June 24, 2024

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Interview with Paul Towndrow: There’s something very ‘right’ about music, when it’s done well: Video

Jazz interview with jazz saxophonist Paul Towndrow. An interview by email in writing.

JazzBluesNews.Space: – First let’s start with where you grew up, and what got you interested in music?

Paul Towndrow: – I grew up in a small village called Glenmavis, which is near Airdrie in West Central Scotland. The area had a strong tradition for instrumental instruction that had grown partly out of the brass band tradition. More importantly however, I was able to benefit from universal free instrumental tuition at secondary school – something which is sadly under constant threat from funding cuts.

JBN.S: – What got you interested in picking up the saxophon?

PT: – I suffered from asthma as a child (I still do although it’s much less severe), and my parents and doctor had suggested that along with taking part in sporting activities, a wind instrument might also help to strengthen my breathing. Bagpipes was suggested at one point, but I was drawn to the saxophone.

JBN.S: – What teacher or teachers helped you progress to the level of playing you have today?

PT: – My first saxophone teacher at school, Sharron Scott, was actually a flautist, but she was great – she made me do flute-style ‘sonorities’ (long notes) to build my tone and breath control. I remember her instilling in me the importance of regular practice from the beginning. She gave me real structure. She later passed me on to a saxophonist called Andy Brodie for lessons. He was a tremendous communicator, and helped me a lot with technique.  As far as jazz is concerned, much of my training came through involvement with youth jazz ensembles. I met many of my current Scottish Jazz contemporaries at the Strathclyde Arts Centre Big Band – including trumpeter Ryan Quigley, saxophonist Konrad Wiszniewski, and several others who are well known on the UK jazz scene.

I went on to study jazz formally at Berklee College of Music in Boston USA.

JBN.S: – How did your sound evolve over time? What did you do to find and develop your sound?

PT: – A musician’s personal sound is always a product of their environment and listening habits, I think. And the aspects that ‘stick’ are those which emotionally resonate with you for some reason. I always loved the sound of saxophone players who seemed to wear their heart on their sleeve – Charlie Parker, John Coltrane, Cannonball Adderley. Their sound spoke to me from a young age.

JBN.S: – What practice routine or exercise have you developed to maintain and improve your current musical ability especially pertaining to rhythm?

PT: – I NEED to sit down regularly and practice with a metronome in order to keep my time and general technique together. If I don’t do it, I feel it start to lose focus. And I practice basic stuff. A lot. Scales, arpeggios, chords, with a metronome. If I want to make it more interesting I sometimes use an app called DrumGenius which utilises a huge library of live drum loops. It’s not as good as practicing with a real drummer – that’s the best…but they’re always busy!

For tone I play long notes, and lots of overtones. Overtones really help with a lot of things. And I sometime practice with indian Tanpura drones using an app called iTanpura. It’s good for intonation, and becomes quite meditative after a while!

JBN.S: – Which harmonies and harmonic patterns do you prefer now?

PT: – I really don’t have a favourite – I like to utilize all kinds of approaches in my writing, from very ‘free’, to modal; from very functional harmony, to more conceptually ‘advanced’ stuff. The important thing for me with harmony is to expand my vocabulary, and treat it like a big ‘colour palate’. That way I can have lots options to express what I want to express.

JBN.S: – Many aspiring musicians are always looking for advice when navigating thru the music business. Is there any piece of advice you can offer to aspiring students or even your peers that you believe will help them succeed and stay positive in this business?

PT: – Ask yourself ‘WHY do I do what I do?’. What are you reasons for being a musician, and how can your actions and career choices best affect that. If you struggle to answer the question ‘why’, then you need to dig a bit deeper. Follow your heart, and trust your gut.

JBN.S: – Аnd furthermore, can jazz be a business today or someday?

PT: – It is and always will be a ‘business’. Not in the same way as Coca-Cola is a business, or Starbucks is a business. But that’s a good thing, right?

JBN.S: – How can we get young people interested in jazz when most of the standard tunes are half a century old?

PT: – When I was really young, I LOVED old tunes. It didn’t matter how old they were, if the music connected with my emotions, or entertained me, then it was all good. I think getting young people interested in ANYthing begins with not underestimating them – never think ‘They won’t like this – it’s not YOUNG persons’ music’. It’s WE who stigmatise it!  We just need to show them it’s there, and then they’ll make their own discoveries. If you’re a parent – take them to a gig. Open the door to it, and let the power of the music do the rest.

And who says jazz is all about ‘standards’ anyway. A vast majority of recorded jazz is exciting, cutting edge contemporary composition.

JBN.S: – John Coltrane said that music was his spirit. How do you understand the spirit and the meaning of life?

PT: – There’s something very ‘right’ about music, when it’s done well. Something to do with resonance, something to do with the ‘unmanifested’. Perhaps a higher power, or perhaps simply a pure expression of the human condition. I think that’s what Coltrane was searching for.

I don’t know what the meaning of life is, but I do know that when I’m performing or listening to music, I’m definitely ‘being’ or ‘living’ in a way that feels right. When music is good you feel  yourself ‘buzz’ or ‘resonate’ in a way that feels right.

JBN.S: – What are your expectations of the future? What brings you fear or anxiety?

PT: – I’ve learned to have no expectations of the future, and to be at peace with that. because things never go as you expect anyway. I try and look at what lies within my sphere of control, which is small, and how I can affect that. Everything else will take care of itself.

JBN.S: – What’s the next musical frontier for you?

PT: – I am delighted that I have been given the go ahead for my next large scale compositional commission. My new suite for extended big band ‘Deepening The River’ will premier in August during Glasgow’s hosting of the European Championships, funded as part of the accompanying cultural programme, Festival 2018.

As well as just premiering a new piece of music – the project will bring together musicians from across Europe, feature some of Scotland’s young musical talent, examine Glasgow’s history, and celebrate the city’s vibrancy and potential.

34 individual artists and organisations awarded a share of a £750,000 fund have been announced as the first faces of an inclusive and innovative programme of dance, film, music, visual art, theatre and literature taking place in Scotland next year as part of Festival 2018. https://www.glasgow2018.com/festival-2018/festival-2018-fund

I am also helping to launch a brand new concert series in Glasgow, at The Merchants House. I’ll be playing the music of Charlie Parker with Strings, on Sunday 11th February.

I’ll also be doing loads more with my quartet, and with Paul Towndrow & Steve Hamilton Duo.

JBN.S: – Are there any similarities between jazz and world music, including folk music?

PT: – There are huge similarities. It’s not surprising though because jazz is absolutely born out of folk traditions. Jazz embraces music from all kinds of sources, including folk music from all round the world.

JBN.S: – Who do you find yourself listening to these days?

PT: – Of the contemporary saxophonists my favourite is Chris Potter. He’s the greatest all-round living saxophonist in my opinion. He consistently blows my mind.

JBN.S: – What’s your current setup?

PT: – Selmer Mark VI Alto (c.1955), Otto Link Ebonite 7* mouthpiece, D’Addario Jazz Select Reeds (2H).

(Paul Towndrow is a D’Addario Woodwinds Artists and uses D’Addario Select Jazz Reeds. http://www.woodwinds.daddario.com/ )

JBN.S: – And if you want, you can congratulate jazz and blues listeners on Christmas and Happy New Year.

PT: – All the best for Christmas everyone. And have an amazing jazz & blues filled 2018!

Interview by Simon Sargsyan

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