Trombonist/ Educator/ early jazz specialist MALCOLM EARLE-SMITH will be directing “Swing to Bop” with the Trinity Laban Jazz Ensemble at Blackheath Halls on Friday March 6th. In this interview with Sebastian he explains how another cohort of Trinity Laban students is responding to being taken on a journey through an important part of jazz history:
LondonJazz News: What is the background to the event?
Malcolm Earle-Smith: “Swing to Bop” features the Trinity Laban Jazz Ensemble (one of three big bands at the conservatoire), which I direct, and which is composed mainly of 1st and 2nd year BMus Jazz students. We started rehearsing in November and have already performed two gigs, one at King Charles Court (where Trinity Laban’s Faculty of Music is based) and one at the Gunnersbury Tavern in Chiswick earlier this month. This is the final gig in this particular project.
The band has worked really hard with the help of some great section tutors – Mick Foster, Mike Lovatt and Matt Skelton. It’s really starting to swing!
LJN: What pieces are being played and why them specifically?
ME-S: As the title of the gig suggest we are focusing on a selection of arrangements which were written from the late 30s to the early 50s. These included repertoire from the Tommy Dorsey and Woody Herman Bands, Duke Ellington, Claude Thornhill and Dizzy Gillespie. There were a great variety of approaches at this time, so stylistically this is a great challenge for us! There’s no greater way to understand the development of a music than to play it.
LJN: Are these transcriptions? Arrangements? Re-imaginings?
ME-S: Most of them are transcriptions – although we open some of them up for extending solos and we improvise backings.
LJN: Are you trying to stay as close to the originals as you can? If so what is the hardest part of that?
ME-S: As far as the arrangements are concerned, we do stick fairly closely to the original in order to absorb the style and this is also great for ensemble discipline. Maintaining the ensemble ’togetherness’ and stylistic consistency is certainly the hardest part – it requires continued concentration and a lot of self-discipline. But they’ve done very well. Many of the arrangements have the solos written out, which I think is useful to study – but as improvisers it’s important to let the students put their own stamp on it – so I always encourage them to do their own thing!
LJN: Anything of personal significance here?
ME-S: No more than any other project. They are all of personal significance to me, and I consider it a great privilege to be able to work with these young musicians year after year.
LJN: In general the growth of bands playing early jazz, some of whom (eg amongst Trinity Laban alumni) you have definitely sparked off, must bring quite some personal satisfaction?
ME-S: I think it’s really important that all styles of jazz continue to thrive. It does give me personal satisfaction to see a growth of younger bands playing early jazz – and without them these styles will die. But what really excites me is that a renewed understanding of these earlier traditions in the younger generations, coupled with innovations of today, could produce some really important new music.
Early jazz brings us closer to the emotional foundations of the music, and teaches us how to improvise with sound and melody – and how to improvise collectively. All these elements of music can be applied to any style.