In lockdown with… saxophonist Kevin Figes

Composer, sax and flute player, and record label founder Kevin Figes talks to us about the music and people who helped shape him and the ways he’s getting creative in lockdown…

First album you purchased as a “jazz musician”? 

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It was really the purchases I made in one go, just before I became a jazz musician, that were significant. Charlie Parker’s Complete Savoy Sessions on I think 5 LPs, Charles Mingus’s Mingus, Mingus, Mingus, Mingus, Mingus, Miles Davis’s Bitches Brew, and John Coltrane’s Ascension.  All bought in one visit to Virgin on Tottenham Court Road.

I bought them completely blind on the recommendation of ‘The Illustrated Encyclopedia of Jazz’ (Brian Case).

The Mingus I loved immediately, the Parker almost immediately, the other two took much longer!  But the overall effect was that I then knew what I wanted to do, almost straight away.

Kevin Figes Quartet with Jim Blomfield, Mark Whitlam and Thad Kelly

What are you listening to right now?

A lot of Henry Cow, and much 20th century classical music (Lutoslawski, Berio, Cage, etc.).

Have you done or watched any livestream gigs/events since lockdown?

Not yet! Planning on doing one soon.

Most memorable event in your career or education? 

The really big career and education moments for me have all been related to meeting, playing with and learning from others. Elton Dean got me started, Keith Tippett was next, and at the same time going to Pyramid Arts in Dalston Junction with Alan Weekes and Clifford Jarvis. Then Tim Garland and Pete Churchill at the Guildhall School. And everyone I’ve played with really.

Instrument you wish you played? 

I wanted to play bass clarinet; I always loved Eric Dolphy playing it. I bought a clarinet, but didn’t have enough time to learn it. So I settled for baritone sax, which actually I love playing.

Has this time in isolation inspired any new creative ideas?

Yes, firstly I have had to get my act together as I needed to record things, so I now know what an audio interface is, and am a novice at Ableton Live! I have written a piece called “Game of Chance”, which can have multiple players. Basically each player gets to improvise on their main and second instruments within a time frame (5 mins) but those 5 minutes are divided up (by chance, random selection) into different time frames. Within those frames there are randomly devised instructions concerning basic musical ideas (dynamics, emotional content, instrument range, etc.) and the players are instructed on headphones when to change and which parameters apply. Each player gets a different set. What’s it going to sound like? Who knows – I’m looking forward to the results!

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

Actually seeing my friends and playing next to people…

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

Denny Ilett’s Electric Lady Big Band. Huge fun to play in, recently recorded a CD, and have an isolation tune out now!

And Jim Blomfield Trio, who just happen to be on my record label, Pig Records….


The Kevin Figes Quartet’s new album Changing Times, with vocalist Emily Wright appearing on two tracks, will be released on Pig Records on Friday 12 June 2020. It features tracks inspired by diverse influences such as Soft Machine – Elton Dean taught Figes saxophone from scratch in the ’80s – Paul Hindemith, Hermeto Pascoal, and the statue of a lion which stands in Figes’ own garden. 

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