Jack Kendon Interview
Brighton trumpeter Jack Kendon talks to SJM editor Charlie Anderson.
How did you first get into jazz?
“When I was nine or ten, my Dad bought me a minidisc player and he gave me four minidiscs.”
An Electrifying Evening With The Dizzy Gillespie Quintet
“One hell of a powerful album with Lalo Schiffrin on piano and Leo Wright on sax. Anyone who is anyone should check it out.”
Clark Terry with the Oscar Peterson Trio
“Still, today, one of my favourite albums.”
“The other two were a Miles Davis compilation of the Relaxin’ and Steamin’ albums and a Clifford Brown compilation. One of my big inspirations is Clifford Brown. This compilation had all the classics such as Joy Spring, Jordu and others.”
“Later, I went to the south of France with my mum, my aunt and my cousins and we ended up going to this really boring part of the south of France where there’s nothing to do for us kids. So it was three weeks there in a hammock listening to minidiscs. I made my own minidiscs, NAS and some Jay-Z. They were the only things I had so I listened to them over and over again. They are such great albums and such a great first pick. I got back and that was me entering my year eleven. I’d already picked music and from there it was jazz. That was my thing. It was actually quite cool. Before, it was like ‘Jazz? My Dad’s a jazz musician’. When you’re young, jazz is not the hip music. That was the turning point.”
“Following year 11, I went off to Chichester College where my Dad was running the Chichester jazz course. It was incredible. It was just so much, so much playing. I was in two bands for the two years that I was there so it was three hours each morning, three days a week and a big recital at the end. It was just so much playing and performing. Those two years we had some really good players, young players. My second year there were quite a few people who went to Trinity and Middlesex. I really had a great time in Chichester. Maybe I didn’t work as hard as I should have (as I never have) but the big thing was the performing aspect. Playing every day in a variety of ensembles and a wide range of repertoire.”
“After Chichester, I went to Middlesex University. It was kind of weird, like the expansion pack of Chichester College, as so many ex-Chichester guys ended up at Middlesex. That was nice and homely. Lots of people that I had played with before, and great tutors – Nikki Iles, Chris Batchelor, Stuart Hall, Rob Townsend. Trumpet tutors, if you haven’t heard of them I recommend them highly – Nick Smart. He’s running the Royal Academy now and one hell of a player. A great tutor – if you ever find yourself in a lesson with him, take it in. And Chris Batchelor, undoubtedly one of England’s finest, in so many different things. He’s an expert in Free Jazz amongst other things. He was awesome. Middlesex was great. Lots of skills picked up there, particularly compositional skills.”
“I suppose with any music university, conservatoire or Brighton Jazz School, Chichester College, wherever, it’s about the kind of people you meet, the people you play with, the tunes that you play. That kind of musical setting that you find yourself in, on a regular basis, that is what’s beneficial. You can learn your 2-5-1s and all your arsehole theory, but at the end of the day it’s about when you play
and it’s about the musical experience rather than the analytical one. Although it was less structured, performance-based, it was just the fact that there were so many musicians there to give that opportunity.”
What about the transition from college to the outside world and becoming a professional musician?
“That’s always a tough one and that takes a while. You now have to do it yourself. That transition is quite difficult. I stayed in London for another year and did a variety of just arsehole jobs, working in bars and stuff. We set up our own jam session, just round the corner from where I was staying in Turnpike Lane. It was good fun. But it was very much a Tottenham pub. We did it on a Sunday but we kept getting pushed back because of the football. The bar manager had this idea that we would play as soon as the football finished to keep all of the football punters in, not realising that actually it’s a completely different crowd and more than likely, most of the Tottenham fans hate jazz. We gave that a go for a couple of weeks. We had some great players come down to that, including a student from the year above me at Middlesex, Binker Golding. He is just one hell of a player.”
