Photo credit: Iza Korsak
SEAN GIBBS is a trumpeter, composer, band leader, graduate of the Tommy Smith Youth Orchestra and National Youth Orchestra of Scotland, and a first class honours alumnus of the Royal Birmingham Conservatoire where he won the BMus Jazz Prize in 2015. His suite, Burns, for the Birmingham Jazz Orchestra attracted glowing reviews. Now he has a new, smaller band, Fervour, a new album, Taking Flight, coming out next month and a linked six-date England tour. He spoke to Peter Bacon.
LondonJazz News: After spending a few years in Birmingham, studying and then staying on, you’ve moved even further south to London. How is that working out? And do you miss Brum?
Sean Gibbs: I’m really enjoying London so far! It’s been great to play with some new musicians and experience a new scene. I’ve particularly enjoyed playing in Calum Gourlay’s monthly big band residency at The Vortex. It features an incredible line-up, and the arrangements (mostly Calum’s) are pretty special. I’ve been fortunate to contribute a couple of my own charts too.
I still keep close links to the Birmingham scene, through my band Fervour, Young Pilgrims and the Stella Roberts Sextet. It’s not really that far away, so I’ve been back quite regularly. The main thing I miss is the Tuesday night session at The Spotted Dog, which has quite a unique community spirit (not to mention the drink prices…). One of the London scene’s biggest strengths however, is the sheer number of great gigs happening every night of the week.
LJN: Your new band Fervour has some old friends in the line-up. How did you choose them – and why?
SG: I started the band in 2016, whilst living in Birmingham. It features Ben Lee (guitar), Andy Bunting (piano), Nick Jurd (bass) and Euan Palmer (drums) alongside myself on trumpet. I felt these players would suit the vibe of the music, but also be unafraid to add their own ideas into the mix. It’s a thrill to play with them, and I feel like we push each other to new heights each time we perform. There’s also a certain trust that comes with improvising with musicians that you’ve played with for years.
LJN: I read that Fervour’s music “draws on the jazz tradition alongside… blues, rock and more. Can you expand a little. What are the main influences on your writing/arranging and how does this band differ from previous bands you’ve led? Or maybe it doesn’t?
SG: I’d say that my writing style is heavily rooted in the jazz tradition. The album features a variety of different influences from this tradition – including hard bop, modal jazz, bebop and New Orleans second line. What holds it all together for me is a strong connection to the blues. This is present in the vast majority of the music that I enjoy.
I’ve spent a lot of time writing for big band in the past, and one of the ways in which this project differs from previous ones is that improvisation is more at the forefront. The flexibility of a quintet can allow for greater interaction and more things being set in the moment. This project is also perhaps more centred around groove than previous bands of mine. Alongside swing and New Orleans grooves, I’ve embraced elements of blues rock music. I’ve always loved the earthiness that this provides, and a current influence in this vein would be the Tedeschi Trucks Band (check out their amazing Tiny Desk Concert if you haven’t). I can’t get enough of the grittiness and honesty present in their music, and would love for some of that to come across in my own way.
LJN: You’ve been successful in getting some ACE support for the album and tour. Was the application process fairly straightforward? Did you seek advice before applying? And why do you think they gave you the money?
SG: I’d never applied for funding before, so I was quite daunted at first. Thankfully, the Arts Council England website provided lots of helpful information, and I received some invaluable advice from Phil Woods of [Birmingham promoters] Jazzlines. I must admit that I was pleasantly surprised to receive funding at the first time of asking, and can only assume that they saw some artistic potential in the project. I think the fact that my Robert Burns-inspired big band album had received positive reviews (LJN review) and some radio play must have helped, and the CV of each of the musicians in the band showed some strong credentials.
LJN: When is the album out, and where can we all buy it? And will you just be playing this music on the tour? Or is there more?
SG: The album is released on 5 April. You can hear a preview track and pre-order the album (in both physical and digital formats) here. It will also be available on Itunes and Amazon once it’s released. Better still, come down to a gig on the tour and grab a copy there! We’ll mainly be playing the material from the album on the tour, with a couple of surprises thrown in. I’m really looking forward to playing with the band again, and can’t wait to hear how the music evolves from night to night.
LINK: Sean Gibbs’ website