Tell us about the concerts that you’re doing with Courtney Pine and how that came about.
“I’ve played in Courtney’s band for a while. I did an album with him called Europa a few years ago and before that I played in his band. I hadn’t played with him for a while, a few years and then just before Christmas he called and said ‘do you want to make a duo album?’ and I though ‘great, sounds good’. I have a one year old baby so I haven’t been playing that much, I’ve been doing a few gigs with my band so it’s nice to be asked. We’ve made the album and that’s out on 23rd February and we’ve got our first gig in Southampton tomorrow [20th February] and then various gigs around the country. It’s just the two of us, I play piano and he plays bass clarinet on the album.”
I can remember hearing Courtney Pine back when I was still at school as a teenager. Do you have the same kinds of memories?
“Absolutely, yeah. We went to see him. My brother [Idris Rahman] plays saxophone and clarinet and we were really into jazz as teenagers. Our parents used to take us to gigs. I grew up in Chichester. Where is your magazine based?”
“Yeah, we used to go to Brighton to see gigs. We saw Courtney in Portsmouth one time. My dad reminded me of that when he met Courtney, when I was playing with him. I remember seeing him in my teenage years and when I was at college as well. And it was quite a few years later that I met him. He interviewed me for a radio show that he was doing, back when I made my first album in 2001. That was kind of weird for me because he’d heard my music and wanted to talk about my music, and obviously I’d known about him and seen him play for years. So that was quite nice for me, that he’d heard about me. And he obviously likes my playing if he’s asked me to do a duo album!”
How do you find playing in the duo format, in terms of it being different to what you’ve done before?
“Yeah, it’s a completely different vibe for him. The whole album is actually ballads as well so it’s a very different vibe. I remember when I first saw him – that real energy and getting the audience up dancing and him running around the room playing his instrument. So this is a very different kind of vibe. Obviously it’s still him playing – he has that incredible energy and the incredible way that he searches for notes on his instrument that don’t exist. He’s always searching for new ideas and that’s a real inspiration to play with for me because it really pushes me to play in a different way as well. And especially in a duo, it’s going to be quite an incredible journey, I imagine. We haven’t actually performed publicly. We did the album, that took a couple of days to do but other than that we haven’t actually gigged yet as a duo so tomorrow will be our first experience of that. I’m sure it will be an interesting one. There’ll be more space for me than there would have been with a band. When I played with him before there was anything from 5 to 7 people on stage, so it’s a very different focus when it’s just piano and bass clarinet. Obviously, I can’t stop playing and let the drummer take a solo! There’s a bit more pressure on me to keep going. But Courtney’s great like that. He’s very encouraging of me as a musician and as an improviser and wants me to push myself beyond what I know and what I already do. So that will be an interesting and very different connection to how I’ve worked with him before.”
Is the material original compositions or standards?
“There’s one of his tunes. There’s a variety of things, actually. Some jazz standards such as A Nightingale Sang in Berkeley Square, a Chaka Khan song (Through the Fire), a Donny Hathaway tune, Someday We’ll All Be Free. Great tunes. He just wanted to make an album of really great tunes. And I think live we’re going to add a couple of other things into the mix. The album is called Song (The Ballad Book). His tune is called Song. So it’s all about melody really. Things like Amazing Grace is on there. It’s great because it really just focuses on beautiful melodies: jazz standards and right up to the modern day. There’s a nice variety as well.”
Courtney Pine and Zoe Rahman perform at St. George’s Church in Kemp Town, Brighton on Saturday 14th March and at St. Mary in the Castle, Hastings on Friday 10th April 2015.
Photo of Zoe Rahman by Ilze Kitshoff.
This interview was conducted by Charlie Anderson and appeared in the March 2015 issue of The Sussex Jazz Magazine, available here.
An exclusive interview with Courtney Pine appears in the March issue of Jazzwise magazine.