Tell us about how you started out playing the saxophone?
When I was 7 I started playing the recorder which actually lays a lot of groundwork for the saxophone, in terms of fingerings and reading music and stuff. And then when I was eleven I got to have saxophone lessons at the local high school that I went to. Playing the saxophone naturally lends itself to jazzy repertoire so I was already doing a bit of improvising. I actually had some jazz piano lessons with a local piano teacher and I transferred stuff across from that to the saxophone. I didn’t really have any proper jazz saxophone lessons until I got to Guildhall.
Tell us some of your views on jazz education.
I certainly benefited from it a lot. I had some really good teachers. I still think, perhaps, jazz education is in its infancy, compared to classical music and maybe we’re still learning about the best way to do it.
You still have conflicting approaches and jazz education is still learning the best way of teaching improvisation. It’s such an intangible thing. I had a great time at Guildhall and learnt a lot. But also, I’ve learnt loads from being out of college and playing with people. You learn so much from playing with people older and better than yourself, which is something that I’ve really benefitted from, since leaving and just doing gigs and getting experience in the real world.
You’re a composer as well as a performer?
There’s one of my tunes on the album that I’m releasing at the moment. It’s something that I hope to return to more in the future but actually at the moment I’ve been really enjoying just exploring lesser known items from the American songbook and the jazz canon and just kind of trying to find more obscure material to play. There’s a wealth of music out there to play and I actually really enjoy trying to interpret tunes in an interesting and detailed way.
Tell us about the other bands that you play in.
I’ve also been doing some trio gigs, just saxophone, bass and drums. I’ve been really enjoying exploring that format. I did a gig recently at The Vortex opposite Kit Downes’ Trio and that was really nice. Again that’s playing American songbook and lesser-known material but slightly more arranged and taking influence from groups led by Thelonious Monk, Bud Powell, Ahmad Jamal.
Tell us about the new duo album, Golden Earrings, with acclaimed American pianist Michael Kanan.
We recorded it in New York in 2016 and it’s just the two of us. We play quite a broad selection of tunes, American songbook, some jazz compositions, tunes by Jerome Kern, Victor Young, Irving Berlin, Nat King Cole, Ellington, Tadd Dameron and one original of mine.
Michael Kanan is a really world-class, authentic New York musician. He’s Jane Monheit’s musical director and he’s played with Jimmy Scott and loads of amazing American jazz luminaries like Kurt Rosenwinkel and Peter Bernstein. And he’s got an encyclopaedic knowledge of the American songbook, and an incredible touch, highly melodic.
I really like playing in small groups. It’s perhaps a bit more exposed, there’s nowhere to hide but it can be a really pure conversation or interaction with one other musician. So if it’s someone that you like playing with, someone like Michael, then it’s extremely enjoyable and I’m looking forward to exploring that a bit more when he comes over to the UK in September.
We’re doing eight gigs in seven days and half of the gigs are just duo with Michael and half of them are quartet featuring Dario Di Lecce and Steve Brown, who are just amazing.
Sam Braysher performs with Michael Kanan, Dario Di Lecce and Steve Brown at The Verdict, Brighton on Friday 8th September.
Golden Earrings is released on Fresh Sound Records
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[Interview conducted by Charlie Anderson]
Photo: John Rogers