Dreams can come true. Ten years ago, Cheltenham-based saxophonist / vocalist / composer Kim Cypher and her husband (and drummer in her band) Mike, abandoned stable jobs as primary school Head of Music and Regional Bank Manager to devote themselves full time to music. 1 August 2021 will be a landmark moment: they will be on the main stage of Ronnie Scott’s for their sell-out debut at the club. Interview by Sebastian
LondonJazz News: What does it mean to you, performing on the main stage at Ronnie’s?
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Kim Cypher: It honestly means so much. Our love and passion for music led us along a path in life that has been all about taking chances and following dreams. When we took the plunge to give up our ‘day jobs’ to become fulltime musicians, we were fully aware of the hard work, dedication, commitment and resilience that would be required to make the risk pay off and ultimately fulfil our dreams. Ronnie Scott’s has been part of the dream from the outset, a wonderful venue with an incredible story that inspires and epitomizes what we are all about as musicians – believing in your music and following your dreams. That’s exactly what Ronnie Scott and Pete King did when they created this unique venue that brings together incredible musicians and an audience united in their love and respect for great music. To walk in the footsteps of the legends at this world-renowned venue and to continue the legacy is the greatest honour for any jazz musician. It has also opened the doors for us to be featured on Jazz FM (on Ronnie Scott’s Radio) with multi award-winning jazz vocalist Ian Shaw. Our interview will be broadcast on Friday 30 July at 9.00pm.
LJN: How has lockdown been? What have been the best projects you’ve done when you couldn’t gig?
KC: Lockdown has been tough for everyone. Having spent years building up our reputation as musicians, acquiring a full calendar of bookings and being in the middle of an album tour for my 2nd album Love Kim x, it was a shock to the system to lose every single gig overnight. We hadn’t seen a situation like that coming when we put all our eggs into the basket of being fulltime musicians. So, it was a scary time. But, having got over the initial shock and upset, we set about ensuring that the music would play on and that we would continue to keep connected with everyone and play our part in keeping spirits up. It felt almost like a responsibility to keep our music playing, a bit like the band on the Titanic… the band will play on.
So, within days of the lockdown we started a daily online coffee and chat session where everyone was welcome to join us for a mid-morning cuppa and a chat. It soon evolved into a show full of fun features, special guests and ‘live’ music, with a wonderful, friendly community spirit. So much so, it was picked up by our local BBC Points West TV station who spontaneously dropped in one day to film one of the sessions. Note to all – always be prepared and have lippy on (I didn’t that day!)
We took every opportunity to continue creating music. Working remotely with musicians around the world, we recorded a series of ‘Twilight Session’ videos, taking song requests and featuring different musicians each week. We performed some live streamed gigs from our home as well, especially on key dates like Valentine’s night so that we could share some love with everyone, especially people on their own in isolation.
I also found myself composing lots of music, mainly inspired by my feelings at the time. We managed to record one piece of music called Crazy Times. We set up a recording studio in our kitchen to start building the track and then finished it off in a professional studio. The track also built into a mega community-based video all about the power of music to bring people together and raise spirits. The song and video has a clear message – “The music will play on”. It was at a time when musicians were feeling very undervalued, feeling that their place and purpose in life and society was being questioned. It was a very proud moment when US Music Interview Magazine declared the video “The BEST music video of 2020”:
LJN: Who are the other musicians on stage and what are their stories?
KC: The other musicians who will be on stage with me at Ronnie Scott’s are my wonderful band mates. They are like an extended family. All of them come from incredible musical backgrounds with a wealth of experience. They are also the nicest bunch of people anyone could wish to work with and for that, I am incredibly grateful:
Chris Cobbson (guitar) has worked with artists and bands from all genres, ranging from trad jazz to reggae. More specifically he has toured with some of the greats within their genres including Courtney Pine, The JBs and Osibisa. Chris brings lots of musical influences to the band and he’s also an incredible composer so we often perform some of his own compositions among our set. Chris is an incredibly humble character despite his talent. He has been part of the London jazz scene for many years, performing at Ronnie Scott’s, being in residence at the prestigious London Ivy restaurant and he’s also appeared on the Jools Holland show.
