Hilary Burt Interview
Hilary Burt's album, North Beach, is released this month. It's an eclectic flute-led fusion of jazz, funk, african and latin with some electronica thrown in for good measure! Here she talks about juggling work and music.
How did you start out?
“I come from a musical family – both brothers are guitarists, both sing and compose; our Dad played the piano and loved doodling on the Hammond organ, John Shuttleworth style. My Aunty Betty, also my Godmother, played piano and taught singing in primary schools. I have a wonderful home movie of her playing the zither at my 5th birthday!”
“As a child I started my grades on flute and piano but was bullied at Secondary School and went underground – stopped the choir and orchestra, stopped my grades, basically hid away."
“I had always wanted to teach so between '82 and '86 I did an education degree specialising in music and starting work as a full time primary school teacher in Hackney later teaching in Tower Hamlets. Living in London there were lots of musical opportunities so I taught during the day, and rehearsed and performed on the flute in the evenings. In the 1990s I was in various acid jazz type bands performing at The Orange and other venues round the capital.”
“After ten years full-time teaching, up at 6.30 every day and juggling work and music, I was burnt out and decided to go part-time. I completed my classical grades 6, 7 and 8 on the flute and at age 40, decided to do grade 8 on the piano – one of the hardest things I've ever done!”
“With more time on my hands I wanted to learn about jazz theory so I embarked on a 3-year one day a week course at The City Lit in Holborn. An extra bonus of studying here was meeting Mark [jazz trombonist Mark Bassey and husband of 11 years].”
“During this time I did a jazz degree at Middlesex University whilst continuing to teach English, Maths, flute and piano privately. I was writing many tunes at the piano around this time. Actually I had a Yamaha Clavinova which enabled me to record one layer and build up a tune, adding strings, percussion, flute lines and backings. I loved this and it was always a dream that one day I might be able to record these tunes properly with 'live musicians’."
Tell us a bit about your album.
“The album, North Beach, is an extension of these early Clavinova days. I now use Logic on my Macbook Pro and record everything myself to start with – piano groove, flute melody, midi bass and guitar, with everything sitting on drum samples and percussion loops. I then choose which bits need replacing with live players. Sometimes I decide it all works well with loops, samples and midi and just add the flute – Live Wire is an example of this."
"Other tunes, like 'Simeon', are a combination of 'real' musicians and midi recorded material. On this track I play flutes and piano, Joss Peach has added some beautiful piano lines as well as percussion, Simon D'souza plays a lovely tenor sax solo recorded last summer, my eldest brother, Nick, is the guitar soloist, and Alex Eberhard is on drums. I wrote this tune during my City Lit days and actually played it at my Middlesex final performance in 2004."
"The album is definitely eclectic – think of a combination of Spyro Gyra, Massive Attack and Mike Oldfield! Mark Bassey of course features on trombone, with my other brother Gary Burt on guitar, Terry Pack is on bass, Leia Fredriksen plays percussion and Laura Impallomeni is featured on didgeridoo rather than the trombone which she is better known for!"
"I have no illusions about myself as an improvisor – I'm a slow learner and continue to attend jazz workshops and continue my improvisation study – a life's work I've decided."
"But as a composer I'm ready to 'come out!' I have plans for a 2nd album using 'found objects' such as glass bottles. Mark has been very obliging with this project, drinking pear cider to help the cause!"
"I continue to juggle my music and teaching. I have my own office now [Spotty Dog Tutoring] where I teach children with dyslexia, helping them with their reading, writing and phonics. Music and teaching is a way of life – plus our three dogs of course."
North Beach is available from hilaryburt.bandcamp.com or from Hilary in person.
"I may give Mark a few to sell as well!"
CDs cost £10 with £2 from each sale going to Macmillan Cancer Support.
Album mixed and mastered by Paul Fawcus at Jazzmouse Productions Ltd.
CD artwork by Simone Grant Designs.