“In London I’ve been able to develop more confidence and figure out how to be a band leader, in all senses.” Canadian pianist Sean Fyfe has certainly earned his place on the London jazz scene since he moved from New York to the capital two years ago. Now with a new all-star band in tow, Fyfe is setting his sights on some of London’s cornerstone jazz clubs (dates below). Feature by Izzy Blankfield:
Originally from Victoria in British Columbia, Sean Fyfe studied in Montreal and at the Manhattan School of Music in New York, before relocating to London in 2021. “Montreal felt a lot smaller for the kind of music I wanted to do. New York is much bigger: there’s a lot of every kind of music, and a lot of people generally,” he explains.
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“It’s certainly less intimidating in London. It feels like there’s more work around. But Victoria, Montreal and New York have shaped who I am as a musician. Everything I learnt along the way I’ve brought with me here.”
Fyfe has since worked with giants of the UK jazz scene, including Alex Garnett, Steve Fishwick, Jeremy Brown, Josh Morrison and Matt Home. An accomplished sideman, Fyfe recognises that the time has come to branch out as a player and composer. “In London I’ve been able to develop more confidence and figure out how to be a band leader, in all senses.”
Fyfe draws inspiration from New York mainstay pianist Ray Gallon and hard bop pioneer Horace Silver in his compositions. His playing is infused with hints of Erroll Garner and Wynton Kelly. “There’s a decent amount of Bill Evans in there too,” he tells me.
“My biggest influence right now is probably Cedar Walton. He uses a lot of fast, sharp bebop language, and I try to emulate that as much as I can. It’s original and technically challenging, and that’s what makes it fun.”
Fyfe’s debut album Late Night, released last year, is a collaboration with guitarist Sam Kirmayer, drummer Andre White and bassist Adrian Vedady, long-time connections from his time in Montreal. Fyfe returned to Montreal to record the album: “I’d been writing music for a project like this for almost 5 years, but the actual recording happened very quickly,” he laughs. “In the pandemic something clicked in me – I wanted to get something out there in my own name.”
Late Night is an intricate project that sees seven of Fyfe’s own compositions complemented by a poignant solo recording of Billy Strayhorn’s ‘Lush Life’. The pianist’s favourite track, ‘To Wes’, is a cheerful, high-energy bop, a tribute to the legendary American jazz guitarist Wes Montgomery. Across the tracks, Fyfe meanders around the keys in a series of impressive solos, bolstered throughout by his quartet.
The coming months will see Fyfe take to the stage in London with a new band: Dave O’Higgins on tenor saxophone, Luke Fowler on bass and Matt Fishwick on drums. Each of these London-based musicians complements Fyfe’s playing in a unique way. “Dave has a very strong sound, a lot of language under his fingers. Matt has a great swing feel on the drums: everything is as it should be. And Luke is the perfect foundation!” Fyfe tells me.
The quartet’s exciting schedule includes performances at Oliver’s Jazz Bar on 8 April, The Oxford Tavern on 17 April and Growlers and Cans in Guildford on 21 June. The highlight of Fyfe’s upcoming gigs is sure to be his 24 April performance at Pizza Express in Soho, a mix of jazz standards and Fyfe’s own compositions.
Fyfe isn’t stopping there. The band is looking further afield, with performances at larger clubs and festivals in the UK and across Europe one of Fyfe’s main goals this year. Fyfe also intends to record a new album in the summer – a culmination of the unique, virtuosic sound he is exploring with the band in their London shows this spring.
With a jam-packed year ahead, Fyfe shows no sign of slowing down. “I’m excited to be playing under my own name! I can do whatever I want to do musically, I’m playing songs that I’d really like to be playing. This is a better showcase of what I can do and what I want to be doing.”
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Oliver’s Jazz Bar – 8 April
The Oxford Tavern – 17 April
Pizza Express Soho – 24 April
Growlers and Cans, Guildford – 21 June
LINKS: Sean Fyfe on Bandcamp
Categories: Feature/Interview, Feature/Interview (PP)
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