|Stan Sulzmann and Nikki Iles
The Guildhall Jazz Showcase takes place over three days, 2-4 May, at Milton Court Studio Theatre. There are three ticketed evening concerts. On 3 May, Julian Siegel’s Quartet bring the material from their new album Vista. On 4 May Issie Barratt’s Interchange – with Brigitte Beraha, Yazz Ahmed, Helena Kay, Tori Freestone and Charlie Pyne – will be performing. There are also free-entry performances by students and Guildhall School professors during the day (full programme link below).
This interview focuses on the opening concert with the Guildhall Jazz Orchestra, and focusing on the collaboration between saxophonist STAN SULZMANN in his 70 year, and pianist NIKKI ILES. James Brady – who recently won the Eddie Harvey Prize for jazz arranging – interviewed SCOTT STROMAN, who will be directing the concert, for LondonJazz News.
LondonJazz News: The collaboration of Stan Sulzmann and Nikki Iles seems like a natural thing for the Guildhall School to be involved in…
Scott Stroman: Stan and Nikki over the years have been a very important part of our team at Guildhall, both as teachers and his guest artists. It’s the first time we’ve had them together doing a gig at Guildhall, and they have a very strong relationship with each other, playing together in small groups under both of their leadership, so they already have a synergy between the two of them. It’s great for our students because they’re encountering what I think is some of the most beautifully written music around today, and with major talents Stan and Nikki, they’re right on defining edge of what Jazz Orchestra music is now.
Funnily enough, initially we were going to do this earlier on and we couldn’t get dates that everybody could do, so we said to them, “Look, let’s just two different projects – we’ll do Stan and then we’ll do Nikki at different times,” and they both said, “No, no, no. We’d rather wait, because we really want to work together and we really want to work together with the band.” So that was very nice.
LJN: They’re both known for composing and so in that in that respect what is each of them individually bringing to this particular project?
SS: Stan writes idiosyncratic tunes – I don’t know anybody else writes tunes like his. They’re full of jazz history and you can hear perhaps echoes of Wayne Shorter and Kenny Wheeler, and lots of other composers. Stan’s also studied classical music and he’s got a real sense for intriguing melody and narrative or rhetoric. He writes these little vignettes which seem to tell stories and I always find them incredibly intriguing.
He’s a good example for other arrangers because he knows his material intimately before he arranges it. He’ll write a tune and play it for years in small groups with people like Nikki, investigating it, working things out together, making little changes and gathering information about his piece that he then writes into a big band arrangement. You have a feeling that he’s breathed the music already and I have to say it is quite similar with Nikki.
Nikki’s tunes are a little bit different – they are longer form tunes, but they’re also very pastoral, very rich harmonically. Both of them write very lyrical, tonal tunes. They’ve got lots of harmonic twists and turns, but they’re growing very much out of a jazz tradition. Their music is a very English, very natural expression of the worlds that these two musicians come out of – they’ve genuinely incorporated English songs, pastoral things, the weather, even the countryside. You wouldn’t hear these tunes popping up in America. They’re really genuinely here.
LJN: What particular aspects or themes in the music will you be looking to bring out in this performance?
SS: The answer to that is the personality of two composers. They’re both the featured soloists and they are composers who write the way that they play. They’re both very melodic and both very spacious – there’s no showing off going on with these guys. Both of them have really unique individual voices, but they’re so strongly versed in the tradition that they can easily go outside of those boundaries. They’re looking for really good melodies and they don’t feel the need to overdo anything. They’re two musicians who I find strip things down to the essence and then carry you along with them, and I think that’s how their writing is as well.
LJN: This is your 35th year teaching at Guildhall, so generations of musicians have worked with you in that time. How is the current crop doing – how is the Guildhall jazz band of today?
SS: If you asked me if it were better or worse, I would say it’s neither – it’s different. There’s a different type of musician coming through now – they’re better prepared because the educational system that supports them has grown a lot. The students now come in with more fundamental things already under their belts, often with more experience.
On the other hand in the earlier days we had people coming in with fewer skills but great potential and an enormous desire to do the music and things would just explode under the bonnet. That’s what I found in the first years of the course – the desire of the students was so great to play jazz, their own music, their own way – that they overcame any lack of preparation with genuine desire and inspiration; it was really hard work for them but they found their own ways through it. Many of those students are now some of the most interesting and influential musicians and teachers throughout the country and abroad.
LJN: The gig’s on Wednesday 2 May in Milton Court – but in Studio Theatre, not the main hall?
SS: It’s quite a nice space really, an intimate space, which means it takes slightly fewer people and so I fear there’ll be some people who won’t get in, so I suggest people book tickets in advance.
LJN: And the entire programme is Stan and Nikki’s music?
SS: We’re going to play one of my pieces at the beginning, just as an opener, but other than that it’s all Stan and Nikki.
Stan Sulzmann and Nikki Iles will be releasing a second album for Jellymould Records, Lush Life, with special guest Dave Holland in late May/early June.