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TEA BREAK

The monthly Tea Break is a series of short, fun items in What's New Magazine
that also gives jazz musicians an opportunity to update us with what they are doing.

 

Alex Webb (Piano, Songwriter, Producer) - June 2019

 

Alex Webb

 

Alex Webb was born in Berkhamsted, Hertfordshire, a quiet commuter town.  But in his late teens an amazing trio started a residency at a local pub - a young Martin Taylor with bassist Peter Ind and drummer Johnny Richardson.  Alex learned a lot from those guys (and many years later he ended up working at Peter Ind's Bass Clef club in London).  Alex says he was ‘forced to take piano lessons as a kid, which I didn't enjoy - the usual story’, then when he was about 15, his father, who had been something of a pub pianist, showed him Honky Tonk Train Blues.  “That was it,” Alex says. “I wanted to sound like Meade Lux Lewis. I'm still trying!”

In the late 1970s Alex had a band at school when the scene was all punk rock and disco, “But weirdly,” he says, “I found others who, like me, were starting to listen to Charlie Parker and Miles Davis. God only knows what we sounded like, but the seed was planted”. So he started playing in pubs and at school events. A long time in Manchester saw Alex playing with pop groups and reggae bands as well as jazz groups.  Cafe Society Swing poster“I've done the lot,” he says. “From private parties to festival gigs and all points in between - you see some interesting things as a musician! ....and I'm available for weddings and barmitzvahs, by the way”.

In fact, Alex has done a lot more. As well as working in music publishing, as a music press officer and in music radio he has gone on to support musicians coming into 'the business'; staged a number of themed musical features such as Café Society Swing (the story of Café Society – the first racially integrated jazz club in New York) and established the Copasetic Foundation. The Copasetic Foundation creates and produces live music and theatre shows, with the aim of promoting the understanding and appreciation of jazz and related musics via live performance, recording, and electronic media. In 2013 it began as an informal vehicle for words and music productions with a bias towards jazz and contemporary music and has been active in staging shows around the country.

Needless to say, Alex works with a host of musicians and many of them, including Liane Carroll, Jo Harrop, China Moses, Vimala Rowe, Alexander Stewart and Ayanna Witter-Johnson featured on his album Call Me Lucky released in 2016.

Alex and saxophonist Tony Kofi have been staging A Portrait Of Cannonball which traces the explosive music of Cannonball Adderley from his first session as leader in 1955 through work with Miles Davis to the soul-jazz of the 1960s.

As you can see, Alex is a busy man, but we caught up for a Tea Break:

 

 

Hi  Alex, good to see you - tea or coffee?

Tea ... I couldn't live without industrial quantities of tea!

 

Milk and sugar?

Just milk, thanks.

 

I was trying to remember the first time we met. I think it was at a London Jazz Festival gig some years ago when you were playing with Sue Richardson’s band. Do you still see Sue?

Frequently.  She's in the band I use for the Billie Holiday show '('Billie Holiday at Carnegie Hall') with the amazing singer David McAlmont. We have a male 'Billie' so we have a largely female band - makes sense to me.  Sue has a real feel for swing and Cootie-style growling, I love her playing.

 

 

Here's a video of excerpts from the show

 

 

 

 

I know that some time later we bumped into each other again when you were managing vocalist Alexander Stewart. Alexander has moved on and I think is now very popular on the Continent, but you were key in helping him break into the business. It is always difficult for young musicians to get a foot on the ladder, what do you think are the main things they should try to do?

Well, that's the $60,000 question, and I wish I knew the answer.  I remember a clip of when The Beatles landed at JFK airport and they were asked about the secret of their success, and Lennon said, 'If we knew that, we'd stop playing and be managers.'  I really don't know much, except to play as many gigs as possible, be as rehearsed and polished as possible and also to take the audience seriously, to really engage with them and feel their reactions and try to make them go away thinking they've seen something really special.

 

That sounds pretty comprehensive - and valuable!. Of course, one of the many strings to your bow is songwriting. Do you have a favourite song amongst those you have written? And who would you say are your songwriter influences?

On my album Call Me Lucky I had a crack at writing something with a langorous, Billy Strayhorn feel and louche lyrics, Low Low Places.  Took me ages.  Nobody else seems to like it, but I do. As for influences, all the obvious ones for someone of my age (I'm well into my 50s) - Lennon & McCartney, Stevie, Paul Simon, Joni Mitchell.  All the writers of the Great American Songbook, inevitably, and John Martyn, Jacques Brel, lyricist Fran Landesman. I think Gregory Porter is a very good songwriter, by the way.

