|Theo Jackson. Photo credit: Sean Mason|
The new album “Shoeless and the Girl” by Singer/pianist/songwriter THEO JACKSON is about to be released and will be launched at St James Studio on Apr 18th 2015. Sebastian interviewed him:
LondonJazz News: Let’s start with the new album. You’ve focused on portraying different characters and their experiences. Was that a deliberate plan?
Theo Jackson: It wasn’t a pre-meditated decision to focus on characters and their stories. I found some years back that I often write more freely when I am writing from others’ perspectives. I think it is because the degree of separation allows me to speak with a vulnerability which I would struggle with were it to be directly from my own perspective.There are a few characters on the album which I really love and connect with.
LJN: Can you tell us about some of them?
TJ: Lonesome George is a song which seems to particularly catch people’s imagination. It is from the point of view of the famous Galapagos tortoise who was found in the early 70s and lived out the last forty years of his life as the very last one of his sub-species. The song is something of a lovelorn ballad in the first person from George’s perspective. I find it interesting that this song seems to be enjoyed to such an extent by non- jazz fans. It is geeky writing in a lot of ways – consistently odd time signatures, subtle cross-rhythms and slightly dissonant use of extensions in the melody – but it serves to give it a slightly other-worldly quality which, alongside the subject matter, hopefully has an endearing appeal.
LJN: And “Bella’s Coming Home”?
TJ: That story was inspired by a young lady that I passed on the street in Brixton late one night after a gig. She was only 17 or 18 years old. She had clearly been crying a lot and continued to do so as she walked, carrying what looked to have been all of her possessions in an old school gym bag into which her name was stitched – Bella. I never spoke to her but I pieced together a story from the scene and the song is from the perspective of her parents who, having been through the agony of her running away from home, have heard from her by phone and are looking forward to receiving her back into their home
LJN: There are two Wayne Shorter compositions with your words. How did those evolve?
TJ: The first – a well-loved standard called Footprints – was lyricized by my good friend, collaborator and producer of the album, Giazonne Reyes. I edited and added a little to his lyric, which rather beautifully describes a recurring dream he used to have. I re-arranged the tune and I think that our version has a good vibe.
The second tune of Mr Shorter’s on the album is a beautiful piece called Wild Flower which I set lyrics to and played solo on the album. I’m chuffed that Wayne Shorter signed off on both sets of lyrics.
LJN: And you sing one song in French. What’s your story there?
TJ: That song is actually older than all of the others on the album – I’ve been singing I Won’t Care in English for some years now. It is a lyric from the point of view of an ageing womaniser whose behaviour has become sadly pathological. I have recorded the song several times before and was keen to try something new with it so I asked the wonderful singer Gabrielle Ducomble to help me adapt the lyrics to French. She did a fantastic job. It wasn’t as simple as translating – there are internal rhymes and fairly strict syllabic structures to the lyric which she navigated expertly.
My French is far from perfect but I speak a little and it was fun having a go at it. Gabrielle gave me some notes on my performance in French and I look forward to exploring that language more in future.
LJN: You now have a regular bass / drums pairing. Readers probably won’t know either bassist Huntly Gordon or drummer Marco Quarantotto, so please introduce us. How did you get to know them?
TJ: On both a musical and personal level these guys have become an integral part of my outlook. By the time I brought us together we only had a month before we went into the studio and the other two had never met. It was a risk which has paid off better than I could have reasonably expected. They have been unwaveringly dedicated and have contributed significantly in an artistic sense.
Aside from being a terrific drummer, Marco, who is Croatian, has the particularly Eastern-European ability to completely confuse me with his dead-pan eyes. Is he kidding? You’ll never know.
At 23 years old Huntly is the baby of the group. He arrived in London just over a year ago from Sydney via Shanghai and is quickly being recognised as an emerging talent. His own group is just starting to make a stir on the scene.
LJN: Who else is on the album?
TJ: The album also features some fantastic horn players. Nathaniel Facey and I have collaborated for quite a few years now and the altoist blows up a storm on the opening track of the album to get us underway. Leo Richardson contributes two beautiful tenor solos and Quentin Collins makes a cameo appearance on flugelhorn on the title track.
A major contribution came from another name that the London jazz scene won’t yet be familiar with – Giazonne Reyes. We met back in University and ever since we have collaborated. Giazonne has been a high-achieving choral singer but is finally turning his eye to jazz on a full-time basis, primarily as a fantastic bass player, although he is a man of many talents.
LJN: Who are Dot Time Records?
TJ: I signed with Dot Time Records in Summer 2014. They are a small label based in New York run by two guys with a real passion for music and musicians. They’ve recently signed another UK artist – guitarist Maciek Pysz. I’m particularly looking forward to appearing at jazzahead! in Germany courtesy of Dot Time as part of their showcase on the 25th April.
LJN: Take us back in time and tell us about the formal and not-so-formal music education you received?
TJ: I read Music at Durham University but it was far from a jazz course. It was also more of an academic course rather than performance-oriented. I learnt a lot about classical music which I am very grateful for but in terms of jazz learning my main influence was a tutor from outside the University called Sandi Russell.
She has been a mentor to me ever since and I would highly recommend her albums, particularly Incandescent. Sandi gave me real instruction in jazz vocals, interpreting a lyric and vocal performance but just as importantly she helped me learn about the history of the music and the traditions. The texts she gave me to read were more likely to be biographical than musicological or instructional and I think that was very valuable.
When I left University Sandi gave me a huge compendium called Reading Jazz which comprises hundreds of articles, essays, biographies and anecdotes which I would recommend to any jazz fan or student. I’ve read it several times over now but it still sits proudly on the shelf in my bedroom for occasional night-time top-ups.
LJN: Listening. Do you ever put on records by other singer songwriters to fix onto particular moods / whom do you admire?
TJ: I’m listening all the time and yeah it is always based upon moods. I love the tradition of great jazz song-writers like Duke Ellington, Billy Strayhorn and Cole Porter, but more and more I am listening to song-writers such as Jeff Buckley, Tom Waits, Joni Mitchell, Stevie Wonder, Bill Withers, Donny Hathaway etc.
There are also some contemporary artists who are regulars on my hi-fi: Becca Stevens, Gretchen Parlato, Ambrose Akinmusire, Hiatus Kaiyote, Liane La Havas and Gotye (Huntly showed me that Gotye is about a lot more than just their massive hit, Somebody That I Used To Know).
LJN: Where/ when is the launch?
TJ: We are releasing the album Shoeless and the Girl on 14th April and the launch gig is at St James Theatre Studio near Victoria Station on Saturday 18th April.