Jason Yarde Interview
Tell us about your band Acoutastic Bombastic. How did it all come about?
Way back in 2004 I was offered a commission for the 2005 Cheltenham Jazz Festival by Tony Dudley-Evans, as part of the Jerwood Foundation Rising Stars initiative. It was an opportunity, not only to write some new music, but also to put together a band. That was the initial starting point. It allowed me to put together quite a big band and basically invite a lot of people that I’d previously worked with in different situations, to come and form this ensemble, specifically to play the suite that I was writing for Cheltenham.
It sounds like a fantasy but it was actually a dream I had where I saw a relatively small group of people playing with lots of different instruments. That was my initial impetus for getting as many multi-instrumentalists together as possible. Julian Siegel, who plays saxophone and bass clarinet, when I first met him he was actually the double bass player in Jean Toussaint’s quartet so I thought it would be great to get him back playing bass. Seb Rochford is a drummer but he’s also got a very sweet vocal and plays guitar. It’s basically finding lots of different musicians that I’ve worked with who I knew either doubled or played something on the side. Then it was about how I could work their second or third instrument into the set. Benet McLean is better known as a violinist but for the first gig he played saxophone, he also plays guitar. I’m not sure if there are many things he doesn’t play, actually. Those are just a couple of examples of people who are perhaps better known for one thing but also do other things. So it was just a way of trying to work that in creatively, into the music.
Is the music all of your own compositions?
For the recording it’s basically the suite that I wrote in 2004, called Random Wishes and Abstract Dreams. That was a long time ago now so I’ve written a fair few new things since then.
We got together to record in 2015. I’d been working on-and-off with the guys in different settings before that first commission, and then of course in the interim years every time I bumped into one of them they’d ask ‘when are you going to do Acoutastic Bombastic again?’. So it literally got to 10 years and I thought I’d better get my skates on, so I applied for some money from PRSF (Performing Rights Society Foundation) but that only got us into the studio for a few days, and a couple of rehearsals. I guess we recorded about 85% of the album, which is most of the suite, but there were a couple of movements that we didn’t get to.
The other thing that happens in the group is that everybody sings, everybody plays percussion. It’s quite a fluid group. Within it there’s a string quartet, there’s a saxophone quartet, or more. There’s probably about five or six people who play saxophone now and a few more string players. But it’s that ability to slide from one genre to the next. It’s all music. That’s what I was trying to go for.
Essentially, it’s all my music. Should we be lucky enough to get a second album, I’ve already marked out compositions from the guys that I’d like to do versions of. But we’re starting with my stuff for the time being.
How’s it going with the Pledge and funding for the album?
It could be better, I’m not gonna lie. We’re currently at about 11 or 12% but we’ve got 30 days left, we’re in the last phase. Essentially I’ve been backed by Sound of Music, and Pledge have been really supportive of the project as well. I’ve been pushing it in different areas, but I can only do so many Facebook posts and so many tweets and Instagram posts. It’s trying to find a balance between not boring people with it but also trying to express a need.
The other thing that happened with the band that’s quite interesting is, over the course of the recording, because everybody doubled, they played quite specific instruments so if for any reason you need a dep, it complicates things in quite a unique kind of way. That’s actually led to some quite interesting results on one hand. Jason Lindner is actually playing piano on a couple of the tracks. Benet had double booked himself playing the violin for Duncan Eagles’ group, so on one of the studio days I had to find a dep. I used to be in a band with Eska and Marcina Arnold. I happened to be at Eska’s album launch about a month before we went in the studio and happened to bump into a friend and asked him if he could do the session, he said he was unavailable but he had Jason Lindner staying at his house and said he was sure that he’d be up for doing something. I guess they say the rest is history. I managed to get him down and he made some beautiful noise with the rest of us.
Even with the mishaps that have happened, good things have come about. With the Pledge campaign it’s a bit more down to the wire. There are a lot more mouths to feed. Although it was a 10-piece band there will be 15 people on the album, all told, when it’s finished. I’m running out of favours so that’s why I’ve started the crowdfunding! Its a way of getting pre-sales, that’s certainly the most popular item as far as the pledges are going. People want to hear the music so that’s quite encouraging. I just need more of them.
Tell us about the other band you’re involved with, Hexagonal.
