N e w s
NY in NY - New York is amazing
24 Aug 2013
Organising my trip to New York at the end of September as part of my Arts Council Wales mentorship and artistic development programme. I'll be hooking up with some great New York jazzers to pick their brains:
Sadly I received the news that Laurie Frink, with whom I had 3 sessions booked, passed away last month. RIP Laurie. I know I missed a great opportunity to learn from you.
The Jazz Worriers CDs and DVD
16 Nov 2013
All recorded mixed and mastered... deciding what goes where now for 2 CDs and 2 live DVDs...
I'm pleased to say jazz is alive and well in New York, and it's awesome. As well as seeing loads of people wearing "I love Neil Yates" T-shirts (I think that's what it means...) I also went to at least 4 gigs a day, visiting most of the 40 or so jazz clubs offering live jazz at all hours, some of them sporting 3 bands a night. That is a scene, and I'm afraid Colwyn Bay can't quite live up to it!
It seems the American masses mostly think they hate it, of course, much like Joe Public here! I didn't see any of it on TV, or hear it in any shops or on taxi cab radios or in 'ordinary' bars or cafes or restaurants. That hugely generalised but nonetheless real swathe of humanity (known to our govenrment ministers as the 'plebs') are never really presented with it in its true form. There, like here, jazz lovers have usually been guided somehow toward it by a relative, a teacher, a friend, then have to search it out on 'minority' cable channels and 'specialist' radio stations. Just like here.
But despite the best efforts of Big Media to melt the musical icecaps and drown our art in the rising waters of more controllable and therefor lucrative pop mediocrity, jazz music in all its forms still retains a powerful place in that nation's artistic expression. In just 12 nights in New York I saw more jazz gigs than I could see here in North Wales in 12 years. It was festival proportion musical imbibing. I didn't hit overdose either. Like a punch drunk boxer I kept coming back for another blow to the head. And it was like being punched in many ways. The sheer power and energy of some of the New York rhythm sections swing feel is something, I'm afraid to say, I rarely seem to hear in the UK. No offence of course lads and lasses, we have our own thing for sure; and it's creative, it's genuinely original, it's artistically valid and it has great character and identity, but it has a completely different raison d'être from our New York siblings' output.
The main difference seems to be that when they play swing, despite the incredible complexity of much of the musical substance around it, they're still playing dance music. It makes me want to move the same way African music does (my wife's Zimbabwean heritage means our house often vibrates to Zim pop, Zim gospel and Borrowdale dance music.) I'm not necessarily saying our jazz should feel like dance music, I'm saying New York's does, in a big way. No matter how obtuse or disguised the swing pattern gets, no matter how far from the pulse the polyrhythmic patterns stray across it, underneath it all, the soul is dancing. And so was I. When a band flew off at a twisted tuplet tangent their eventual slam back into swing reminded me of an exploding planet in a Star Trek movie… there's a flash, a short silence, a growing rumble, then a huge explosion followed by a rolling, expanding shockwave that will take out your artificial gravity even on red alert with shields up, and carry your helpless vessel bouncing along on the wave. Jeff 'Tain' Watts took out my primary deflector array on one of the first gigs I saw. He was playing with Yosvany Terry at Dizzy's Club Coca Cola in the Lincoln Center. The club is Wynton Marsalis' baby, I think, 5th floor, huge glass windows overlooking Central Park at night and the Uptown Manhattan skyline above.
From that moment on I was in New Yorks grip. It was all so powerful, so diverse, and jazz music is its true voice. In that city jazz is alive and well and living alongside all it's offspring, albeit mostly in basement flats. All the avenues jazz has taken in its history, all the bi-cultural marriages once met with disapproval, all the diversity of a century of explorative music making are here. The media isn't looking at it, but the people of artistic substance are. The city throws you round the grid, bustles you down the sidewalk, rattles you through the Subway and spits you out on the corner of Something Street and Something Else Avenue. And so does the music.
To me there's a perceivable difference between an old school and a new school that I've noticed before but not seen in the flesh. It's perhaps like if you listen to a Kenny Dorham record then put on Wynton Marsalis. There's a difference. The young horn guys in New York now seem to be mostly 'classically trained' with perfect chops, clinically flawless execution as well as boundless harmonic possibility in every line. It seems that maybe Wynton has set the bar, and made it a pre-requisite to be completely in control of the horn to an extent where every sound is a deliberate action. I'm perhaps not sure that some of the trumpet gods of the older generations, though they were undoubtedly striving for such effortless and physically non-detrimental control, actually attained it to that level (- apart from maybe Clark Terry who's chops have never failed!) There's an element of danger in the music of say, Kenny Dorham, Lee Morgan, or Freddie Hubbard that I feel constitutes a kind of wild abandon. They weren't afraid to go for something regardless of whether it would come out perfect or end in disaster. And those disasters are some of the most beautiful moments in recorded jazz! I didn't see too much of this in the current crop, but I was still blown away by their sounds, feel, lines and ideas. They tended to call the old school players 'specialists' - i.e. those specialsing in the traditions of bop or older styles rather than seeking to be at the cutting edge of the current vibe.
Although I'm pretty confident when it comes to expressing my feelings through music I confess I felt pretty outclassed technically on the horn, and quite dazed by some of the melodic angularity, so, what the hell, I took some lessons!
