“If you’ve ever wondered what smiles sound like, this is it!” (Hot Press, Ireland). Brighton- based saxophonist/ multi-instrumentalist Charlotte Glasson brings her 6-piece band to Soho’s Pizza Express on Thursday 25 August to launch her new album Bonito. And the are some interesting and unusual stories behind her compositions. Interview by Alison Bentley:
London Jazz News: Your new album “Bonito” is named after…artist Frida Kahlo’s parrot?
Charlotte Glasson: I was really taken with the idea of artists’ animals and birds- we all have our muses. I had a gig in Mexico City so we had the chance to visit Frida Kahlo’s Blue House. I saw that great painting that she’d done of herself with her parrot.
“Babou” is named after Salvador Dali’s pet ocelot: slightly Spanish and Spaghetti Western.
I was reading my son a book about Helen Frankenthaler, whom I’d never heard of, a New York artist. That’s what inspired “Mountains and Sea”, which was the title of one of her paintings.
I suppose I just want to make my music colourful, to convey something that has a story behind it- I think an audience loves that. It’s quite hard to pigeonhole my music. I like collecting things- I’m a bit like a thieving magpie. I go round collecting little bits of stuff and then blend it all together. So the instrumentation isn’t a tenor quartet with just piano, bass and drums. We’ve got sousaphone, trombone, guitar and piano. It’s just more colours for me to play with. And then of course I bring all my own colours because I play so many instruments.
LJN: And what is the story behind “Beardy Boy and Captain Coos”?
CG: My son is 8 and we went to Laserzone. My husband had grown a big beard in lockdown and all these little kids there said to him, “Get out of the way, beardy boy!” My son likes calling himself Captain Coos and I thought it was about time I wrote them a tune. It evokes Arabic markets!
LJN: You play quite freely in this tune.
CG: In jazz often either you’re a mainstream player or you play contemporary jazz, or free jazz, or trad or gypsy. I fit under all those umbrellas with different projects. Once you’ve got the audience on your side you can play some really bananas free jazz.
LJN: You play “melodica” on “Once”?
CG: Once is an area in Buenos Aires where Astor Piazzolla had his nightclub in the 60s. I love tango- it’s quite methodical but quite daring and fiery so my violin suits that perfectly.
“Stellata” is for my aunt who died in Australia. I planted some of her ashes in a big pot with a magnolia tree. I was thinking of that Abdullah Ibrahim South African vibe.
In the middle of the pandemic my parents had a wedding anniversary and wanted us all to get together, but we couldn’t meet up- so I wrote them “Some Day Soon”. It’s great if I can feel I’ve captured it in the first couple of notes when I come in with that smoky tenor sound. It’s very different from a lot of the other tunes that we play, which are jolly. I want people to feel things often in my music.
“Moo Vit” is Mark Bassey’s tune- he likes a play on words and he thought we needed a fast tune on the album. Having the sousaphone there as well changes how we’re going to play it because we’ve got to breathe- I think it makes it sound punchy.
LJN: Do you have particular musicians in mind when you write?
CG: I do. Chris Spedding was a session musician who started off playing bass with Dusty Springfield and then joined Nucleus as a guitarist and played a lot with Carla Bley. He’s quite bluesy and likes New Orleans stuff- it makes your heart skip a beat. Chris Kibble is just a phenomenal Latin player- I met him playing salsa. The double bass player who’ll be at Pizza Express, Lloyd Coote, also plays sousaphone so he’s going to have to bring a car full of stuff. Mark Bassey has been in the band for 12 or 13 years. His trombone playing is just fantastic. He’s got a really positive way of looking at things. People often say together we’re a bit like Laurel and Hardy. I like talking to the audience and including them in things and Mark does the same. There’s my brother Sam Glasson on drums. He’s a great fan of Cuban music and he’s got all the instruments to go with it. I do a lot of percussion too, so we work well together.
LJN: How did you start writing?
CG: I taught myself guitar when I was about 8 and wrote songs, and I had a really great music teacher at secondary school. I started arranging Handel tunes for string trios and quartets- playing a couple of instruments gave me a different insight into how music is put together. I was playing jazz at the same time and had started saxophone. It’s just carried on from there. As a musician now I still do a bit of everything, which I like- it keeps the wolf from the door!
LJN: It’s an incredible list of people that you’ve played sessions with, from Nick Cave to Oasis.
CG: I’ve been really lucky, but of course you have to come up with the goods. Being a session musician is quite a privilege- to get booked to play on all these great people’s records.
LJN: Who are your main jazz influences?
CG: It depends on what day it is! I really like Arthur Blythe, Roland Kirk, Joe Henderson, Stan Getz, John Coltrane, John Zorn, Jean Luc Ponty…
LJN: “Jazz Saw” is pretty unusual!
CG: It’s a very sharp instrument and it is quite dangerous. The top is where you put your bow and the sharp bit, where the teeth are, point down, then you’ve got to bend it…my dad played in a band which was made up from people from the Bonzo Dog Doo-Dah Band, so I’d always seen saws.
I’m really excited to play in London at Pizza Express again- it’s just my favourite club in London. I want it to affect you in some way, to go away feeling great or better- we’re playing for everybody.
LJN: Thank you!
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LINKS: Charlotte Glasson’s website