Gaz Hughes’ new album ‘Beboptical Illusion’

Gaz Hughes is a drummer from Cheshire. His third album in his own name, original tunes in homage to the classic Blue Note era, has just been released. Album feature by Sebastian Scotney.

Gaz Hughes. Publicity photo

Cheshire-based drummer Gaz Hughes is one of life’s positive spirits and enthusiasts. This is something which comes across clearly, just from the very first few seconds of the opening track of his new album “Beboptical Illusion”. His playing is propulsive and full of energy. As he says of the experience of both listening and playing jazz: “if there is energy and there is dialogue and interaction, that’s what draws me in.”

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Knowing this it is perhaps no surprise that the tour to launch the album already consists of more than thirty dates, all booked by Gaz himself. His way of looking at the world is glass-half-full (and more).

Having worked extensively as a sideman in both pop/rock and jazz ever since his late teens – he is now in his mid thirties – Hughes launched a first album in his own name, a tribute to Art Blakey for a sextet in early 2020, and then an album of standard in in 2022 called “Beboperation”

This third, follow-up album – with the same pianist (Andrzej Baranek) and bassist (Ed Harrison) who appeared on the sextet album and the previous trio album – consists of original compositions. Baranek and Harrison are among the busiest jazz players in the North-West, and the three click well musically and enjoy each others’ company.

Gaz Hughes’ determination to be a musician came early. As a ten-year-old growing up in Knutsford, Cheshire, he remembers his best friend from primary school starting lessons on the guitar. He knew straight away what he wanted to do. “That’s it then,” he remembers thinking… “I’ll be the drummer.” From then, the support which his parents gave him to pursue his music-making was consistent , and he was also motivated by the encouragement he received from good local teachers, drummer Jode Leigh and guitarist Paul Whitehead. He says of these teachers:“they could see I was really keen, and were always positive and encouraging.” These external factors, plus his own determination and work-rate have propelled his career.

In jazz, he has been part of local rhythm sections working with visiting Americans such as Scott Hamilton, Harry Allen and Greg Abate. He was also the original drummer of Matt Halsall’s first band, but their aesthetic priorities diverged. His rock/pop credits include work with Patti Boulaye and Suzi Quatro.

That range of activity has broadened him as a musician, but it is to the idols of the classic Blue Note era that he is drawn, and from which he draws his perception, say, of the perfect jazz drummer. His answer to that question came straight back when I asked him, it is clearly something that he has thought through: “Max Roach’s way of crafting a solo…Art Blakey use of dynamics…. Philly Joe Jones’s total mastery of rudiments.. and Jimmy Cobb’s use of the ride cymbal.”

Gaz Hughes’s veneration for the classic period of jazz also is at the heart of the whole idea of what the new album is about. “I am a huge Blue note and bebop fan,” he says. “ I love that the melodies are so memorable.” That was the idea behind the tunes he wrote for the album, “the kind that are easy to sing back,” he says. This should be music that communicates and connects with people. “Sometimes composing a piece of music can be overwhelming when you’re faced with a blank piece of paper and too many possibilities. I create the best music when I put restrictions on my writing. Limitation can be the most creative tool you can use. This could be a specific starting point, a mood, a melodic phrase or set a of chords that I can develop. ”

In fact he used a particular time and a particular method to construct the tunes. He travels from his home to some of his outside commitments by motor bike. He used the travelling time to sing tunes to himself, and thought to himself that “ if it sticks in the memory then I’ll use it”. He knew that he wanted there to be contrast, to write tunes with real character. So “Concorde” has a New Orleans second line parade feel to it and “Edith” is a slow-ish 6/8 minor ballad: “people don’t expect drummers to write tunes like that,” he laughs. “Sticks and Stones” is a contrafact based on the harmonies of Parker’s “Confirmation”.

Gaz Hughes has a simple principle in mind: “What I want to get is music that people can really relate to.”

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LINK: Beboptical Illusion on Bandcamp

Gaz Hughes’s website / for tour dates click “Upcoming Shows”

Beboptical Illusion was released on 3 February 2023

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