Duncan Eagles interview
Duncan Eagles has been a stalwart on the London jazz scene for the past few years. Ahead of Partikel’s debut appearance at The Verdict in June he talks to Charlie Anderson about the group, how it started and where it is going.
Tell us how you got into jazz and music generally.
“I started playing piano when I was eight years old. I can remember just being really drawn towards a piano so even when I was younger I didn’t have any knowledge of it, I was just happy to sit and play it so my parents got me a keyboard and I started learning classical piano. And it was really just going to secondary school and I started doing GCSE Music and the head of music at there was really into jazz so he started up a big band and I kind of got into that. And then when I wanted to do A level Music, I needed a second instrument so he just told me to buy a saxophone and he gave me a few lessons and leant me a few CDs, like a John Coltrane and some other funk CDs. And then I was really just drawn to that and improvising. With classical music I found it a bit daunting, having to play exactly what is written and the fear of making a mistake and that kind of thing. So the freedom that came with jazz, the improvising aspect, I really liked. So I really got into that from being at school. Then I went on to study at Trinity College and then I started gigging and that was it really.”
Looking back at your time at Trinity, what did you learn from the experience?
“It was really valuable. We were given a one-on-one lesson. I had a teacher called Russell van den Berg, one of the saxophone teachers there. I would see him for an hour every week and basically I could just ask him anything. And he was quite a structured teacher so we covered everything from learning how to play bebop, basic harmonic things and also the more spiritual side of playing that he was quite into and the rhythmic side of things. So that was the most valuable thing about going there over a four year period and seeing someone like him every week. And looking at all the different aspects of playing and working on all of the things that you wanted to develop. But also, just being there with other people that are my age and into similar things and wanting to have a career in playing this music. There are still people that I met there ten years ago that I still play with now.”
Are you doing any teaching yourself?
“I do some private teaching but the main thing that I do is with Partikel is we run a gig every Monday at The Hideaway in Streatham, which is kind of like a jam session. But before we do the jam session we’ve been doing these workshops where we spend about an hour or so beforehand looking at a different standard every week. We look at how we would play it, what scales we would use to improvise over it and how we would play the tune. And just having a go at trying a few things out. It’s been going for about four or five years now. I also teach at Andrea Vicari’s jazz summer school every summer in the south of France, who I actually met at Trinity – she was my piano teacher at Trinity. I used to go out there as a student helper when I was at Trinity and now I go there as a saxophone teacher. It’s amazing how much of a small world it is because before I went to Trinity, my saxophone teacher was Mornington Lockett and he’s the brother of Andrea’s partner. So I’m still doing that and I’m doing it this summer as well and I sometimes do some gigs with Andrea and I still see Mornington a lot.”
Tell us a bit about Partikel and how it all first started.
“It was, at the start, with a different drummer and bass player. It was Pharaoh Russell on drums and Jerelle Jacob on bass when I originally put it together. I guess we played as a trio for a couple of reasons. I met them through joining a band where I met Pharaoh and I then met Jerelle through Pharaoh. We would always get together to back a six piece band. For some reason the three of us always arrived early or the other guys really late so we just played and we found that it was quite fun playing in that chord-less situation. So I then sorted out a local gig, which was a Monday night gig at a pub in Kingston where the money wasn’t great but it was a jam session as well. So we started doing that gig as a trio. As that gig picked up, it became more stable and the pub were happy with it. So we started work and I started to write some tunes and that’s how the band formed. And then things happened. Pharaoh had to move out of the country, as did Jerelle. I went to school with Max [Luthert] actually and I was playing a lot with Max so he seemed like the obvious replacement. And then Eric [Ford], I met him just from doing gigs. I thought that he would be good for doing groove-based things and odd time signatures. He was very into that and he then stepped in and we did the first album. That’s how it really started and it has developed on from doing that. So I guess we’ve been doing a regular Monday night gig for the past eight years or so!”
What’s the band working on at the moment?
“The album that we’ve done with strings is the latest one. It came out about two weeks ago. But the material for that album – we’ve been putting that album together for about a year and a half. So we’re looking forward now to touring this material with the strings, which is like a new thing. We haven’t done that. We haven’t really developed any new stuff at the moment, we’re just looking at how we can perform the new album. It seems to be going quite well so I think we’re definitely going to look to do another album, but nothing concrete yet. I’d quite like to continue to look at what’s developing with the string quartet and possibly the next album will have the involvement of strings as well. I’m quite interested in the whole electronic side of music and so is Max as well. I’m looking at building up my effects pedal set-up for my saxophone, such as using some loops, and Max is doing the same. We’re looking at how we can get that involved in the gigs over the next year. I’m looking to do some new stuff and I think we will do another album. But at the moment there’s nothing concrete, we’re just trying things out really. And we’re going to be experimenting with a couple of things in the gigs that we’ve got coming up so we’ll see where that takes us.”
The gig that you’re doing in Brighton is with Benet McLean.
“That’s right. We’re doing The Verdict in Brighton on 26th June. That’s with the three of us plus Benet on violin. We’ve had a few rehearsals with just that lineup and it’s really interesting because Benet is quite an outrageous improvisor on violin. All of his knowledge on the piano, he seems to just transfer and execute pretty flawlessly on the violin. So the arrangements are a lot more open so there’s a lot more improvising from him. And he’s interpreted the string quartet arrangements for just his violin so there are some key lines that he’s reeling out and harmonising on the violin. So it’s not as big a sound as when we’ve got the four strings playing but he’s made it so that the lineup works and we can still play the arrangements as we do with all of the strings. We can also improvise together slightly more, and more easily as well. It’s a different sound but it’s a lot of fun so I’m really looking forward to that one and seeing how it goes.
Duncan Eagles performs with Partikel + Benet McLean at The Verdict in Brighton on Friday 26th June.
Photograph by Rachel Zhang.