Appearances at SoundCellar -
The REUBEN FOWLER Septet - Thursday 1st August 2013
Question 1 - What made you want to become a musician?
I was always surrounded by music from a young age (my mum is a peripatetic music teacher and brilliant cellist, flautist and pianist) so I was always interested in playing, listening and attending concerts. However it was only really when I started listening to jazz at the age of around 15 that I decided being a musician might be what I wanted to spend my life doing. I struggled for a long time with chops on the trumpet, and I played a little piano too, so really it was a couple of inspirational teachers early on who really encouraged me to play the trumpet and helped sort out my technical issues (Nick Smart, Pat White and Mike Lovatt in particular) that are responsible, I guess.
Question 2 - What was your practice routine when you decided to get serious about playing jazz?
I think I really focussed on the technical issues of playing the instrument first, and much of my jazz playing kind of happened naturally because I was listening so much. Saying that, I went through a phase of playing along to records a lot when I was younger, and stealing some of the lines I heard and playing them in ensembles at school. I didn't understand any harmony, so for a long time (up to age 16/17) I couldn't really follow chord changes and just blagged it by ear: I recall being worried about this at the time but now I'm quite glad I learned that way. I just became a nut about practising- I used to feel bad if I hadn't put a couple of hours a day on the horn. I don't practise that much now; in between writing and generally trying to make it as a working musician I don't have the time to do much more than a few exercises and technical studies here and there, although I'm trying to do more.
Question 3 – What advice can you give to other musicians to get the most from their practice routine?
I think Nick Smart and Gerard Presencer really got me into trying to kill as many birds with one stone as possible. You can sit around and practise your tonguing, and then your flexibility, and then do some aural practise, and work on changes and time; although there are ways to practise all of this at once. For instance I used to practise technical studies that were really diatonic and good for chops, however I'd transpose them through all twelve keys and then change their tonality so they were minor instead of major, or melodic minor, or dominant 7, or any other mode: I think I practised them through all the major and melodic minor modes. I also used to practise them with different variations of tonguing and try and focus on tuning. Another good thing to do is if you've transcribed a solo, take a couple of the lines you like and try working them out in twelve keys and then learning a new tune and trying to 'insert' that idea/line into as many places it will fit. That way you're working on your playing in different keys, expanding your vocabulary and learning new repertoire. It's good to shed these things slow with a metronome as well as not only is it good for your time, but also it makes it a bit easier when you're trying to coordinate your fingers around new language.
Question 4 - Can you recommend some books that helped you with your studies?
There are loads of great books that are well worthwhile checking out. For brass instrumentalists: Maggio System for Brass, the Herbert Clarke book, Charles Collin Lip Flexibilties, the Vizzutti books (I used to practise the 'vocalise' study book loads on flugel a few years ago to try and work on my sound.) You can buy loads of transcription books of your favourite soloists, although its better to try and do it yourself. If you're getting into arranging then its good to check out the Henry Mancini Book: 'Sounds and Scores.' The Gil Goldstein book is also quite good. If you're starting out, then buy some Aebersolds and play along. Its good fun and its time on the instrument. If you shed your facility and technique then I think you can learn a lot about jazz by going out, playing it, checking out your favourite musicians and generally fiddling around and trying to emulate what you hear- you don't really need a book. Although the Mark Levine Jazz Theory book might come in handy.
Question 5 - Which recording, either as a leader or a sideman, do you think is the best example of your playing?
I'm quite happy with how my album, 'Between Shadows' came out; although at this point in life I don't know if I really find it that easy recording. I think the album is a testament to where I'm at with my writing, orchestrating, and (to an extent) playing; however I'm sure the best example of my playing is probably on a CD, iPhone or a Zoom recorder somewhere from a gig I decided to bootleg. That's probably when I play best.
Question 6 - Do you have a standard procedure for your compositional process?
I try not to overwhelm myself too much- if you start looking at 18 staves on a page that you have to fill then I find I freak out a bit and don't know where to start. I try and find strong melodies; themes that kind of speak for themselves, and then flesh it out from there. Usually at some point into the process inspiration hits and some harmonic and rhythmic things present themselves. The best thing to do is make a start; fiddle around on a piano and try and find a seed of an idea that you can grow into a composition. It doesn't matter if you think its amazing or awful; just start with something and usually the more you work and write the more inspired you get and that single idea can grow into something else. When I arrange these pieces for large ensemble, I usually start by writing down the gestures or 'broader' ideas I'm feeling (whether it be form, a voicing, a mixture of instruments, or something like that) and then fill in the finer ideas once I know what direction I'm going in a bit more.
Question 7 - What qualities do you look for in your collaborators?
I've been quite lucky as its always been quite obvious! I think people who play with lots of personality; they don't have to nail ever single chord change necessarily (I certainly can't!) however I guess there has to be a level of harmonic understanding. As long as they play with lots of vibe and it really sounds like them. James Gardiner Bateman is great like that! I also have to know them well and have a social connection with them too, to a certain extent. In the big band I guess its a little different; I need woodwind players who can double on flute and clarinet for instance.
Question 8 - Name some of your favourite standards and tell me why you like them.
A Nightingale Sang in Berkeley Square- I think its a really beautiful melody and there's something magical about that connection between the lyrics and the music. It really speaks to me. I like All of You a lot as it presents itself for lots of different harmonic options; the Miles version with Herbie on is a prime example of lots of different directions you can take that tune. Its hard to find a Strayhorn tune that isn't incredible; Lush Life is a great example of a powerful melody with changes that compliment it perfectly. I guess I like tune with a strong melody, vocal-like quality and beautiful changes. If the melody, changes and lyrics all work together then even as an instrumentalist I enjoy playing it a lot more. For instance: 'Taking a Chance on Love', 'How About You', 'London by Night', 'My Ship', 'Round Midnight.' I'm sure there's more but I struggle to think of them right now.
