|Alex Hitchcock Quintet at Green Note
(L-R): Will Barry, Jay Davis, Alex Hitchcock, Joe Downard, James Copus
Photo credit and © Matthew Pannell’
Saxophonist ALEX HITCHCOCK and his quintet will be at Omnibus Clapham on Sunday March 19th. In his mid-twenties, he is a very strong player, but also a pro-active musician with a impressively broad sense of what needs to be done to make music happen. He is part of the team programming the jazz on Sunday nights the Green Note in Camden. In this interview interview with Sebastian previewing the Omnibus date, the conversation started with the background to the videos that have been made of the Alex Hitchcock Quintet:
LondonJazz News: Can you talk about / introduce one of the videos of the band?
Alex Hitchcock: These videos were filmed at the Green Note during last year’s London Jazz Festival. The sense of spontaneity and excitement on gigs up to that point had been really strong, which is a natural consequence, I guess, of travelling around playing music with people who are close friends as much as they are musical colleagues. We wanted to capture this, and Green Note being a photogenic type of place, it seemed a good opportunity. It turned out to be a really fulfilling collaboration with film-maker and promoter Tom Sankey, who is a genuine stalwart of the London scene.
I’d seen his work with Binker and Moses (LINK) and thought his visual approach and creative open-mindedness would be perfect in drawing things out of the compositions and I think this worked well, especially with the more adventurous videography he uses on ‘Happy Ending’.
AH (cont.): Bandleaders like Maria Chiara Argirò are using visual animation to great effect (LINK) which is something I had in mind. The other tune, ‘Gift Horse’ (below) – the type whose teeth you’re not supposed to inspect – has a Barak Schmool-inspired Easter egg at the end, which feels fitting as four of us studied with him at the Academy.
LJN: This kind of band really develops by playing gigs. And yet as leader you also have to ensure that a paying audience is getting something more than a heads-buried-in-the-sheet-music rehearsal. How?!
That’s a fair point. Something that stuck with me was hearing Ambrose Akinmusire say that his band doesn’t really get to rehearse new music given their busy schedules – they see the music for the first time on the soundcheck and play it in over the course of gigs together. Tony Malaby even has his ‘Reading Band’ where the whole point is to play a gig’s worth of original music that no-one in the band (aside from the composer) has seen before.
In any case, we definitely do rehearse as a band! For us, there’s a balance to be struck, playing for a paying audience – but I think the element of risk-taking or uncertainty that results from that approach can be really exciting. I try and bring at least one new chart to each gig for that reason, and hopefully it’s exciting for the band and audience to know they’ll be playing or hearing something new! Omnibus is our first gig in London this year so there will be lots of new music we haven’t gigged before, and we have the wonderful Liam Dunachie stepping in for Will Barry, so it will be great to hear what he brings to the music.
LJN: What other gigs does the quintet have?
AH: We’re looking forward to playing in the summer in the Elgar Room at the Royal Albert Hall, and making our festival debut at Love Supreme, which has its usual eclectic mix of programming. We’re also playing at Cambridge Modern Jazz Club, who are currently in the middle of a really interesting ’Next Generation’ programme of younger musicians, and at guitar hero Mike de Souza’s new night at the Lord Palmerston in Tufnell Park. It’s great that there’s another weekly night in north London especially as George Crowley’s Jazz at the Oxford, which was a real institution, isn’t running at the moment – I hope lots of people go and check it out!
LJN: And there is a ship on the Danube…. and a bear in Bedfordshire?
AH: Ha! Later on in the year we’re off to Krakow and then Budapest, where we’re playing at A38, a decommissioned Ukrainian stone hauler ship-turned-nightclub, which is permanently moored on the Danube. I’ve played in Budapest once before and the warmth and enthusiasm from the audience there was really striking so I can’t wait to go back. We’re also back at the wonderful Bear Club in Luton, where we played our first gig as a band in October last year. They have a huge, snaggle-toothed, open-mouthed bear painted on the back wall of the stage and I was able to fill the gaps between tunes by talking about its resemblance to Jay, which was completely unfair. I’m looking forward to making the same joke when we play there again in June.
LJN: Do you have any plans to make an album?
AH: The plan is to make two live recordings over two nights towards the end of this year, or early next.
LJN: What other projects do you personally have in the pipeline?
AH: In April I’ll be going on a mini-tour in Europe with three great musicians I met last summer in Boston at David Liebman’s IASJ conference. They are Lex Korten (US) on piano, Raphael Royer (FR) on bass and Carmine Casciello (IT) on drums; we’re all contributing compositions for the band so it will be a really wide mix of writing styles. We’re rehearsing in Paris before playing for six nights across France, Italy, and the Netherlands. Like many other musicians I suspect, I’m keen to play in Europe as much as possible, both because it’s probably going to become harder to do that within the next few years, and because maintaining relationships and solidarity between the London scene and its various counterparts on the continent feels like a priority at the moment, as much in a musical context as anywhere else.
Along with Ronan Perrett, I’m working on the Green Note’s programme within the EFG London Jazz Festival in November – we’ll be maintaining the high level of ambition in the programming after fantastic performances from people like Miguel Gorodi and Ben van Gelder last year. And of course leading up to that we have the likes of Luna Cohen, Alex Merritt and Robert Mitchell coming up in the monthly series, as well as a swinging double bill from Will Arnold-Forster and Simon Read.
LJN: Who are the teachers who have left their mark on you?
AH: My first teacher was Katie Brown, who had me on a strict diet of bebop through the likes of Charlie Parker, Cannonball and Phil Woods. She also sent me down to Pizza Express on Dean Street to watch her husband Steve (Brown, the brilliant drummer) play with Scott Hamilton which was really eye-opening at an early age. I learned a lot from lessons with Mornington Lockett, who is an incredible musician and can do things with Messiaen modes that border on the obscene.
Then more recently, I’ve been lucky enough to learn with flute maestro Gareth Lockrane, and benefited hugely from his incredibly infectious enthusiasm and total dedication to musical detail. Also, spending a small amount of time around Dave Liebman both last summer and when he had a residency at the Academy was very interesting as I don’t think I’d ever been properly exposed to someone that hard-line before! Which I mean entirely as a good thing – the standards he expects are really high and he very much has the same meticulous attention to detail thing going on too.
LJN: You come across as player with great fluency as an improviser. What are the areas of your playing that have come more naturally and what have you put the time and effort into?
AH: Thanks! Like everyone else, I’ve spent a lot of time transcribing and tried to go for stylistic breadth, taking down people like Coleman Hawkins, Miguel Zenon, Peter Bernstein, Walter Smith, Paul Bley, Sam Rivers, etc. I’m definitely now putting more time and effort into developing my own approach and vocabulary, although I think at some point I think it’s worth accepting the idea that your playing is an amalgamation of everyone else’s, a sort of personal ‘greatest hits’ of everyone else’s playing.
Ben Wendel has a great idea that he calls ‘conceptual transcribing’, which captures something that happens often – hearing something you like on a gig but not knowing exactly what it was – and involves coming up with your own adapted ‘version’ of it and developing the fluency of your ideas that way.
Jaleel Shaw does something similar; he showed me pages and pages of chromatic patterns he wrote out for himself, so in practising that way you’re developing technical facility alongside a unique personal vocabulary. That sense of fluency is something I think we’re quite spoiled with amongst younger saxophonists at the moment; the natural ‘singing through the horn’ quality of someone like Nubya Garcia or Sam Rapley is something I’m admiring and envious of in equal measure.
Upcoming Gigs (FULL LIST):
19/03/17 Omnibus Arts Centre, London
10/05/17 The Lord Palmerston, London
15/06/17 Royal Albert Hall Elgar Room, London
02/07/17 Love Supreme Festival, Brighton
05/10/17 Cambridge Modern Jazz Club, Cambridge