Mike Green (upright & electric bass) is a highly popular player who is very much in demand. Mike’s first-class degree from the Royal Birmingham Conservatoire together with his amiable personality make him the bassist of choice for many musicians. He has vast experience performing small, intimate Jazz Clubs to International Festivals such as The Montreal Jazz Festival. Mike has performed with many headline musicians including John Etheridge, Alan Barnes, Imelda May, Guy Barker, Dave Newton, Johnny Dankworth, Stochelo Rosenberg & Dorado Schmitt, and has appeared on Prime-Time National TV with household names such as Jamie Cullum at The BBC Proms and with Dame Shirley Bassey.
Anders Olinder (piano & organ) is an outstanding pianist who also brings incredible Hammond organ skills to the table, making him a wonderfully versatile musician to perform and record with. Anders performed at Ronnie Scott’s recently with Dennis Rollins and James Morton. He has toured with Glenn Hughes (of Deep Purple and Black Sabbath) and has worked with Omar, Peter Gabriel, Tony Remy, Noel McKoy and Elliott Randall.
Mike Cypher (drums) has been a lover of music, in particular jazz, from a very early age. Starting out performing in brass bands, Mike then moved on to playing with various jazz outfits. We met each other aged 15 performing together in the Gloucestershire Youth Jazz Orchestra. Mike has appeared at venues, theatres and festivals across the UK and on National TV and radio. He has worked with many of the UK’s leading jazz musicians including Pee Wee Ellis, Ray Gelato, Gilad Atzmon, Greg Abate, Cameron Pierre, Jim Blomfield, Denny Ilett, US guitarist B.D. Lenz and was drummer for legendary showbiz entertainer Anita Harris for several years.
LJN: Take the clock back ten years… Filling a primary school with the sounds of singing must have been motivating? You must have good memories surely?
KC: I certainly do! I loved working with children, especially encouraging their creativity and musicianship. I have many happy memories of big school concerts and productions plus I am incredibly proud of some children who were musically inspired and have gone on to pursue musical careers themselves. One of these is the amazing up-and-coming jazz talent Roella Oloro. I am so incredibly proud of her achievements.
LJN: What reactions / advice did you get when you told people you were going to abandon your teaching / bank jobs?
KC: Don’t do it! But, to be fair, I can totally see where they were coming from. We were giving up financial security and professional careers for the uncertainty of a career in music and I can see how most people would think that’s a crazy idea. Of course, any musicians who feel passionately about their music will totally understand. At the end of the day, although we both enjoyed our jobs, our heart and soul lay firmly in music. Life is too short to not take chances to follow your dreams. You should have no regrets. So, despite all the advice, we went for it and we have worked our socks off to make it work.
LJN: What do you love most about what you do now?
KC: We are doing what we love and what we were meant to be doing. There are so many amazing things we love about what we do now:
We are in control of our lives / destiny;
We get to work with incredible like-minded people;
We work together… and yes, we do it enjoy that… most of the time!
We meet wonderful people;
We share amazing experiences;
We get to play in incredible venues;
We create our own music.
I could go on and on….
LJN: Any regrets…. Ever?
KC: No, absolutely none whatsoever. Even after the past 16 months when we felt financially insecure and concerned for our future, we still had no regrets and didn’t at any point consider going back to what we had done before. We have firmly decided to follow our hearts and that is what we will do for as long as we possibly can.
LJN: What themes do your songs deal with? Has that changed?
