinity College of Music and focused more on writing commissions and leading projects). I’ve worked a lot in Scandinavia, Switzerland, Germany, India and USA and wanted to bring a lot of that music home, as up until now most people in the UK have only been able to hear that music from the albums I’ve recorded or streaming – I much prefer audiences to hear my music live. It adds a whole new dimension to the listener’s experience –something that just can’t be captured on a recording.
Three of the pieces are re-workings of big band charts:
– Brayards’s Road (from my debut album Astral Pleasures 2007)
– The Dance (My setting of lyrics by Carol Grimes, commissioned in 2006 by the Vortex Foundation Big Band)
– Walk this way, sidewise (commissioned for a US big band tour I did in 2011)
Three are works that have not only been re-orchestrated but have also had brand spanking new lyrics written for them!
– Upptackt (from my 2010 tour of Sweden), now with Swedish lyrics by Dee Byrne
– Largo Days – commissioned by National Youth Jazz Collective 2011
– Unser Vater from my Swiss project of 2007, (both now with English lyrics by me).
Three tracks are for smaller permutations within the band (no changes no re-orchestration!)
– Der Onkel
– Snowscene (both of these recorded by my Meinrad Iten Quartet in 2009)
– Window of Life (a trio song I wrote for my 2011 sextet tour of Calcutta).
LJN: Is there a link / theme in the programme?
IB: Once I’d selected the players and the pieces, I realized everything was unified by two additional underlying theme – My intrinsic tendency to write programmatic pieces. Each piece is a tableau or short story in its own right, with the composition setting the scene and the performers giving their own interpretation of events through their improvised solos) and the theme of friendship (As quite by accident each of the pieces selected had been dedicated to a dear friend or relative during its composition).
LJN: Sweden? Chagall? A Swiss painter? What’s all that about?
IB: The Dance is about a woman’s desire to dance to the tune of Chagall’s fiddler While Upptackt is evocative of the flat expanses of southern Sweden. Largo Days is about the hazy and lazy days of summer and tendency to want to just watch life go by while Brayards Road are both about the late night activities of a rather enigmatic character – is he a robber with a swag bag or a jazz pianist returning home after a gig? Der Onkel, Snow Scene and Unser Vater are from a suite of 11 pieces setting paintings by my Swiss great-grandfather Meinrad Iten (1867-1932, a prolific professional Swiss artist who painted over 2000 works)
LJN: NYJC had a fab year in 2014. What were the highlights?
IB: It certainly has! I can’t believe all we did in 2014 was only one year!! The highlights have got to be:
– Getting the NPO status and a Parliamentary Award as Jazz Educator
– Appointing our new chair – Richard Wheatly (Chair of Jazz FM and Director of both the Love Supreme Festival and BIMM music colleges)
– Touring England for 13 days auditioning 120 young musicians for the summer school – I always come back from that tour thinking “What lovely young people we’ve met”
– The summer school concert – It was breathtaking. Five astonishingly creative octets aged 13 -18 all playing to the same – astounding level.
– Seeing three of NYJC get through to the final (and win) the BBC Young Musician of the Year’s Jazz Award.
– Working with NYJC’s President Dave Holland, Vice President Julian Joseph and the rest of the teaching artists and ambassadors, all of whom are such inspirational tutors as well as the nation’s leading jazz luminaries.
– Seeing NYJC’s creative leadership ensemble generate two sets of original material which they workshop and performed at Leicester, Kings Place and London Jazz Festivals, and the Barbican’s Jazz at Lincoln Center open stage.
– Having summer school alumni (from 2007 -2010) now on our teaching staff (after being on NYJC’s year long Ambassador trainee tutors scheme). Two lead 140 young musicians in a massive project hosted by Kirklees that resulted in a breathtaking performance at Dewsbury Town Hall. None of the young musicians had ever heard or played in anything like it before. It was so vibey, full of risk taking and truly “in the moment!”
– Seeing some of the younger members of the regional work growing in confidence and really projecting out their ideas. They’re really starting to “dig in!”
– Finally loading NYJC’s online resources onto its new YouTube Channel (After much filming and editing!)
LJN: Is NYJC all-consuming for you or are you able to take on other projects?
IB: 2014 was a really intense year for NYJC as we were suddenly about so much more than just delivering projects. Pulling together the NPO application, building up the Collective’s board (from 3 -9) recruiting a new chair, fundraiser, project manager and consultant to lead a 360 organisational review was quite a mean feat and meant I was having to commit a lot of time to managing CEO type rather than artistic work. I knew it was only for a set amount of time as we’re doing all of this work so as to be able to augment the senior management team and I really enjoy working with the management, board and Arts Council – so 2014 was really fascinating. But by Christmas 2014 I was glad to see the light at the end of the tunnel and start talking about my focusing on NYJCs three year artistic programme (and doing less than 24/7 for the organization so I can get more time for my own projects!) as we appoint a third member of NYJCs senior management team to help with the CEO side of things.
LJN: What will be different this year? Can you go even further?
IB: The impact of the recession and cut to Arts Council funding means we’re faced with new challenges fundraising wise – When I started NYJC in 2007 things were alot easier than they are now – Everyone’s having to work a lot harder on fundraising including diversifying our income streams as public funding’s becoming less and less! Is why we’ve augmented NYJC’s senior management team to now include a professional fundraiser so they can focus on that side of things and I can focus on delivering our first three-year NPO programme (starting in April 2015) of regional work, summer school and short course, post summer school concert tour, creative leadership ensemble, commissioning of new works and collaborations with other NYMOs, professional development and conference seminars for music teachers and on line resources. Amazing to think that in 2007 we were only a pilot summer school. How we’ve grown!
LJN: What plans does Fuzzy Moon Records have?
IB: We’re going to be recording an album with this ensemble later on the year featuring works by all members of the ensemble – as each are composers in their own right. I’m really excited about that because it’ll really help us promote the music and get more gigs. My heart is in live performances and travelling the world with music rather than being in the recording studio, releasing lots of CDs. I love the interaction with the audience and really miss them when in the studio.
I set Fuzzy Moon Records up in 2008 because I wanted to have a CD that could be used as a calling card with which to promote my music to ensembles around the world, as well as capturing key projects of close colleagues and friends, such as:
– Mike Gibbs’ A Song For You project with Norma Winstone, Mark Mondesir and the NDR Big Band
– John Warren’s N-octet project with Gerard Presencer, Martin Shaw, Mark Nightingale, Christian Brewer, Stan Sulzmann, Julian Siegel, Jim Hart. Gwilym Simcock. Phil Donkin, and James Maddren)
– Mark Donlon’s quartet (with Julian Siegel, Mick Hutton and Gene Calderazzo).