Iain Ballamy explained to Sebastian the background to a concert in the Queen Elizabeth Hall this Sunday March 22nd:
LondonJazz News: You’re playing this piece for the first time? What is it?
Iain Ballamy: It’s the magnificent ‘Concerto for Stan Getz’ by Richard Rodney Bennett, and I’ll be playing it with the BBC Concert Orchestra at a concert entitled ‘Conflict and Healing’. I am very excited!
LJN: The invitation resulted from another concerto performance?
IB: There is so little repertoire for tenor saxophone and orchestra. Last year I premiered a concerto written for me by Gary Carpenter at the Bridgewater Hall with the BBC Philharmonic Orchestra, which led directly to my being asked to take on this fantastic piece.
LJN: Tell us about the piece?
IB: This piece has become regarded as a rare compositional achievement – a consummate merging of both contemporary classical serialism with the harmony and essence of jazz, resulting in an inspiring and challenging piece of great beauty and gravity.
LJN: You met Stan Getz?
IB: When I was 15 my father took me to Ronnie Scotts club to see Stan Getz 1979. We sat at a tiny table, which was actually on the stage just behind the piano. I was familiar with that table as barely a year before that we sat in the same spot watching Dizzy Gillespie who singled me out and charged towards me screaming and stamping his feet, then puffed his cheeks out right in my face like a bullfrog, nearly scaring me to death!
Well this time, Stan Getz was mid-solo when someone gesticulated to him that he had an important phone call in the reception. He was on the phone 30 minutes whilst the band kept playing! My dad said “if you are quick you could get his autograph on his way back to the stage. I grabbed pen and paper and plucked up the courage as he walked back. He was as nice as pie and very encouraging to a young kid learning alto. As he handed the paper back I told him “Mr. Getz, it’s my ambition to play at Ronnie Scotts” to which he replied “really son? – What do you want to play in a shit hole like this for”? I have to pinch myself to believe that really happened and that all these years later I am playing this concerto written for him.
LJN: But he never played it?
IB: It was written by Bennett with huge enthusiasm and inspiration, completed in 1990 just before Getz died.
Sadly he never performed it and John Harle premiered it at the BBC proms in the early 90’s
LJN: How are you enjoying the preparation?
IB: It has really given me something big to focus on (no pun intended for Getz fans). There are so many challenging passages and phrases. The biggest challenge is to bring my own personality to the piece whilst still keeping in mind the great saxophonist it was written for and to do justice to this great piece. I hope you can make it to the QEH next Sunday or failing that, tune in live to BBC Radio 3.
LINKS: Details and tickets for Sunday’s concert
BBC programme including the Concerto
2013 Interview with Iain Ballamy about the Gary Carpenter saxophone concerto
The Concerto for Stan Getz at Novello – includes sound clip