 

 

Vimala Rowe singing Low Low Places 

 

 

 

 

That's a really lovely song. Thinking about Alexander Stewart and China Moses, I like the way they swung the duet The Hard Way on Alexander's album and there is a great band arrangement on that track.

Yeah, that was a good one, from Alexander's first album - China always brings such energy and sass to everything she does. The horn arrangement was by the excellent saxophonist and arranger Frank Griffith.  Frank is known for great arrangements and terrible jokes.  But at least it isn't the other way around. 

 

 

Alexander Stewart and China Moses with The Hard Way.

 

 

 

 

 

Your album Call Me Lucky has been a good reflection of your music. How on earth did you get so many great musicians involved?

I just asked them!  It could either be a sign of their esteem for me, or the fact there's no work around - I dread to think which.  Seriously, I think they liked the songs, I really tried to match the singer to the song.  And - with all respect to all the other great vocalists on the album - to get Liane Carroll to sing 'Words I Never Spoke' was an amazing privilege, what an artist.  Watching her record that was an education.

 

 

 

Liane Carroll sings Words I Never Spoke

 

 

 

 

 

Billie Wackrill

 

 

 

Yes, that's very special. Who else have you heard recently that we should listen out for?

Because he's a fixture on the London scene, doing Ronnie's upstairs jam every Wednesday, I think we take trumpeter Andy Davies for granted - he's amazing, and a beautiful cat.  Saxophonist Alex Hitchcock is a monster too, and look out for trumpeter Ife Ogunjobi.  As far as vocalists go, I think my partner in crime Jo Harrop is criminally under-rated - all the musicians love her, and now maybe the public is catching up.  Cherise Adams-Burnett and Billie Wackrill are going places, ones to watch.  

 

Billie Wackrill

 

 

 

 

 

I’m forgetting my manners! I have a few biscuits in the tin if you fancy some. Let’s see – some Garibaldis, some Hob Nobs or Ginger Nuts .... I’m afraid the digestives have gone a bit stale.

That's a shame, I'm very fond of a digestive.  The secret is to dunk them real fast before they disintegrate.

 

And then, of course, you have the Copasetic Foundation that has been going for six years now. How many shows have you staged now?

I did some research on this recently.  Between May 2013 when we started and May 2018 the Copasetic Foundation promoted 113 events across jazz clubs, festivals and theatres.  And in the last three completed financial years (2015-2018) it paid out £45,925 in fees to musicians.  But it's a lot of work and I could really use an assistant.  Or the help of a jazz-crazed millionaire - do you know one? 

 

I wish! If you were to pick a YouTube video of one of the shows, and there are quite a few, which would you choose that gives an idea of what the shows are about?

This one, about the show I run with Tony Kofi, A Portrait of Cannonball gives a good flavour of the music:


 

 

 

Have you got any ideas about a musician you would like to write a show around at sometime in the future?

I love to create shows around jazz history (such as Café Society Swing) but I'm trying to get a way from 'tribute' shows to individuals, though of course I've done quite a few.  I do have some ideas though but we'll have to wait and see ... 

 

The Foundation is also involved in education, in particular business coaching for musicians. I get the impression that many students leave the academies and conservatoires without this and it is so important. Does the Foundation run a particular programme?

I used to lecture in music business subjects at university and you've reminded me I should be offering this out to more institutions.  Some of the conservatoires do more than others - I think Nick Smart at the Royal Academy really tries to prepare students for the world outside, although of course it's easier said than done. 

 

What have you got coming up in the year ahead, Alex?

With actress/singer Camilla Beeput, with whom I created a musical about Lena Horne, we're in serious discussions about taking that to the US in 2020.  I want to get my show with Jo Harrop, British Standard Time (all UK composers and songwriters) out to more venues; and Tony Kofi and I are hoping to record the Cannonball Adderley show we do, too.  I'd like to work more with the wonderful Vimala Rowe.  And I'm determined to get some more Wynton Kelly licks down ... 

 

I think you probably need another biscuit!?

Does that mean you have some fresh digestives hidden away? 

 

Tell you what - I'll play Jo Harrop singing Radiohead's No Surprises from British Standard Time, you make another pot of tea, sit back, relax and, call you lucky, I'll pop to the corner shop and get some fresh digestives ........

 

 

 

China Moses and Alex Webb

 

Alex Webb and China Moses

Click here for Alex Webb's website.

 

Utah Teapot

 

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More Tea Breaks
Tracks Unwrapped
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