At 91 years of age, David Forman has enjoyed an illustrious life. The former dentist and intrepid travel photographer is known on the UK jazz scene for his photographs of jazz musicians. He has now collaborated with the pianist and arranger Mark Edwards on a new project that combines a lifetime’s worth of compositions with a collection of his photography. The project is also raising money for charity. Interview by Sebastian:
LondonJazz News: What is the driving force behind the ‘Like A Rainbow’ project? When did you start writing music and is this a complete collection of your work or just the tip of the iceberg?
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David Forman: About five years ago there were two popular tunes I had written in the 1980s that I wanted pianist/arranger Mark Edwards to re-record, which he did rather wonderfully and as a result I gave him around nine other tunes to reimagine. We decided to make a jazz CD of these. It’s really as simple as that! The originals come as bonus tracks at the end.
I started writing when I was around 18. I had a friend who was at Oxford and was attempting to write shows, and he asked me to write some music. Nothing happened but this really started me going. I then went to Guy’s Hospital to do dentistry and started playing in bands and writing in the early 1950s. The CD isn’t the complete collection – there are perhaps 40 or 50 pieces in total, but only maybe three or four others that I would want to take further. But I have realised my dream and am probably not going to do anything more!
LJN: What starts a composition for you? Is it a musical phrase or something non-musical like a sight you have seen? What is your method for writing?
DF: It usually starts with a little melody coming into my mind. It needs to be something a bit out of the ordinary and once I’m confident that it’s original, then I work on it, usually on the piano. I don’t really have a particular method but I have to start with an attractive theme. Although I’m an experienced travel photographer I don’t think I’ve ever consciously been inspired musically by something special I’ve seen…but who can say?
When I start writing a tune, I often have a major singer in mind for it. “Krysalis” is a very slow number and I imagined Sinatra singing it though there was (and is still) no lyric. For another tune, believe it or not, I had Max Bygraves in mind. Comedians at that time usually finished with a song and this one was called “To See You”. That in fact is the one that turned out to be “Like A Rainbow”. I demoed it in his style years ago but Mark cleverly saw it as a much slower number and he called in singer and lyricist Imogen Ryall without my knowing, and she came up with this glorious lyric. I named it after a poignant line in that lyric.
LJN: Do you have a composition or song on this album that is closest to your heart and, if so, why?
DF: “Like A Rainbow” itself has to be the one as it has such an amazing lyric and I think most people who have had real heartbreak in their lives will relate to it.
As I say I took the phrase “Like A Rainbow” as the title from Imogen’s stunning lyric. Three weeks later I was sitting in my garden in the early morning and saw this amazing rainbow. In fact I’d never seen a rainbow in the west in the 47 years I’ve lived in my house. I didn’t have my proper camera at hand and only had a very short time perhaps before this stunning effect vanished. So with my smartphone I took what was ultimately the cover photo for the book and CD.
LJN: Are there any stories behind any of the other titles on the album? Some are quite intriguing words like “Chorisma” or “Krysalis”.
DF: “Krysalis” actually has nothing to do with a chrysalis – it’s just a lovely sounding word that came to me when Mark did that particular arrangement. And “Chorisma” was originally written as a bossa nova and there is a style of Brazilian folk music called Choro. Simple as that!
LJN: What led you to work with Mark Edwards and how was the experience of working with him?
I had heard Mark many times as a pianist and I knew of his great skill as an arranger. He has a band called The Cloggz and they have simply wonderful arrangements. That’s why we got together. The experience was truly amazing. We immediately gelled and worked together in total harmony. For instance on “Like A Rainbow”, he had written in a piano chorus before the vocal but it just made the number too long. I suggested removing it (sadly) and creating a string sound to introduce it, which he did in no time absolutely superbly…it is quite stunning.
LJN: Who else is involved in the project and how did you select the musicians?
DF: We both agreed on pretty well everybody who was ultimately involved. Mark came up with Ben Castle, Andy Panayi and Mark Nightingale. Then, when Mark reworked “Chorisma” as almost a big band number, he had Paul Booth earmarked and I thought of Joe Locke, who I had met up with at the prestigious “Ambleside Days” Jazz Festival in the Lake District a couple of years before. Paul was over the moon as he had never worked with Joe before and, even though it was recorded separately, they ended up on the same track. We got our finest musician selection with no problem.
LJN: Is the album dedicated to anyone in particular? What would success be for this project?
DF: The album is dedicated to somebody I knew and worked with 53 years ago. Just before my 90th birthday last year, I got a letter from her congratulating me on this special big birthday. We are happily back together as friends again so the CD is dedicated to her…Lauren.
LJN: Can you describe the product that accompanies the music?
DF: Christine Allen (Basho) came up with the idea of the product. I told her I had recently made a book of photographs of jazz musicians and she suggested combining a similar book with the CD enclosed and including some of my jazz and travel photography. I’ve been privileged to have visited exactly 150 countries out of 193 on the UN list. I’d never done a day’s walking in my life until the age of 63 when I trekked in Nepal and the success of that was the reason for me leaving dentistry. I just thought – what the hell, I’m going to travel and take pictures!
The idea is that the whole project encapsulates my long life story.
Incidentally the cost of the book and CD if sold by Basho Records is £20 and half of that will go to charity.
LJN: How did you choose the charity that you are supporting?
DF: I am a member of Hove Rotary Club and Rotary give charitable donations from their members to a number of causes including world disaster relief and they generously help with other schemes both internationally as well as locally. During the pandemic for example the Club helped with local food banks and obviously at this time it is Ukraine that is a focus.