Jazz interview with jazz saxophonist Helena Kay. An interview by email in writing.
JazzBluesNews.Space: – First let’s start with where you grew up, and what got you interested in music?
Helena Kay: – I grew up in Perth, Scotland. My dad plays piano, he taught me for a bit when I was very young, then I started formal music lessons on piano, then violin at primary school (that was the only instrument offered at the school), then I started playing alto saxophone when I was 11.
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?
HK: – I heard a saxophone on a recording and begged my parents to start playing, then soon forgot about the violin. All of my teachers have helped me, Jim Morrice and Philip Alexander in Perth; Richard Michael and Richard Ingham in Fife; Christian Forshaw, Jean Toussaint, Carlos Lopez-Real, Martin Speake, Gareth Lockrane, Martin Hathaway, Malcolm Edmonstone and James Allsopp at the Guildhall School of Music and Drama in London.
JBN.S: – How did your sound evolve over time? What did you do to find and develop your sound?
HK: – Practise! As with any jazz musician, I listen to recordings and try to copy the sounds of the greats.
JBN.S: – What practice routine or exercise have you developed to maintain and improve your current musical ability especially pertaining to rhythm?
HK: – I try to practise technique, tone, learning songs, learning solos and composing on a regular basis. I practise with a metronome a lot.
JBN.S: – Which harmonies and harmonic patterns do you prefer now?
HK: – I love Jobim and his songwriting, especially the harmonic progressions.
JBN.S: – Which are the best jazz albums for you this 2017 year?
HK: – I really like Among Verticals by Ben van Gelder.
JBN.S: – Please any memories from gigs, jams, open acts and studio sessions which you’d like to share with us?
HK: – I saw an open rehearsal with the Lincoln Centre Jazz Orchestra with Wayne Shorter in London, that was a special moment.
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?
HK: – To be honest, I’m still trying to figure it out! Work hard and enjoy the music. Go running, look after yourself, eat well.
JBN.S: – Аnd furthermore, can jazz be a business today or someday?
HK: – Yes it can, there are jazz musicians who earn a living entirely from jazz music.
JBN.S: – Which collaboration have been the most important experiences for you?
HK: – Playing with Barry Green, Calum Gourlay Big Band, Peter Johnstone, Issie Barratt, SNJO, all of them really, I’ve learned a lot from every collaboration I’ve done.
JBN.S: – How can we get young people interested in jazz when most of the standard tunes are half a century old?
HK: – I have no idea, I love jazz a lot, I can’t imagine why other people wouldn’t be interested!
JBN.S: – John Coltrane said that music was his spirit. How do you understand the spirit and the meaning of life?
HK: – I think a lot of jazz musicians can identify with that. As someone who is involved with music in some way every single day, I can’t imagine life without it, so in that sense, music gives my life meaning. As for the spirit, everyone has one and I think it can manifest itself in different ways. For me music is a big part of it, and I suppose everything else I think and do comes from the spirit. It’s a big question!
JBN.S: – What are your expectations of the future? What brings you fear or anxiety?
HK: – I’m recording an album in February and hoping to put together an album launch tour. I’m also playing with Scottish National Jazz Orchestra at Ronnie Scott’s at the end of the month, and with Barry Green/Helena Kay Quartet at the 606. I have some other nice gigs coming up with Calum Gourlay Big Band, my duo with Peter Johnstone in Scotland, and some gigs and a recording with Issie Barratt’s Interchange Dectet.
JBN.S: – If you could change one thing in the musical world and it would become a reality, what would that be?
HK: – It would be much better for musicians if music was valued more, ie if everyone paid for music in every format instead of download for free, or expect musicians to perform for free.
JBN.S: – What’s the next musical frontier for you?
HK: – Recording my album in February.
JBN.S: – Are there any similarities between jazz and world music, including folk music?
HK: – Of course, there are many similarities between different kinds of music, in the end it’s all music, and different genres often borrow from each other.
JBN.S: – Who do you find yourself listening to these days?
HK: – Sonny Rollins is always great, I love all the classic stuff, plus contemporary musicians such as Chris Cheek, Melissa Aldana, Ben van Gelder.
JBN.S: – What’s your current setup?
HK: – I play a 1931 Conn tenor with an Ed Pillinger mouthpiece and D’addario reeds.
JBN.S: – Let’s take a trip with a time machine, so where and why would you really wanna go?
HK: – 1950’s New York, for the jazz.
JBN.S: – So far, I ask, please your question to me …
HK: – I’d be interested to hear your answer to question 12?
JBN.S: – Thanks very much for answers. I think. without a spirit there is no jazz. In the end, jazz started with spirituals. We all know the biography of John Coltrane, his words can come from this too. And the meaning of life, especially of a musician, of course comes out of the spirit that he or she hands over to listeners. Without this, in my humble opinion, the musician will not have fans and followers.
Interview by Simon Sargsyan