Violinist Chris Garrick studied at the Royal Academy of Music before pursuing a successful solo career, releasing numerous albums, including the acclaimed 2013 album When The World Stopped For Snow with John Etheridge and Liane Carroll. Here he talks to Charlie Anderson about his plans for 2015.
Tell us about the gig that you’re doing at Smalls in Brighton.
“It’s about the third or fourth time that I’ve played there. It’s an absolutely tiny place so it’s quite appropriately named Smalls. But I always enjoy playing there, particularly because there’s no amplification. It’s a very intimate little space so you play music which is quite intimate and soft but it will be, stylistically, a jazz-based gig with a lot of melodic material from, I guess, the whole history of jazz going back to the days of Stéphane Grappelli and Django Reinhardt, right up to more modern pieces by people like Pat Metheny and Herbie Hancock. They’re all a great bunch of guys. The pianist is an excellent guy called Mark Edwards, who is a regular there (and a local). He’s the finest soft-pedal piano player in the world. If you ever get a chance to hear him, he does things with the soft pedal of the piano which I’ve never heard done before. He’s a genius. All the other guys are great too and it’s lovely. It’s a very unique, hidden away, exclusive little gig, Smalls. I’m looking forward to it.”
Tell us a bit about the education work that you do.
“I don’t do a great deal of teaching. The educational thing in my family really is down to my dad’s activities in education throughout his career. A little bit of that rubbed off on me but a little bit more has rubbed off on my younger brother, Gabriel Garrick, who plays the trumpet. He runs the summer and winter jazz courses that Michael Garrick set up. Michael Garrick was one of the first of the Wavendon all-music plan tutors that John Dankworth and Cleo Laine set up in the Seventies. So there’s a rich heritage of education in the family but I myself do some teaching at the Royal Academy of Music and the Royal College of Music in London and one-to-one teaching there and the occasional workshop. I’m actually going into the Academy at the end of January to do another of a succession of workshops for the first year string orchestra and I’ll look forward to that because they’re all a bit wet behind the ears, young and keen and it’s always a good, fun session. There’s about fifty string players, all practising Bach and Kreisler and I go in and tell them to play without any music and use just a few modes and make things up on the spot, encourage them to improvise and show them a few stylistic things from the jazz world. Other than that I’m supposed to be writing a jazz violin tutor for Jazzwise publications but that’s a slow-burn process. So jazz education is something that I do a bit of but most of my time is taken up by performing, recording and writing.”
So, as a composer, you’ve done the whole spectrum.
“I compose plenty of music for my own bands and I have done for many years. So that’s my jazz quartet, a band called Budapest Cafe Orchestra and also a large ensemble which is called The Secret Light Show. I also compose a lot of music for library companies. Composing and arranging is an important part of making music, rather than just playing it.”
How do you go about composing? Do you have a certain process that you go through?
“There’s nothing mathematical or scientific about it. It’s just a feeling you get. So you get a feeling from another piece of music that you’ve heard or an experience that you’ve had (or are having). And the you end up finding yourself in front of a piano or on the train with a sheet of manuscript in your hand and you’re scribbling down either a harmonic, melodic or rhythmic idea, or all three at once. And it starts from there. You usually start off with a little soundbite of an idea and that grows, quite quickly sometimes into a full piece. And sometimes it never grows into anything. And other times you might go back to that scrapbook a few years later and find an idea that you scribbled down and then realise suddenly where it can go and what you can do with it. So I guess it’s a bit like having a kitchen cupboard full of spices and herbs and ingredients that you hardly ever touch and then suddenly you find a recipe. And you need something that you’ve never used before. It’s very organic I suppose, and very natural. Very unpredictable.”
Do you find yourself composing in one particular genre or style or do you specifically write for a particular group?
“You can transpose any music into different genres. I think that ‘genre’ means the overall finished sound of a performance or recording but the music that has been written, or has been thought of before that, could be transposed into any genre, just like is proved with this retro-swing trend that is going on at the moment. Music that people like Caro Emerald make and you hear on the telly all the time. When you have a 1930s swing tune played by Louis Armstrong or somebody and they’ve put a kind of drum ’n’ bass beat to it. So you can transpose any piece of music, whatever its origins, into another genre. So when you write music, you’re not necessarily thinking of how its going to sound at the end but you’re developing the kind of bedrock of an idea with patterns. It can evolve into a certain genre eventually but I like the idea of taking things out of their ‘comfort zone’ or existing genre and transposing them into a new sound space, where they’ve not been heard before. For example, with the Budapest Cafe Orchestra we take well known pieces of film music or classical music and make them into pieces which sound like they might have come from Hungary or Romania with gypsies and folk musicians playing. So we’ve done arrangements of say, Rachmaninov’s Second Piano Concerto for the accordion so it’s now the Squeezebox Concerto. Another one is the Grieg Piano Concerto and so on and so forth. We’ve done arrangements of John Barry’s Born Free and they stand up in these new genre guises because the music is so robust and strong intrinsically. Melodically they’re so strong and they’re also very well known pieces so as long as you can hear the melody and the intervals are the same, you can change the rhythmic and harmonic elements a little bit. I find that quite fun.”
What are planning to do in 2015?
“The Budapest Cafe Orchestra is very busy. We tend to play 60-70 concerts every year and we’ve got another busy year this year, with another album coming out called The Gaelic Chronicles and another tour of Scotland, our fifth successive annual tour around Scotland. We do 20 concerts in a row up in the highlands and island of Scotland which we look forward to every year. I’m doing some more work with library music and the regular things with guitarist John Etheridge. I do a duo concert with him. I also have a new Stéphane Grappelli-based project called Spirit of Stéphane but with an unpredictable line-up. Instead of guitars and double bass we’ve got violin, guitar, double bass, drums and accordion in that one. So I’ve got a few things going on.”
Chris Garrick appears at Smalls in Brighton on Thursday 12th February 2015.
This interview appeared in the February 2015 issue of SJM, available here.