DOUBLE INTERVIEW: Martin Speake and Scott Stroman (Twins at 60 at the Vortex, 6 April)

Martin Speake (L) and Scott Stroman

Saxophonist MARTIN SPEAKE and conductor/singer/formerly trombonist SCOTT STROMAN were born on precisely the same day in 1958, and are about to celebrate a significant birthday. With a Vortex gig and joint celebration planned for 6 April, they explained the background to Sebastian:

LondonJazz News: For people who don’t know you please can you tell us a bit about your main musical activities

Martin Speake: These are some of the collaborations I have been involved with.

I have 20 CDs out under my own name of many diverse projects from improvised duos with Mark Sanders, Faith Brackenbury, Douglas Finch. Jazz standard ballads with Ethan Iverson and another with Colin Oxley. Trio with Indian musicians Dharambir Singh and Sarvar Sabri called Trishul.

Three tours with my quartet with US drummer Paul Motian and we made ECM CD Change Of Heart with Paul, Bobo Stenson and Mick Hutton.

Charlie Parker project with Mike Outram, Simon Thorpe and Dave Wickins.

Secret Quartet with Nikki Iles and Canadians Duncan Hopkins and Anthony Michelli.

Fever Pitch playing Arabic and Indian inspired music with Chris Batchelor, Stuart Hall, Oren Marshall, Paul Clarvis, Dawson Miller, Dave Hassell.

This band lay dormant for years and I resurrected it in recent years as a four-piece called Mafarowi with Rob Luft, Faith Brackenbury and Will Glaser.

Thelonious with Hans Koller, Calum Gourlay and James Maddren or Jeff Williams playing the music of Monk. We toured with guest Steve Cardenas and an album will be out later this year. Trio with Mike Outram and Jeff Williams which is still ongoing. The other bands are past projects.

John Ashton Thomas wrote a piece called 7 Blake songs for choir and my trio. Recorded but not released yet. London Jazz Orchestra monthly at the Vortex.

Fred Thomas Polyphonic Jazz Band with Fred on bass, Phil Stevenson guitar and Mick Foster baritone and gigs with Phelan Burgoyne drums. Using the methods of Bach’s counterpoint on jazz standard songs.

Phelan Burgoyne’s trio with Rob Luft. Wonderful atmospheric, improvised and ambient original music which takes its time in unfolding.

Scott Stroman: Ever since I was a kid I’ve generated or been involved in projects that span genres from jazz to classical and world music. I write in both worlds, sing jazz, conduct classical orchestras, choirs and opera, direct jazz bands, teach in both… I came up as a trombone player and singer, playing with Dizzy while in college, Billy Cobham, etc., but Bell’s Palsy put my trombone playing out of action, so now I concentrate on singing, which I always did in those bands as well. I’ve written masses of music, including tunes, large-scale suites for jazz orchestra and choirs, a jazz musical and recently Fever Pitch the Opera, which pulled it all together. I suppose I’m also known for my work at Guildhall, where I developed the jazz course, was Head for 24 years, and am still really loving teaching and directing the jazz orchestras and singing groups.

LJN: How did the two of you you first meet?

MS: Not sure. Maybe at GSMD as Scott has been there for many years and i have taught there on and off over the years.

SS: We sort of inhabited different musical worlds for a long time, bumping into each other from time to time. As I recall, we met properly in Santiago, Spain, at a jazz educators’ conference and hung out a bit. I’d always admired Martin for all the wonderful tours and recordings he instigated, as well as for the way his playing seemed to grow and grow. He did some things at Guildhall, we invited him to join the LJO when the lead alto chair opened up, and we’ve gone from there. We first put together the “Twins” group a couple of years ago.

LJN: When did you first work out you had the same birthday?

MS: Not that long ago. Several years maybe? I am intrigued by birth dates and the particular energy that people have because of birth dates. Scott and I must have some similarities but we seem quite different people on the surface. Who knows?

SS: Once we started working together regularly we got to know about each other’s personal lives quite soon – both of us are rather open and thought-provoking. I suppose some philosophical discussion led to us discovering it several years ago.

LJN: What led you to choose this trio to work with?

MS: I suggested Calum (Gourlay) as I have worked with him a lot over years and in particular in Thelonious learning Monk’s music together with Hans Koller.

Scott booked Winston Clifford whom I rarely play with but always enjoy when we do.

Nikki Iles, both Scott and I have played with in different projects and it has been many years for me so I am very pleased she is free for this date.

SS: Ditto. We took turns suggesting some of our favourite top-drawer players.

LJN: What led you in the direction of Ellington for this celebration?

MS: I first thought let’s do some songs from a classic album, Coltrane and Johnny Hartman, and others were mentioned when we discussed it but Scott suggested Ellington/ Strayhorn and this seemed right so this is a good excuse for me to learn these tunes.

SS: We both like classic collaborations, composer portraits, and themed programmes. In other groups we both play lots of original music, we thought we’d indulge ourselves with some great classics. April also happens to be Ellington’s birthday month, and Strayhorn is a huge influence on us both. We’re going to take a free-wheeling approach; everyone know the tunes before the gig and then we improvise the performance

LJN: And what was the first tune you fixed on and why?

MS: There wasn’t one but Scott sent me a list for two sets and included tunes I had heard but not learnt such as A Flower Is A Lovesome Thing and Something To Live For.

SS: I suggested a list, as the lyrics are equally important and I’ve got to deliver them. Solitude was the starting point for me as Ellington always programmed it when he worked with a singer. After that, the Strayhorn songs above jumped to the top of the list.

LJN: Will you perform mostly together or separately?

MS: Together for the most part but maybe a feature each too.

SS: Just what Martin says – we don’t want to pre-plan too much.

LJN: Have you both been doing arrangements ? 

MS: No arrangements. Just agreeing on the keys and short rehearsal on the day to keep it loose and spontaneous,

SS: No arrangements, no set styles, no planning other than booking the best players and choosing the songs and keys. I really dig the spontaneity of creating everything as you go along. Call it up, count it in, or just start and see where it goes.

LJN: You have all kinds of other projects on the go – like 60 must be the new 27. What else have you  got coming up that listeners should look forward to or even start booking?

MS: I have a UK tour from 20 April to 4 May with my quartet featuring Ethan Iverson, Fred Thomas and James Maddren. London gigs are 24 and 25 April at Pizza Express Dean St. CD release Intention on Ubuntu Records will coincide with this tour. Details on Facebook or my website

SS: My next project is writing and directing a new opera, The Weekend, based on a play by Michael Palin; we’re well into this and he is great to be working with. I’ve got some nice conducting to do here and in France, including (finally!) Beethoven’s 9th Symphony (LINK). I’m directing a great Miles Davis/Gil Evans project with Marvin Stamm and Robbie Robson at Guildhall in July (LINK), and a concert of Nikki and Stan Sulzmann’s music in May (LINK).

LINK: Vortex bookings for TWINS on 6 April

Categories: miscellaneous

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