Jonny Mansfield Interview

Vibraphonist Jonny Mansfield grew up in the village of Shepley, near Huddersfield in a musical household. “Both of my parents are musical, they’re peripatetic music teachers for Kirklees and Rotherham Music Services. My mum plays oboe and my dad plays bass trombone. I’ve got two older brothers, the oldest plays trombone and the middle one plays the cello.” After developing an interest in percussion from an early age, Mansfield was fortunate to have a percussion teacher who started him on the xylophone. After his teacher moved away, he was taught by percussionist Dominic Sales, who is also the founder of Jellymould Jazz Records. “He got me going and interested in jazz. He also made CDs for me to drum along to and do exercises.”

From there, Mansfield progressed to Chetham’s School of Music. “My brother, who plays the cello, went to Chetham’s. I hadn’t really thought about it, but then my parents asked if I wanted to do an audition. I did and I got a place. I went to Chetham’s, from year 10, for four years, doing classical percussion. I didn’t really play any vibes then, just a little bit in the local big band. They had a vibraphone there so I started noodling on that but I had no idea at that time what I was doing.” At Chetham’s Mansfield had group improvisation classes with Steve Berry, followed by jazz theory classes with Les Chisnall. “I learnt from those. That cocktail of learning was incredible. From that, I did the National Youth Jazz Collective Summer School which was the summer of my upper-sixth year after leaving school. I was in a group with Nick Smart and Jim Hart. That’s when I said to them that I was interested in doing jazz. I’d got a place to do classical percussion at the Royal Academy and towards the end of the week Nick said ‘do you want to come and do the jazz course?’. So I transferred courses.”

Graduating from the Royal Academy of Music’s jazz course this year, Mansfield is enthusiastic about the whole experience. “The lessons were incredible. I had Jim Hart as my main teacher for one-to-one lessons. I also had Gareth Lockrane and Kit Downes, and one-to-ones with Pete Churchill, and some with Matthew Bourne. They were all incredible. Whenever Joe Locke was over I’d get a lesson with him which was really cool. And then there’s the group teaching. Pete Churchill does composition and Tom Cawley does the aural. It’s just such an amazing faculty, they really invested in us all individually, and they’re a really nice group of people. Probably the most beneficial things about music colleges are the people that you meet and there being a reason for fifty people to be in the same building and learning together, being interested in something, together. That’s what made me want to play jazz in the first place, being surrounded by people that are really passionate about it.”

The unusual instrumentation of Jonny Mansfield’s Elftet gives the ensemble a sound that’s not heard anywhere else. With eleven members and some of them doubling instruments, this gives Elftet a unique sound and an enviable sound palette to draw from. “I haven’t seen a band live or on video/recordings with this specific line up. It’s vibraphone, guitar, electric bass, drums, violin, cello, vocals and then four horns: trumpet, trombone, bass clarinet/tenor and alto saxophone. Everyone that does it is amazing and I’ve met them from all different parts as well. Some people from The Royal Academy, some from Chetham’s, some that I’ve met since being in London, like George Millard and Will Harris. Jim Davison I met first through my brother as he was living with Jim’s girlfriend at the time. So I’ve met all these people through different avenues and we all get on so great. We just did a 14 date tour. I was expecting that, when we’d get to the ninth day or whatever, everyone would be a bit tired and tense after being in a van together, but that wasn’t the case at all. We all just got on so well. I think it’s a real one-off in terms of musical personalities and social personalities. It just seems to work.”

Mansfield is clear about the influences of his composing and how he wants the band to sound. “When I’m composing, there are definitely influences from Django Bates and Loose Tubes, Maria Schneider and the contemporary big band writers. Then, at the same time, I don’t want it to be a big band. I don’t want it to be my compositions where anyone could dep in the band, sit down and read the music and it wouldn’t necessarily sound much different. What I’ve really tried to develop is the feeling of it being like a small band, and really opening it up so that people can have their creative input as much as possible. There’s also the more unusual influence with Dom Ingham on violin. He’s such an amazing improvisor, for him to sit there and play a jazzy violin part would be pretty silly. I try and make it as open as possible so that people can have their input into the band. Finding the balance is important. Bands like Kneebody and Lionel Loueke, Aaron Parks and Gilad Hekselman. Those kind of contemporary small jazz band players, it’s all about the interaction and playing with the other musicians. I’ve really tried to incorporate that with the contemporary big band writers as well. Then also, because of Ella Hohnen Ford the vocalist, she’s so amazing that I’ve tried to get some singer-songwriter things in there as well, like Norah Jones and James Taylor. And there’s a Syrian guitarist and singer who is really incredible so we try and get influences from her, and Norma Winstone, definitely. We’ve taken inspiration from a lot of the Kenny and Norma recordings.”

As well as Elftet, Mansfield is also busy next year touring Spain with the trio Crescent, “a collaborative project with bassist Will Sach and Boz Martin-Jones, the drummer from Elftet”. Following that, the debut Elftet album will be released on Edition Records. “I recorded it last September at Real World Studios in Wiltshire, with Elftet. Jim Hart produced it and Alex Bonney engineered it and mixed it.” The album will also feature guest appearances from Gareth Lockrane, Kit Downes and Chris Potter and is set to be released around May 2019.

 

Jonny Mansfield’s Elftet

New Generation Jazz at The Verdict, Brighton

Friday 7th December, 2018

 

Interview by Charlie Anderson

Photo by Lisa Wormsley