INTERVIEW: Dave O’Higgins (New Album Tenors of Our Time with Max Ionata, Ross Stanley and Luca Santaniello)

Dave O’Higgins and Max Ionata at the 606 Club
with Luca Santaniello and Ross Stanley
Photo still from video
Tenors of Our Time is a new album in which two British jazz musicians, Dave O’Higgins and Ross Stanley, have teamed up with two Italians, the saxophonist Max Ionata and new York-based drummer Luca Santaniello. Dave O’Higgins tells the story of how the album came to being. And it is a story which has gone global, as not only a record label in Suzuka in central Japan, but also an influential sax site based in the US have taken up the cause. Sebastian did the interview:

LondonJazz News: The names of the two Italians playing on this album are certainly unfamiliar to me. Can you give us some background and how you got to know them?

Dave O’Higgins: I heard Luca Santaniello playing with New York sax Titan, Jerry Weldon and I loved his swing feel, dynamic and musicality immediately. We became friends and resolved to work together at the first opportunity.

Luca’s full biography is here.

LJN: And how did you get to know Max Ionata?

DO’H: I was asked to put a quartet together for the 2017 Rochester Jazz Festival and Luca helped me fix the band. We started discussing the possibility of an Anglo-Italian project and a two-tenor combo with the wonderful Max Ionata seemed like a perfect plan. It was a sheer pleasure from the first note. The quartet was made up with UK virtuoso jazz organist, Ross Stanley. The session was ‘live in the studio’ and swinging hard: five originals by me, two by Max, a tricky blues theme by James Williams, a Dizzy Gillespie rhythm changes and an old Italian pop song!

I was already familiar with Max’s playing as I keep my ear to the ground and knew him to be one of the greatest (and most effortlessly melodic) saxophonists alive today. When Luca brokered the idea to him, Max had also done his homework and immediately said “yeah, I’d love to work with Dave O’Higgins”

His full biography is here.


LJN: Are you and Max Ionata players with a similar stylistic leaning?

DO’H: We’ve certainly checked out a lot of the same stuff, but I’d say we each bring a different, contrasting and complementary tonal and melodic approach to the table. What was incredibly easy was phrasing together – it was completely effortless. We new from the first tune things would slot into place very naturally.

LJN: Where did you record the album and how were the sessions?

DO’H: We recorded at my home studio in Brixton (JVG). It was all wrapped up in a few hours – just live in the studio, no headphones, as live. The only downside was carrying Ross Stanley’s Hammond organ (weighs 200kg) up two flights of stairs and down again after… I think we recorded for about four hours with a lunch break in the middle.

LJN: Is the album title a tip of the hat to Roy Hargrove?

DO’H: Yes, very much so. Initially, it was the band name and it kind of stuck. Roy Hargrove was still alive when we made the record, so it wasn’t meant as a tribute, just as a respectful reprise of that idea – this time forging an alliance between two guys from different European countries.

LJN: You’ve done two tenor projects before, like one with Eric Alexander I seem to remember…

DO’H: That gave me the confidence to do anything, really. Eric is a living legend. He’s also old school New York – tough and competitive, but also respectful and generous when you earn it. I had such a blast recording two CDs with Eric and doing I think four or five European tours. He’s a great friend now. I learnt a lot from him.

Since then I have also ‘locked horns’ as it were with Grant Stewart and Phil Dwyer. Also top players and great guys.

LJN: What is the background to the Japanese label Albore and what led them to becoming involved?

DO’H: Max records for Albore Jazz and he kindly put me in touch with the producer, Satoshi Toyoda, who he thought might be interested. This was very generous of him, and a nice endorsement. Satoshi loved it and wanted to do it from the off.

LJN: And Steve Neff’s website has also taken up the cause of this album… what is that all about?!

DO’HSteve Neff saw the YouTube clip from the CD recording session of You’re Nicked (an original minor blues theme) and wanted to transcribe my and Max’s solos for the benefit of the international saxophone community. It was very flattering, and a nice way to reach out worldwide to saxophone nuts!

LJN: Have you been able to tour this group at all?

DO’H: We did two gigs in the UK (Grantham and London 606) when we recorded the CD, and one in Italy (Biella Jazz Club). The plan was to tour more extensively but timetables and international transportation costs have proved a problem so far… We are totally up for it if we can get three to four dates in a row to cover our initial travel costs. All enquiries to ohig@mac.com please!

LJN: Re your other projects you are touring quite a bit with Darius Brubeck, including an anniversary tour to Poland…

DO’H: Yes I play with the Darius Brubeck Quartet and we just completed a fantastic six-city tour of Poland retracing the steps of the Dave Brubeck Quartet’s famous Jazz Ambassadors tour of 1958. The gigs were all recorded and we’re busy listening through to the results with a view to releasing a live CD next year.

I also play with the Brubeck’s Play Brubeck (three brothers plus me – an honorary Brubeck!) and we will be doing a big US tour in 2020 to commemorate 100 yrs since Dave Brubeck was born.

LJN: And what else is coming up?

DO’HI am doing a new CD and touring project for 2019 with the great young guitarist Rob Luft. The project is called O’Higgins and Luft Play Monk and Trane. It will be released on Ubuntu Music and Rod Youngs (drums) and Scott Flanigan (organ) will make up the line-up. I have always loved the Prestige era of Coltrane recordings, both as leader and sideman (1956-58), especially Coltrane’s choices of standards. Rob has a penchant for calling Monk tunes – and it’s great to hear them played by a group with no piano (so you can’t imitate Monk!). This group will be playing swinging jazz for sure…


LINK: Tenors of Our Time at Albore Jazz
Dave O’Higgins’ website

Categories: Features/Interviews

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