“After that I went travelling for five and a half months. Just before I went travelling, I got head-butted right on the lip. Split my lip and I was out of playing for about eight months properly. I took my pocket trumpet with me to live in South America but I couldn’t play it for the first two or three months. It was only when I got back that I started to practice again. Realistically, even when I got back from travelling, it still felt uncomfortable and quite weak where the scarring was. When I was out there, I did have a play. When I was in Buenos Aires I got up in a jam there and that was fun. Playing with a couple of locals in Peña bands, up in the north-western part of Argentina. That was quite interesting. But it did take me a long time to get my chops back in to any kind of shape. And still, today, I can feel the scar and still today it’s a bit of a burden.”
“As soon as I got back from travelling, within a month, I had a residency at The Bristol Bar, and that has continued for the past two and a half years. It’s a good gig. It’s me booking all the bands and it’s a variety of bands each week and I pretty much get to pick the finest musicians in Brighton each week, which is really nice, getting to play with them on a regular basis each week. More recently, I started up a swing band, Flash Mob Jazz, playing loads of Louis Prima, Louis Jordan and that’s been going really well. We’ve been a really popular band. We do every Monday night at The Mesmerist and it’s absolutely packed every week. We have the lindy hop, jive dancers come down. The Jack Kendon Quintet – we get various gigs at the Chichester Jazz Club and The Verdict club.”
What are your future plans?
“There has been a plan of doing an album. It’s kind of re-assembling the band because of Dave Drake going to New York and Joe Thomas going on another Scandinavian cruise and Joe Downard busy in London. That is the plan, to do an album of my own compositions, which I’ve been working on. It’s about getting the group together again. The Flash Mob are going in to the studio and we’re doing a promotional music video and I’m currently writing for a smaller big-band for that. That’s all exciting. I definitely want to sort an album out. My mum keeps going on about me getting my arse in gear and doing it, so I ought to!”
Do you have any regrets?
“Not really any big regrets because actually I am who I am today and I am that person for that reason. And part of that reason is because I’m so bloody useless and that’s not a bad thing. But I would like to be not so useless. And I’m becoming not so useless in my old age. I’m 26 now. So I’m learning and as each year goes by I realise that there’s less time. I could have worked a bit harder and not had such a good time at University but I decided to have just that good time. And I was always quite naturally competent musically and on the trumpet so-so. I didn’t find the assignments that we had that challenging. I didn’t find it as hard as much as other people found it that hard.”
“Going to New York, that’s always a dream of any kind of musician and that opportunity is always there forever but the
older you get the harder it becomes. I’m still thinking about moving from Brighton but leaning more towards the European continent rather than further afield. I would love to check out Berlin. Paris is great. That’s the plan with Flash Mob Jazz and the Jack Kendon Quintet. A Tel Aviv radio station has recently shown an interest.”
“I could have worked a bit harder. That would be my tip for any musician out there – don’t drink, learn. That’s the path I took and that’s what’s made me into the person I am today. Your music is really just an amplification of yourself, as a person.”
And the teaching side of being a musician?
“I would like to do more. I was offered a job not too long ago teaching kids in an infant school but I turned it down, because I think it would turn me mad. I’m not there yet. A lot of people come to me wanting to learn jazz, more than anything else. The trumpet is a challenging instrument, as all brass instruments are. We are the vibration. Whereas if you look at woodwind instruments they have a reed that vibrates but with brass, our lips are that reed. That is the challenge and lots of other things going on. I teach people a whole structured lesson on how to play it, the mechanics behind it. I definitely still learn from teaching. I learn stuff about my own technique and musical inspiration from teaching someone. It’s great and you get to see people develop as musicians. That’s another path, another side of being a musician that we all have to do and we all have to find that enjoyment from it. My Dad [bassist Adrian Kendon] was an educator at Chichester College for about 14 years and he loved it and didn’t want to leave. It was only because he was 65 and he had to retire. He was always there to give. Teaching’s a good thing.”
Flash Mob Jazz play at The Mesmerist every Monday night.
Interview conducted by SJM editor Charlie Anderson at The Verdict cafe, Brighton.
Photo of Jack Kendon by Mike Guest.