Question 9 – What are some of your desert island discs?
Miles Ahead- Miles, Music for Large and Small Ensembles- Kenny Wheeler, Upswing- Tom Harrell, Sail Away- Tom Harrell, Both Sides Now- Joni Mitchell, Traveloge- Joni Mitchell, Nights on Earth- Vince Mendoza. Evanescence- Maria Schneider...Again I'm sure there's more but I can't remember. Anything by Gil Evans, probably something by Chet Baker. Really enjoying James Taylor- October Road and Wide Angels by Michael Brecker at the moment.
Question 10 - What music are you listening to at the moment?
Darcy James Argue's Secret Society albums- 'Brooklyn Babylon' and 'Infernal Machines.' Gil Evans & Ten.
Question 11 - What motivates you to focus on creative music?
I think Tom Harrell put it in a better way than I ever could. As musicians we all want to be creative and express something through our music. I get kind of fed up with the changes we've been playing on for the last 70 or 80 years, so I feel like the best way I can contribute something fresh is to write new melodies and vehicles for improvisation. I guess its just part of me, I just want to try and contribute something fresh.
Question 12 – Tell me about some of the most memorable gigs you’ve played?
It wasn't a gig although I did a soundcheck with the Kenny Wheeler Big Band at the Queen Elizabeth Hall. It was a very special moment as it was one of the only times I played next to the late great Derek Watkins. He was an incredible musician and that was a huge inspiration. Not to mention that band is one of my favourite groups. We did some great gigs through college at the Royal Academy of Music (playing with Peter Erskine, Stan Sulzmann to name a couple.) That was always fun as there's very few opportunities these days now I've left college to play next to all your best mates. I've been lucky and done some nice gigs in my time, I'm always grateful to play nice music with nice people.
Question 13 - Tell me about some of the most memorable gigs you’ve been to?
Tom Harrell with the WDR Big Band in Cologne, Tom Harrell in Paris at the New Morning in 2008/9(?) I love Tom's playing. and the WDR gig had the added bonus of Michael Abene's fantastic arrangements (he's one of my favourites) played by one of the best big bands in the world. I also went with a great trumpet player and friend, Tom Walsh, so it was nice to have a couple of days really getting into the scene in Germany. It was incredible. A gig at 'The Venue' in Leeds I went to in 2007(ish) with Gerard Presencer, Mike Walker, Phil Donkin and Martin France was also an incredible gig as at the time I was really into Gerard's playing in a big way and that was the first time I really got to check out a hero in the flesh.
Question 14 – Tell me about your current equipment set up?
I play a Smith Watkins trumpet with a Vincent Bach 1C Mouthpiece, and a Geneva Platypus Flugelhorn with a Getzen 3C Mouthpiece. When I do Noy George's band I play a Warburton 3M Mouthpiece with a 6* Backbore.
Question 15 – Tell me about some musicians you think people should check out?
In the UK I'm really into Percy Pursglove's playing. I also really like Rory Simmons. I think Tom Challenger's Brass Mask is also an incredible group, as well as Troyka. Darcy James Argue's Secret Society is a great mix of brilliant improvisers and killing writing.
Question 16 - What's your favourite cultural pursuit other than music?
I spend so much time either writing or playing I don't really have space for much else. I live in a nice neighbourhood in North West London with some close friends in my house and nearby, so when I have time off I like to spend time with them and hang out over a beer or a movie.
Question 17 - What do you think of the state of jazz in the UK?
I think the scene in Europe puts us to shame a little. We no longer have a contracted big band in the UK, which is embarrassing considering the amount of money the WDR pump into their big band- they even have their instruments provided for them!! I don't know where it went wrong, it seems like noone cares about live music any more, never mind jazz. Many of the venues in the UK can no longer provide a guaranteed fee, and end up offering a door money split or in some cases even worse. Saying that, there are some lovely venues around the UK and some organisations working to promote live music that make it all worthwhile. When there's a good turnout and you're playing with some of the musicians we're lucky enough to have in this country, there's very few places I'd rather play in the world.
Question 18 - Have you got any tips for jazz promoters?
Don't ignore your emails I guess! Its easy to have favourites as there's so many recognised jazz wizards doing the rounds today, however there's loads of people practically unheard of trying to tour their bands to no avail and all this fantastic music is getting lost in a cloud of unanswered emails. Not everyone is that on it with the admin side of things, so I guess some responsibility must lie with the musician, however I think if someone offers to send you a CD, its worth checking it out and not ignoring it as you never know- it might just be amazing!
Question 19 - What was the last thing you heard that got you excited?
I think I've mentioned everything...! Obviously all the records I've mentioned, however I was on a gig with Josh Arcoleo the other day and his playing was very exciting. Josh is an incredible musician. Listening to the musicians I started at the Academy with 5 years ago (Matt Robinson, Kieran McLeod, Pat Hayes, James Gardiner Bateman, Nadim Teimoori, Josh Arcoleo, Joe Wright, Dave Hamblett, Tom McCredie...the list goes on so I'm sorry to all the people I missed!) all develop into terrifying new voices in british jazz is very exciting for me.
Question 20 – Have you got anything you'd like to promote?
Just my album 'Between Shadows' - now available on Edition Records. Keep up to date with where we're playing next too by following me on facebook at www.facebook.com/reubenfowlermusic