1 June 2017

Jon Shenoy Interview

    Saxophonist and composer Jon Shenoy first formed Draw By Four around six years ago as “a Hammond organ band with a difference” but last year faced the possibility of the project falling by the wayside. “The original members were Will Bartlett, who still plays in it now, Kris Borring who is a Danish guitarist and Jon Scott on drums and then Dave Hamblett. But basically just over a year ago I decided to take it to the next level and do quite a lot more writing and do a specific touring project, and that coincided with Kris Borring and Dave Hamblett leaving, sadly. It couldn’t be helped. It meant that I got a couple of new guys in, Sam Dunn on guitar and Chris Draper on drums. It’s a Hammond organ band, although we use a digital DB keyboard, which is like a digital reproduction of a Hammond organ, and I play tenor sax, and then it’s electric guitar and drums. So what you’ve got is that Sixties soul-jazz sound world that everybody automatically thinks is going to sound like Jimmy Smith and Stanley Turrentine but it’s very much not that, really. It’s all original compositions and some of them are quite lengthy and there’s a lot of independence of line. A lot of it is quite linear, contrapuntal writing, but it’s very groovy too.”

    Shenoy is clear about who has inspired him musically: “I used to listen to a lot of Joshua Redman, Elastic Band, Brecker, organ quintet stuff, Pat Metheny, Elvin Jones and some of the Seamus Blake records with Sam Yahel on organ.”

    Whilst performing with Draw By Four, Shenoy is also busy with a number of other projects. “I’m a funny one in that I like to straddle different ends of the jazz spectrum. I do quite a lot of pastiche gigs, Swing-era type music. I work with Pete Long quite a bit, an amazing bandleader and Swing-era expert. Also Callum Au, trombonist and arranger, I play in his band quite a lot. We do Ronnie Scott’s from time to time. I also do Claire Martin’s band Hollywood Romance with the James Pearson piano trio and a string quartet, The Tippett Quartet. It’s an amazing marriage of chamber music and bop piano trio, and I get to do a bit of arranging for that. I also work with a guy called Arthur Lea, a Royal Academy graduate and amazing pianist and singer. He’s obsessed with New Orleans music and we do a band called Arthur Lea’s Bootleg Brass which is really fun and we’ve just released an album.”

    Shenoy’s newest touring project with Draw By Four sees him performing original compositions inspired by works of art. “I decided to write a suite of music based on paintings by British painters, it’s called The Framework Suite and we play that as the centrepiece of the gig each night of the tour.”

    “When you write music it’s nice to use a kind of starting board, like a painting. I can just immediately hear certain things and represent some visual images with little musical devices. So what I did is I looked at these paintings, I’d already chosen them, and then I wrote down a few key words about what that painting represents to me and then mess about on my instrument for a little while until I think that I’ve caught the kind of a section of the painting. Which is a little bit different to how I write normally, which is quite abstract. I’ll just be messing around on the horn for a little while and quite a lot of rubbish will come out, then eventually there’ll be a riff that I think is a little bit of an ear worm and worth sticking with and then a composition normally comes out of that. So it was nice to use a painting as a bit of a short cut of a way in to a piece, to a composition. That’s not to say that they just flowed out. I still find it quite hard, quite slow, when it comes to writing.”

    Shenoy writes exclusively on his main instrument, tenor saxophone, as he finds it to be the most natural way to express himself. “I’d be interested to know how many people write from a keyboard instrument. I used to do that in the early days but I found that I wrote music that didn’t always translate when it came to playing it on a saxophone. It’s a little bit more laborious but I find that if I write everything from the saxophone, I can hear the harmony and I know what I’m aiming for, it feels much more at home when you’re performing it. But everyone’s a bit different with that. A lot of guys just go and sit down at the piano and form a tune that way and then transpose it to their instrument.”

    And as his composing style continues to develop, he is increasingly drawn to expressing his emotional side. “Personally, I’m much more affected by the emotional pull of music than I am the more mathematical side that some people get really into. A lot of jazz musicians draw influence from more abstract concepts such as the rolling of dice or clever algebra as a starting point for a composition, whereas this was much more subjective and emotional. It’s a very personal thing.”

    Shenoy brings the tour to Brighton’s Verdict on Friday 30th June and is pleased so far with how the tour has gone down with audiences. “I’ve got about 20 dates organised, across the UK, which we’re three-quarters of the way through. The audience reaction to this stuff has been really positive. Nobody has come up to me and said that was hideously contrived and a cynical move to get Arts Council funding. Everybody’s come up and said ‘Oh that’s great, that’s really interesting, it made me listen to the music completely differently’ and I think that can only be a good thing.”

    And after a successful tour an album is in the pipeline. “When we do our album, my intention is to write a few more tunes based on paintings and there’s a pretty good tradition of composers doing that throughout the ages. We’ve got a few days at Windcraft Studios soon which will be great. Quite often the recording experience is that you’re still finding your way around the music but we’ll have the nice tradition of having played it in so I’m predicting a smooth, trouble-free recording. I’ll hopefully have that album out by the beginning of the autumn, and it would be nice if we could play at a few of the venues around the country that I wasn’t able to get a gig at, at the end of the year.”


Jon Shenoy’s Draw By Four perform at The Verdict, Brighton on Friday 30th June.


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[Photo by Frantzesco Kagaris, www.fkphoto.co.uk]

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