KC: All of my original music is inspired and spontaneous. Whether it’s a person or a place or an experience or feeling, it will come out in my music as and when it decides to. For that reason, all of my original music is very special to me and many of my tracks mark significant parts of my life eg: All For You is all about my amazing late mum who continues to inspire everything I do, Maybe… is about a wonderful friendship with an amazing lady called Karen Jackson, Crazy Times marks the crazy times we have all been through over the past 16 months, Highland Mike was dedicated to a late friend who introduced me to lots of great music (including the legendary Pee Wee Ellis). I am so proud to have composed a tenor saxophone duet specifically to be performed by myself and Pee Wee:
There’s lots more of my original music coming soon, mostly composed during lockdown so there’s a track that’s all about how things are going to be OK and there’s also a beautiful track based on a brighter tomorrow. So, my music is definitely inspired and influenced by things going on in life.
LJN: You are from Cheltenham, what’s the local scene like?
KC: There is definitely a scene in Cheltenham, but there’s not loads of jazz going on. There is obviously the annual Jazz Festival and we also perform in some of the local venues including being the resident jazz band at The Ivy (before lockdown). We are in close proximity to Bristol and Swindon where there are performing opportunities. In fact, I do have a wonderful following in Swindon because of the jazz clubs there. Some of those followers will be joining us at Ronnie Scott’s, travelling on a coach we have arranged for our local supporters.
LJN: And is there an appetite from audiences to come back and hear live music?
KC: I’d say there definitely is. We have performed several sell-out gigs since coming out of lockdown and Ronnie Scott’s is another example where people have booked up their tickets fast. People are so incredibly supportive and they want to get back to some ‘live’ music and they also want to support the musicians. People really are wonderful. How the future will pan out, we’ll have to wait and see, but there’s definitely an appetite for it.
LJN: What more can / should be done?
KC: I think people just want to feel safe, having sufficient space to avoid feeling vulnerable, maybe continuing to wear masks. Venues are doing such a great job to host ‘live’ music safely.
LJN: Which came first – the sax playing, the singing or the song-writing?
KC: I have been composing songs at the piano since I can remember. In fact, one of my aims is to record one of the first songs I ever wrote in my teens. I can still remember it word for word! I then learnt to play the clarinet, progressing to the saxophone when I felt the need to express myself in a more funky style. The singing came later, a great addition I think as I have always loved to sing.
LJN: Are there similarities between teaching children and performing for a live audience? The ‘good energy’ you need to put in?
KC: I suppose standing in front of a school class / assembly has helped in terms of being in front of an audience. For me, it has always been about getting a connection ie: a two-way relationship between myself as the performer and the audience. So, whilst every performance is planned in the same way as a school lesson / assembly would be planned, there is always a degree of spontaneity, connection and reaction. I just love to chat to people!
LJN: Enjoy Ronnie’s – What’s next?!
KC: Thank you. We certainly will enjoy Ronnie’s and we will feel the incredible honour for the rest of our lives.
Beyond that, life as musicians carries on. We hope to continue filling the diary with gigs and be back on the road as much as possible. We are back in the studio also early August to record a special original song as part of a charity project I have set up called Bring Your Own Sunshine, raising money for an incredible cancer charity ‘Maggie’s’, in honour of Karen Jackson. I am incredibly proud to do this for Karen and excited to be creating a song which will be an anthem for Maggie’s Centres around the world. I will also be recording some other original tracks to be released later in the year. So, it’s all looking like a brighter tomorrow and this will be reflected in my new music releases.
We also host a weekly worldwide radio show called The Big Jazz Hullabaloo on JazzBites Radio so we will be continuing to share great music and connecting up with other musicians.
I am also a team member of a new initiative ‘Women in Jazz Media’ founded by Fiona Ross so I will continue my work with that together with my journalistic writing / album reviews for various publications.
After Ronnie Scott’s on Sunday 1 August, we return to London for our debut performance at the fabulous Crazy Coqs venue at Brasserie Zedel on Friday 3 September. We’d love to see you all there. BOOKING LINK
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Ticket Link for Crazy Coqs as above
Categories: Features/Interviews (PP)