May 27, 2024

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Interview with Sam Braysher: Young people can still respond really positively to live jazz: Video

Jazz interview with jazz saxophonist Sam Braysher. An interview by email in writing. – First let’s start with where you grew up, and what got you interested in music?

Sam Braysher: – I grew up in Norfolk, a rural county in the east of England. I was lucky in that my parents really encouraged me to take music lessons and to practise. I started playing the recorder when I was six or seven and the saxophone at 11. I really enjoyed playing by ear and improvising and, after discovering jazz as a teenager, I moved to London to study at the Guildhall School of Music and Drama at 18.


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


SB: – I think it’s something that happens quite naturally, as a result of the music you listen to and the players that you admire. Then, on a more academic level, I’ve worked on various technical exercises and long tones on the saxophone to help develop my sound, as well as transcribing and playing along with records. It’s very much an ongoing process though!


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


SB: – I wish I had more time to practise at the moment! But, when I can: playing tunes in different keys and at different tempos, learning tunes, transcribing solos by the greats, technical exercises and studies.


An issue with jazz education in general, I think, is that it’s perhaps easier to talk about and teach harmony than rhythm, which can be a little bit less tangible. So, I’ve probably worked on rhythm in a less conscious way. However, I suspect the best ways to get better at it are probably to play along with classic recordings and to play with really good drummers.


JBN: – How to prevent disparate influences from coloring what you’re doing?


SB: – I’m not totally sure what you mean by this, but I’ve never worried too much about being overly influenced by other players. It’s important to study the language of jazz, I think, but if you listen to a range of people then you’ll end up sounding like yourself.


JBN: – How do you prepare before your performances to help you maintain both spiritual and musical stamina?


SB: – I don’t have any major rituals, really. Whatever music I’m playing, I try to know it well and to stay relaxed. 

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JBN: – And how did you select the musicians who play on the album?


SB: – Like me, Tom lives in London, so I had played with him lots already – he’s a brilliant accompanist who plays at an incredibly high level across a broad range of styles. We had played this trio material a few times with various different drummers in London, but I had the idea of asking Jorge (who is Spanish and at the time was based near Barcelona) to record with me.


Jorge is obviously older and more experienced than me, and he’s someone I’ve listened to on records for a long time. I’ve been lucky to play and tour with him over the last few years in a quintet called REBOP, in which he plays vibraphone. He’s played with people like Brad Mehldau, Lee Konitz, Carla Bley, Mark Turner and countless others, so it was an honour to have him play on my record.


JBN: – What’s the balance in music between intellect and soul?


SB: – Wow, deep question. I think “soul” is a hard thing to define, but all of my favourite musicians posses a mixture of both technical or academic qualities, and something less tangible, which you could define as soul. So yes, both are important!


JBN: – There’s a two-way relationship between audience and artist; you’re okay with giving the people what they want?


SB: – I think it’s good to consider the audience and to “play to the room” to an extent – if people have paid to see you play then of course you want them to enjoy it. But obviously it’s also important to play music that you believe in on an artistic level.


JBN: – Please any memories from gigs, jams, open acts and studio sessions which you’d like to share with us?


SB: – Well, the last year or so has obviously been a bit of a non-event in terms of gigs. But in September 2020, while COVID restrictions were briefly a bit more relaxed, I got to go to Switzerland, to play two nights at the Bird’s Eye Jazz Club in Basel in trio with Jorge Rossy and a Swiss bassist called Bänz Oester. It was such a treat to be out and about in Basel for a few days, and to get to play with such great musicians for a lovely audience, so that was a real highlight of the last year.


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


SB: – This is a good question and, in fact, lots of the standards are now closer to 100 years old! Personally, I love the Great American Songbook and composers like George Gershwin, Cole Porter and Billy Strayhorn, but I appreciate that that material doesn’t have the same relevance to people today, in comparison to when, say, Sonny Rollins and Nat King Cole were playing it in the ‘50s and ‘60s.


However, I think that young people can still respond really positively to live jazz, when it is played well and in the right setting.


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


SB: – Much as I love John Coltrane, I have to be honest and say that I don’t really think about life or music in those terms. I certainly want to be the best saxophonist and musician that I can be though, and I’m extremely grateful to be able to make a living playing and teaching music.


JBN: – If you could change one thing in the musical world and it would become a reality, what would that be?


SB: – That’s a tough one. It would be nice to see more respect, funding and prominence for the arts in general political and public life. The all-round-benefits of learning a musical instrument are well-documented and, ideally, every child, regardless of background, should have access to high quality music lessons. It would clearly bad thing if access to careers in the arts became restricted to only the children of the wealthy.


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


SB: – Just recently: Sonny Rollins, Lester Young, João Gilberto, Billie Holiday and Al Cohn with Zoot Sims.


JBN: – What is the message you choose to bring through your music?


SB: – I’m not sure that it really has a message – again, I’m not the sort of person who particularly thinks about music in those terms – but I hope to make music that is fun, thoughtful, swinging and steeped in the language of jazz whilst retaining some sort of personal voice.


JBN: – Let’s take a trip with a time machine, so where and why would you really wanna go?


SB: – This is probably quite an obvious response for a jazz musician, but I’d love to go to New York in the 1950s. I’d be able to listen to my heroes playing in intimate clubs every night of the week!


JBN: – I have been asking you so far, now may I have a question from yourself…


SB: – Hmmm… If you could only listen to one album for the rest of your life, which one would you choose?

JBN: – Kind of Blue !!!

JBN: – So putting that all together, how are you able to harness that now?


SB: – I’m not really sure what you mean, but I’m certainly looking forward to playing gigs again and resuming some of life as a working musician as COVID restrictions start to ease. Hoping to do some trio gigs with Jorge and Tom to promote the album soon. Thanks for having me!

Interview by Simon Sargsyan

Sam Braysher with Michael Kanan - Way Down Yonder In New Orleans (with Lester Young solo) - YouTube

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