SJM editor Charlie Anderson spoke to saxophonist Leo Richardson ahead of his appearance at this year’s Love Supreme Festival.
How did you get into playing the saxophone?
“When I was a small kid I must have seen somebody playing a saxophone. I’d always wanted to play it. When music lessons were offered at school, I don’t think the saxophone was available so I learnt clarinet and said that I really wanted to learn saxophone but the music teacher said ‘yeah, fine, but you need to get to grade 5 clarinet first’, which I did. That happened fairly quickly and then I progressed to saxophone and carried on with the clarinet as well. Eventually I discovered jazz and loved it! It’s been a slippery slope from there…”
Who influenced you the most as a player?
“I started getting into jazz when I was about 14 or 15. Someone bought me a Charlie Parker CD and I instantly fell in love with it. It was all very new to me and I loved the sound. I loved how he flitted about the instrument. He was an incredible virtuoso but played with so much soul and beauty. Charlie Parker is one of my first loves.”
“I remember searching and checking out loads of different players. The next love, which was more of an obsession really, was Dexter Gordon. My dad bought me an iconic album of his, Go!. Back then I had a portable CD player and that was all that was in it for at least a month. I didn’t listen to anything else. I loved it. I was completely obsessed with Dexter. I was shocked to then later find out that my Dad [bassist Jim Richardson] had actually done some touring with him. I was incredibly jealous of that.”
“It was Dexter and then John Coltrane, he’s my biggest other influence. Lots of the early stuff and the early 1960s, I could listen to it all day. Coltrane, Dexter and Joe Henderson are probably my three main influences as a tenor sax player.”
You then studied at Trinity. What did you learn from that, that you wouldn’t have otherwise been able to learn?
“Good question. I think the best thing about going to an institution like that is being surrounded by loads of like-minded people that are all inspired by the music and it’s a real melting pot of different influences. I think the best thing I got out of going to music college was having the opportunity to just play all the time with other people. It’s an art form where you don’t get good at jazz from playing for hours and hours in your bedroom by yourself. It’s a team venture and something that you create with other people. Those are experiences that I’ve found invaluable from studying at Trinity.”
“Obviously I’m working now and I get to do that all the time but playing all the time isn’t something you always get a chance to do once you leave. It’s no longer at your disposal whenever you want.”
“Learning how to interact with people and broadening your listening skills and really working on those with other people: that’s definitely something that you’re not necessarily going to be able to work on as much if you didn’t go to music college.”
Your debut album, The Chase. How did that come about?
“It’s something that I’ve always wanted to do but I’d been quite nervous about doing it. It was down to a good friend of mine (and a great trumpet player) called Quentin Collins who gave me a kick up the backside (or a gentle shove) and said ‘you need to sort it out, get a band together and start writing some music’. It was always something that I was a bit nervous about. So I got a band together, of guys that I’d often played with and really enjoyed playing with. Also, on a personal level, we’re really good friends, which I think is very important.”
“We just got some gigs, started playing and started to develop a sound. At this point we were just playing standards and music that we really love. We did that for about a year first, to really sound like a unit, and then I started giving the writing thing a go. That was the biggest nerve-wracking thing because I’d never done any writing before. I was always so nervous about it, wondering ‘is anyone going to like this’, ‘am I going to like it’, ‘is it going to be well-received or not?’. After a while I just thought ‘sod it, let’s just give it a go’. I just wanted to write in a style that I felt really comfortable with and which I could associate with, and that I’d enjoy playing. That’s where the music came from: a culmination of all my biggest musical influences, and it’s great fun to play with those guys. They’re amazing.”
You’re performing at Love Supreme on Saturday 30th June. You’ve not performed there before?
“No, I haven’t. I’m really excited. It’s going to be great fun.”
Will it be the same band that’s on the album?
“The band is slightly changed. The bass player, Mark Lewandowski, has since relocated to the US. The new bass player is now Tim Thornton, who is also very, very good. It will be exactly the same line-up, just a different bass player, for Love Supreme.”
Do you have any other plans for this year?
“We’ve got Teignmouth Jazz Festival in November and also London Jazz Festival. Hopefully, we’ll also be going into the studio around then to record some new stuff.”
Have you written anything yet?
“Yeah. I’m trying to write all the time, we’ve basically got material ready to try another record.”
Is there anything that you do outside of music, like Airfix models or anything like that?
“Not that! Although, there’s someone I know who is an Airfix model fanatic, Pete Long. He’s got a rather vast collection of Airfix models, it’s astonishing. But no, I’m not into Airfix models. But I’ve developed a new interest in art and photography. I’ve been to a couple of exhibitions recently that were really interesting, but nothing in the model-making world.”
The Chase is out now on the Ubuntu label.