PREVIEW FEATURE : Pete Churchill (Academy Big Band at Duke’s Hall, 19 Nov 2017)

Pete Churchill
Photo credit: Karen Hatch

As part of the Royal Academy of Music’s Academy’s Jazz @ 30 celebrations and tying in with the 2017 EFG London Jazz Festival, PETE CHURCHILL will be directing a concert in RAM’s Duke’s Hall hat is, to all intents and purposes, a ‘retrospective’ of his writing over several years. Pete writes:

I always thought you had to die to get a ‘retrospective’. Clearly that’s not always the case… Anyway, I thought it might be interesting to scribble a few thoughts.

The planning for this concert has been a real challenge – a task both thrilling and daunting. Thrilling, because as a composer it is a rare privilege to be asked to present a concert of entirely your own music and to have it played by a crack ensemble! And the Academy Big Band is truly a ‘crack’ ensemble – an astonishing collection of talented musicians. Daunting, because I am writing for a band populated entirely by my own composition students!

At the Royal Academy, every jazz student is a composition student. They produce an enormous amount of original music all year, every year… all of which gets played and much of which is featured in their final recitals. (As our distinguished guitar teacher, John Parricelli, once said to me in a candid moment: “If we don’t write music, what are people going to play in 50 years’ time?”.)

These students are all trained to be creative, original and, above all, critical musicians – so it would be foolish of me to expect an easy ride! No pressure there then!

However, when Nick Smart offered me the gig, even as all of the above crowded my mind, I immediately said ‘yes’. Having said ‘yes’ I then had to try and imagine what a ‘retrospective’ concert might look and sound like.


Jazz composition is hugely dependant on the people who play it. It really only comes to life when the players lift the music off the page and, crucially, when the improvisers get involved. So I began by thinking of who, besides the Academy Big Band I would like to have on stage beside me.

London Vocal Project  has been together for almost ten years now and so much of my writing in that time has been almost exclusively for them. I am so grateful that they have agreed to be there and to take on the music I have written for them. They’re incredible. Being also a singer and a songwriter I knew that if it was truly to be a retrospective then that part of my output had to be represented as well. I am extraordinarily lucky to have Mishka Adams to sing the songs I write – and so I have persuaded her to step out of LVP from time to time to do just that.

Last, but certainly not least, both Mark Lockheart an Nikki Iles have a long history with the LVP having recorded with us on Kenny Wheeler’s Mirrors -an album of his beautiful poetry settings – and they have both agreed, with the minimum of cajoling, to be part of this concert as well.


I think it was Benjamin Britten who once said that he considered himself an ‘occasional’ composer – meaning his job, as a composer in society, was to compose for whatever ‘occasion’ arose. When I graduated from the Guildhall PostGrad Course 30 years ago, I simply wanted to work… to be ‘useful’. Taking a leaf out of Benjamin Britten’s book I have tried, above all, to bear that in mind… and to make myself as useful as possible.

Conservatoires may have originally been established to prepare graduates for what is now called a ‘platform’ career as performers, but it is clear that if most of us are to survive as musicians we will need to entertain the thought of a ‘portfolio’ career and find a range of musical activities to occupy ourselves.

With that in mind I have chosen a wide variety of music for this concert on 19 December – music that stretches from charts I wrote several decades ago for the BBC Big Band, through to the the more recent extended pieces for contemporary jazz orchestra (including a new commission) – with Mark Lockheart as the featured soloist. On the way there will be re-workings of 16th century madrigals, settings of Shakespeare for choir and big band, and selections from the narrated song-cycles (epic ‘groove’ oratorios!) that I’ve been writing regularly for massed choirs of all ages at the Albert Hall, every two years since 2005.

So that’s it! Please come if you can.

As for whether there is any more music to come… I remember a wonderful TV commercial a few years ago for a certain Australian lager, where a tourist plucked up the courage to ask an outback farmer if he’d been farming sheep all his life. The answer was: “Not yet!”

LINKS: Academy Big Band at Duke’s Hall, 4pm on 19 November 2017 – booking details

London Vocal Project

Mishka Adams

Mark Lockheart

Nikki Iles

Categories: miscellaneous

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