Photo credit: Melody McLaren
From co-leading Morrisey-Mullen in the seventies to his current groups, Jim Mullen has remained an irreplaceable, central, popular figure in British jazz. In this interview Tomasz Furmanek asked him about his career and a new project – “Lifestories” at Cafe Posk on Saturday 14th March:
London Jazz News: Looking back, what was the secret of the appeal of Morrissey Mullen to audiences?
Jim Mullen: Although Dick and I were jazz musicians, we survived by touring in rock bands – Dick in “IF” and me in “Vinegar Joe”, by 1975 we had reached a point where we’d had enough. We were introduced to each other by friends in Scottish soul group “Average White Band” and found we were both inspired by U.S. groups like “The Crusaders” and the fusion label CTI with artists like Stanley Turrentine, George Benson, etc. By replacing jazz rhythm with a funk groove, we began to achieve wide public appeal. I think we were the first U.K. band to do this and it seemed to catch on with the public and critics alike.
LJN: On Morrisey-Mullen’s debut album, singers like Luther Vandross and Cissy Houston were featured. How did these collaborations start?
JM: Our first album was recorded in New York with our friends in Average White Band who were riding high at that time in 1975. The producer Herbie Mann insisted we had vocals to get daytime radio play, so he booked Luther Vandross and Cissy Houston ( Whitney’s mum) who were session singers at that time. We were totally blown away by their creativity.
LJN: Some special memories through the years?
JM: I’ve been fortunate to work with many of my heroes like pianist Gene Harris, singers Mose Allison, Terry Callier and Jimmy Witherspoon, then organist Jimmy Smith, the Brecker Brothers, and many of the top U.K. musicians. I don’t have a favourite but have many happy memories of all of them.
LJN: You were three-time winner of Best British Guitarist, you’re a national treasure. Being self-taught doesn’t exactly seem to have held you back…
JM: Winning awards is very nice but it’s not why we do what we do. I am self-taught because where I grew up in Scotland there were no guitar teachers so I learned everything myself and learned it wrong 🙂
LJN: Your right-hand guitar technique is something more or less unique to you….
JM: I play right-handed although I am naturally left-handed and use my thumb instead of a plectrum, because there was no one to tell me it was wrong!
LJN: Which guitarists were important to you?
JM: I’ve been influenced by Django, Charlie Christian, Wes Montgomery, Kenny Burrell, B.B. King and John Scofield… My current favourite is Peter Bernstein.
LJN: How did “Lifestories” start?
JM: Lifestories was the brainchild of musician and producer Matteo Saggese, who wanted to bring his favourite Italian musicians into the studio to see what might happen. I was added at the last minute! Matteo introduced me to Julian Mazzariello and Dario Deidda – I already knew Enzo Zirilli– and we met in a little studio in the hills near Salerno and instantly found a common groove. We each brought some of our favourite tunes to the session and were very happy with the results. We’ve already played in The U.K. and at some festivals in Italy.
Lifestories feat: Jim Mullen, Enzo Zirilli, Julian Mazzariello and Kevin Glasgow will be at Jazz Café POSK on Saturday 14th of March as a part of the series of gigs “Tomasz Furmanek invites…”