INTERVIEW/PREVIEW: Flavio Li Vigni (Jazz at Morley College – new Friday series starts 25 January)

Flavio Li Vigni, Head of Jazz at Morley College London, has instigated a new monthly Friday late afternoon and evening jazz series starting on 25 January 2019. The full list for this first season’s events is below. He explained more about the new series, the deep jazz history and associations of  Morley College, the thriving current activity at the College – and also his own musical journey – to Sebastian: 

LondonJazz News: What and where is Morley College London?

Flavio Li Vigni: Established in 1889, and with its roots stretching back some years before that, Morley College London is one of the country’s oldest and largest specialist providers of adult education with a very significant music legacy. The College is on Westminster Bridge Road, very close to Waterloo station and a two-minute walk from Lambeth North tube station.

LJN: And it also has some quite eminent jazz history, even pedigree?

FLV: Absolutely! Heads of Music at Morley included the likes of Gustav Holst and Michael Tippet and in jazz, people like Bill Russo and Kenny Wheeler and many others were once running ensembles here. Our big bands were, and still are, a place where professionals, amateurs and semiprofessional musicians come together to share their passion for music. That makes Morley a really unique place.

I often meet well-established players in the London jazz community who perfected their craft in one of our bands and have fond memories of their time here. We still have a number of amazing (and some unpublished) tunes and arrangements from these great musicians that we still perform to this day. One more reason to check the Morley Big Band and the Morley Jazz Orchestra when they play in town.

Bill Russo’s London educational work:
the lead story in Melody Maker in June 1955
LJN: And there is a lot of jazz that goes on regularly at the college?

FLV: With more than 400 enrolments per term, the Jazz department is thriving. We have four big bands from beginners to advanced, a variety of ensembles covering a number of styles in the genre, jazz improvisation classes and a strong Afro-Cuban offer. In addition to that, we provide jazz specific instrumental classes from beginners to advanced, including jazz piano, saxophone, trumpet, guitar, drums and bass. Our Listeners Guide to Jazz Series is a great and successful addition to the programme for people who want to understand this music better. Wherever you are in your musical journey, Morley has something for you.

LJN: And some of the people involved in the new series teach at Morley College London?

FLV:  We have a fantastic team of teachers at Morley College and I am sure they will be featured more in the coming series. So far, Adam Dyer, who currently runs our Swing Band and Jazz Repertoire Ensemble, is helping me prepare something special for our Big Band night, but I can’t say much more at this stage! Asaf Sirkis runs an annual two-day masterclass on Konnakol and Michael Chillingworth ran our Swing Band for a year. Both are featured in the series. I am really grateful to Asaf and Michael for helping and supporting me with this series of concerts.

LJN: And Bill Laurance has a role there too?

FLV: Juggling his busy solo career and his commitments with Snarky Puppy, Bill still finds the time to be our Artist-in-Residence. He is a great friend of Morley and he is constantly in touch with what happens here, often giving workshops and masterclasses at the College. We have something very exciting coming up with him soon. So stay tuned!

LJN: What will be the format for these Friday events?

FLV: Concerts will start at 8pm with two 45 minutes sets and a 20-minute break in the middle. Before each concert, from 6.30pm to 7.15pm the artists and I will discuss a jazz album that played a significant role in their musical life. These talks are free, open to the public, and will be part of a series of podcasts for our new Morley Radio Station.

LJN: And tell us about the venue you are using?

FLV: We will use our largest performance space at Morley, the Emma Cons Hall, a wonderful room equipped with a lovely grand piano.

The Emma Cons Hall at Morley College
Picture courtesy of Morley College
LJN: Tell us some more about your own jazz story. It what lit the spark for jazz in Palermo, or did it happen later?

FLV: My dad was a musician so I was surrounded by music and musicians from a very young age. Palermo is a very interesting place; because of its ties with the USA we had a constant flow of musicians coming and going from the States, bringing all the right information back after playing with the greats. My dad used to bring me to all of the big jazz gigs in town and I fell in love with the music and started taking piano and drum lessons.

Flavio Li Vigni
Photo credit: Trevor Lee
LJN:  And then Amsterdam, New York and now London?

FLV: Music was a key part of my life, I was playing jazz gigs and taking lessons but until I was 21 I was studying history and classics at university and preparing for a different career until I moved to New York for a few months. In the Big Apple I met some of my heroes including Elvin Jones, Joe Lovano and many others and I was encouraged to take music more seriously. Studying in the States wasn’t a possibility for me back then, I couldn’t ask my parents to support me through a second degree…. in music! Therefore, I found a great jazz programme in Holland at the Prince Claus Conservatory in Groningen, taught by American jazz royalties such as Brian Lynch, Conrad Herwig, Don Braden, Deena DeRose, David Berkman, and my mentor, Ralph Peterson. The opportunity of studying and then playing with them was transformative. After my BA in Holland I won a Lerverhulme Trust scholarship to do a one year Masters at the Guildhall School of Music. Things really started happening from there and I was very lucky to play with great artists that I admired throughout my career.

LJN: What will be the best outcome you imagine from this series of concerts?

FLV: Our idea is to create a space where artists, students, educators and the community can come together to meet, play and discuss projects and possibly record (yes we also have an amazing recording studio!). I really believe that jazz is community music and has to be in contact with the various people it represents and then branch out to spread its message of life and inclusivity. Every year I will put together a different panel of musicians to select the artists for the next series. Our focus will be on quality and diversity in all its forms! We will take it from there…


Friday 25 January – Tori Freestone/Alcyona Mick
The distinctive saxophone/flute & piano duo perform following their acclaimed 2018 album Criss Cross.

Friday 22 February – Jason Rebello
The veteran British jazz pianist and Grammy winning album musician performs a special solo set following his celebrated album Held.

Friday 22 March – Asaf Sirkis
One of the world’s premier drummers performs tracks from his forthcoming album, Our New Earth.

Friday 26 April – Calum Gourlay Big Band
The ensemble led by bassist/composer Calum Gourlay performs contemporary and classic big band material.

Friday 24 May – Josephine Davies Trio
The tenor saxophonist performs with Dave Whitford on bass and Will Glaser on drums in her signature melodic style.

Friday 7 June – Morley Big Band led by Flavio Li Vigni, plus special guest
Keep an eye out in March 2019 for the announcement of our guest performer.

Friday 21 June – Mishka Adams & Pete Churchill
A live jazz folk special performing songs from their acclaimed album Stories to Tell.

Friday 28 June – Mike Chillingworth Quartet
The alto saxophonist leads Kit Downes on piano, Conor Chaplin on bass and James Maddren on drums.

Tickets for the individual concerts are £12, the talks are free, and a ticket for all 8 events in the inaugural season costs £60 or just £7.50 per concert.
LINK: Bookings for individual events and discounted series bookings

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