How did you get into jazz?
“A heady combination of Coleman Hawkins and Joshua Redman was my first exposure to the saxophone. If that was reflected in my playing even in a small way I’d be very happy! I told a sort of half-truth early on about being able to read chord symbols so spent the first couple of years pretty much playing by ear and hoping that would sound convincing, which is actually something I’m quite happy about looking back as I like to think I can rely on my ears now to get me out of trouble…”
“I was very lucky in that my first teacher, Katie Brown, introduced me to bebop and hard bop through players like Charlie Parker, Phil Woods and Cannonball Adderley at a young age, and that left a lasting impression on me musically. My favourite musicians still tend to be the ones where you can hear that influence and grounding in their playing.”
Tell us about your quintet that are appearing at The Verdict in Brighton on Friday 9th December.
“I wrote for the musicians I wanted to hear and play with: James Copus on trumpet, Will Barry on piano, Joe Downard on bass and Jay Davis on drums. If there’s a consistency in the writing it’s because I tried to write with their personalities (both musical and non-musical) in mind, and wanted to write music that would excite them first and foremost. I was pretty sure that this sense of excitement would transmit to audiences both live and eventually on record. I’ve known Will for upwards of ten years and Joe and James, for example, go a long way back so it’s important, I think, to have those strong musical relationships within the band. The music is coloured quite heavily with what I’d think of as an ‘American’ sound you might associate with people like Ambrose Akinmusire and Kneebody, but I hope the influence of someone like Jasper Høiby, who I think is an amazing writer in addition to his bass playing, would be felt somewhere in there too. We really enjoy playing together, which I hope comes across, and we’ve had some great gigs this year including the London Jazz Festival, so we’re building some nice musical momentum.”
Tell us about some of the other projects that you’re involved with.
“Resolution 88, an original funk project led by Tom O’Grady, has had a good year – we released our second album Afterglow and toured to Spain and around the UK. I find Tom an inspiring guy for the way he committed totally to the band and to the music after leaving his maths teaching job to set it up. It’s an exciting band to play with – it’s hard music and keeps me on my toes! There’s also the Patchwork Jazz Orchestra, a collaborative big band playing music written by its members, which is a pretty unique project. The band won the Peter Whittingham Award in 2016 [and] is putting on a series of nights pairing contemporary big band writing with DJs and a samba collective. It is another situation where you very much feel like you’re playing amongst friends – we had a brilliant time playing together in Italy last year and Tunisia a few years ago – so there’s always a great atmosphere at gigs and rehearsals. On top of that, together with the fantastic young saxophonist Tom Barford, I play in a chordless quartet with bassist Ferg Ireland and drummer James Maddren. It has been interesting to hear mine and Tom’s tunes in that stripped-back setting and it’s a complete luxury to play with Ferg and James as a rhythm section. It’s a band I’m particularly excited about going in the new year – we’ll be playing at Ronnie Scott’s, the Jazz Nursery and Cambridge Modern Jazz Club so I’ll be practising hard for those…”
What aspects of your playing are you working on and hoping to improve?
“As I’m sure anyone would say, there are many things I’d like to improve – I’ve never met anyone who’s completely happy with every aspect of their playing! I’m currently working on extending my range on the saxophone – trying to play convincingly in the extreme low and high registers as well as the middle. I’ve also been realising how many great non-drummers play drums – Chick Corea, Kenny Garrett, Dave Liebman etc. – so I’m working hard on developing that polyrhythmic side of things. In terms of writing, I’m particularly inspired by some of the releases this year by musicians of my own generation like Maria Chiara Argirò, Corrie Dick, and Laura Jurd, so I’ve been checking out their CDs and learning a lot from that.”
What plans do you have for 2017?
“The quintet has some nice gigs coming up early next year, at Omnibus Arts Centre in London and Coventry and Cambridge universities. Playing at universities is always particularly fun and there aren’t always a lot of opportunities to do that at the moment, so we’re really looking forward to those gigs. We’re also working with Tom Sankey, who’s a very original and individual videographer, on some films using live footage from our London gig this November, so I can’t wait to see how those take shape! I’ll also be playing in Europe with three musicians I met in Boston in the summer – Lex Korten (US) on piano, Raphael Royer (France) on bass and Carmine Casciello (Italy) on drums. It should be an exciting tour as we’re all writing music especially for it and rehearsing in France for a day before heading out to play in Amsterdam, Paris, Barcelona, Milan and Rome – it will be great to play in Raphael and Carmine’s home towns too. In light of the crazy directions things are turning in the US and Europe at the moment, I think international projects like these are particularly important as a kind of solidarity between musicians and audiences from different countries.”
Alex Hitchcock performs with his quintet at The Verdict on Friday 9th December as part of New Generation Jazz.