Canadian-born, London-resident trumpeter Jay Phelps had a jazz radio show on Worldwide FM from 2020 to 2022. Now he has launched a new video series on Youtube, where he follows jazz movers and shakers to find what makes them tick. As he says, “I want ‘Ear to the Ground’ to bridge some gaps between the artist and their listeners [..] in a way that enhances appreciation of this amazing music.” Interview by Jon Turney.
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London Jazz News: You are a busy player, composer, leader and lately a radio guy. How did that start?
Jay Phelps: At the height of the pandemic, I reached out to radio supremo Jez Nelson, telling him that I was interested in getting into presenting. He graciously advised on a couple of things I should do, and also mentioned that he would be meeting that day with Gilles Peterson. Worldwide FM was creating amazing content then and I was interested in helping those who were trying to get their music on the radio, as it’s not easy. It turned out I became one of the regular presenters at Worldwide FM with my show Ear to the Ground. I regularly interviewed artists in the studio, or even at my house as I pre-recorded the shows. The conversation became a big feature of the show as it was a chat between artists. I was able to ask musically challenging questions, which prompts my subject to delve deeper into their experiences and process.
LJN: And that led to this new venture in video?
JP: Sadly, Worldwide FM stopped making new shows in October 2022. Then I had a bit of an epiphany as I was watching a documentary series about the UFC (mixed martial arts competition) called ‘Anatomy of a Fighter’, by Will Harris. I was amazed how his connections with the fighters meant he was granted access to their colourful personal lives. I said to myself: this radio show is not going to fizzle out, but instead it will progress to a documentary series following artists in their daily lives, using the great connections with people in the music industry I’ve built over 20 years.
LJN: Who are the first few subjects, and who would you most like to nab in future?
JP: The first episodes have featured trumpeter, Mark Kavuma, singer Jelly Cleaver and trumpeter and all-round, brass man Jonathan Enser. Those videos are already up on the Ear to the Ground YouTube channel.
For that channel, I want to display the multifaceted array of creatives that are involved in this amazing contemporary music scene. I also want to showcase some of the club owners and proprietors, the people who show great heart and willingness to keep creative music alive.
But of course, I would love to feature a day in the life of many great contemporary artists. Perhaps I could nab Wynton Marsalis for this as I did stay at his house once in NYC for a week!
LJN: How has the production format developed? Do you have a video crew and a director, or is it all your own work? Is it inspired by anyone else’s work in particular?
JP: Producing videos like this doesn’t have to cost loads of money, but you have to have things well planned out. I direct, produce, film and edit everything myself using my iPhone 14 Pro and Final Cut Pro. Other than my inspiration from Will Harris, I feel that I am covering a lot of new ground as my subject is predominantly jazz music. I also love food and originally wanted to do a jazz and food series, so that concept has crept into this as well. So I went to the local Caribbean take away with Mark Kavuma. Jonathan Enser cooked us a fantastic meal of Shakshuka and Arepas. I had a lovely cup of tea with Jelly Cleaver and in the next episode a veggie Raman cooked by Parthenope and her partner Harry Pearce. Much like music, food is a combination of different ingredients and flavours. Sharing a meal with my fellow artists is a wonderful way for the conversation to flow.
LJN: What do you most want the viewer to take away from these shows?
JP: I am trying to produce a documentary series that has a very broad view of the contemporary jazz scene here in the UK and beyond. I feel that it is very easy to buy an album or go to a show, but rarely do we hear the stories and understand the personality behind the music from the horse’s mouth. I want Ear to the Ground to bridge some gaps between the artist and their listeners, giving insight into players’ process in a way that enhances appreciation of this amazing music.
LJN: You’re going to add to the channel every week. Who is coming up next?
I will feature one artist monthly but their story is told over the course of the month in a few parts. This is my way of keeping the viewer engaged and keen to see more. Next up I’m releasing Jonathan Enser (part 2) and following that in February will be a feature on rising star multi-instrumentalist Parthenope (see her own Instagram here). She has been making huge waves on social media and is now using that to springboard her career as an artist.
LJN: And – as they say – in other news – we hear there is a new album soon?
JP: Yes, that’s right, ‘The Now’ will be coming out in May, with the first single out in March. I have signed to Platoon records (Apple Music) and I’m excited about that.
LJN: And another story that does the rounds is that you somehow find the time to follow in the family tradition and run a music agency?
JP: You’ve heard right! ‘SoulEndvr’ (WEBSITE) is also ticking over quite nicely: we’ve been involved on some big productions with Netflix, BBC, HBO, Amazon Prime etc.
LINK: Ear to the Ground YouTube Channel
Categories: Feature/Interview, Feature/Interview (PP)
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