Interview: Freddie Gavita
Trumpet player Freddie Gavita spoke to Charlie Anderson about his journey in jazz ahead of his appearance at Chichester Jazz Club, paying tribute to his musical hero Clifford Brown.
Tell us about your upcoming gig in Chichester entitled ‘The Music of Clifford Brown’.
It’s not been a major frontline project of mine but it’s something that I really enjoy doing and it’s fun to delve into one particular artist and pick some tunes that you think makes a good set and try to tell the story of his brief but important contribution to music. It’s a dedication to a hero of mine.
He was one of the first non-New Orleans trumpet players that I got into. I was raised on Louis Armstrong and Bix Beiderbecke. So Clifford, along with Lee Morgan and Freddie Hubbard, was one of the more progressive trumpet players that I got into. It’s just beautiful really. It all just makes sense when you listen to it. Almost algebraic, the opposite of the way that Louis Armstrong played. That’s one of the things that appealed to me, the different kind of approach.
Tell us about the band that you’re playing with.
It’s with Richard Shepherd, the saxophone player. We were in the National Youth Jazz Orchestra and I also went to the Royal Academy of Music with him. We were in the same year and we played every single day for four years, so we know each other very well.
Rob Barron on piano. I’ve been in so many bands with him, and lived with him for a few years. Adam King is a great bass player who has worked on a lot of my projects. Sebastian de Krom on drums, I haven’t played with as much but when we have it’s been beautiful so he’s going to come in and do a super job.
Tell us a bit about the trumpet and how you got into it.
They asked everyone in my primary school ‘who wants to learn a brass instrument?’ and I saw all these shiny brass instruments so I put my hand up. It was a bit of a shock when I got to the lesson and they handed me this tiny mouthpiece and a trumpet. Well if that’s all that you’ve got, that’s what I’ll take. And it all just carried on from there. But it was all through free trumpet lessons and free instruments from a state primary school back in the early Noughties when that was still a thing.
Where did it go from there?
I did local big bands and learning lots of different types of music and playing with people that were older and better than you, which is always a good thing. I had a few bands as a kid. There were a few people around who are still playing professionally like Kit Downes and George Crowley. We were in a band together. Then I did the National Youth Jazz Orchestra and then the Royal Academy of Music. I started working when I was still at college in London. I got a few lucky breaks playing in Ronnie Scott’s Jazz Orchestra and with Johnny Dankworth. That always helps if you get one of those moments when you happen to be in the right place at the right time. A vacancy opened up so I just kept going.
What other things are you working on at the moment?
I have another quartet that plays original music, which is the only album that I’ve released of my own, so that’s a little bit more contemporary. It’s good to write some of your own stuff as well as pay tribute to the masters.
I also have a trio of guitar, bass and trumpet, with guitarist Nick Costley-White and bassist Tim Thornton. We play Count Basie music but in a tiny band. We’re trying to re-imagine those tunes rather than going through a slavish recreation of them.
I also do composing and arranging on the side so there’s a few bits of library music writing and arranging big band charts for people when they want them. It’s enough to keep me busy.
Do you have a routine to keep up your chops on the trumpet?
Yes, to a certain extent. For me, I do a mixture of things. I spend a lot of time doing what I physically want the trumpet to feel like. So I do quite a lot of work on relaxing and trying to make a good sound without any excess tension. I start quite gently when I’m practicing and then I build up and try to keep that same feeling of relaxation, by moving up the registers and playing more complex material. I try to cover all the bases during the day, so I make sure that I do long tones, articulation, slurs, phrasing. A lot of it is mental practice and making sure that my head is quick enough for my fingers so that I can predict where I’m going to go when I’m playing, and everything can synchronise up.
Do you still play quite a bit in other people’s projects?
Not so much. These things tend to come and go. I haven’t been doing that much, but I’ve got a nice gig coming up with Nick Costley-White, he’s doing a Herbie Hancock tribute. He’s also writing original music for that, inspired by Herbie’s Sixties stuff. I’ve done a few gigs with Vasilis Xenopoulos, the Greek saxophonist, doing Dexter Gordon stuff last year. That was really nice to be involved with. Sometimes you just have to create opportunities for yourself, and sometimes other people want to do it for you. If things aren’t busy then you just have to get stuck in and try and make stuff happen.
Do you have plans for this year?
Yes, I’m hoping to record the Count Basie trio at some point, hopefully in the next month or two. I’m always writing new tunes for my contemporary band but no plans to record any of that yet. Maybe at some point. But hopefully we’ll get a tour for the Count Basie group and take that out. I works really well in that setting and I don’t think it’s really been done, scaling a big band down to just three people without a drummer. It’s really fun.
Is there anything that you do outside of music?
Not a lot. It’s weird because it’s your job and your hobby, so it’s quite easy to let it take up a lot of your time if you’re not too careful. I like relaxing in the evening if I’m not working and I like watching films and a bit of gym work here and there.
Is there anything else that you’d like to talk about?
Come and see the gig! It’s a really enjoyable evening. Ive got quite a few friends who have been to other performances in different places that aren’t necessarily huge jazz fans but have really enjoyed that. It’s melodic jazz but also feel-good, and there’s a lot of variety in the way that the tunes are written and I try and keep it interesting. So there’s a reason that each tune has been picked and they help to tell Clifford’s story, which is tragic but also incredible at the same time. He had this meteoric rise in the space of 5 years, from being a rising star to being the best trumpet player on the scene. And then it was cut short, so it’s interesting to show how far he came in that period, and it’s a good workout for me as well!
Also it’s good for people who haven’t come to see a jazz gig before, this is quite a nice one to come and see. It’s not a stale thing, we try to keep it pretty lively with all the stories and introductions.
Freddie Gavita Quintet Play The Music of Clifford Brown
Chichester Jazz Club
Friday 13th March, 2020