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Guitar Traning
O'Higgins And Luft Play Monk And Trane

by Howard Lawes

 

 

 

A common feature of jazz music education is the inculcation of students with an appreciation and respect for the great musicians of the past and the context in which great jazz was created.  Familiarity with jazz history informs the creative process for young musicians allowing them to dip into a melting pot of technique and style without necessarily modelling themselves on a particular artist.  Rob Luft has benefitted from a great music education spending six years with the National Youth Jazz Orchestra (NYJO) and four at the Royal Academy of Music (RAM) and it is entirely logical that he would want to celebrate musicians such as Thelonious Monk and John Coltrane which he does alongside the tenor saxophone of Dave O'Higgins, Scott Flanagan a young organist from Northern Ireland, and drummer Rod Youngs.

 

The band playing Like Sonny from the album.

 

 

 

Over the phone Rob Luft talked to me about joining NYJO in 2012, shortly before the retirement of long standing musical director Bill Ashton OBE who was succeeded by Mark Armstrong. Mark introduced new ideas that incorporated the best of the old while encouraging musical diversity as well. Rob describes his time with NYJO as very beneficial and he was often selected for special mention by reviewers such as Jack Massarik who described him as "coolly accurate" in the 2012 BBC Promenade Concerts. During his time at NYJO Rob sometimes played a Fender Telecaster, an electric guitar that was less likely to be overwhelmed by the massed horns of a big band, but generally his instrument of choice is a Gibson jazz guitar, more suited to playing in the intimate surrounds of a typical jazz club.  Dave O'Higgins also learnt his trade with NYJO from 1983-1986 and is now Jazz Pathway Leader at the London College of Contemporary Music.

At the Royal Academy of Music (RAM) Rob Luft's guitar tutors included Mike Outram and Mike Walker, two great guitarists but with different styles and of course he met and played with a whole host of young musicians with different backgrounds. Collaborations included the Deco Ensemble, a tango quintet that has performed in cities throughout Europe, and the Phelan Burgoyne Trio.  The culmination of his time at RAM was winning the Kenny Wheeler prize which is awarded to the graduate demonstrating excellence in both performance and composition. As a result of winning this prize Rob went on to produce the highly acclaimed debut album as band leader, Riser, his band members - Joe Wright (tenor saxophone), Joe Webb (hammond organ, piano and harmonium), Tom McCredie (bass) and Corrie Dick (drums) - being two other graduates of RAM, one of Trinity Laban and one of the Royal Welsh College of Music and Drama.  Winning the Rob Luft and Elina Duniprize allowed him to be able to record in the beautiful surroundings of the technically excellent Real World Studios and to have the album distributed by Edition Records.

 

Rob Luft and Elina Duni

 

Rob Luft professes to continually pushing back boundaries and trying new things. He has developed a reputation as a sensitive and tender accompanist of female singers including Brazilian Luna Cohen, Anglo-Polish Alice Zawadzki and Albanian Elina Duni with whom it is hoped a new album will be released next year.  Also on the cards is a new Rob Luft Band album on Edition Records as a follow up to Riser.  In the recent project, Laura Jurd's Stepping Back, Jumping In, Rob found himself playing the unfamiliar, 5 stringed banjo and his playing was described by a Guardian critic as "sounding like a joyous riot in a wild-west saloon bar" and of course O'Higgins and Luft Play Monk and Trane is another diversion.  

 

Rub Luft and Elina Duni and The Wayfaring Stranger.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Dave OHiggins

 

 

Dave O'Higgins is a saxophonist, composer, arranger, educator and latterly recording engineer and producer. He has been a popular figure on the UK and international jazz scene for 30 years now, with 20 albums as leader under his belt. O'Higgins recent releases include Tenors of Our Time released on Albore Jazz and It's Always 9:30 in Zog on his own JVG label which was described by John Fordham in the Guardian as "masterful post-bop coolly delivered".

 

Dave O'Higgins

 

 

 

 

 

Rob Luft was recently selected to be part of the Take 5 Professional Development Programme run by music producers Serious Dave OHiggins and Rob Luft Play Monk and Traneand supported by the PRS Foundation.  While the purpose of the programme is to develop additional skill and knowledge of the commercial aspects of the music industry it also brings together young musicians who would not otherwise have encountered each other.  During the programme Rob met and hit it off with a young keyboard player from Northern Ireland, Scott Flanagan, and so it transpired that when Luft and O'Higgins were planning a Jazz in the Afternoon gig at the Oval Tavern in Croydon, Flanagan was invited to London, an organ was provided and the rest as they say 'is history'.  Rod Youngs, who Rob plays with in Byron Wallen's Four Corners Band joined the band later and the job of selecting songs for the album began.

O'Higgins and Luft Play Monk and Trane was released in October 2019. There are 11 tracks on the album but only 10 different songs - Locomotive released by Thelonius Monk in 1954 is featured twice, the second time as a short duet without drums and organ, this must be one of the simplest tunes that Monk ever wrote but it certainly evokes the image of a machine.  Some of the tracks are very famous such as John Coltrane's beautiful ballad Naima, named after his wife, and featured on the 1960 Giant Steps album; and 'Round Midnight which was written by Monk along with Bernie Hanighen and Cootie Williams and which became one of the most recorded tunes in history with the Miles Davis versions featuring Thelonius Monk at the 1955 Newport Jazz Festival and John Coltrane on the 1957 release on the 'Round About Midnight album. 

 

 

Listen to Naima from the album.

 

 

 

Rob Luft was able to find a Naima score with Coltrane's hand-written notes which he found quite inspiring while 'Round Midnight has also been recorded by some of his favourite guitarists such as Kurt Rosenwinkel, Wes Montgomery and Kenny Burrell.  Other tracks are much less well known such as Dreamland, composed by Monk and featured on an album by Paul Motian, another of Luft's favourite guitarists, Bill Frisell, and Joe Lovano. Several of the tracks feature on John Coltrane albums during the period 1959 -1961 which was his period with Atlantic Records and was a period of development of his improvisational technique. Dave O'Higgins does a great job of sailing through Coltrane material with apparent ease while Rob Luft's guitar versions of the music of both Monk and Trane are genuinely innovative.

 

 

A video of the band playing Monk's Trinkle-Tinkle from the album.

 

 

 

The style of the album is quite like straight-ahead jazz, that is to say melody followed by solos backed by the rhythm section and concluding by returning to the melody.  While the quality of musicianship on the album is very good it is probable that witnessing a live performance would be even more impressive and to this end Dave O'Higgins and Rob Luft have embarked on a country-wide 40 date tour.  The album and the tour will bring deserved wider attention to musicians outside their local London area and it Rob tells me that there are have already been enthusiastic responses and album sales from the audiences where they have played.

 

Watch this video of the band playing I'll Wait and Pray and you can see why.

 

 

 

Gigs continue through November and details can be found on Rob Luft's website - click here.

Click here for details of the album O'Higgins and Luft Play Monk and Trane.

 

Rob Luft Dave OHiggins band

Scott Flanagan, Dave O'Higgins, Rod Youngs and Rob Luft

 

 

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