April 20, 2024

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Interview with Kit Packham: Everybody Love’s A Boogie! – Life is for living, let’s have some fun: Video, new CD cover

Interview with singer and saxophonist Kit Packham. An interview by email in writing.

JazzBluesNews.com: – First, let’s start out with where you grew up, and what got you interested in music. How exactly did your adventure take off? When did you realize that this was a passion you could make a living out of?

Kit Packham: – I was born and grew up in the outer London (UK) suburbs (Bromley, Petts Wood & Locksbottom to be precise) and was taught a few songs by my mother when still an infant. She used to perform comic monologues at clubs for the elderly and would get me to perform a few songs as part of the entertainment. A few attempts to get me to learn an instrument (violin and piano) as a child were unsuccessful but when my older sister bought a guitar in my early teenage years, I taught myself to play that and harmonica to a passable level.

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By my mid-to-late teens I was the singer with a rock and roll band but we only ever played a few gigs. It was really with my time at art college that my interest in making music grew and I sang and played harmonica with a rock band. At the band’s final performance at the college, I went to the toilet and a student standing at the next urinal turned to me and said “Do you want to learn to play the saxophone?” My reply? “Yeah, all right then.” So he got me started and lent me his C Melody sax until I bought a tenor for myself, having finally found an instrument that I really wanted to master. We formed a band playing mainly prog rock and played a few gigs in and around Maidstone. A year of unemployment after college allowed me to reach a reasonable level of competence and get serious about aiming to make a living from music.

JBN: – How has your sound evolved over time? What have you been doing to find and develop your own sound?

KP: – Growing up through the British Blues Boom of the 1960s, those sounds and bands were my starting point and that influence still remains very strong. However, I’d also had a passing interest in jazz and while at art college I discovered Louis Jordan’s music, which I saw as a bridge between jazz and blues. That area rapidly became my focus, and Jordan my model. Over the next ten years or so I went through a variety of bands which included a doo-wop rock and roll band, a “New Wave” band, an AOR band and a showband that played for 3 months in a hotel in Baghdad. I also auditioned for X-Ray Specs and for Mari Wilson, who some folks with long memories might remember, but didn’t get offered a job with either! A few years after leaving college, I started playing in a big band to develop my skills at reading music, something that I’ve kept up ever since. Inevitably the exposure to great jazz arrangers like Sammy Nestico, Billy May, Lennie Niehaus, etc, has had some influence on my own writing, even though it’s for a smaller band. I finally formed my own band in 1984 which evolved into One Jump Ahead but I also became a member of blues band Wolfie Witcher’s Brew which had a cult following playing every Saturday afternoon at a pub in Camden. I believe in lifelong learning and I continue to try and develop my skills as a musician, songwriter and arranger and have quite a collection of books on those subjects!

JBN: – Have you changed through the years? Any charges or overall evolution? And if so why?

KP: – I don’t think I’ve changed very much. There’s probably been a gradual move from concentrating on performance to the creation of new work and perhaps towards greater organisation, arrangements, etc, while still allowing space for things to happen spontaneously.

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

KP: – I plan ahead, as far as it’s possible. I try to anticipate potential problems and think of workarounds, if necessary. For example, it became clear when I was planning our last recording sessions that I couldn’t get the whole band together on the same day. Consequently, I had to record the rhythm section on one day and then overdub the horns on another day.

JBN: – What do you love most about your new album 2024: Kit Packham’s One Jump Ahead – Everybody Love’s A Boogie!, how it was formed and what you are working on today.

KP: – I’m a keen jive dancer and I wanted this album to appeal to that jive dance scene more than any other group. I think we’ve done that much more successfully with this album than any of the previous ones, which probably tried to appeal to too many different groups. It was also great to finally complete the tracks from earlier sessions included on the album, which had been languishing, half-finished for literally years! There are still quite a number of pieces from those earlier sessions remaining that didn’t really fit the dancer-friendly profile that I wanted. I hope to be able to get some of those ready for release later this year. I always have a number of half-finished songs kicking around that need completing too, so hopefully a few of those will see the light of day.

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

KP: – It was just a case of whoever was in the live band at the time. There were no “special guests” brought in. The earliest recordings included a different bassist and a different pianist to those who are in the band today and one of our job-sharing guitarists and one of our job-sharing drummers just got to play on a few tracks each. Most band members come by recommendation from others. The usual pattern is that they come in to dep for a one-off gig; that gets repeated a few more times and at some point I offer them a permanent position in the band. Over the band’s nearly 40 year lifespan we’ve had some well-known jazz and blues musicians as members for a while. Billy Jenkins, Tim Richards, Ike Leo, Hilary Cameron and Nigel Price are a few who were full members of the band for a while. Mark Lockheart, Karen Sharp, Jo Fooks, Richard Busiakiewicz, Martin France, Paul Robinson, Sam Kelly, and Zoltan Dekany have played with us more informally.

