|Jessop Jessop Jessop. L-R: Daniel McConkey,
Robbie Ellison, Joe Fenning, Joe Lee, Jake Werth, Ewan Gilchrist
The music of JESSOP JESSOP JESSOP “falls within the realms of hard-bop repertoire” and is aiming to “swing hard, and to sound true to the heritage of this music, whilst still looking forward and taking risks”, says drummer Robert Ellison. The band is now a year old, has gigged extensively in the UK, and will be at Pizza Express Dean Street on Wednesday 31 January. Interview by Sebastian:
LondonJazz News: Tell us about your group – and why it is called Jessop Jessop Jessop…
Robert Ellison: Well there are a lot of bands on the scene – especially young bands – with very serious names, often ending in ‘x’, laboriously conceived to emit maximum hipness. We all found the idea of having a name that was if nothing else just quite difficult to say, really funny. Shatner’s Bassoon was already taken by a function band somewhere up north, so we ended up with Jessop Jessop Jessop. Both are quotes from a show called Brass Eye by Chris Morris, which the band unanimously endorses and recommends.
We get lots of questions about the name, to which we usually paraphrase Louis Armstrong’s quote when asked what jazz is – “If you have to ask, you’ll never know” – which is intended to whip up the same sort of media frenzy that leads to Susan Boyle’s dramatic rise to fame during Britain’s Got Talent in 2009, only this one would be fuelled by a shroud of mystery, rather than a novelty TV personality. So far we’ve had mixed success with this branch of our assault on the Top 40.
LJN: Did you all choose the name together ?
RE: It took some persuading initially, but now it just feels like an old pair of jeans.
LJN: Who’s in it? How many of you?
RE: Ewan Gilchrist, Daniel McConkey, Joe Fenning, Jacob Alexander Werth, Joe Lee, Robbie Ellison.
LJN: Is there a bandleader in the business/hustle sense?
RE: Well, we aren’t the most business-orientated of groups, we’d rather spend as much time as possible focusing on the music, but we all pitch in with booking gigs and the rest of it. Some are better than others at the admin side of things though, but they’re thankfully willing to help out the less organised when necessary. So just like with the music the important stuff is all decided as a group. The only exception is that I’m given a bit of free rein with the Facebook page. In fact one of the reasons I got into the music industry was for the glamour social media pours into the jazz world, and also I’m working on getting a commission out of Jessops camera shops for furthering their brand outreach. As I keep reminding them, seeing a word three times makes it three times more memorable.
LJN: And in the musical sense ?
RE: There’s a clear vision for playing bebop, hard-bop and post-bop material in a way that’s true to the tradition and legacy but is in no means a pastiche, to which everyone’s fully committed. This is cool because it gives us a focused sense of direction but leaves scope for everyone’s musical personality and taste, both when they solo and in the ensemble playing. Normally whoever arranged the chart will have a bit to say when they bring it in to rehearsal, but after a while it becomes a free-for-all in terms of suggestions, alterations and improvements – it’s all a group process.
LJN: Have some of you known each other for ever?
RE: I was at school with Jake Werth, which was unfortunate, so we’ve known each other for a while. Everyone else met at the Guildhall School of Music and Drama and with Jake being at The Royal Academy of Music we’d all known each other for around two years from just being in London. When Joe Fenning and I started chatting about getting a band together to play some Art Blakey and Cannonball Adderley stuff about 18 months ago, we roped in Daniel McConkey, Joe Lee and Ewan Gilchrist along with Jake, who we thought would work well together in that setting and then went from there.
We agreed at the start that if we didn’t mention our differing views on Napoleon we could keep rows and scuffles to a minimum, and get along fine. As a strategy that’s worked out pretty well.
LJN: What’s the instrumentation?
RE: Trumpet (Gilchrist), tenor saxophone (McConkey), trombone (Fenning), piano (Werth), bass (Lee) and drums (Ellison). We styled the line up in the vein of Art Blakey’s band in the early ’60s, with the three horns – Freddie Hubbard, Curtis Fuller and Wayne Shorter – which is quite a lot for a band playing material out of the hard-bop idiom, especially when it can be quite heavily arranged in places. But there’s just something about the sound of the horn section in those Blakey records that really adds another dimension; it’s really fat and brassy with vats of grease, and normally in bands of that kind there’s only one or two horns, that might even split the head and then solo individually, so you never really get that fuller, section sound. We wanted to try and get that same kind of fat horn sound and then bring in the music of other composers, from around that era, before and after, write some of our own arrangements and then try and make the whole thing swing as hard as possible. It’s such enjoyable music to play and there’s not a huge amount of bands on the scene with the same format.
LJN: How many gigs have there been?
RE: We’ve been gigging together for just over a year now and we play pretty regularly which is cool because there aren’t as many opportunities for that sort of regular thing with bands these days. We have two monthly residencies, in Brixton and Leytonstone, the details of which are on our Facebook page. We’ve played the Pizza Express – where we’re back next week – we play at Toulouse Lautrec, Leadenhall Market and all sorts of varied venues around London. But not just London, we did the Aldeburgh Festival last summer, we play quite regularly at a few venues in Kent and just all around really, we enjoy the away days.
LJN: Who’s the newest member and how is he finding it?
RE: Well we all got together at the same time, although Ewan Gilchrist joined a week or so later than the others. He once told me that he finds me both tedious and odious, but I think he’s found his stride somewhat since then.
LJN: Who’s the best looking ?
RE: Well when we started out we actually were meant to be a boy band, but that very question kept rearing its head and causing so much infighting that we opted for jazz instead. Jake Werth can run without moving his head up or down, which is a bloody convincing argument. But then again Dan McConkey has a remarkably strong neck, Joe Lee is Truro’s third most convincing Guy Fawkes lookalike, Ewan Gilchrist hoovers his garden, Joe Fenning owns the largest collection of authentic OJ Simpson memorabilia in the Turnpike Lane area, and I played the oboe at school. I guess people find different things attractive.
LJN: What’s the repertoire?
RE: It’s mainly arrangements we’ve done of compositions by people like Joe Henderson, Cedar Walton, Horace Silver, Bill Evans, Hank Mobley, Lee Morgan, Benny Golson, Cannonball Adderley and lots of others. A lot of it falls within the realms of hard-bop repertoire, and is all aiming to swing hard and sound true to the heritage of the music, whilst still looking forward and taking risks.
LJN: If the equation is “if you like x = you will like Jessop Jessop Jessop” then what would x be?
RE: The Imperial War Museum
Photo from rosinabullen.com
LJN: And we’re hearing a rumour of a guest vocalist ?
RE: Our dear friend and fabulous vocalist Rosie Bullen, who sung with us last time we played at the Pizza Express will be joing us for a few tunes in the second set. It’s always so great playing with Rosie because her musicality brings a whole new aspect to the music
LJN: One more thing: when’s the gig and can you point us where to go to book?
RE: It’s on Wednesday 31 Jan at Pizza Express Dean Street – and … HERE
Jake Werth is a contributor to various publications including LondonJazz News