2020 has certainly brought its trials. Global lockdown has put paid to the bulk of most musicians’ work and has added additional challenges to the projects that are still up and running. I have recently been catching up with Manchester (UK) based trumpeter Graham South as he releases a new album on 18th September.
Can you give a little background to your relationship with the trumpet?
I started on cornet when I was 8 with the Tewit Youth Band in my hometown, Harrogate in North Yorkshire. I’d taken a shining to the trumpet from a very young age, but my parents were advised that joining a brass band was the way to learn, and I’ve always been grateful for that. Various technical shortcomings meant that aged 10 I was asked to switch to tenor horn – I flatly refused as I still harboured a wish to play the trumpet and two weeks later my teacher turned up to the lesson with a pristine yet impossibly cheap Conn Constellation 38B! Whilst playing in various groups at Harrogate Music Centre and still with Tewit, I was doing a lot of listening, especially to Miles Davis (who has been an obsession ever since) and Wynton Marsalis. We also had Alan Stringer’s Trumpet & Organ record from Liverpool Cathedral. I came to Manchester University in 2002 and was bowled over by the trumpet sections in the BBC Philharmonic and the Hallé, and some of the jazz players like Neil Yates and Steve Chadwick. My wonderful teachers were Tracey Redfern and later Rhys Owens, but I was always pursuing jazz and improvised music even though it had nothing to do with my formal studies.
What music are you most into listening and playing now?
I try to listen to lots of new music – I actually just made a playlist for Beats and Pieces Big Band’s monthly mixtape which gives a good range of some of the things I’ve been getting in to. I enjoy listening to trumpeters, and especially trumpeters who are on a creative mission – we’re going through an extremely rich period on that front with players like Ambrose Akinmusire, Jaimie Branch and Peter Evans in the US, and in the UK we have tons of great players – Laura Jurd, Miguel Gorodi, Aaron Diaz and Nick Walters to name just a few. It’s overwhelming with how easy it is to access music – I’ve barely scratched the surface of what’s going on elsewhere in the world, and of course there’s always time spent listening to Miles, Clifford, Freddie etc. Contrary to what my wife Gemma (a professional violinist) says, I do also listen to music that isn’t “trumpet jazz”!
Playing-wise, up until March 2020 and COVID-19 I was busy freelancing orchestrally around the North of England as well as playing with bands like Beats & Pieces, Manchester Jazz Collective and Anton Hunter’s Article XI. I’m also a member of drummer/composer Johnny Hunter’s quartet. I enjoy mixing it up – it keeps things fresh and I appreciate each environment more as a result of the others.
Can you tell us a little about the concepts and ideas behind your latest album “By and By”?
I play in the orchestra for Southwell Music Festival in Nottinghamshire every year and my old friend Marcus, who runs the festival asked me to do a jazz concert in 2018. The festival is always beautifully programmed and that year we were playing Tippett’s A Child of Our Time. I had the idea of arranging the five spirituals which Tippett sets in the oratorio for my new quartet, which consists of Richard Jones (piano), Seth Bennett (bass) and Johnny Hunter (drums). We played at the festival and enjoyed it so much, we decided that we should go into the studio, so that happened in April 2019.
There’s a connection to the Tippett in the arrangements – some of his melodic adaptions from By and By, a snippet of his choral writing sets up the groove in Deep River and I used the same version of Nobody Knows the Trouble I See that he used – it’s not the famous version, though I added that as a solo trumpet intro. My main priority was to present each melody as clearly and sensitively as possible before allowing freedom to improvise. There is an overwhelming amount of pain and suffering, but also hope and joy inherent in this music, and the conditions under which it was created by enslaved African Americans are unimaginable to us. All this makes it difficult to interpret with integrity, especially as four British musicians in a different era. I hope it comes across as an honest reflection of what we hear in the music.
How has this global lockdown affected your preparations for releasing this album?
Lockdown certainly knocked things! Luckily it was already recorded, mixed and mastered by the wonderful Alex Bonney, who’s also a trumpeter. I was in the middle of sorting out an Autumn tour for the release and it was pretty early on that I realised this wouldn’t be feasible. The album is entirely self-funded and with most of my income vanishing, I had to decide whether or not it was worth ordering CDs, which only really sell at gigs, or just go digital. Without a launch gig and release tour, the release date seemed fairly nominal and hitting the social media platforms for promo doesn’t come naturally to me, so it was a steep learning curve. My sister Vicky Chambers did the cover art, and DHL lost it in the middle of the April chaos, so the designer had to use photos of it from a phone! On the plus side, I have had a lot more time to get to grips with the ins and outs of releasing a record. Until now I’ve always been a contributor to other people’s music – turn up and play and that’s it! Ben Cottrell from the independent label, Efpi has been really helpful with all this. We went ahead with CDs and preorders have been really encouraging.
How can people hear it?
grahamsouth.bandcamp.com is the best place to buy either a CD or a download, as that’s the most supportive to artists, and we really need that support at the moment! It’s on all the usual streaming platforms too, so feel free to check it out there.
What plans do you have for the future?
Plans are underway for a digital release of completely improvised material from the By and By sessions. I’m also writing some music for a trio of trumpet, piano and bass and have a plan for a series of duets with other improvising trumpeters. I really hope we can get back to the orchestral playing before too long, but as a freelancer that’s going to be a while – I can’t imagine any Mahler 2 gigs happening soon, so I’m really happy to have another outlet.
Photo credit, Alex Bonney