JBN: – What sort of feedback did you receive after it was released from musicians or your friends and family?

KP: – It was very positive, I’m pleased to say. At least one DJ friend is playing tracks at jive dances on a regular basis, which is exactly the sort of reaction I was hoping for! A lot of people seem to enjoy the humour which runs through many of the lyrics that I write. One friend (a pianist that I was in a band with in the mid-1970s) sent me a track-by-track review which included the comment “You really hit the nail on the head with this stuff“.

JBN: – Can you share any memories from gigs, jams, open acts and studio sessions over the years?

KP: – We had quite a lot of fun adding sound effects to recordings over the years. The very first album the band made included a song called “You Oughta Steer Clear of the Water” and I can remember dunking a couple of bottles into a bucket of water to get a nice gurgling effect at the end of the song. When we recorded “Saturday Night Fish Fry” There were numerous added effects including a police siren and a breaking bottle, something that later got repeated on “We Don’t Normally Work This Cheap” about the hazards of sleazy pub gigs.

The earliest sessions included on “Everybody Loves a Boogie” were recorded at a studio in south London at a time when the owner, who was also the engineer, was selling the property that housed it. This resulted in our having to cut the sessions short before we got them finished. At last some of them have made it on to this album now!

At a wedding function once, a drunk guest pulled over one of our pole-mounted PA speakers, which missed my head by a VERY narrow margin as it crashed over., wrecking a sax stand and the socket mount of the speaker.

For about 3 years, we had maverick guitarist Billy Jenkins in the band. He was a joy to work with – very supportive of me as a fellow bandleader, and extremely creative with a great sense of humour. We wrote a number of songs together, which can be heard on our album “Jumpin’ on the Bandwagon”, including our song about a tall, jazz-playing private detective, entitled “The Big Swinging Dick”. I’d always hoped that audiences would join in with its singalong chorus but unfortunately it never got well-known enough for that to happen!

A couple of years ago I was playing a solo gig with an audience of mixed ages and a child vomited spectacularly just in front of me. I managed to finish the song, after which I said, “Well I’ve had some bad reviews in my time…! Everyone’s a critic!”

JBN: – In your opinion, what’s the balance in music between intellect and soul?

KP: – It depends whose music, doesn’t it? To me, intellect and soul aren’t necessarily far apart but if you’re balancing technical skills against the feeling in a piece of music then I’d give slightly greater weight to the feeling. Of course the better your expertise, the better you should be able to express your feelings but we’ve all heard players whose technical abilities seem to leave soul a poor second.

JBN: – There’s a two-way relationship between audience and artist; are you okay with delivering people the emotion they long for?

KP: – I hope to do that at every gig. Obviously it works better on some occasions than others but I always try to get that relationship between audience and artist going. We particularly like playing for dancers and I’m always delighted when there’s a nice full dance floor for one of my own compositions. I think, “YES! That’s what I was aiming for!”

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

KP: – Write some new ones!

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

KP: – I’m not a hugely spiritual person. Although I’m not an official member of the organisation, I think that I’m mainly a Humanist in my beliefs. I’m a nature lover and believe that mankind needs to drastically reduce its impact on the planet.

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

KP: – Fair payment for streaming!

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

KP: – A variety but often Mickey Jupp, Charlie Wood, Mose Allison, Eric “Two Scoops” Moore.

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

KP: – To the USA in the 1930s to catch Louis Jordan and Ella Fitzgerald performing together in Chick Webb’s band. It was reputedly the hardest swinging big band ever.

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

KP: – Life is for living, let’s have some fun.

JBN: – Do You like our questions? So far, it’s been me asking you questions, now may I have a question from yourself…

KP: – Do you think that not enough attention is given to melody by most of toady’s active songwriters and composers?

JBN: – I wouldn’t say, sorry, quality always or often paves its way anyway.

JBN: – Have you ever given a free concert during your entire concert career? At the bottom line, what are your expectations from our interview?

KP: – Yes, I’ve played for free on occasions. I don’t do so very much these days and usually discourage others from doing so but I don’t worry too much about it.

JBN: – Is there anything that we didn’t talk about that you’d like to discuss?

KP: – Not right now – but I’ll bet I think of something as soon as we stop!

 

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Interview by Elléa Beauchêne

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