Saxophonist Anthony Brown commissioned me to write him a piece of music scored for solo saxophone, very kindly funded by Teresa Scholtz. Released in May 2023 on the debut album from Anthony, called ‘Anthology’, I am delighted to be in the company of wonderful musicians, in what is a deeply personal project and milestone for Anthony.
To buy the sheet music of ‘Anthology’ please go to the Astute Music website here.
To buy the album ‘Anthology’ please click here.
Below are a few words from my (the composer) perspective of the piece ‘Anthology’, along with a hand-written pdf that contains some suggestions of saxophone fingerings for some of the quarter tones. Please note that they are only suggestions - view the pdf here. I’ve played ‘Anthology’ on my Selmer mk6 tenor saxophone, so no C5 (F#) and tenor as opposed to alto saxophone that it was conceived for, and some experimentation with your instrument will I’m sure result in a set of fingerings that work on your saxophone for you in this piece of music.
As with a lot of my compositions, Anthology started with a few separate ideas & concepts. One was to explore the use of quarter tones, another was to create language that was bebop-influenced (although not swing, everything is straight) and the other was to create a shape and sense of journey that followed the pattern of a new section of music increasing in tempo, leading to the fastest tempo of over 300bpm. The final section of Anthology is time for a gradual unwind, something to me that has meditative qualities, and which offers the performer an opportunity to react to the moment by improvising with timing of placement of notes within the fully notated music.
For me every note in my music has to be there for a very good reason, and via practice at my saxophone I stumbled across experimenting with quarter tones. I loved the colours, the tension and release, and for me an added dimension of sound. As a musician who has for forty-plus years played the saxophone in a wide variety of musical genres and styles, in this case I found myself drawn to the idea of a rhythmic language that was bebop-influenced, within which were carefully chosen quarter tones. I liked the idea of leaving phrases unresolved with a quarter tone pitch, then continuing and starting the next phrase with the pitch resolution.
As the six sections of Anthology unfold, each one at a faster tempo, I had to be extremely careful about the frequency of use of quarter tones. Therefore there are more quarter tones earlier in the piece, and ones appearing later are used more sparingly (and have more than not been used previously). The thematic focus with the quarter tones is between middle E & G, which is reflected in the final meditative section of Anthology. In this case the performer repeats the E to G and back to E pattern, whilst choosing when to interject the given pitches/phrases. It gives the piece an almost improvised feel but more importantly it allows the performer to gradually relax, following the growing tension of the previous material.
I think of each phrase of having its own personality and character. The journey doesn’t want to sound easy, yes of course practise so that technically all the written demands are under control, but not at the expense of the danger and drama in performance!
Without the vision of Anthony and the generosity of Theresa, ‘Anthology’ wouldn’t have happened. Please buy the album and support Anthony with his debut album, and listen to all the great new works and playing on the recording!
I am so grateful to everyone that plays my music, a huge thank you, and I really hope that you enjoy Anthology.
I’m writing here again in May 2023. Sadly Barbara passed away last year and I attended her funeral in London last July. A very special event is on the near horizon, a Memorial Concert for Barbara. Her daughter Ana has been working very hard to draw this event together, there are so many brilliant musicians involved, and the programme of music (all written by Barbara) is so incredibly varied. I have the honour of performing ‘A Cry from the Heart’ with Paraphernalia, Barbara’s band, and the evening will be a tribute in my mind to both Barbara & Jon.
I was asked by the Clarinet & Saxophone Society of Great Britain (CASS) to write an article as a tribute to Barbara, which I did and was published in the Winter 2022 issue. Thank you to CASS Editor Catherine Smith for allowing reproduction of the article on my website, available to view here.
‘A Memorial to Barbara Thompson’ is taking place on Friday 2nd June 2023 at Union Chapel, London.
The following blog post, 'For Barbara...' an Improvisation by Andy Scott, was originally posted in December 2020.
