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
An exciting collaboration between British Composer Award winner Andy Scott & Portuguese virtuoso saxophonist João Pedro Silva. HOME features music written by Andy for Tenor Saxophone, performed brilliantly by João & friends.
HOME is a journey of imagination and colour, from the virtuosity of Laissez les Bon Temps Rouler! (a World Premiere recording) to the beautiful tranquillity of Fujiko, the recording is challenging for performers yet accessible to audiences, with a virtuosic solo work, HOME, being composed especially for the occasion.
Music knows no boundaries and HOME is a celebration of a special UK-Portuguese collaboration where musical styles meet and merge, classically-based with natural jazz, folk and latin influences.
Check out the incredible music video for HOME on Andy's homepage and have a look behind the scenes at the making of the album below!
HOME available to purchase HERE
Laissez les bons temps rouler!
Some musical projects and compositions are slow burners, that create their own story with twists and turns, sometimes unresolved. My Concerto for Saxophone & Chamber Orchestra is one of those experiences for me, and now seems a good time to tell the story as the piece is released on CD (in piano reduction form) on 1st September 2020. The CD, entitled HOME, is a collaborative project with leading Portuguese Saxophonist João Pedro Silva.
Rewind to 2005. American saxophonist Branford Marsalis was guest soloist with the Halle Orchestra (Manchester, UK). My great friend Jim Muirhead (bass clarinet & saxophonist with the Halle) invited me to a rehearsal with Branford, and the three of us ended up chatting and hanging out. The Halle were playing the programme with Branford in Manchester and then Derby the following night.
Jim knew that I had a gig with a regular sextet at a pub in Winsford on the night of the Derby gig. DB5 was a group that I set up when I lived in Winsford, and was fortunate enough to count Damon Horrill (owner of DeBees) as a good friend. Damon is a huge supporter of live music and gave us a residency at DeBees for over a decade!
The residency was re-born a couple of years ago, again thanks to Damon (and Alice), which I transitioned over to my son, Stan, a good bass player, now at the Red Lion (across the road from DeBees).
Jim had it all worked out, Branford & he were playing in the first half only of the Halle gig in Derby, Jim gave him a lift & Branford had already agreed to come along to DeBees. I know, this all sounds ludicrous, a little pub gig in Cheshire, and sure enough Branford rocked up! He came straight to side stage, I asked him if he wanted to blow on the number that the band were in the middle of, he said ‘yeh’ and then played the rest of the gig. It was one of those once in a lifetime experiences, all thanks to Jim and the generosity of Branford.
Branford & I kept in touch via email every now and again, meanwhile we move onto the World Saxophone Congress in Thailand in 2009. I attended my first WSC in 2006 (aged 40), until then I was anti these type of saxophone gatherings, they didn’t pay, it’s geeky etc., basically an angry young(-ish) man attitude. Selmer Paris Saxophones helped arrange that my double saxophone concerto Dark Rain was programmed in Slovenia in 2006 (soloists John Harle & Rob Buckland), in one of the Gala Concerts, and that my saxophone ensemble SaxAssault played a televised concert (supporting the Yellowjackets & Slovenian Radio Big Band). So I had to go and experience one of these ‘hundreds of saxophonists in a bubble talking about reeds and articulation’ events, even though of course I was massively grateful to Selmer.
It was very cool! I realised that this was a meeting point for friends, colleagues, a learning ground, an opportunity to experience a different culture. I checked out lots of new music and musicians that I’d wanted to hear live, and proudly supported as many British musicians that had made the journey as possible.
Onto 2009 and the WSC in Thailand. The Royal Northern College of Music kindly subsidised travel and accommodation costs that allowed me to attend the Congress. Again, it was a great learning experience, thank you Shyen Lee and team. The British saxophonist Richard Ingham was directing the National Saxophone Choir at this event and subsequently led a successful bid to host the WSC in 2012 in St. Andrews, Scotland.
In 2010-2011 the various threads above started coming together, none of this pre-planned. Richard suggested the idea that I write a Concerto for Branford, to be premiered at the opening Gala Concert with the Scottish Chamber Orchestra. Old pal Clark Rundell would be conducting, this was good as I know that Clark has a real understanding of classical contemporary and jazz idioms, improvisation and is highly regarded worldwide as an orchestral conductor.
At this time I was in a fortunate position of being asked to write various commissioned works for soloists and ensembles, but had taken on too much, with 18 months of solid unrelenting work culminating in July 2012, the time of the WSC in Scotland. I’m not complaining for one moment, the music business is tough and competitive, I just hadn’t quite figured out how to pace things.
