Ornate Quartet Interview
Drummer Pete Hill interviewed by Charlie Anderson
How did the band come about?
“We were all studying on the jazz programme at Trinity Laban Conservatoire in London and we had all played together in various different outfits but never as a band. There was a project as part of the course in which we had to put on a concert and document the processes involved – acquiring/writing repertoire, rehearsals, booking a venue and promotion. I saw this as the perfect opportunity to start this band as the project had been in the back of my mind for some time. I approached Simon (sax), Evan (trumpet) and Paul (bass) as I knew that they were all interested in this kind of music and would complement each other’s style of playing.”
How would you describe the music that you play?
“The group was started with the intention of exploring the music of saxophonist Ornette Coleman. Coleman is considered to be one of the major innovators of the free jazz movement and rightly so. However, the term “free jazz”can be quite ambiguous as some people differ in opinion on what constitutes “free” playing. Much of Coleman’s music is based on compositions and, although his solos may not be over a set form or chord changes, many of the tunes on his first album Something Else!!!! use standard swing drumming and a walking bass line. As a band we like to experiment with this concept of time no changes in which we can be harmonically free over a rhythmic base. At times we may choose to play more intuitively or texturally without a defined pulse or tempo. We are striving to improvise collectively whenever we play and for each instrument to venture beyond its traditional role in the band.”
“Coleman’s compositions span the emotional spectrum of music. From dark, melancholic, haunting melodies to bright, happy, joyful tunes, there’s something for everyone in his music which is why we were so keen to explore it. Our aim ultimately is to make music that is as fun and engaging to listen to as it is to perform!”
What's your experience of jazz education? Is a jazz degree worth it?
“I was lucky to have attended the jazz course at Chichester College at the age of sixteen. The course leader was Adrian Kendon, a local legend who used to run the Brighton Jazz Club. I learned a lot from the tutors there and if it wasn’t for Adrian’s influence and guidance I may not have continued to study jazz at university.”
“I recently graduated from Trinity Laban conservatoire in London with an honours degree in jazz. I learned a great deal about music in my time studying there and there are skills that I gained as a result of my studies that I doubt I would have acquired otherwise. However, one aspect that my studies didn’t prepare me for was life as a working musician. Making money out of playing music is a skill in itself and it can be difficult navigating the pitfalls of working as a freelance musician without guidance. Studying jazz at a conservatoire or university is a great opportunity to immerse yourself in the music and you’re surrounded by like-minded musicians from different backgrounds who you might not have met otherwise.”
“Is it worth getting into £30,000 or more worth of debt to study something interesting that you are passionate about? In my opinion, yes. But don’t be under any illusions about the music industry. It’s a tough business and jazz isn’t at the top of the list of genres that the mainstream media promote. The reality is that even some of the UK’s top jazz musicians supplement their income through teaching, playing functions and other music-related jobs. Whether gaining a degree in jazz has had a positive impact on my musical career is a question I’ll be better able to answer in 10 years.”
Why did you choose to do music? Did you have positive experiences of it when you were growing up?
“Growing up around Brighton I was exposed to a lot of great music. For as long as I can remember I had wanted to play the drums. I started off the same way most kids do, playing in bands with friends from school for fun. We had a great music teacher at our secondary school, a trombonist called Donald Manson. He encouraged us to perform at school events and put on a concert every year for kids to showcase their bands which helped make music more than something we did at home in our bedrooms. My parents have been always been very supportive and I have them to thank for my love of jazz. My dad used to put on a jazz festival on the seafront in Worthing which lots of the local jazz bands played at, that was a great experience getting to hang around and talk to the musicians. I met the saxophonist who gave me my first gig through that festival and players like Terry Seabrook who I play with today. For my 14th birthday my parents took me to see bassist Christian Mcbride’s band play at the Jazz Café, I was mesmerised by the drummer and I remember leaving the gig thinking I want to do that!”
“My time on the jazz course at Chichester College was invaluable. I had a lot of great experiences meeting and playing with different people most of whom were considerably older than me and more accomplished on their instruments. I started going to jam sessions and playing gigs locally with friends, it was around this time that I started taking music seriously and thought I would try to make a career of it. I couldn’t imagine a better job than being paid to perform music and I still can’t!”
What plans do the band have for the future?
“We have recently been approached by the organisers of the Verdict stage at Love Supreme jazz festival. I played at the festival last year on the same stage and the atmosphere was incredible. It is one of the best festivals I’ve ever been to and the line up this year is world class, so we’re quite excited by the prospect of performing alongside some of the best international jazz artists here in the Sussex countryside! We’re also looking to book a UK tour for early 2015 and will be playing some shows in London and the South East between now and then. Beyond that our aim is to write an album of original music, possibly moving away from the Coleman sound, and explore all the possibilities that playing with this line up offers.”
The Ornate Quartet are: Dan Mays – Alto sax, Evan Clegg – Trumpet, Paul Baxter – Double Bass, Peter Adam Hill – Drums
The Ornate Quartet perform at The Verdict, Brighton on Saturday 8th March, 2014.
To watch The Ornate Quartet performing Ornette Coleman’s The Sphinx click here: