|Sam Braysher and Michael Kanan
Photo credit: John Rogers
A childhood fascination with marching bands set SAM BRAYSHER on his way to becoming an alto saxophonist, an Artist Fellow at the Guildhall School of Music and Drama and now the first British bandleader to record for Fresh Sound New Talent, the Barcelona-based label that launched the careers of Brad Mehldau, Robert Glasper, Ambrose Akinmusire and Kurt Rosenwinkel. Feature by Rob Adams:
“I had a toy saxophone when I was a kid and was determined that I was going to become a saxophone player from pretty early on,” says Braysher, who comes from Dereham, near Norwich and progressed to alto from early recorder lessons and then, after playing in school bands came through the same big band in Norwich that produced Kit Downes and George Crowley.
While many young players see the alto as a stepping stone to the tenor saxophone, Braysher preferred to stay with the alto.
“I liked the sound and the feel of it,” he says. “It’s not that I didn’t like the tenor. I listened to a lot of tenor players – Stan Getz and Lester Young were particular favourites – but I felt comfortable with the alto and I suppose like everybody else I loved Charlie Parker, who’s definitely a key influence along with other altoists including Lee Konitz.”
At the Guildhall he was contemporaries with musicians including the guitarists Nick Costley-White and Will Arnold-Forster (guitar), and drummer Dave Ingamells, and found the creative environment very inspiring. It certainly prepared him well – he won Chartered Surveyors’ Prize as well as becoming an Artist Fellow – for the work he now does as a freelance, playing widely across the jazz spectrum with pianist Barry Green, saxophonist Pete Hurt and fellow Guildhall graduate, trumpeter Barney Lowe’s big band. He also gigs frequently in classic jazz settings and has worked with composer John Warren and the London Jazz Orchestra.
“I like to play in different styles,” says Braysher, whose regular gigs include an authentic 1920s/1930s dance band led by Alex Mendham which has residency at the Savoy Hotel. “And I particularly enjoy the challenge of playing in a certain style but still sounding like myself rather than imitating someone from that era.”
His first recording for Fresh Sound New Talent, Golden Earrings, showcases Braysher’s interest in exploring lesser-known material from the Great American Songbook and features him in a duo with New York-based pianist Michael Kanan, who has accompanied singers including Jimmy Scott and Jane Monheit and collaborated with guitarists Peter Bernstein and Kurt Rosenwinkel.
“Michael’s a real authority on the Great American Songbook and likes to dig deeper into the jazz canon, which is what I like to do too, because there are so many neglected gems there,” says Braysher. “I met him on a trip to New York in 2014 and we struck up a friendship based on our shared interest in going off the beaten track for material.”
Kanan, who teaches at an annual summer school in Spain, introduced Braysher to Fresh Sound New Talent and suggested using his own rehearsal/performance space in Brooklyn, The Drawing Room, for the recording.
It features pieces by Jerome Kern, Nat ‘King’ Cole, Victor Young, Duke Ellington and Tadd Dameron, as well as one original composition, and rather than consulting existing jazz versions of tunes such as Dancing in the Dark, Braysher listened to the original ‘pop’ recordings of the songs, looked at sheet music and learned the lyrics in a bid to discover the composers’ original intentions.
“There are often stories behind these songs that we don’t necessarily get to know these days unless we go looking for them,” he says. “These can give you an insight into what lay behind the composition and suggest ways of interpreting the songs that we hadn’t thought about, and I find that fascinating.”
Golden Earrings is released on September 1 and to mark the release, Braysher and Kanan will be playing eight concerts in seven days, culminating in the official launch date at the Vortex in Dalston on 13 September.
“We’re playing four duo gigs and four with Dario Di Lecce on double bass and Steve Brown on drums,” says Braysher. “It’s quite a hectic tour but I’m really looking forward to taking the music out on the road and seeing how it develops.”
LINKS: Golden Earrings will be available from Jordi Pujol’s Fresh Sound New Talent label
The launch is at the Vortex on 13 September – TOUR DATES