Mike Flynn Interview
J-Sonics bassist and editor of Jazzwise magazine, Mike Flynn answers questions from SJM editor Charlie Anderson, ahead of the J-Sonics gig at the Ropetackle Arts Centre in Shoreham.
How did you first get into jazz?
“My interest in jazz developed in tandem with my bass playing – as I discovered jazz that appealed to me, which tended to be melodic and groove driven, I discovered bass players that were also inclined that way. So I discovered Jaco Pastorius when I first heard Weather Report, and Stanley Clarke’s School Days was a very song-led album, although my playing has been influenced a lot more by Jaco than Stanley. It wasn’t all about the bass though – I remember meeting a guitarist who introduced me to Zakir Hussain the great tabla player, specifically an album called Making Music on ECM which has Jan Gabarek and John McLaughlin on, but it’s all acoustic and there’s no bass player on it, it’s just very atmospheric and beautifully played. I think I’ve always been into jazz that borrows from other styles – I love bebop and hard bop, but because I’m an electric bassist I always found the bassists I’m into tended to work across many genres, plus I’ve always loved a huge range of music. So growing up I had my metal phase, my funk phase, then I got into hip hop and rap, then bands like Living Colour came along and suddenly I heard their guitarist Vernon Reid shredding like John Coltrane and they were the first band I heard that really brought all of the stuff I love together, albeit in a rock context. I also worked in HMV when I lived in Oxford, I used to be the buyer for a massive jazz/world music section and got to know a lot of world music, especially West African music – I love Salif Keita for instance – and there’s a connection to Weather Report with him, as he worked with Joe Zawinul, and Zawinul’s Syndicate band were massively influenced by African rhythms and grooves. I find music is often like that and so much of it is interrelated.”
What inspired you to play bass?
“It sounds clichéd but I took up the bass because my friends and I started a band at school and my best mate got the guitar before I did! But saying that, when I got my first bass age 12 I really connected with the instrument, and it’s become a bit of a lifelong mission to be able to play it well… I’m still practicing as much as I can!”
Tell us about your band J-Sonics.
“This band was only really possible because I live in London – and that’s because of the sheer diversity of the city but also the way its musicians are friends and work together in all kinds of situations. I met Matt Telfer our saxophonist, at my local jam session in Brixton, same for Clement Regert our guitarist. It’s a brilliant jam that’s still running every Sunday in Brixton – run by this great singer called Lauren Dalrymple – and it was my first step into the London jazz scene when I moved to the area in 2004. I heard Clem and Matt and they were brilliant, I met Gabor Dornyei our drummer through a band that I was doing before J-Sonics, he’d just moved to London from Hungary and we got on well from the off. I had wanted a band that was able to move between genres but apply the same jazz chops to them – and also a band to play my tunes in and those of Clement too – we both write a lot of our own songs (he has a great band called Wild Card too) – so we asked Andy Davies to come in on trumpet, and I work with Jon Newey at Jazzwise and he’s into a lot of different music too. Our singer Grace joined us for a gig when we were asked to have a singer, she did such a great job she’s still with us ever since and really brings her Spanish fire to the band – which audiences love! It’s a bit of a super group as everyone has their own projects and everyone does great sideman gigs so I feel very fortunate to have brought so many great players together – it’s lasted five years. Some of the gigs, like playing the main stage at Ronnie Scott’s and Love Supreme last year to 2,000 people, have been amazing.”
How did you get into journalism?
“I always loved sharing great music with people and was asked to do a bit of writing on jazz for a free entertainment paper in Stroud – where my parents live – back in the mid-1990s. I didn’t think much of it at the time but my writing style was there from the start and, when I got an opportunity to take a job on a music website in the dotcom boom of the early 2000s, I jumped at the chance. Through that, I made a huge amount of contacts at record labels across the industry – some of whom I still know to this day. I moved to London a few years later and was doing a few reviews for Jazzwise as a freelancer and then other opportunities came along after that like being the jazz editor at Time Out (before it went free) and then doing things like judging the Mercury Prize for eight years, where I got to see a whole other side of the music industry and champion jazz alongside more mainstream music. It all helped broaden my work and musical outlook. I went full-time with Jazzwise six years ago and was assistant editor and then was promoted to editor in 2015.”
Do you have any other music projects that you’re working on?
“I love all kinds of music and work a lot with Ableton Live, which is really flexible music software which you can compose and record music with very intuitively, as well as use it in a live environment. So I have a solo bass set that I can play with that – I have a cool four-piece fusion group called Big Fan which is mostly originals and purely instrumental – and I’ve been writing songs with a great Irish singer who’s based in London called Aisling Iris, we have some original music in the works too.”
J-Sonics perform at the Ropetackle Arts Centre, Shoreham-by-sea on Saturday 7th April, 2018.