Clarinettist Arun Ghosh discusses his music, ahead of his appearance at the 2016 South Coast Jazz Festival this month.
Did you always want to be a clarinettist?
“I always wanted to be a musician, ever since I started playing the recorder at primary school! I got the bug, played it all the time and took it everywhere. I realised I could play by ear, improvise and make up my own tunes. I'd play pop songs for my friends and my family would teach me Bengali folk songs and film songs. I loved playing for people and for myself…and that's what I'm still doing.”
“I started playing the clarinet after seeing Courtney Pine play on TV, and once I felt that instrument under my fingers, I knew that it was the instrument for me. It feels like a part of me.”
Tell us about your influences and where your inspiration comes from.
“I'm a music fan through and through. I grew up listening to Indie and Hip-Hop, musically I came of age during the late 80s and that was an amazing time to be growing up near Manchester. The Stone Roses, Happy Mondays, Inspirals and I became a proper Rave head too! All those beats, basslines and melodies got into me. My mum got me into The Beatles, Dylan and The Stones, and my dad got me into Ravi Shankar, Bismillah Khan and Ali Akbar Khan.”
“And then there was Jazz of course; through Courtney Pine, I got into Coltrane, Miles Davis, Monk, Herbie Hancock and so on. But playing the clarinet, I found myself listening to the older sounds of Benny Goodman, Artie Shaw and Sidney Bechet, always loving those wild expressions of freedom.”
“As I got older and getting out and about playing, I started working with more South Asian musicians and dancers. I started writing and playing music based on Indian raags (scales) and taals (rhythmic cycles). I got deeper and deeper into the music of my roots, and found my own voice through playing it.”
“What I play and compose nowadays brings all of this together – that's what I'm about. I'm inspired by music with passion and soul, performed by men and women imbued with a true and penetrating spirit of sonic expression: Tricky, Alice Coltrane, Kurt Cobain, Nina Simone, Charlie Parker, Django Reinhardt – it's all the same to me…and I just try and express, in my own way, what I feel about life, love, this world and beyond.”
How would you describe the music that you make?
“My music is all about Melody, Rhythm and Soul. That's all. Musically those are the elements. I want my music to reach people, to draw people in, I always want to communicate and make us all feel something together. It's freewheeling and spontaneous music, always accessible, tuneful, hypnotic, searching, driving. Pigeon-holes are for pigeons…but I'd say it's starting to sound like Indian psychedelic jazz-rock!!”
“I think we make a great sound, and I can't wait for our South Coast Jazz show. I've got a wonderful three horn frontline of myself, Idris Rahman and Chris Williams (Led Bib). When we play, we support each other with unison melodies and drones – it's more like how New Orleans style horns work. Shirley Tetteh is playing electric guitar with us; she's a a very gifted, expressive and special talent, and brings some great atmospheres. And it's all driven by a great rhythm section of Liran Donin on bass, and Rastko Rasic on drums. It's my first show of 2016, it reunites me with my comrades, and I think it could be a really special vibe.”
In 2014 you were Artist in Residence in Wuhan, China. Tell us about that experience.
“My residency was supported by PRSF and the British Council. I spent six weeks in Wuhan, which has been the longest I have ever been out of Britain. I worked with the Bianzhong at Hubei Provincial Museum; those instruments are ancient ceremonial brass bells and it was amazing to play with and write for them. I also formed a band with Chinese punks, and worked with students at the Wuhan Conservatory of Music. It was a truly wonderful experience, I loved living and working in China, and I hope to return there one day.”
Tell us about what you do outside of jazz performance. You also compose music for theatre productions amongst other things.
“Composing for theatre and dance has always been a core of my musical work. I love writing for theatre, taking creative and artistic inspiration from the plot, dialogue, themes and atmospheres, movement and lighting. A lot of the music I write for plays ends up on the bandstand, performed and recorded with my band. It brings new intentions and meanings to the instrumental music we play, because the pieces have got stories, themes and characters associated with them.”
“I also enjoy working with young people, creating new music with them and performing with them. That's a really important part of who I am and what I do. It always inspires me and keeps me fresh…and it keeps me on my toes too, because those year 5 kids can be harsh critics!”
For more information on Arun Ghosh:
Arun Ghosh performs at The South Coast Jazz Festival on Saturday 23rd January at the Ropetackle in Shoreham.
Photo of Arun Ghosh by Brian O’Connor, courtesy of www.imagesofjazz.com