Amy Roberts interview
SJM: You’ve played a wide range of jazz styles, from the Chris Barber Band to Terence Blanchard’s The Inner City Ensemble. What’s your favourite style of jazz?
Amy Roberts: I’m really open minded when it comes to styles of jazz, and in fact music full stop. My journey into jazz started with big band jazz as part of the Cornwall Youth Jazz Orchestra when I was 13. Then at the age of 15 I learnt to play by ear with traditional New Orleans jazz bands that used to perform at the 51 Club in Cornwall during their UK tours so that’s really where my roots are. After that I studied classical saxophone at the Royal Northern College of Music for 4 years, whilst playing jazz gigs and festivals as a guest artist and with my own band in order to pay the college fees. It was certainly tough juggling a jazz career with intense classical study, but it all paid off in the end and I came out with a First! When the job with Chris Barber presented itself during my final year at RNCM it was a no brainer, and next four years touring with the band was a fascinating eye-opener to life on the road! Since then I’ve been lucky to have had experience playing with several Big Bands including the London Swing Orchestra, Harry Strutters’ Hot Rhythm Orchestra, Sticky Wicket Swing Band and Keith Nichols Blue Devils and Pasadena Roof Orchestra.
Working with Terence Blanchard was really good fun, as he had an interesting take on contemporary jazz and improvisation, and he wanted to share as much knowledge as he could. He certainly had some great stories to tell too. You can’t buy invaluable opportunities like that!
At the moment I’m getting really into latin jazz and listen to incredible flautist Maraca Valle….He’s very inspiring. Paquito D’Rivera is another musician that I often listen to. The music I love tends to be melody based but over the years my ears have been taken in many different directions and I’ve enjoyed playing a wide range of styles, so it’s hard to pick a favourite. Variety is what really keeps me motivated and inspired!
You’re performing with Richard Exall at Smalls in Brighton on Thursday 23rd February. What can the audience expect to hear?
Our gig in Brighton will be a fun, intimate evening covering a wide range of music, but also focusing on repertoire from our most recent album “Hodge-Stic”. Richard and I both love the music of Johnny Hodges and Earl Bostic, and as they are so totally opposite it seemed a rather good pairing for the album. People seem to love hearing hits like “Flamingo” again, as it’s a style that appears to have been forgotten in recent years. We’ll also throw in a few vocal numbers from Richard and a perhaps a little taste of latin jazz somwhere to allow me let off some steam on the flute!
What projects are you working on at the moment?
I’m currently co-leading two bands with Richard Exall, who I met whilst being in the Chris Barber Band. The Roberts/Exall Quintet covers a range of jazz, swing, latin and is versatile enough to play at traditional jazz clubs, classical music festivals and even on the modern jazz stage at Swanage Jazz Festival. Our flag-ship band is the Magnificent 7 Jazz Band, which pays homage to the music of Barber, Ball and Bilk, and is made up of musicians from these 3 bands. Using their greatest hits as a starting point, we’ve continued the journey, bringing in different influences to give audiences a unique experience filled with fun and outstanding musicianship.
A really exciting project is the Gerry Mulligan Quartet Tribute run by phenomenal trumpet star Ben Cummings. I get to play baritone sax alongside Nick Millward on drums and Al Swainger on bass….. together we accurately recreate the original recordings some of the most popular, yet rarely performed music ever recorded.
I also play bartione sax as part of powerhouse trombonist Ian Bateman’s 10 piece soul/funk band Kick Ass Brass…. It’s an awesome line-up which includes Jacqui Hicks, Julian Stringle, Ian Bateman, Richard Exall, Craig Milverton, Al Swainger, Dominic Ashworth, Ben Cummings, Nick Millwards and myself. I always have an absolute blast playing gigs with this band as my teenage years were spent listening to Tower of Power and Stevie Wonder!
Tell us about some of the work that you do to help encourage the younger generation get involved in jazz.
Over the years I’ve been involved in the Best of Young Jazz Academy in Worcestershire, working alongside tutor Steve Berry to help inspire and guide the young musicians through workshops and performances at the Upton Jazz Festival. It’s been such a successful project, with many of the students going on to study jazz at conservatoire level! It’s great to be part of their journey in some way, even if it was just making jokes backstage to get rid of any nerves, or helping them at the jam sessions.
Also every December Richard Exall and myself perform a charity concert with our Quintet in Helston, Cornwall, where I was at school. We encourage the young musicians from the Helston School Jazz Orchestra to come along to the concert, hear live jazz and hopefully be inspired to continue their musical journey.
A couple of years ago I came across a young female saxophonist called Alex Clarke, who at the age of 16 loved jazz and wanted to make a career from performing. Since then I’ve made the most of opportunities to let her sit in with my band and gain the invaluable experience of working with top class rhythm sections. Her playing has come on in leaps and bounds, with her taking part in last years National Youth Jazz Collective Summer School. I feel incredibly lucky to be part of her first footsteps into the jazz world!
What plans do you have for the rest of the year?
We’ve got a good string of gigs with both the Roberts/Exall Quintet and the Magnificent 7 Jazz Band at various clubs and festivals.
A real highlight this year will taking part in a tour of Sweden with “Women of the World”, a truly international line-up featuring some of the most respected female jazz musicians in the jazz world. Cynthia Sayer (USA) leads this group, and has previously included musicians from France, Australia, Canada and more. So it’ll be fun (yet a little disconcerting!!) being on stage with other female musicians, as I’m often the only women in a band!
This year I’ll be performing at jazz festivals including Swanage, Keswick, Pershore, Bude, Twinwoods, Sidmouth and Hallevik. It always fun to be at the festivals and catch up with other musicians, as well as hear a whole variety of other bands that I wouldn’t normally get to see.
We have concerts with the London Swing Orchestra…. One of which is a trip to Geneva, and after last years expedition to Greece with this orchestra I know it’ll be a trip to remember!
With all this and a mixture of appearances as a guest with various ensembles, it looks to be another very exciting year.
For more information on Amy Roberts:
Amy performs with Richard Exall and the Smalls rhythm section on 23rd February 2017. For tickets and information: