Final year RAM student saxophonist TOM SMITH tells Sebastian Scotney about his new band which celebrates the contribution of LGBT musicians and composers to jazz.
LondonJazz News: Tom first tell us about you. You are a saxophonist close to the end of your undergrad studies?
Tom Smith: Yes that’s right, I’m a saxophonist studying in my final year at the Royal Academy of Music, I run a handful of bands which I compose and arrange for, and in 2014 and 2016 I got through to the finals of the BBC Young Jazz Musician of the Year competition. I’m a sideman in a number of exciting bands on the scene such as Jonny Mansfield’s Elftet and Joe Hill’s North Ark, I’ve been a member of the National Youth Jazz Orchestra, and I’d say my biggest joy is having as varied a musical life as possible, playing as many genres and with as many different bands and musicians as possible!
LJN: And what are your current ideas for after the studies have finished?
TS: I’m going to stay based in London and carry on gigging here as much as possible. I’ve got a number of ideas for band projects and albums that I’d love to get started as well, and I’d love to raise my profile enough that I can tour them round the country. The challenge (as it always is) will be finding a way to balance playing the music I love and making a living so I’m keen to start teaching as well.
LJN: And the background to this gig is that Omnibus in Clapham want to celebrate an anniversary?
TS: Yes, Clapham Omnibus this month is putting on Festival 96, which is a celebration of when the Pride festival came to Clapham Common in 1996, and they’ve programmed a range of theatre shows, panel discussions, concerts and poetry readings that all celebrate LGBT culture. I’m an openly gay musician and so when they reached out to me to see if I wanted to put something on at the festival I had the idea to do a set of music by LGBT jazz musicians and composers throughout history, as it’s not a topic often brought up, and it’s a large part of all of their musical identities which deserves to be celebrated. This then led to the idea that the best people to be involved in such a celebration would be LGBT musicians themselves, so this is how the Queertet was formed!
LJN: You have been researching LGBT jazz musicians and composers and the programme is based on that?
TS: It was initially a challenge researching and discovering LGBT musicians as there’s only a few who have spoken out prominently about it, a lot of names have been lost to history as well no doubt, but what was surprising was finding out how how little was known about LGBT jazz musicians. As part of my research I asked a large number of people if they knew any LGBT jazz musicians and even among history buffs the answer was mostly no.
LJN: Some names you have discovered?
TS: Some of the names I found were Cole Porter, Billy Strayhorn, Gary Burton, Ma Rainey, Bessie Smith, Cecil Taylor, Bill Stewart and Lorenz Hart
LJN: And who will perform on the gig?
TS: The band consists of Ian Shaw (vocals), myself and Matthew Herd (saxophones), Peter Lee (piano), Stephen Street (bass) and Justin Tambini (drums).
LJN: And Ian Shaw has been helpful?
TS: I met Ian through seeing him at a few late night hang outs at Ronnie Scott’s in Soho, and as a big fan of his music I was really keen to get his thoughts on the project, and then that led to him coming to perform with the band, which is honestly a dream come true! He has had a lot of ideas and suggestions for songs, composers and ideas for how we should present the music and he has helped me think bigger when it comes to the direction of the band.
LJN: And who else needs thanking?
TS: Sue Dorey and everyone at the Clapham Omnibus all need thanking for putting on such an innovative festival and for giving me the opportunity to bring this project to life, and saxophonist Alex Hitchcock needs thanking for being the one to put my name forward for this in the first place.
LJN: And you have the idea that one doesn’t do all this work for one gig – where might this project lead?
TS: I think that the very focused message in this band about diversity will resonate with a lot of people, reach a wide audience of jazz fans and non jazz fans alike, so my ultimate aim is to take this band around the country and spread the message as far and wide as we can, build up a collective of LGBT musicians who want to be involved, and invite a host of special guests to bring their thoughts and ideas in.
The Queertet is playing at Clapham Omnibus at 7:30 on 11 February.
LINK: Tickets can be bought here.