In lockdown with… Nick Lea of Jazz Views

Nick Lea, who runs the Jazzviews.net website, is originally from South Wales and moved to Cumbria with his wife and children 22 years ago.

Jazz Views started as an email newsletter in 2002 as a way of keeping in touch with friends and fellow jazz enthusiasts back in Wales, and quickly evolved into the first Jazz Views website, which was nominated for an award in both the 2005 and 2006 Parliamentary Jazz Awards.

Work and family commitments forced Nick to close the site from 2006 until 2012, but since its relaunch it has gone from strength to strength, and now generates a wealth of content thanks to the work of around a dozen other regular contributors, and to Nick’s own Herculean efforts.

Nick Lea

What was the first album you purchased as a “jazz enthusiast”?

I seem to recall that the first jazz album I bought was Heavy Weather by Weather Report. I would have been about 14 or 15 and there was something about the music that just seemed to connect with me in a very direct way. I had been introduced to the album by a school friend who was a year older than me, and we spent a lot of time listening to music together. At that time it was mainly jazz/rock and fusion. Chick Corea’s Return To Forever, Stanley Clarke, Jean Luc Ponty and Barbara Thompson’s Paraphernalia – a real favourite of mine – and I was hooked.

My friend’s mother, noticing my deepening interest, asked that if I was listening to so much jazz/rock had I heard any jazz? I hadn’t so she started lending me albums from her record collection. I’d go and see my friend, and leave carrying an armful of jazz LPs. I remember listening to the Dudley Moore Trio, Oscar Peterson, Johnny Hodges, Sonny Stitt, Jazz At The Philharmonic, Stan Getz, Billie Holiday, Sarah Vaughan and Ella. That was a real education for me! From then on I would listen to as much jazz as I could get my hands on. As well as albums, I was also buying books on jazz, biographies of musicians I was listening to, and reading Jazz Journal searching the review sections for what I should listen to next.

What are you listening to right now?

Now that’s a question! There is so much music being released, and of real quality. I’m currently listening to, and reviewing, Rickety Racket by Martin Pyne Quartet. Released as a download only and available from Bandcamp, the album features some great original compositions from Martin, and some lovely playing from saxophonist Philippe Guyard, with Russell Jarrett on guitar and bassist Marianne Windham. Scottish pianist, Fergus McCreadie, has released a ‘lockdown’ album of his Trio called Live At Black Mountain, which is available as a physical CD and only until the current Covid-19 crisis is over.

Something a little different is A Sleepin’ Bee, an EP released by Threebop featuring the vocal talents of Ella Hohnen-Ford, Rosina Bullen and Luca Manning on incredible vocal arrangements of six classic and well loved songs. This is a great follow-on from Luca’s stunning debut album, When The Sun Comes Out, which incidentally also features Fergus McCreadie.

Equally compelling is a new album Nostalgia from Tricotism with Nigel Price, Sandy Suchodolski and Craig Milverton taking inspiration from the classic Oscar Peterson/Joe Pass/Ray Brown Trio in a delightful and swinging set.

When not listening to new releases I find myself frequently returning to what is possibly my favourite album from last year, Finding Home by Kate Williams’ Four Plus Three meets Georgia Mancio. A staggeringly assured and fully realised project that reveals new delights every time I listen to it. I also had the great pleasure of hearing the music performed live in the spectacular setting of Bolton Abbey near Skipton, and meeting both Kate and Georgia.

Have you done or watched any livestream gigs since lockdown?

Unfortunately I’ve not watched any livestream gigs since lockdown. Often these are shown at a time when I have been busy with family, and not had the opportunity to sneak off somewhere quiet to watch. I think it is such a great idea that musicians are able to present music in this way, and with the often intimate setting of a solo concert there is a chance to hear material from the artist’s repertoire presented in a way that has perhaps not been performed before.

Most memorable jazz event?

One of the most memorable events for me was probably my first jazz concert. It was 1982 and I went to hear the Buddy Rich Big Band at the New Theatre in Cardiff. It was a late night concert and it started at 11pm. There was a real air of anticipation in the venue, but I was not expecting the impact that the music would have on me. Hearing this big band live and in full throttle left me absolutely spellbound, and was the beginning of regular concert going. Soon after I was able to hear the Oscar Peterson Trio and then Sonny Rollins. Now I was getting to hear live music there was no stopping me. The following year I went to the Welsh Jazz Festival, which was held over a full weekend, and bought tickets for all the main concerts and listened to as many of the performances being held in the bar area of the concert hall as possible.

By the time I was 18 I had discovered the local jazz club, a little cellar bar called Gibbs Jazz and not long after my first visit there, to hear the altoist Peter King, I was working there. First part-time on weekends while in college, and then for a short while as a full-time member of staff. It was also during this time that I was asked to write some album reviews for a student magazine, which may unwittingly have sown the seeds for the desire to write and starting the Jazz Views website.

What instrument do you wish you played?

I have always loved the saxophone and many years ago thought it might be a good idea to get my hands on an instrument and learn to play. My first horn was a soprano saxophone, I loved the sound and range of the instrument and especially the playing of Andy Shepppard, Jan Garbarek and Steve Lacy. After that I had a tenor for a while but, not having the time to devote to practising I reluctantly sold it, thinking that was the end of that endeavour.

And then… a couple of years ago my wife bought me an alto for Christmas, and the dream was alive again. However, the reality is always somewhat different, and as yet I have not found the time to pick up the horn on any kind of serious basis and get stuck in. I remain optimistic that my time will come!

Has this time in isolation inspired any new creative ideas?

I always seem to have plenty of ideas for developing the Jazz Views website, whether they are creative or not I leave for others to decide. Sometimes the creativity comes in trying to find the time to fit everything in, but perseverance seem to find a way forward.

What are you most looking forward to once this is over?

Getting out to hear some live music again. There is nothing to compare to hearing music live and being created in front of the audience, and there is of course the social aspect of meeting like-minded people and sharing views and opinions.

Until then, I will be listening to as much new music as possible to keep mind, body and soul together.

A chance to plug a friend’s music right now…

Vocalist Fleur Stevenson is someone who greatly impressed me with her debut album, Follow Me. She has previously released an EP Introducing Fleur Stevenson that served as a bit of a teaser and left you wanting more. The album then delivered exactly what was required and with real style.

Fleur Stevenson. Publicity photo

Fleur has a great voice and sense of timing, and her ability to scat is quite phenomenal. The song choice is fantastic, and she really knows how to present them. Added to this, it appears she has also found her ideal accompanist and musical partner in pianist Peter Billington. The level of empathy between the two musicians is palpable and brings a real joy to the performances. Fleur and Peter were in the studio before the Covid-19 outbreak recording tracks for a new duet album. This unfortunately is now on hold until the lockdown is lifted and they can get back into the studio to finish mixing the album. Something I for one will be looking forward to hearing.

Jazzviews website 
Fleur Stevenson website

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