How did you get into jazz?
“I always enjoyed listening to music from an early age…any kind. There were no musicians in my family but my mother used to play Ravi Shankar records, some Fats Waller and mainly Mozart. So quite a mixture! At school I enjoyed being in a choir and started taking classical piano lessons but exams made me too anxious. Career-wise I moved into the visual arts as a practitioner and teacher. In my twenties, after randomly buying a Dizzy Gillespie record (and not knowing who he was!), I started listening to jazz and shortly after this I was housesitting for a friend and found some cassettes of Mingus and Hermeto Pascoal. I was really fascinated by the sounds these musicians were making and so started attending a few jazz festivals, some in Crawley and some in London. About eight years ago I and some others formed JazzHastings – a club which still runs a monthly gig programme. Through this I had free access to seeing some great musicians, Gwilym Simcock, Liane Carroll, Kirk Lightsey, Christine Tobin, Dick Pearce to name but a few. All of this helped nurture my interest and five years ago I bought a piano and started playing again.”
Tell us about the different courses that you've been doing and what you've gotten out of them.
“The first jazz course I attended was about four years ago – Michael Garrick's Jazz Academy, still running today. It was completely daunting and I ran away half way through the week. I could hardly play a C7 and realised that the jazz language was terrifyingly huge. I tried to teach myself from a few books and also had some private lessons. Then 4 years ago I heard about the Geoff Simkins' classes running at Sussex University . I have been attending these since and have found his knowledge and teaching experience very instructional and inspirational. Through this I heard about the Brighton Jazz School's Learn to Play course and I’ve been attending this since 2012. It’s been a great introduction to working and playing very regularly with other jazz students on specific repertoire as well as learning more harmonic theory. Learning to play jazz is so difficult and the language of jazz (albeit fascinating) is so complex . Sometimes one concept is re-inforced by repetition and through a variety of courses and different approaches. The Jazz Co-op has also been helpful in this respect as you get access to a range of excellent professional musicians/teachers. Other short courses I’ve attended locally have included Havant arts centre weekend and recently Chichester summer school. “
How do you see your playing developing in the future?
“For the future I just want to ‘get better’. I enjoy the whole learning and studying process but am not all that ambitious. It feels lucky to be living in a place where there is the opportunity to attend courses and gigs and to be doing something so engaging, creative and rewarding. It’s a pleasure to play with others and to feel that hopefully I'm developing myself in the process. Tiny steps!”
Sophie Mason appears regularly on piano with Brighton Jazz School at The Verdict, Brighton on Wednesdays 7:30-9pm during term time.
Interview conducted by Charlie Anderson.