Charlie Anderson: I last interviewed you a year ago, what have you been doing since?
Alex Garnett: “Hi Charlie, nice to talk to you again. Since we last spoke I’ve been busy, I feel blessed. Apart from a myriad of one-offs and rent jobs, I'm a regular part of the Ronnie Scott's team and I have been fronting a new show, The Ronnie Scott Story. It outlines the history of the ‘man and his club’. We've been busy touring the British theatre circuit and its picking up interest with some festivals home and abroad too. It’s a kind of multi-media show involving a big screen with archive film, soundbites interviews and photo montages and a reincarnation of the Scott Quintet playing music that featured at the club through its early years to the present (including some lesser-heard Scott originals along the way). I've been kindly endorsed by a collector to use one of Ronnie's original saxophones on the show and I run his comedy routine between numbers too…it's a bit of a spooky feeling as it’s more than playing the part at times.”
“I've also done a string of gigs with my long standing friend and musical foil, Gareth Lockrane and Grooveyard which, after 10 years together, is in a new ‘unplugged' phase. Ross Stanley has moved onto the piano and we have Dave Whitford on bass and Tim Giles on Drums. The music has been given a new lease of life in a way, more open without the Hammond sound we'd kind of gotten locked into.”
“I've also had a couple of rare spots with my London Supersax project. The Nonet essentially plays the orchestrated Charlie Parker charts from the American band of the same name once run by actor and altoist Med Flory.”
“It’s a real labour of love and high maintenance mechanically…so many notes, but it's an amazing feeling to be in it when it's chugging along at full speed.
I play baritone sax in the group which is a guilty pleasure of mine!”
“My Bunch of Five project has also had some gigs together; the highlight of which was a double header at this year’s EDF festival along with the New York standards Quartet. Mike Janisch took the Pizza Express in Dean Street over for a night and managed to effortlessly blend two heavy acts into the course of one evening, taking the helm on bass in both groups.”
“A lot of music happened that night and I'm proud to say the Brits really came up to the mark which is no mean feat in the presence of giants like Gene Jackson, David Berkman and Tim Armacost. I know that jazz is art not sport but there's nothing like a healthy bout of cross-Atlantic jousting to get the creative juices flowing!”
What can we expect to hear from you with Bunch of Five at The South Coast Jazz Festival in January?
“It might be an age thing and the experience that comes with it but I just hit 45 and I don't feel self-conscious about presenting ‘my music’ anymore. Everyone suffers critique to a degree but my relationship with the musicians I select for my band is such that I can play virtually anything if I'm sincere and the guys will create with it. The ‘Bunch’ are very at ease with each other and the music I wrote for the last album Andromeda on Whirlwind Recordings. They've kind of become Bunch of Five standards in a way, so I have started incorporating a few new pieces and adapting some of my quartet pieces to keep the guys on their toes. I like to run a tight ship so to speak but I also like the looseness and unplanned musical moments that come from playing with musicians with a strong sense of the individual and huge ears. Sometimes during the course of a set there have been moments of chaotic performance art mixed in with virtuosic interplay that I could never write or dictate. I give the musicians a long leash but always with the necessary commitment. I encourage comedy to a degree. I think humour in jazz is a lost art. I think Charles Mingus was a master at getting deep but comedic.”
Tell us about the Brilliant Corners session that you did with Mark Lewandowski performing Mingus Ah Um.
“There's an amazing thing happening over in East London. Brilliant Corners is a venue that serves high-class sushi and real jazz simultaneously, garnished with a listening session to a classic record on a state of the art hi-fi system. I don't think I've ever seen ninety paying customers cram into a room and sit in complete silence for a playing of a jazz record. The club turns off the lights, switches off phones and locks the doors ’til it's finished and the performance gets a round of applause like a gig. Then the next set a band comes on and re-performs the music live with some fresh re-imaginings.”
“Mark Lewandowski is an excellent new young bassist on the scene and drafted me into his Octet to play alto and baritone along with Quentin Collins (trumpet) Nathaniel Cross (trombone) Ed Jones (tenor sax) Bruno Heinan (piano) and James Maddren (drums). We played the entire album’s repertoire in sequence and Mark had done a fantastic job with the arrangements to keep things current and interesting. It’s pretty impossible to upstage such a landmark album or any artistic statement put to disc but Joe Henderson once spoke to me and said the masters set a standard the style. You will always be valid if you keep this in mind. Be yourself.”
What plans do you have for 2016?
“I need some sleep!! I’ve been in an intense fathering situation with my second child. She is amazing on every level but sometimes I get the feeling she must be drawing energy from a mains source or battery. She can recharge faster than any iPhone, believe me!! I’m sure there are plenty of musicians at this point who can relate to this situation. Luckily, jazz musicians don't sleep much either!”
“Now she's walking, things are a bit more manageable as she gains independence, which allows for some creative time to myself or just plain catching up with stuff. I am currently writing this at midnight!”
“As you know, Claire Martin has very kindly booked the Bunch of Five to headline her brilliant festival at The Ropetackle Arts Centre on the 21st of January. It’s the first big gig of the year for the band and I'm looking forward to seeing the guys again.”
“I'm prioritising my time to produce a new album and tour in the fall of 2016 for the ‘Bunch' , to be released on Whirlwind Recordings. I had some very nice press with the last album except one critic who quoted: ‘great band, great music but the sort of project that will probably only last one album’. That statement irked me. I aim to dispute that!”
Alex Garnett’s Bunch of Five appear at The South Coast Jazz Festival on Thursday 21st January.
Interview by Charlie Anderson
Photo by Brian O'Connor, www.imagesofjazz.com