I had some long conversations and playing sessions with trumpeters Mike Rodriguez, Matt Jodrell, Josh Lawrence, Jeremy Pelt, all younger than me, and learned a lot from each that I brought home to work on now. You sometimes don't realise your own weaknesses until you're face to face with a top NY cat with a horn in your hand and a hole in your technique… They've been taught properly and have clearly practiced fanatically, and got it all down. Gratifyingly, they're all praiseful of my sound, feel and concept, but still had plenty to show me.
I realise I haven't had a real 1 to 1 jazz lesson since I was 20. I'm 43. Why not? We're all learning all our lives! Trouble is, if you ask your peers for help in the UK there's a kind of self-effacing reserve, an awkward laugh, and it never really happens. But I don't know these guys, and I'm paying for their time, so the wisdom and advice flows. They shared unreservedly and I came away inspired. I have some answers to my confusions and strategies to approach my weaknesses. The slightly older players seem to have taken a less formal but no less effective approach to technique. Scott Wendholt is only a few years my senior and has had a similarly turbulent relationship with the trumpet and the music. He's overcome so much that his lesson is packed with information and ideas on how to keep moving forward while retaining the identity I have attained so far. I also take a lesson with Village Vanguard Jazz Orchestra saxman Billy Drewes - I saw him play at Smalls with pianist Kenny Werner's band. The band just breathed jazz with an ease that reminded me of yoga masters moving from position to position. Every moment was alive with collective presence and awareness. The four voices spoke as one, telling stories and jokes, reminiscing and imagining, laughing and sharing. Nothing happened until it was the time for it to happen. Billy threw a few curve-balls that changed the whole direction of the music each time. He lesson threw similar curve balls at me!
I bumped into a few old friends over there: Pianist Cecilia Coleman, with whom i toured in Benn Clatworthy's band a few years ago, let me sit in as an impromptu guest soloist with her big band at Garage, I hooked up with a North Wales compadre, the Wales Poet Laureate for Young People, Martin Dawes, and took him to a few great gigs, and ran into Gilad Atzmon at Fat Cat. The rest of my time in New York, though I was among complete strangers, and I felt right at home. Colwyn Bay is looking kind of small right now..!
16 Nov 2013
7 June 2013
With the end of the Five Countries Wales tour I'm looking forward this year to creating an all new creative project to investigate some new musical directions. Watch this space...
Tour of Wales coming up...
30 April 2013
Touring my adoptive homeland - the inspiration for so much of my music - starts next week! 4 gigs across Wales in 5 days with Five Countries in double-bill with Neon Quartet, organised by Edition Records.
See the concerts page for details.
LCoM Contemporary Jazz Orchestra performance of Surroundings Suite -
Leeds College of Music Contemporary Jazz Orchestra did a great job performing the MJF Originals suite. Thanks to all the students and staff. I think it went down great and was a real experience for all involved. Video footage should be available soon...
20 March 2013
The lip injury needed a full 5 weeks rest and treatment (hot and cold water and Arnica Cream) to recover. Luckily not too many gigs were missed. Five Countries went ahead with the Gitarau a Galeri Festival with guest Uli Elbracht and featured me on bass guitar! I'm now working hard to build my strength back up ready for the Ribble Valley gi and the Five Countries Tour in May. Thanks to Prof. David King for his advice and expertise.
9 February 2013
A close encounter with a pillar in St Georges Church in Bristol gave me a huge blood-blister inside my embouchure... Despite resting all this week the injury is not sufficiently healed to perform at Turner Sims in Southampton on Friday 15th so I've been forced to withdraw from the performance. The concert will feature instead another Edition Records act TBC. I have consulted a brass specialist (Professor David King) who has recommended a course of treatment to disperse the coagulated blood still present in the vessels of the lip that is causing an obstruction to correct muscular function. I'm hoping the treatment will be effective and enable me to perform at the Gitarau yn Galeri festival Feb 23rd. My apologies to everyone this affects, especially Turner Sims, the audience, and Edition Records.
The Jazz Worriers are here!!!
30 April 2013
Working on a fun new project with tenor sax loony Dean Masser - swinging quintet jazz with a light-hearted approach to presentation. Best in our price range? Probably better and cheaper.
We come highly recommended:
"We were on the edge of our seats!" - British Backpackers Association
"We gave them a stooping ovation" - Osteoporosis Society
"Not exactly what we were expecting but we got off on it" - Rhyl Swingers Club
"Went down very well, came up again smoothly" - Bulimia UK
"Prompt and efficient payer, thanks" - ebay
"Bonvolu doni al ili labori antau ol ili estas devigataj vendi sian renoj"
- British Esperanto Society
The PRSF Beyond Borders funded commission for a big band suite featuring Michael McGoldrick at Celtic Connections, Manchester Jazz Festival and London Jazz Festival is underway, but it looks like the premieres will be postponed from 2013 to 2014 for various reasons. That takes the pressure off a bit!
The track that didn't make it...
Recently found a track from the New Origins sessions in 2005 that didn't make it onto the CD because it was too different to the rest of the stuff. If you're interested have a listen on Soundcloud.
The track that made it elsewhere...
Bodhran genius Martin O'Neill has included a track from New Origins on his new compilation CD In Session. Check it out here.
Say Hello to Dr. Yates!
27 November 2012
Say hello to Dr. Yates!
...Just completed my viva voce exam for my PhD. Many thanks to my supervisor Dr. Robin Dewhurst and to the members of the panel. The thesis was based upon investigation of performance between genres focussing on jazz and traditional instrumental music of Ireland and Britain.