“It’s not all about me!” Jim Rattigan in conversation (new Pavillon album and Tour Dates)

Jim Rattigan Photo credit: Eric Richmond

Three years after releasing Strong Tea, horn player Jim Rattigan’s starry twelve-piece band Pavillon is touring with a new collection, The Freedom of Movement. Jazz French horn players are still thin on the ground, and Rattigan’s Damascene conversion to the genre’s joys came when he had left home to do A Levels at a technical college in Cambridge. “Someone played me Oscar Peterson’s Night Train, and that was it. I hadn’t heard anything like it before. I loved the sound and the energy!”
He studied horn at Trinity and the Royal Academy and spent a decade as an orchestral player before striking out on his own. Rattigan is an engaging character and a naturally witty speaker. In this interview, Graham Rickson asked Jim Rattigan about the  differences between playing classical and jazz, about practising, and the business of recording an album:

LondonJazz News: What prompted you to give up orchestral playing?

Jim Rattigan: I’d always had a passion for jazz, and played a bit on the piano. Playing the French horn is what I did and what I enjoyed most. I was lucky, ending up in the Royal Philharmonic and performing all over the world. There came a point when I felt I needed to concentrate on jazz and composition. What I like about jazz is that it’s in the moment, it can change at any time. Classical music is about perfection, and playing perfectly every time. Someone stands in front and interprets the music, but it’s your job to nail it. There’s a lot of satisfaction in doing that, but I wanted to be creative.

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LJN: So do you approach jazz in the same way, always looking for technical perfection?

JR:  No one likes missing a note! If, during a recording, I crack something, but everything’s cooking and sounding great, there’s no way I’d go back and redo it. With a split note in a symphony, it has to be redone: that’s what people expect. This instrument has a reputation for being dangerous! When I’m playing jazz I try and make the same sound I’d make sitting in the RPO, a rich, orchestral sound.

LJN: Does that mean practising with the same rigour?

JR: More – much much more! Playing jazz shreds your chops – you get slaughtered. Every day I do at least an hour of really basic stuff before touching anything else. With Beethoven and Brahms you get to practice as you play: all those long notes and slurs. Breathing is really important – you’re never quite sure how long a phrase will last in jazz.

LJN: The new album was recorded in just one day. Was that a challenge?

JR: I play a lot, to build up my stamina. Practice is one thing, but playing is a different challenge. You have to be match fit. We’re all in the same room, apart from the piano, bass and drums, which it makes it feel very live. It was a very enjoyable day. If a little thing goes wrong, we leave it – it’s about the feel, the atmosphere, rather than perfection.

LJN: Can you describe the writing process? How much freedom do you give to your band members?

JR: It’s all composed, all arranged. Everyone’s got very specific parts, then I make sure I leave spaces for improvised solos. I’ve always got an idea as to who’d be great at that point in that piece. I don’t improvise on all the tunes – I never want it to be all about me! If you’ve got a band of that calibre, both as players and as improvisers, it would be a crime not to use them. 

LJN:  Do you still all get on?

JR: Yes – we seem to! With this album there wasn’t much time not to get on, with only a six-hour session to do the whole thing. Everyone in Pavillon is very professional. They’ve all done a lot as musicians. The band know when to get their heads down and get on with it. But we do have a laugh as well. You have to create the right atmosphere. Even though it’s my music, my style, I try and let their characters come through. Occasionally I’ll write with an idea of how a written solo will sound, and in practice it comes out completely different. I leave it. If that’s how they play it, let them play it. The complete opposite of classical music, where a conductor stands there and tells you how to play something. Personally, I’d rather hear how they played it!.

LJN:  Freedom of Movement strikes me as a warm, optimistic album, though it does touch upon weighty themes. “Oh Yeah Great, Thanks” describes, in your words, ‘future generations living on a parched earth while embroiled in wars over water…’ Yet it’s a gorgeous, bittersweet ballad. And the title track, ‘The Freedom of Movement’, is presumably about the idea that we’re about to lose that very freedom?

JR: It is. I didn’t compose all these tunes for this CD. I just wrote them, and we’d introduce them at gigs. We actually recorded about five more numbers, but I ended up choosing the best ones which made up a complete album. The Freedom of Movement was written not long after the referendum happened. I was sad about the result, though that’s just a personal view. It’s a bit like a lament. With Oh Yeah Great, Thanks, there’s so much going on with youth, and the protests about climate change, and I’ve seen some scary things myself. But I didn’t want to make a political album – it’s just a great title. That’s been my life: moving around the world, playing all kinds of music. But it’s not my place to say who’s right and who’s wrong!

The Freedom of Movement is available on Three-Worlds-Records


6 October – Herts Jazz, St. Albans

11 October – Wakefield Jazz

15 October – Norwich Jazz Club

19 October – Jazz Cafe Posk, London (album launch)

5 November – Hastings Jazz Club

7 November – Birmingham East Side Jazz Club

22 November – The Bear Club, Luton

17 January 2020 – Fleece Jazz at Stoke by Nayland, Colchester


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