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Phil Robson


Appearances at SoundCellar -

THE PHIL ROSON TRIO - 16th Feb 2012



Question 1 - What made you want to become a musician?

I always loved music but discovering rock music when I was 10 made me ask my parents for a guitar.


Question 2 - What was your practice routine when you decided to get serious about playing jazz?

I have to be honest & say I have never had any set practice routine. I know it works for some people but not for me. When I was 14, I studied with John Richards at the guitar centre in Burton Upon Trent. John encouraged my interest in jazz but essentially trained me to be an all round musician. He caught me at the perfect age where I basically did everything he told me to do because it was so much more exciting than school! It included learning to read, learning about chords, playing lots of styles from the wide world of guitar, transcribing, technique, getting ideas from books, developing sound etc, etc


Question 3 – What advice can you give to other musicians to get the most from their practice routine?

Try to isolate subjects & don't try to do everything at once for example, in order to learn to play in 7/4 don't start with Giant Steps! Try not to put your hands on the instrument without at least being fairly confident that you know what you want to go for, because your muscle memory of mistakes is really hard to undo.


Question 4 - Can you recommend some books that helped you with your studies?

Complete Book of Harmonic Extensions for Guitar by Bret Willmott- Mel Bay. It is an advanced comping book but very well written with fantastic practical examples. Joe Diorio- jazz & blues, I think it was called but I've dipped into hundreds eg Slonimsky, Liebman & loads of piano, horn players transcription books.

Question 5 - Which recording, either as a leader or a sideman, do you think is the best example of your playing?

That is very hard for me to say. I only ever enjoy bits. The solo I play on one of my tunes called 'The Red Horse On The Ocean' from an old CD called 'Screenwash' is very honest so it stands up. I think the overall picture I got on Partisans 'By Proxy' was cool & I like all of the textural stuff I played on Christine Tobin's 'Sailing To Byzantium'. I also like my outro from my last album on the track 'Telegram' but I very rarely listen to my own stuff.


Question 6 - Do you have a standard procedure for your compositional process?

The only thing I always do is start by writing notes (not the musical kind) in a jotter where I try to imagine the sort of piece that I would like to write. From there onwards I try to hear it more and more until I have a sound in my head but after that there is no set routine. It could start with a bass line, a melody, chords etc. The rest is problem solving & logic which I mostly do on the guitar. I do lots of listening to music when I'm trying to get started too & some transcription if I want to understand a sound.

Question 7 - What qualities do you look for in your collaborators?

Openness, flexibility, good feel, warmth of sound.


Question 8 - Name some of your favourite standards and tell me why you like them.

'You Don't Know What Love Is' - Classic, bluesy tune, which is romantic & sad with good sequence.

'Bye Bye Blackbird' - A real challenge to harmonise convincingly. I'm always trying to get this better!

'I Love You' - great vehicle for improv where harmony lends well to manipulation at many tempos without losing the feel of the melody.

Lush Life - genius! I love loads of Wayne Shorter tunes, particularly 'Fall' at the moment.


Question 9 – What are some of your desert island discs?

Miles Davis- Miles in Antibes,

McCoy Tyner- The Real McCoy

Joni Mitchell - Blue

Betty Carter - Inside

Dave Holland - Extensions

Black Sabbath - volume 4

Oumou Sangare - Ko Sira, Bartok string quartets

Gary Bartz - Harlem bush music

Barney Kessel 'Just Friends'

Elis & Tom.................................................. impossible for me to get it into 10, I love so many, equally!


Question 10 - What music are you listening to at the moment?

Sonny Rollins live in 59 with Kenny Clarke & Henry Grimes. Bobby Broom - Upper West Side Story. Checked out a bit of Bjork's 'Biophilia' which I want to get back to.


Question 11 - What motivates you to focus on creative music?

I don't really ever consider that but I can actually do it a lot better if I'm in a calm state of mind, away from whatever neurosis might have originally driven it.


