Photo credit: Rob Monk
Saxophonist Alex Hitchcock has been tipped in the jazz media for great things, and marked out as “an incredible young lion of the tenor sax” by flute virtuoso, composer and bandleader Gareth Lockrane. Profile by Rob Adams
Born in London, Alex Hitchcock studied English at Cambridge, reasoning that he might enjoy the best of both worlds through gaining access to the lively local jazz scene while gaining a first class university education and still being close to London. He went on to become the director of the Cambridge University Jazz Orchestra, touring to Istanbul and collaborating with the aforementioned Gareth Lockrane, before returning to London, where he completed a postgraduate course at the Royal Academy of Music in 2016.
For his final recital at the Royal Academy he formed the quintet that features on his first recording as a leader, Live at the London and Cambridge Jazz Festivals, and is currently on tour until 18 May.
A four-track EP, the recording has been made possible by the support of the City Music Foundation and documents the progress the group has made with four tracks captured a year apart. With 15 gigs in all, Hitchcock is looking forward to hearing how the group develops over a fairly intensive period of activity.
“I’m still at the early stages as a bandleader,” he says, “and it’s interesting to hear how we sounded on the two London tracks compared to the two Cambridge tracks a year on. There’s a raw energy to the music on the EP generally and I like that because some of my favourite albums – and I’m not saying my music is at the same level – are live recordings by Oscar Peterson with Wes Montgomery and Sonny Stitt. I like the honesty you get from recording live before all the post-production that goes into studio albums kicks in.”
Hitchcock began playing saxophone at the age of nine after realising quite quickly that his first choice of instrument, the violin, wasn’t really for him. He started on alto and went through a period of listening to and playing Charlie Parker tunes and bebop generally before hearing Coleman Hawkins and Joshua Redman turned him towards the tenor.
|Alex Hitchcock Quintet|
Photo Credit, CD Artwork: Gina Southgate
“There was definitely an old school influence involved and then I started going to the Weekend Arts College, which was always known as WAC, in Belsize Park,” he says. “The main tutor there, Ricky Mian, was a really inspirational figure in terms of developing my tenor playing and trying odd time signatures and there was such a diverse group of musicians involved. People came from all over the place and I found that really beneficial.”
At Cambridge Hitchcock threw himself into the local scene and met a lot of the musicians he works with now through gigging. As well as his own group he plays in bands including Resolution 88 and the Patchwork Jazz Orchestra. He has also performed with, amongst others, Soweto Kinch, Laurence Cottle, John Hollenbeck, Stan Sulzmann, Dennis Rollins, Nick Smart, Art Themen and Franco-Belgian duo André Charlier/Benoit Sourisse.
For his quintet he chose musicians he felt he could write for and whose playing he was familiar with. He and pianist Will Barry have known each other for ten years now. Bassist Joe Downard and drummer Jay Davis are more recent acquaintances and trumpeter James Copus, he says, is everyone’s favourite player right now.
“I like the idea of everyone bringing their own thing to the music,” he says. “I’ll scope the pieces out to begin with and they might develop into a feature for a particular band member. I’m still developing as a composer and trying to become the sort of person who can get up every morning and write something but I think developing a style of writing is like developing a style of playing: you take little bits of everyone you like and adapt and combine it until you have your own signature.”
Having grown up listening to American players including Ambrose Akinmusire and Jason Moran, he has taken their influence on board and finds inspiration in the diversity of the UK and European scenes.
“It’s a really exciting time at the moment,” he says. “Between what Laura Jurd is doing with Dinosaur, what Jasper Høiby is doing with Phronesis and what Sons of Kemet are doing, just to name a few, there’s an incredible richness available. With the quintet I’d be happy if people heard some of all of those influences. It can be quite raucous and sometimes it feels like there’s a bit of chaos under the surface but I like that. There’s room for subtlety and dynamic contrast but I like that it also has a bit of edge to it.” (pp)
Sun 6 May: Colchester Arts Centre
Fri 11 May: The Verdict, Brighton
Sat 12 May: The Hive, Shrewsbury
Mon 14 May: Pizza Express Jazz Club, London
Wed 16 May: The Jazz Bar, Edinburgh
Thu 17 May: The Jazz Cafe, Newcastle
Fri 18 May: Sheffield Jazz