Jazz interview with jazz saxophonist Leo Richardson. An interview by email in writing.
JazzBluesNews.Space: – First let’s start with where you grew up, and what got you interested in music?
Leo Richardson: – I grew up in North Finchley in North London, England. I was interested in music from an early age. My father is a professional jazz double bass player, so I was surrounded by music all the time. I always wanted to play the saxophone but my teacher at school said I couldn’t learn It until I passed my grade 5 clarinet. This was excellent advice! From there it was a slippery slop to where I am now!
JBN.S: – What got you interested in picking up the your musical instrument? What teacher or teachers helped you progress to the level of playing you have today? What made you choose the your musical instrument?
LR: – The first time I heard the saxophone, I knew that I wanted to play it. I was drawn to it’s sound and as a youngster, thought it looked cool too! My first teacher at primary school was amazing. She inspired me and I loved my lessons. I progressed pretty quickly from the clarinet to the saxophone where I felt most at home. Whilst studying at Trinity College of Music in London, I learned with the incredible Jean Toussaint, Martin Speake, Julian Siegal and Mark Lockhart, all of whom were fantastic teachers and amazing players.
JBN.S: – How did your sound evolve over time? What did you do to find and develop your sound?
LR: – When I first started getting into jazz I listened to so many recordings. I was massively drawn to Dexter Gordon and I tried desperately to emulate his massive sound. I think this really helped develop my own sound, listening to lots of different players and trying to emulate how they play to form what has become my own. It’s something that you always have to work on.
JBN.S: – What practice routine or exercise have you developed to maintain and improve your current musical ability especially pertaining to rhythm?
LR: – There’s always so much to cover! Working on my sound is really important to me. Lots of long notes and working on overtones to achieve the best sound possible and working on my projection. I find the most beneficial tool for working on rhythm and feel is transcribing. This is the best lesson as there is no better way to work on this than playing with the masters and trying to emulate their style of swing and their approach to rhythm. It’s always the best place to start and then you can make it your own.
JBN.S: – Which harmonies and harmonic patterns do you prefer now?
LR: – I love diminished patterns! Brecker was a master at this!
JBN.S: – What do you love most about your new album 2017: <The Chase (feat. Rick Simpson, Mark Lewandowski & Ed Richardson)>, how it was formed and what you are working on today. This year your fans like we can wait for a new album?
LR: – My favourite thing about this album is the band sound. We had the great opportunity to play a lot together before recording this material, with many chances to play in the music. By the time we came to record, the music was well played in and the band had developed a great group sound! Getting in the studio, it already felt like we were a proper band as opposed to rocking up on the day only having played a few times together.
JBN.S: – Which are the best jazz albums for you this 2017 year?
LR: – I buy albums all the time, I have a pretty vast collection of cds. There’s so much music out there and it’s impossible to keep on top of it all. I’m still working my way through all the classic albums, there are so many! 2 of my favorite releases for 2017 were from a friend of mine, guitar virtuoso Rob Luft. His debut album ‘Riser’ is incredible. A fabulous blend of jazz, groove, folk and West African influenced music. Another great album is the new Foo Fighters album ‘Conrete & Gold’. Lots of interesting colabs on this record and a great rock record!
JBN.S: – Please any memories from gigs, jams, open acts and studio sessions which you’d like to share with us?
LR: – I have been privileged to be a regular performer at my favorite club in London, Ronnie Scott’s. As a quartet, we have been fortunate enough to open for some of our favorite artists from around the world. A highlight for me was opening for the Dr Lonnie Smith Trio. It was incredible to see such a master of the Hammond organ perform live and his band were incredible. It was such a joy to watch their show every night and it’s still one of the best gigs I’ve ever seen. I’ve never witnessed anyone play the Hammond like that before. His approach to dynamics was spellbinding! We also opened up for Steve Cropper for a week. Another joy to watch a master song writer. His list of writing credits for massive hits is insane. It was great to hang out with him and hear stories of him writing in hotel rooms with the likes of Otis Redding, and how they co wrote ‘Sitting on The Dock Of The Bay’… Wow!!!