Question 12 – Tell me about some of the most memorable gigs you’ve played?

I played with Bheki Mseleku when I was 16 at Brownes in Derby & that was very inspiring. Years ago I spent a week playing with Gene Calderazzo & Thad Kelly & lots of local youths in Soweto which was definitely life changing! I did a Partisans gig in Birmingham once at the Yardbird where for some reason it felt like being in Led Zeppelin because the student crowd was so great & we were so loud! Have been lucky to have so many but my recent gigs in NY were really fantastic fun.


Question 13 - Tell me about some of the most memorable gigs you’ve been to?

Miles Davis (my all time musical hero) at Wembley conference centre in 86. Joe Henderson at the Jazz Cafe around 92. Paul Motion Trio at the Half Moon in Stepney around 89. Many gigs at the old vortex but 'Big Air' stands out around 2000. Marc Copland trio in 'Cleopatra's needle' NYC around 98. Youssou N'Dour Wayne Shorter Roy Haynes, & Wayne Krantz, all not too long ago & saw an amazing duo only weeks ago in Manaus, Brazil playing outside a bar with the whole street joining in.

Question 14 – Tell me about your current equipment set up?

I play two different hand made guitars by 'Case guitars' which are great. I either use an old polytone mini brute 2 or a Fender Hot Rod Deluxe. After that, fairly standard pedals although I like posh delays so I have an 'Eventide Time Factor'. I currently use 'D'Andrea plec' pics & Newtone Archtop 12-52 strings although I'm forever experimenting with that so next time you see me it will probably be different. I also have a great Fender Strat which I use in studios plus some acoustic guitars but I never use them on gigs.


Question 15 – Tell me about some musicians you think people should check out?

UK, (if they didn't already), Gareth Lockrane, Ross Stanley, Rachael Cohen, Liam Noble. Otherwise US drummer Marcus Gilmore, John O' Gallagher -alto. Marc Copland- piano. Sheryl Bailey-guitar.


Question 16 - What's your favourite cultural pursuit other than music?

I like films by good directors eg Pedro Almodovar, Ford-Coppola etc & really into Scandanavian thrillers such as 'The Killing' & 'The Bridge'. Otherwise, I love to travel (recently went to Brazil for the first time), walking by the sea or in the countryside & generally enjoy the odd bit of everything to do with the arts. Also really love listening to very dry science progs on Radio 4 which I don't understand! Turkish food has played a major role in my life too.


Question 17 - What do you think of the state of jazz in the UK and based on your recent experiences in New York how does it differ from the scene there?

There are great musicians all around the world & they all have things from their environment which others don't have which enrich their music. . There are many really amazing musicians here but sadly I think that we are one of the fastest countries to really lose live music as part of everyday life outside of crass, media driven events but that is much wider than the jazz scene. There I said it! Basically there is a great jazz scene here.


Question 18 - Have you got any tips for jazz promoters?

Thinking of the whole spectrum I'd say keep an open mind & present a varied programme, even if you don't personally like every band. Also it would be great to let some artists 'see a project through' meaning that there is a lot of pressure on band leaders to come up with a new thing every season which is actually totally unnatural. We tweek things for much longer, left to our own devices. Respect the audience but be brave too.


Question 19 - What was the last thing you heard that got you excited?

Elgar - The Dream Of Gerontius heard on radio 3.


Question 20 – Have you got anything you'd like to promote?

I haven't put any new CDS out for a while myself so I'm still promoting my 'Immeasurable Code' CD (Whirlwind Recordings Ltd) & Christine Tobin's 'Sailing To Byzantium'. Christine has just recorded two great new projects, the first of which is her interpretations of Leonard Cohen songs called 'A Thousand Kisses Deep' which will be out in the autumn along with lots of gigs in rural areas of the UK & a Purcell room gig as part of LJF on Nov 19th. I'd like to promote the Whirlwind festival at London's Kings Place between Oct 10-12 which will be fab. Partisans intend to record soon & I have various plans which should come to light soon.