INTERVIEW: Ian Clarkson of The Jive Aces (Aldwych Theatre, 10 Feb)

The Jive Aces
Photo Credit:  Sandra Vijandi
Jive and swing band The Jive Aces have been honing their irrepressibly joyous sound and getting audiences on their feet for over 20 years. Ahead of their biggest London show to date on 10 February 2019, Ian Clarkson (lead vocalist, trumpet and ukulele player) spoke to Rachel Coombes for LondonJazz News about the group’s inspirations, career highlights and upcoming projects.

LondonJazz News: The Jive Aces have been celebrated as one of the world’s greatest jive and swing bands for over 20 years – how did you first all come together?

Ian Clarkson: That’s right, we have been together longer than that other British band, the Beatles! They probably made more money but I think we are still having more fun! It all started when once upon a time, myself and the drummer (Peter Howell) were at school together and we met Ken Smith and John Fordham (bass and sax) the year we left school so we have been together a long time. We were all discovering jazz, swing and blues at the same time; Alex Douglas (trombone) and Vince Hurley (piano) then joined in the ’90s and it then all gelled. We then started adding girl guest singers and now even have accordion on a few songs. This really adds to the chemistry of the band and we all get along so well and know what each other is thinking and going to do on stage.

LJN: Have you noticed any significant changes in the scene since you first started out?
IC: One of the things that has changed over the years, funnily enough, is we have seen a return in interest for hot jazz, especially in the younger audiences and a revival of traditional and vintage swing. It is great to have younger people recognise much of our material and know who our influences are for real. I think social media and YouTube, etc, has helped this – one of the good sides of the internet.

LJN: Besides the obvious swing hot-shots such as Louis Jordan, Louis Prima and Big Joe Turner, who else do you, as an ensemble, consider to be your greatest musical influences?

IC: Yes, we love all the cats called Louis, including Louis Armstrong (we even wrote a song called Three Cats Called Louis). Otherwise, there are so many influences – we were all listening to early rock and roll in our early teens and then started working our way back through blues, Big Bill Broonzy, etc, to New Orleans jazz like the aforementioned ‘Satchmo’, up through the big band swing era – Duke Ellington, Glenn Miller and Count Basie – to early black rhythm and blues like Wynonie Harris, Slim Gaillard, and of course great swing singers like Sinatra and Ella Fitzgerald and the showman Cab Calloway!

LJN: Your latest releases, the two-album series Diggin’ The Roots (Vol 1: Rockin’ Rhythm & Blues, and Vol 2: Hot Jazz), delve into some of the sounds that first inspired you as musicians. How did you choose which songs made it on to the albums?

IC: It was a difficult choice as we loved so many but we mainly did the songs that we mutually all knew and loved and jammed them out and created arrangements for them – some staying close to the original version in homage and other tracks we totally arranged from scratch, particularly the hot jazz standards. Someone who knew very little about jazz asked me what the Hot Jazz album was like so I replied that it was like the “Great American Songbook” after a few espressos!

LJN: While most of your live material consists of covers of much-loved tracks, you have released many original songs on your records – do you all have a hand in composing?

IC: Yes we have, we like writing our own songs too. Sometimes we write a song separately but more often we collaborate with each other or even write them all together but we do want to also keep the genre fresh by writing new compositions. For example even in Diggin’ The Roots Vol 1 & Vol 2, Vol 1 has two self-penned songs, Bad News (a satire on the media filled with bad news and best to stay away from them), and Rock n Roll Movie Star, for which we have a beautiful music video. The song is your typical ’50s R&B sound with fab guitar played by our British pal who now lives in California, Chris Wilkinson, and is an homage to the ’50s B-movie era. And many more! Pretty much all our albums have original songs and you can buy them all from our website!

LJN: The group has an immensely busy tour schedule of 250 or more shows a year all around the world. Given such a hectic timetable, what’s the secret to maintaining such persistently energetic performances?

IC: Well many things go into this. But one thing is that the whole band is now eating ‘healthy’, balanced diet (lots of fruit and veg), no drugs (recreational or other) as they really kill creativity and alter minds. We also work out shows to impact people with fun, joy and happiness. We aim to make all our shows memorable, that’s what we strive to achieve. But we also use Dianetics, a book written by L. Ron Hubbard in the ’50s which contains a therapy to convert the negative energy into positive energy which has been extremely helpful. So we do have more energy on stage and in life!

LJN: You have performed for the Queen, reached the semi-finals of Britain’s Got Talent, appeared at Glastonbury and headlined the Royal Albert Hall – but what has been your most memorable career highlight to date?

IC: It will probably seem odd but despite all the great places we play, from Montreux to Glasto, it is the latest new places that are the highlights and recent best memories! Such as recently we played a four-night residency at the legendary New York jazz club Birdland! Three of the nights were sold out and we had an amazing reception from a whole new audience for us. The owner was extremely pleased and we will be returning there in 2019. And also performing in Istanbul for the first time, those were the most recent memorable ones of this year. But truth be told, we have so many memorable places it would be a few pages long!

LJN: You are perhaps best known for your joyous reworking of Bring Me Sunshine¸ which went viral on YouTube in 2011. Would you say that this song and the accompanying video best sum up your musical character and ethos?

IC: Absolutely! To me jazz, jive and swing have a joy to them and I like nothing better than making people happy; if the audience are happy, job done! There’s nothing like coming out of a show at Ronnie Scott’s (one of my favourite gigs) to meet all the people and hear from them how much they enjoyed it and how happy they are. I used to hear people who thought that music “moving” an audience meant making them sad or getting them to cry but I think it is far better, and more fun, to take audiences up to the higher level emotions. I’ll leave Adele to take care of the sad stuff…

LJN: In February 2019 you’re coming to London’s Aldwych Theatre for a high-profile show – what can audiences expect from the concert?

IC: Yes! We are very excited about this! Our good friend Rocco Bonvino is the promoter of this exciting show. It will be our biggest show to date in London and our first foray into official West End territory. The show will feature not just us chaps but also Grazia on accordion, Charlotte “Lottie” Beattie on baritone saxophone, the Satin Dollz vintage showgirls and of course the return of the rising star that is Cassidy Janson who as well as singing with us played Carole King in the successful musical Beautiful at the Aldwych Theatre!

It will be a great mix of jazz and rhythm ‘n’ blues with added singers and tap dancers plus BBC Radio host Joanne Good who will MC the proceedings and maybe even be coaxed to dance a little…

LJN: What else do you have in store for the coming year?

IC: It looks like it will be yet another very busy year, and we aren’t complaining! The Aldwych kicks off a whole spring tour of UK theatres then we are heading to the US where we are playing in New Orleans at the House of Blues and back to New York for a show at Birdland, and then we have our 15th Summertime Swing festival in Sussex which is going to be bigger and better than ever! Plus the usual Derry Jazz Festival in May followed by Breda Jazz in Holland and Tangier Jazz in Morocco. Exciting stuff! And if we have time, maybe filming another music video. We definitely live up to the reputation of being the busiest band in the land!

LINK: The Jive Aces perform at London’s Aldwych Theatre on 10 February 2019. Book tickets here.

Categories: Features/Interviews

Leave a Reply