I’ve been living in the Hastings & St. Leonards area for nearly six years now. I had two young children when I first moved down. The first year I didn’t really get out much. I was doing a lot of arranging work and orchestration. The jazz grapevine is such that one of the people that I did hear from, who found out I’d moved down here, was John Donaldson. He emailed me and said ‘Welcome to the area. Anytime you want to have a play just give me a shout’. With Hexagonal, there were a lot of jazz musicians in the area who wanted to play, and just have a blow on some straight ahead stuff, and the music of McCoy Tyner and Bheki Mseleku (who we all had a connection with). So it started off as a local blow. We were first known as the FILO All Stars, after the pub First In Last Out in Hastings old town. It’s just gone from there.
We made the album that we’re touring now and so far we’ve got as far as Scarborough. It’s a regular thing now and we’re already talking about doing the next album. It’s great to just play that music with some guys who are already into it, through a proper band. It’s a nice situation to be in. I’m lucky that where I live is within 20 minutes walk of good music on any given night, so it’s a good spot to be in.
What other projects are you involved in?
I’ve got a duo with Andrew McCormack called MY Duo. This will be our eleventh year of operation. We’re returning to the Vortex in February, which is where we did our first gig.
I’ve also been doing a few horn section gigs and being a saxophone player for hire, which has been useful. I’ve been working a lot with Antony Joseph who is a poet from Trinidad. I’ve been MD for his band. That’s been good fun as well.
I’ve been working with a singer called Elaine Mitchener. I’ve done a few different projects with her. She’s been doing this thing called Sweet Tooth. It’s looking at the slave trade and its relationship to the sugar trade. So that’s been quite interesting in light of the Windrush scandal.
Last November, with Anthony Joseph, we did The Windrush Suite at The Barbican for the London Jazz Festival. That involved a lot of artists coming from Trinidad, such as Calypso Rose and Mighty Sparrow. I was MDing the whole show so that was quite a bit of work, but within that I was commissioned to write The Windrush Suite, so it was a chance to celebrate the contribution of people from the Caribbean who came over in 1948, and both before and after that. It’s 70 years, an important marker. The fact that I live in Amber Rudd’s constituency, it’s difficult not to tie it in with all of the shenanigans with the Home Office. I don’t often write that many lyrics. I’m a composer first and foremost, and a lyricist somewhere way down the line, but I felt it was important to write some lyrics that reflected what is going on now. It was quite an important departure for me but I’m glad I got the opportunity to write that piece and perform it. I’ll be looking at how I can expand the performance possibilities of that this year as well.
I’ve also been working with the guys from Jazz Re:freshed. They have a night out in Portobello Road. They’ve been going for over 15 years now so it’s been good working with them as a follow on from Tomorrow’s Warriors and finding the new generation of players who want to get into jazz.
I seem to be at an age where I sit on lots of different boards. I’m on the board of the Engine Orchestra and Jazz Re:freshed. If nothing else it provides a good opportunity to see what other people are up to and see what’s coming along. If you want to encourage the new musicians, you have to encourage new audiences as well. That’s probably one of the biggest challenges we’ve got, as a community of music lovers. Encouraging the audiences as well as the creators.
Is there anything else that you’d like to talk about?
It’s a funny time in the music industry, but it’s a funny time everywhere at the moment, but as far as music is concerned…I feel lucky that I’m operating in an area where people still value the recorded music as much as the live music. It’s good that it’s coming back. It used to be one of the hardest things, to make a record and actually get something recorded, but nowadays you can get everything streamed.
By the same token, I’ve been discussing this quite a lot with musicians of all persuasions. There’s a drive to record albums and make records, and present things as a body of work in spite of this push to stream everything. Without that drive to create stuff, ultimately, that’s the thing that fuels, for me, the music. Trying to make a living out of that. I’m lucky I’m living in a time when it’s still possible. It can be a struggle at times, but best serve the audience while you can still feed your family.
The main thing I’ve learnt is the more I travel around and play to different audiences, I realise how important music is as a communicative tool. It’s some light relief. Although it seems challenging, you’re encouraged to keep doing it, because people want to hear it.
You can support Jason Yarde’s Acoutastic Bombastic by visiting the Facebook page https://www.facebook.com/pg/acoubomb
Following the collapse of Pledge Music, Jason has found other ways to raise funds, including a fundraiser on Monday 18th November, 2019 at The Cockpit Theatre as part of the EFG London Jazz Festival.