Interview: Marianne Windham
Double bassist and promoter Marianne Windham spoke to Charlie Anderson during her preparations for the Guildford Jazz Festival in March.
How did you first get into music?
“In the very beginning I played cello when I was at school aged 12 and did all of the classical grades. I stopped playing in my 20s when I went to university. Then I got into playing again much later after I’d had my kids, by playing in a covers band with some friends who wanted a bit of cello on some numbers. From there I went to playing bass guitar in the band, sort of by accident. Then I went on this jazz weekend, took my bass along, was completely terrible and I fell in love with jazz and ended up playing double bass, which must be 30 years ago. I just fell in love with the music and thought ‘I’ve got to learn to play the bass properly’. So I picked up the double bass and really fell in love with playing jazz. Then I started playing classical double bass which I still do now. It’s been a bit of a journey but it’s like that for most people I suppose.”
Who are your favourite bass players?
“That’s a good question. Loads of them. Whoever I’m listening to at the moment I’m thinking ‘Oh my God, this is fantastic’. But my biggest favourite is Ray Brown, he’s just got everything: brilliant sound, drive, lines and everything. He just pins the whole band together. It’s such a distinctive thing, what Ray Brown does. That’s who I transcribe the most. There are loads of other people that I like, such as Dave Holland, Christian McBride and earlier players as well.”
How did you first get into the whole promoting side of things?
“After I took up bass I was just playing for fun and did a few gigs. I still had a job at the time, as a director of an IT consultancy. But then I got frustrated, thinking ‘I need to play more, to really study more’. So I thought I’d quit my career and really try and learn to play, which is quite a big decision.
Anyway, I did that after six months of agonising. I quit my job and really started to apply myself to learn to play. About the same time, a friend of mine, Catherine, who does the bookings at the Watermill Jazz Club, told me there was a pub that had contacted her because they wanted to put on jazz and suggested that I have a chat with them. So I went to have a look at this pub which is quite near Guildford, and walked into their room and just thought ‘this would make a fantastic jazz club’. It was a lightbulb moment where I thought ‘maybe I could run a jazz club’.
By that time I’d been on a few courses and gotten to know a few of the big name people in the UK and thought ‘maybe they’d like to come and play, and it would be great for local people to hear these fantastic musicians’, because there wasn’t much happening in terms of jazz in Guildford. I set up a monthly jazz night and it went from there. I started off in a back room of a pub. It was a nice little place, but eventually the pub got sold and became flats so we moved to another venue and I started running a second jazz night at a local theatre, which is still going.
I then started running workshops and a jam session and started doing charity gigs. We do two outdoor summer events every year to raise money for charity, which are quite successful.
Now we’re a properly formed Community Interest Company as Guildford Jazz, which is a not-for-profit.
When we were thinking about what we should do next year as a club I suggested running a jazz festival. It seemed like a good idea at the time but now I’m drowning in paperwork!
But it’s been a gradual journey with things growing and building.”
Marianne wanted to ensure that the musicians were all paid properly and she was also keen to do something that was ‘by the town, for the town’. Profits from the festival are going to a local charity Guildford Philanthropy.
“It’s better to do something that’s more for the local community rather than somebody from outside just landing on the town with a festival.”
How did it come about that you got Bill Bruford as patron?
“I’d been thinking for a while that as the club has been growing a bit, lots of people come along to the club who say ‘we never knew this existed’ and then they become members. But it’s very difficult getting the message out there about what you do so I thought it would be really good to have a patron, somebody associated with the club who people with no idea about jazz would recognise. I wanted a figure head and somebody fairly local and well-known in the jazz world. Bill has this connection with Iain Ballamy, who doesn’t live in Guildford anymore, but comes from Guildford and has done a few gigs here. Bill Bruford and Iain Ballamy used to play in Earthworks together so I thought Bill would be fantastic as a patron. But he didn’t know me so I got in touch and told him about what we do. He gave his blessing and he’s been fantastic, so supportive, helpful and just lovely. So that’s been a very happy association for us that is continuing to be. I contacted him out of the blue in quite a brazen, cheeky way.”
The festival itself has quite a wide variety of acts, is there one particular that you’re looking forward to?
“Well, I’m looking forward to all of them, obviously, but it’s been interesting putting it all together because I wanted it to represent who we are as a club. The artists are people who have appeared over the years at the club but maybe in a slightly different setting. Dennis Rollins is coming in and doing his funky thing, but also the live music cinema as well. The Surrey Young Jazz Musicians of the Year concert on Friday 20th March I’m really excited about. That’s our initiative and we thought it would be really great to set this up to encourage young jazz talent and the next generation of musicians. We had a great response to that. It’s really lovely to have so many people applied to take part. I’m really looking forward to that as it’s something that I don’t think anyone else has done locally before, so that’ll be great. And of course the Saturday evening concert with Iain Ballamy and the Guildhall Big Band will be quite something, a real pinnacle and highlight of the weekend. And then on Sunday we’ve got lots of people who have played at the club before so I think that’s going to be a great day.
Tickets sales are going well for all of them, which is very encouraging. You never really know as it’s such a big risk to take putting on a festival like this. The financial outlay is obviously quite a lot for a small club like ours. But the response has been very encouraging.
I’m not great at the whole marketing side of things. Really I love playing. It’s great to have connections with so many people over the years and I’ve met so many fantastic people. The jazz community in general is very supportive which is really what attracted me to it in the first place. The fact that we can all work together to promote the love of the music, I really enjoy that. We’ve been contacting a few jazz clubs to ask if they could put out a few flyers and they’re all really supportive. Together we can tell more people about the music and draw more people in, particularly as there are younger people who didn’t grow up with it in the way that the older generation did. So to bring younger people in is very exciting. I’m hoping that the festival will do that, to introduce more people to jazz who may have not heard it before. That’s what I’d like to see with our club and other clubs over the next couple of years.”
Guildford Jazz Festival
20th – 22nd March, 2020