John Harris interview
Guitarist John Harris talks about the upcoming revival of Kineojazz in Brighton.
Tell us about Kineojazz and how it all came about.
“Kineojazz is a jazz promotion organisation started by three friends – singer Ela Southgate, entrepreneur Steve Rayson and myself. We all share a love of jazz and thought it would be fun to put on some gigs ourself. We called it Kineojazz as we had some sponsorship from a digital learning company that Steve was involved with, Kineo. We have some clear ideas about what sort of events we would like to put on: 1) they should be accessible for a broad audience, but particularly older people who are not necessarily jazz fans but just enjoy great music 2) we would have a great venue where people can drink, chat and socialise without disturbing the music 3) we wanted to pay the musicians properly and, to keep costs down, Ela and I provided the support acts. These three factors combined to create some very special evenings for audience and artists alike.”
What’s The Basement like as a venue?
“For me The Basement is the best venue for jazz in Brighton. In the North Laine, situated under the Argus lofts in Kensington St, it has a very special feel: from the moment you walk in you know you're not just at a gig, but at an event – perhaps because the venue is associated with theatrical performances, I don't know why exactly. We set the room up with a mix of cabaret seating around the band and then bean bags and cushions on a raised area at the back. It makes for a very relaxed vibe and we've always had great feedback from musicians and audiences. The deal with The Basement is a good one – they get a share of the door money and provide online ticketing, the bar etc. The challenge is filling 150 seats, which is a lot for a jazz event.”
What memories do you have of the previous gigs?
“The first gig set a very high bar indeed. We had the late, great American singer and Brighton local, Joe Lee Wilson. The band was pianist Terry Seabrook, myself on guitar, drummer Martin France and bassist Steve Watts. Joe Lee was quite frail at the time and we were worried that he wouldn't be ready for the gig. The band started playing and after a few minutes I saw Steve Rayson helping Joe Lee up onto the stage. I was worried that he wasn't going to make it to the mic. He eventually got there and, from the moment he started singing he had the audience enraptured. After an hour of joyous jazz the audience were going crazy, shouting out ‘we love you Joe Lee’. It was a great start for Kineojazz, and one of the last opportunities anyone had to see the legendary Joe Lee Wilson perform.”
“Another great event and one of the best gigs I have ever been to was the Dr. Lonnie Smith gig. He was a riddle wrapped in an enigma wrapped in a turban, and his trio featured guitarist Jonathan Kreisberg and drummer Jamire Williams. At great expense we hired a Hammond C3 organ from London. I turned up in the afternoon expecting it to be there ready to go, only to find that they hadn't provided the pedals! I was amazed – they know it was for a great jazz organist, how could they not know he needed pedals. After a nervous few hours spent on the phone, sweating and pacing up and down, the hire company arrived 30 mins before the gig with another beast of an organ plus pedals, but no bench seat. Did any of this worry Dr. Lonnie? Absolutely not. Dr. Lonnie and I wandered around the venue, finding an old door and some beer creates to do the job. To be honest, I don't think he needed a bench – he looked like he was a levitating yogi throughout. It was a memorable evening of fantastic jazz and the next morning I got to chat to him all the way back to Heathrow with stories of the old days – George Benson, Grant Green, the chitlins circuit and his personal philosophy of world peace through music.”
“Other memorable gigs included Claire Martin, Charlotte Glasson and her band, Cubana Bop, Sue Richardson and Liane Carroll. A healthy number of singers ensures we get the breadth of audience we're after.”
Who will be appearing at upcoming events?
“We've had a lay-off for quite a while and we're coming back with a bang on Sunday 14th June – the 20-odd piece Studio 9 Orchestra playing an eclectic mix of Radiohead, Charles Mingus, Jimi Hendrix and jazz standards. Last time they played in Brighton they sold out The Old Market with 250 seats, so people should book early. We hope to continue to put on regular, high quality, accessible gigs. We're open to interesting ideas for artists who can fill The Basement and continue the tradition of concerts that are not just gigs but memorable events.”
Kineojazz presents The Studio 9 Orchestra
Sunday 14th June at 19:30
The Basement in Brighton
24 Kensington Street, Brighton, BN1 4AJ
Phone: 07800 983290