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?
LR: – Making a living in this business is no easy feat! I think it’s very important to be as diverse as possible. Not only does this make you more employable but it makes your career much more interesting. I’m lucky enough to love everything that I do from playing with my band to working as a session musician, playing for other artists, playing in West End Shows and teaching.
JBN.S: – Аnd furthermore, can jazz be a business today or someday?
LR: – I think there is a new wave of young people getting into jazz and becoming excited about the art form. This is great news for the music and collectively we need to keep the music alive and get people to gigs so there can still be a business!
JBN.S: – Which collaboration have been the most important experiences for you?
LR: – I have been fortunate enough to work with many different musicians and collaborate in lots of different projects. I think that working with my quartet has been a very important musical experience for me as performing with the same band for over 3 years has helped me develop my playing, writing and musicality. It’s always a constant joy to play with these guys and feels like a proper band!
JBN.S: – How can we get young people interested in jazz when most of the standard tunes are half a century old?
LR: – Write your own music! Or take the standards and put them in a new light!
JBN.S: – John Coltrane said that music was his spirit. How do you understand the spirit and the meaning of life?
LR: – This is a pretty deep question! For me the meaning of life is to be a good person, enjoy every moment and to share music with people who enjoy music and life as much as I do! We’re all in this wondrous world together, so live life to the full, love and respect one another and look after the world!
JBN.S: – What are your expectations of the future? What brings you fear or anxiety?
LR: – Following the success of my debut album, I think my current biggest fear is my second album. I’m writing all the time and hope to get in the studio later this year. I feel a lot of pressure to live up to the accolades we have received from the first album, but of course will keep on going and do my best! We would love to break out of the UK circuit and get onto the continent in Europe and our biggest goal is to make it over to the US, one of my favorite places and an incredibly vibrant jazz scene!
JBN.S: – If you could change one thing in the musical world and it would become a reality, what would that be?
LR: – Get rid of streaming! Support musicians, buy real copies of albums, don’t listen to stuff for free as it’s dam expensive making it!
JBN.S: – What’s the next musical frontier for you?
LR: – Music is an ongoing quest. I’m very much engrossed with my current band and really want to explore more with the group to see where we can take the music. I’m enjoying this current path so much, so will explore what we can do with this lineup.
JBN.S: – Are there any similarities between jazz and world music, including folk music?
LR: – I consider Jazz to be world music, it has a deep lineage and history and where it is today is amazing. In a relatively short amount of time jazz music has evolved a great deal but still keeping the essence of the music and respecting where it’s come from. I think it’s amazing to see where the music has developed to and all the interesting fusions that have come along the way.
JBN.S: – Who do you find yourself listening to these days?
LR: – I am mainly drawn to the masters of the hard bop era, late 50’s early 60’s jazz music. My heroes are Coltrane, Dexter, Henderson, Horace, Blakey and many more. I also love lots of other music, anything from Steely Dan, Rush, Earth Wind and Fire, Tower of Power… There’s so much great stuff that I love to listen to I’d be writing for days!
JBN.S: – What’s your current setup?
LR: – I play a selmer mk vi tenor, Drake son of slant 8* mouthpiece with vandoren red java 3.5 reeds.
JBN.S: – Let’s take a trip with a time machine, so where and why would you really wanna go?
LR: – I would love to take a trip back to the late 50’s/early 60’s. Such a great era for music, not just jazz too! Music everywhere, all night, great cars too! I would have loved to hang out with my heroes and see them perform in the flesh.
JBN.S: – So far, I ask, please your question to me …
LR: – What are your thoughts on British jazz today? Are there any artists in particular that have caught your eye?
JBN.S: – We certainly know and appreciate you and your music, we know Chris Biscoe, Moses Boyd, Alexander Hawkins, Gebhard Ullmann, Sarathy Korwar, Shabaka Hutchings, Yazz Ahmed, Yussef Kamaal, Nubya Garcia, Graham Costello, etc. I think that jazz is developing well in Britain, I know and visited London several times the jazz festival …
Interview by Simon Sargsyan