1 December 2018

Helena Kay Interview

Scottish saxophonist Helena Kay won the Young Scottish Jazz Musician of the Year in 2015 and talks to Charlie Anderson about her debut album, Moon Palace.


What inspired you to play the saxophone?

I started on piano because my dad and grandad played, then violin because that is what was offered at my primary school. I heard saxophone on a recording at home and begged my parents to let me start having lessons, which I did when I was 11.


Tell us about the KIM Trio and why you like playing with just bass and drums.

The band formed when I was at Guildhall School of Music and Drama (GSMD), and I played trio for my 4th year mid-year exam and for my final recital. I love Sonny Rollins, especially his trio records from the 50s, and it’s a lot of fun playing with bass and drums. It’s a challenging line-up to write for, I try to keep the tunes fairly simple, and aim to vary the texture, harmony, time signatures etc. as much as possible to keep it interesting.


What was the main inspiration for your album Moon Palace?

I wrote some music for my final recital at GSMD, and wanted to do more with the trio after I graduated, so I wrote some more tunes to fill a whole set. The tunes ended up being based on different places that have been significant to me, such as New York and Muswell Hill. I won the Peter Whittingham Award in 2017, which enabled me to record an album and put together a tour. I wouldn’t have been able to do it without the support from the award, Help Musicians UK and Arts Council England. I’m really grateful for their help. 


Do you have a favourite track from the album?

Perry St is fun, it’s a blues in 5/4, it’s very simple but deceptively difficult because the tempo is so slow. Dave and Ferg sound great on this tune, they sound great on all of the tunes, but their playing on this one is especially sassy. 


What plans do you have for 2019?

I have a surprisingly busy January coming up, I’m finishing off my album launch tour (at The Lescar in Sheffield on 9th January), recording with Issie Barratt’s Interchange Dectet, playing at Jazz East at The Alex in Felixstowe on the 13th, going to Holland with Sam Braysher (he’s playing there with Michael Kanan), then up to Scotland for Paul Towndrow’s Keywork Orchestra at Celtic Connections, and recording the next day. I’m also doing another recording with Calum Gourlay’s quartet, and we’re playing at The Vortex on 30th January. After that, I’m hoping to come back to New York (where I am now for a 3 month sabbatical/informal study period).


Helena Kay’s KIM Trio

The Verdict, Brighton

Saturday 15th December, 2018


Interview by Charlie Anderson

Photo by Emily Thomas

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