Richard and his team had organised part-funding from Creative Scotland, and a saxophone student of mine that runs a staging company, UniStage, also contributed to the commission fee. The stage was set, I just had to write something! At this stage not over-thinking was good; oh it’s Branford, will I write something that people like etc... Yes you think about all this but I find that once you do finally hit ‘the zone’ when composing music, nothing else then enters your mind. This is why 14 hours writing feels like 4, the challenge is reaching the zone.
I finished the Concerto about 6 weeks before the premiere. Branford could have refused to have played it, ideally I should have given him the solo part at least 6 months earlier. Yes, there was quite a lot of improvising in the solo part, so it wasn’t a totally notated challenge, however I was lucky that he was cool with this scenario.
The next 9 months were spent recovering from pneumonia. Something that I wouldn’t wish on anyone. Some people said that I was suffering from alcohol poisoning, thanks…. well I like a drink and certainly did have more than a few in St. Andrews, I guess that it was the culmination of everything at that time; completing 18 months of deadlines, seeing friends from all over the world at the WSC, the general release of everything. Anyway the immune system was low and this tipped it over the edge! You live and learn. My doctor told me that I had pneumonia on my left lung, that I’d have scarring, to slow down, and if I was free a month later to play at a party at their house!
Pneumonia hits you badly. After the 9 months there was one day when I thought that I felt normal again. I’d taken on some commissions and gigs during this time because I wanted to do them, and you need money to live, but nowhere near as many. I could write for an hour and was exhausted, or practise my saxophone for half an hour, then had to sleep. One of the results during this time was that the revisions that I planned to make to the Saxophone Concerto had been pushed down the queue.
Fast forward to early 2017. I’m chatting with the great Claude Delangle. My colleague in the Apollo Sax Quartet, and Senior Tutor of Saxophone at the RNCM. Rob Buckland had invited Claude to lead a masterclass and lessons with the (lucky) saxophone students. I’d been teaching at the college that day and was chatting with Claude prior to his class. He asked me about my Concerto, saying that he hadn’t yet confirmed which Concerto to perform at EurSax in Lisbon, Portugal in July that year. In 2012 Claude found me immediately following the world premiere by Branford of the Concerto and told me that he would like to perform the piece! I was honoured, I also said at the time that the solo part contained a lot of improvisation, he said that that was fine, no problem. Respect.
Now there was a deadline to revise the piece, and in this case the following months were a wonderful experience for me in terms of taking a collaborative approach with Claude. From my compositional perspective, you experience isolation, self-doubt, creative bursts, you are privileged that your mind is allowed to be as imaginative as it can be, whilst retaining practicalities that are necessary for performance. I trust Claude and have huge respect for him musically and as a person, it was good receiving his feedback, time to keep any ego in check. His views on interaction between the soloist and orchestra led me to re-write large sections in the final movement of the Concerto, to expand the form, to introduce more light and shade. I made the decision to create a fully-notated solo saxophone part; the piece wasn’t jazz (although influenced in lots of ways by jazz) and this way I hoped that the classical saxophonist worldwide might consider playing it.
Claude in 2017, as Branford did in 2012, played brilliantly. It was interesting whilst rehearsing in the hall to hear Claude explaining how he adjusts his playing to find the ultimate projection of sound for him at that time and place. Both are hugely alert, alive musically and in the present. Thank you also to Henrique Portovedo and the team at EurSax.
Coming dangerously close to the present, and thank you if you’ve read this far, the Portuguese connection continued, as does the journey of the Concerto, when the wonderful saxophonist João Pedro Silva approached me about recording
a CD of my works for tenor saxophone. I arranged that my colleague in Manchester, Simon Parkin (a brilliant pianist, arranger, composer, teacher and mind) created a piano reduction of the Concerto.
Flying to Lisbon in January 2019 to produce the recording with João and friends was a privilege. This guy had bust a gut practising my music, often into the early hours I was told, it’s an overused word but I’ll say it, it was humbling. Anyone that has recorded and produced an album knows how much time and effort goes into it, and we do it because we have to, there’s no choice, music is our passion.
To the present as I write this; the CD HOME launches on 1st September 2020, available via Bandcamp as a CD or mp3s. Included on this special recording is the world premiere of Laissez les bons temps rouler! in piano reduction form. The next stage is to publish this version (Astute Music) which I will do in September, and then one day there may be a world premiere recording of Laissez with chamber orchestra, discussions are underway.
