JONNY MANSFIELD is a vibes player from Yorkshire. Still an undergraduate student at the Royal Academy of Music, his plans for a debut album – and even for a launch tour after he graduates – are already clearly mapped out. Sebastian found out more. With thanks to Matt Sulzmann:
LondonJazz News: Where are you from?
Johnny Mansfield: I’m from a village called Shepley just south of Huddersfield.
LJN: Are you from a musical family?
JM: Yes my parents are both musicians. My Mum plays the oboe and Dad the bass trombone and they teach for Kirklees and Rotherham Music Services. I have two older brothers who are both musical so I’ve been pretty spoilt with a huge variety of music going on around the house.
LJN: There is strong musical activity in the area….
JM: I think in Yorkshire generally there’s a strong musical presence whether it’s from the amazing music services, the great jazz clubs and promoters or the famous brass band scene. I was really fortunate to play in the local youth big band doing Marsden Jazz Festival once a year and taking part in trips down to Birmingham Symphony hall to play in the Music For Youth Festival. I also enjoyed my years playing in Kirklees Youth Orchestra.
LJN: You took up a place at the specialist music school Chethams at the age of (14) and spent four years there. Was there much jazz going on?
JM: Yes, loads! Luckily for me, when I started they had a big intake of jazz students so there were many opportunities even though I was primarily studying classical percussion. I became involved in Steve Berry‘s mind blowing improv classes and Les Chisnall’s theory classes. Richard Iles took the big band which was really fun and Iain Dixon did transcription classes but I wasn’t up to them at the time. The Head of Brass, Percussion and Jazz, David Chatterton got some amazing people to come in and do classes. We had legends like Mike Walker and Gwilym Simcock come in to teach a handful of students.
LJN: What was your plan when you left school / how come you ended up on a jazz course ?
JM: After school I was really happy to gain a place to study classical percussion at the Royal Academy of Music. Then, in the Summer between Chethams and starting at RAM I participated on the National Youth Jazz Collective and was in a group lead by Nick Smart and Jim Hart.
Throughout the course of the week I fully caught the jazz bug and moved to the dark side, and subsequently I was offered a place on the Jazz course. I haven’t thought twice about it since and I still love listening to all genres of music.
LJN: What stage are you at in your undergrad studies now?
JM: I’m just starting my fourth and final year. I’m really excited to get stuck into the Big band writing lessons with Pete Churchill. We’re playing a whole set of Pete’s music at London Jazz Festival with the Academy Big band on the 19th of November in the Dukes Hall at RAM.
LJN: And you have started quite a large group. Why this big?
JM: Yes! Elftet, there’s eleven of us! Before I put this band together I was mainly writing for a quartet of vibes, guitar, bass and drums but always planned on expanding it, adding trumpet, trombone and two saxes. Around the time that I put Elftet together I started to get into the music of Marius Neset, in particular the albums Birds and Pinball. He uses some strings on his recordings, not like full string sections that are used in old school vocal arrangements, but individual players and I really liked that sound. Last but not least there’s Ella Hohnen-Ford who is an amazing singer and adds a whole other dimension to the music. I’ve later realised that most people in the band play more than one instrument, which brings a load more toys into the mix!
|Jonny Mansfield and Chris Potter at Band on the Wall in April 2017
Photo credit: JP Brown
LJN: What is the highest profile gig you have done to date?
JM: I was really fortunate to play with Chris Potter as part of the Band on the Wall/Brighter Sounds Jazz Directors project. It was a week long with intensive rehearsals followed by four dates around the North. We played a whole new set of music that Chris had especially written for an eleven piece ensemble (which included piano, guitar, vibes, electric bass, acoustic bass, drums, a string quartet and Chris). The rest of the band was equally mind blowing and I felt pretty out of my depth but it was such an amazing experience and I learnt so much from playing his music alongside him.
LJN: And as a result of that you will have Chris Potter… on this record?!
JM: Yes! Crazy. Over the course of the week, I’d been writing a tune and increasingly started thinking about Chris soloing over this specific bit so I asked him if he was up for it and he said yes! I really can’t wait to do it!
LJN: You have found some words for a vocal part – what poems did you choose and why?
JM: I found some Mother Goose poetry for this tune called Wings that I’d written. The poem I stumbled on called Burnie Bee is about a ladybird taking off. Apparently when a lady bird lands on you, you’re supposed to say the poem before blowing it off. I thought that the poem worked really well as lyrics as it enhances the music. I like that the Mother Goose poetry has a folklore aspect to it and that some of the music is heavily folk influenced, it ties it all together.
LJN: Where/ when will you record?
JM: We’re recording at Peter Gabriel’s Real World Studios this September.
LJN: And a vibes player is involved in the album- but not playing??
JM: Yes I’m so happy that my teacher Jim Hart is going to produce the album. Not only have I always been endlessly inspired by him but leaving Jim to make all the decisions will allow me to concentrate on my own playing on the album.
|The Elftet at the Bulls Head|
LJN: Who else will be on the album?
JM: Alongside Chris Potter, I’m also beyond excited to have Gareth Lockrane featuring on a track. As I said before, most of the band play more than one instrument so that track will include four flutes! I was really honoured to put some marimba onto a track on Gareth’s recent big band album, so he owes me one! (Just kidding).
I’m also extremely happy that we’ve got Alex Bonney engineering and mixing the recording. Some of my favourite recent albums have been mixed by Alex. In particular, fellow vibes player Ralph Wyld’s Subterranea album, it sounds so full!
In the band we have –
Ella Hohnen Ford – Vocals & Flute
James Davison – Trumpet and Flugel
Tom Smith – Alto,Tenor Sax and Flute
George Millard – Tenor Sax, Bass Clarinet and Flute
Rory Ingham – Trombone
Dom Ingham – Violin, Vocals
Laura Armstrong – Cello
Oliver Mason – Guitar
Jonny Mansfield – Vibraphone
Will Harris – Acoustic and Electric Bass
Boz Martin-Jones – Drums
When we get together, it’s really hard to get anything done because we all get on so well and want to catch up but I think that comes through in the music so it’s not all bad.
LJN: And you seem to be VERY organized: I heard that you already have a 2018 tour for after you graduate booked in for the band?
JM: Haha, I think it’s more that I’m pretty determined to try and get this band and my music to a larger audience. I’ve got a handful of dates in for September 2018 and am trying to patch in the gaps at the moment. Then there’s the task of applying for an Arts Council Grant. One step at a time though.
LJN: What benefits will people get if they sign up for the Crowdfunder?
JM: There’s loads of rewards on the Crowdfunder page! Ranging from a pre-order of the CD to coming to sit in on the recording session or a private duo gig with members from Elftet. There’s loads so have a look at the Crowdfunder page.
LJN: Where do they go to sign up?