It was the end of two very intense days in the studio, recording music for harp that my wife, Lauren, and I had written. I was co-producing and planning to play and record a recently written work for tenor saxophone and a short arrangement for harp & tenor saxophone with Lauren, but we had just about run out of time.
My great friend Tim Redpath was engineering and co-producing these sessions, and Alex Armstrong-Holding filming, and with only ten minutes left I thought that I would quickly get my saxophone set up and improvise - an improvisation for Barbara Thompson.
We were in Temple Studio, based in the home of Barbara and her daughter Ana. There is a pair of worn black gloves hanging up on one of the big speakers in the control room, these belonged to Jon Hiseman, and no-one has touched or moved them since his untimely passing in June 2018.
Jon designed the studio, it was his home within home. Jon and Barbara are a unique couple, and I count it as an absolute privilege to have known and worked with them for the last 20-plus years.
The friendship with Jon & Barbara started via the Apollo Saxophone Quartet (with Tim Redpath at that time playing soprano sax in the group). Barbara wrote us an album of fantastic music which we recorded with Jon producing, ‘Three Quartets’ (Celestial Harmonies).
In 2015 at the World Saxophone Congress in Strasbourg, Jon out of nowhere said “Andy, I think that you should bring your ensemble Group S in our studio and record an album”. I couldn’t believe my luck, and the generosity of Jon & Barbara. Sure enough, the album ‘Ruby & All Things Purple’ (Basho Records) was recorded with Jon, Rob Buckland & I mixing over a fortnight during 2016.
Jon came and guested on drums with Group S in November 2017 when we played at the Royal Northern College of Music (what a privilege, Jon Hiseman of Colosseum fame!) and the last time that I saw him was in February 2018 when the two of us were in the studio editing some videos for promotional use from that gig, including the track that Jon played on, ‘La Grande Image’.
Throughout the time that I have known her, Barbara has valiantly battled with Parkinson’s Disease, she simply is incredible, and has developed a musical imagination and style that is very much her own. ‘La Grande Image’ was written for Barbara & Jon to guest on, Jon telling me that he would record Barbara on a day where her medication was working and she wouldn’t be shaking too much when playing her saxophone. He said that he set up a semicircle of microphones to account for any movement when she recorded, then he went through each mic when mixing for the final result - her playing on that track is stunning.
There are details about our collaborations in both Jon’s autobiography ‘Playing the Band’ and Barbara’s recently released autobiography ‘Journey to a Destination Unknown’, both of which are a fascinating and inspiring read.
The clock is ticking, so with ten minutes of the session remaining I wanted to improvise for Barbara, and Ana would play her the video.
I had my Selmer S80III tenor saxophone on this occasion, and my more ‘classical’ set up (for the pieces that I would have recorded had there been more time), a Selmer S90 170 mouthpiece, with Vandoren Optimum ligature and Vandoren Traditional strength 3 reed. When improvising I would usually be playing my Selmer Mk6 tenor sax with jazz mouthpiece and reeds, so mentally I was attempting to mould and manipulate the sound within a set up that I usually associate with more notated and dynamically contained music.
Improvisation is a constant fascination for me, and the words ‘free improvisation’ I think are sometimes misleading. Over 25 years (especially with Duo partner Dave Hassell) I have developed an approach to improvisation that works for me.
As soon as I start playing, with nothing or very little pre-planned, I try and remain in the present whilst also remembering what I have played. This is the composer in me, trying to be aware of the architecture and form of a piece of music. Whilst being led by instinct and concentration, I’m hoping that my ears and technique are good enough to follow (which neither is). It’s a lot to cope with mentally, with improvisation constantly being one of the biggest musical challenges that I have faced, great when it does work out, and not the end of the world when it doesn’t simply as the challenges for me are so huge.
Whilst producing in Temple Studio for two days with wonderful friends and musicians, many memories went through my mind of great times spent with Jon and Barbara, which I didn’t have time to think about when improvising, but which must have affected the approach I imagine? I took the musical notes B & A from Barbara as my starting point, one take only.
‘….. for Barbara’ an improvisation
30th December 2020
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