Sometimes things take time, that’s ok, the extra space may create valuable experiences. Keep on keeping on friends, especially during this Covid-19 time. Stay safe.
To be continued……
Andy Scott was commissioned by the Love Music Trust to write an 18 minute piece for massed youth brass bands in 2018. Premiered at Birmingham Town Hall as part of Music for Youth, 170 young musicians ranging from wider opportunities groups to youth brass bands took part in this performance.
Thank you to all the young musicians, directors and the Love Music Trust for their hard work with this performance. There is now a short video about the piece now available to watch.
The music is also now published and available from Astute Music here
Andy has been asked to curate a fortnightly Jazz Duo residency at Elnecot, a fantastic & much-loved neighbourhood bar & kitchen in Ancoats, Manchester.
Starting from March 18th 2020, Andy will be playing alongside jazz pianist and Manchester graduate, Tom Barber.
"We are absolutely delighted that he will be bringing a whole host of wonderful duos to Elnecot. This is a free event so just come on down for some drinks and food while Andy and Tom make your ears feel great"
Get yourselves down on the first and third Wednesday of each month for this exciting new jazz residency & visit Elnecot's website to book a table.
Update: This event was cancelled due to Covid-19, a re-start date will be announced.
A film of Golden Horn by Andy Scott for Saxophone Ensemble is now available.
Thanks to Emma McPhilemy for organising the sax players, and Jamie Sharp for filming.
written for Saxophone ensemble (12 saxophones & optional percussion – soprano sax x 3, alto x 3, tenor x 3, baritone sax x 2, bass sax, optional drum kit & bongos) the sheet music is available from Astute Music as a PDF download HERE
Apitos will be returning to Band on the Wall on Monday 3rd February 2020!
Rated as one of the UK's foremost Latin Jazz ensembles, Apitos will be returning to Band on the Wall, for a fantastic gig with several original members and supporting musicians. The ensemble have a long history with Band on the Wall and were supported by previous Band on the Wall custodian Ian Croal in their earlier days and frequently performed at the venue until the early 2000s after forming in 1984.
Paying homage to the deep traditions of Latin American music with a strong jazz improvisation influence, the band look forward to playing many of the original arrangements. The line up includes several original members and supporting musicians. For more information on the gig & tickets, click here
Frank Griffiths has recently reviewed Andy Scott + Group S’s CD ‘Ruby & All Things Purple’, released with Basho Records in 2017.
Writing for bebop spoken here, Frank remarks on the ‘concoction of saxophones’ & ‘outstanding soloists’ on the album – ‘Ranging from the sopranino to bass sax and all the others in between joined by a four piece rhythm section, Group S produces a highly effective sound capable of generating an impressive array of collective textures, colours and timbres.’
Frank’s review touches on the various tracks on the album, from a ‘skilful graduation of drama and dynamism’ in Mike Hall’s ‘frantic and propulsive Sabretooth’ to Gwilym Simcock’s ‘reflective and peaceful’ Chapters and Scott’s ‘striking and unpredictable rhythmical canvas’ in Tin Can.
“Group S, indeed. While there is a wide variety of styles on Ruby... no idea outstays its welcome with the quality of both the writing and playing ensuring the listeners' attention throughout.”
Check out Frank’s full review here and Ruby & All Things Purple here
Andy's delighted to announce that Westland – the music of Andy Scott, performed by Grammy award-winning saxophonist Tim McAllister & pianist Liz Ames, is confirmed for release with Naxos Records in JULY 2020
Comprising a core of Dave Hassell (drums/percussion), Nik Svarc (guitar) & Andy Scott (saxophones), Hydra invites special guests to join them and their new collaboration is with the talented young singer, saxophone and flute player Caitlin Laing (known particularly for her work with Agbeko & Oystercatcher).
Hydra moves from explosive ferocity to beautiful mesmeric soundscapes in the blink of an eye, earthy grooves to suspended time, reacting in the moment.
Caitlin joins Hydra for gigs on the 30th January and 1st February 2020 (see events page) to present new songs co-written with Andy, whilst Hydra will perform originals, re-imagined jazz standards and folk-influenced melodies.
As a saxophonist within John Helliwell’s Super Big Tramp Band, Andy is looking forward to their European debut on Monday 16th December 2019 at the Markethalle Hamburg in Germany.
Join us for what will be a truly memorable night, in the company of the great John Helliwell, his distinctive saxophone playing and famously dry wit, a stunning big band and the unforgettable music of this legendary supergroup as you’ve never heard it before
news items and blog posts by Andy Scott