You worked in Humphrey Lyttelton’s band. What memories do you have of working with Humph?
I was with Humph for almost four years and I had a ball! It was early in my playing days and I learnt so much from him, I was very lucky. My overriding memories of Humph would have to be his sense of fun and his absolute commitment to music and his audiences. He was busy touring the country until the very end of his life, playing to packed houses, driving himself to gigs and signing CDs or chatting in the foyer until the very last people had gone home. I don't know where he got his energy from!
You’ve also done quite a lot of touring. What have been your favourite places?
I have been lucky enough have played in some of the worlds most spectacular cities, and I have toured extensively in the UK. For me the best gigs are the more intimate affairs where little amplification is needed and the connection between us and the audience is at its most powerful. Impressive backdrops such as table mountain in Cape Town or the heart of downtown Singapore are very exciting too of course!
You’ve worked a lot with pianist Nikki Iles. What do you like most about working with her?
I have worked with Nikki on and off for around ten years now, we got to know each other on an exciting trip to Tokyo with Tina May in 2006 and have since played together as a duo and of course in the last four years we have been working alongside Dave Green and Steve Brown in my quartet. Nikki is a wonderfully sensitive, yet powerful, musician who can swing like nobody's business as well as paint the most beautiful colours, harmonically and rhythmically – a real inspiration.
You’re appearing at Chichester Jazz Club on Friday 12th December. Tell us what we can expect at the gig.
We are all looking forward to coming back to Chichester in December. The band have been together now for around four years and I think we would all agree that we have grown together and the band has developed a really distinctive, cohesive sound – the sort that only comes from musicians that have worked together many times. We are all great friends too so we will be having a lot of fun playing all sorts of tunes from the latest album, Spirit, as well as some recent discoveries – the emphasis is very much on true improvisation on fantastic tunes, simple really.
What future plans do you have? Albums, tours?
A new album next year is very likely, and we will be touring in the summer.
You’ve worked a lot with saxophonist Karen Sharp. What do you like most about working with her?
I’ve worked with Karen for about 8 years through working with Tina May in those early days. She is a great player who started her musical life at the Royal Northern College of Music as a composer and found her own way into the music . It’s really refreshing working with someone who isn't affected or influenced by any trends and plays in a very honest and direct way. She is also a great band leader who finds material that gives everyone the space to express themselves and importantly has a lot of fun, which helps the music of course !
You’ve worked with a lot of well-known musicians. Who would you most like to work with in the future?
Firstly…I am looking forward to the May tour with my group with Norma Winstone and excited about the new CD out in April . I would love to get a few more playings of my big band music and perhaps even a recording !
At this year’s London Jazz Festival you performed your compositions with the Royal Academy of Music Big Band. What was that like?
This was a really great experience … It was amazing to hear your music fully orchestrated and played so beautifully (in 3D!). I have grown up loving big bands from Sinatra and Basie, Ellington, Thad Jones, Mel Lewis through to Kenny Wheeler and Mike Gibbs, so to have a project of all my music at the Queen Elizabeth Hall was an honour .
I know that you’re a big fan of Kenny Wheeler’s compositions and you worked with him a few times. What memories do you have of working with him?
Probably the most memorable and moving was on a trip to Canada with Norma Winstone and two Canadians I was working with at the time (Duncan Hopkins and Anthony Michelli). We did a couple of things in Toronto and then headed to St. Catherine’s where Ken grew up … It was a great gig at a packed concert hall and after every tune there was a standing ovation for Ken. It really brought it home to me how his music touched so many people throughout the world .
Tell us a bit about all the education work that you do.
I regularly teach at The Royal Academy of Music, Middlesex University and in my local town, at Bedford School. I also teach on many short courses for both adults, young people and teachers. Much of the work is to equip people with a practical and aural understanding of the building blocks of the music and help to open some doors regarding listening and encouraging curiosity, imagination and self expression.
Your last album, Hush, was recorded back in 2010. Do you have any plans for your next album?
Yes. I am finally releasing Westerly on Basho Records in April 2015. It's my group, The Printmakers, with Norma Winstone (!!), Mark Lockheart on sax, Mike Walker on guitar, Steve Watts on bass and James Maddren on drums. I love this group…and to finally write and record with Norma is a dream come true!
Karen Sharp performs at Smalls, Brighton on Thursday 11th December and with Nikki Iles at Chichester Jazz Club on Friday 12th December.
For more on Karen Sharp visit her website www.karensharp.net
For more on Nikki Iles visit her website www.nikkiiles.co.uk
These interviews appeared in issue 34 of The Sussex Jazz Mag, available here.