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TOMMY ANDREWS

 

Tommy Andrews

 

Woodwind player Tommy Andrews was born in Abingdon, near Oxford, in 1988. There was never any doubt that he would be surrounded by music; his mother, like his grandfather played trumpet and taught music, and his father, also a trumpeter, was Head of Brass at Oxford’s Radley College.

As the 1980s came to a close, the family moved to Fordingbridge in the New Forest where Tommy’s father, David Andrews, took on the postion of Director of Music at Forres Sandle Manor Prep School. By four, Tommy was playing piano and recorder. When he was six he went to a ‘Musicale’ course where children were able to try out various instruments andTommy discovered a natural affinity with the clarinet. His parents bought him a plastic clarinet as an introduction to the instrument and attending Sandle Manor, he became more and more involved with music groups there and took up the clarinet in earnest.

His father and mother were clearly influential in introducing their son to a wide variety of music, including jazz. David Andrews had played with Loose Tubes for a while in the band’s early days and records by Miles Davis, Charlie Parker, Michael Brecker and others were regularly played at home.

At ten, Tommy discovered the alto sax. ‘From the moment I took it out of the case it felt right.’ Tommy says. ‘Having played the clarinet, it was not too difficult to play. It is definitely Tommy Andrewsa bigger challenge for someone to pick up the clarinet after having played the saxophone.There was so much music going on at school. There was the school orchestra, a recordergroup, and I played drums in the school big band. I was also singing in the school choir – which I found enormously enjoyable and helpful with my playing. We would play for school assemblies and we regularly entered the annual Salisbury Music Festival as soloists and inensembles.’

After his Eleven-Plus exams, Tommy moved away from Sandle Manor to go to BishopWandsworth’s Grammar School in Salisbury. ‘It was a great school academically,’ Tommy says, ‘but the only music was a really good choir, so I had to continue having music lessons back home. During those years I joined the Salisbury Area Young Musicians band playing mainly clarinet, and we toured quite a bit, including trips to Europe. I also became amember of the National Children’s Orchestra (NCO) on orchestral percussion when I was twelve.’

By thirteen, Tommy had music grade 8s in saxophone, clarinet and drums, and he was still playing a wide variety of music. ‘I wanted to stay rounded,’ he says, ‘but by now, I knew I wanted to do more with music. I felt that I had gone as far as I could with the lessons I was having at Sandle Manor and knowing something about the music colleges around, my father supported me in applying to go to Purcell School in Bushey, near Watford. I stayed there for four years.’

‘When I arrived, there were already some really strong jazz players in the school. I was partof a trio with pianist Kit Downes and bassist Sam White. We rehearsed every week and played regular concerts at the school and around the country. It was a real challenge to try and bring myself up to their level of musicianship and jazz knowledge. I was fortunate enough to have pianist Simon Colam as the Head of Jazz and my sax lessons were with Tommy AndrewsCarlos Lopez-Real who leads the E17 Jazz Collective in Walthamstow. I took my A Levels in English, History, Music Technology and Music.’

‘I also started going to the Royal Academy of Music’s Junior Jazz Academy. The Junior Jazz Academy, which takes place on Saturday mornings, was started by Nick Smart, a trumpeter and Head of Jazz at the Royal Academy of Music. I was there from the first year of its existence and older musicians like Josh Blackmore, Freddie Gavita and Kit Downes all came through there. I thought that these guys already sounded like the ‘real deal’. It could have been daunting, but I found them extremely inspiring.’

During Tommy’s last year at Purcell he was also playing with the National Youth Jazz Orchestra, another valuable experience. ‘Most students at Purcell go on to study at music colleges. Some of them already have in mind that they want to become concert pianists or solo violinists,’ Tommy says. ‘But at that stage I still wanted to stay rounded and realistic, so I was still playing symphonic works on clarinet, playing percussion in the symphony orchestra, and enjoying playing an eclectic array of music.’

Tommy applied for a place at Trinity College, The Royal Academy of Music and The Guildhall School of Music and ended up at the Guildhall for the four-year degree course.

‘The first year was different to what I had been expecting,’ he says. ‘It was less structured than I had been used to at Purcell. There was a lot of free time for practising which meant that you had to be really focussed to get ahead. I was living in college the first year, but moved out during the second year. I remember I then went through a bit of a trough with my playing, where I was not enjoying what was coming out of my horn. It felt somewhat predictable and single-track, the opposite of what jazz meant to me.’

‘Work-wise, during the first year I was playing small runs of shows, depping in NYJO and doing aTommy Andrews lot of functions but as the second year passed I was depping for more big bands and getting involved in more small band projects.’

‘The third and fourth years allowed more room for arranging and composing, with the formation of the Guildhall alumni band, which was fortunate enough to perform with Dave Liebman and Jim Hart. As time has gone on, my ideas for improvisation have increased with inspiration coming from players like Pete Hurt, Dick Oatts and Lee Konitz who have helped me to take a freer approach within structured music.’

‘There were also many talented students at the Guildhall in every year who were inspiring. When I arrived, there were some well established young players like Mike Chillingworth and Rick Simpson who I could look up to, and then young players enrolling below my year whose hunger to prove themselves could prove very inspiring. By this point, I was learning jazz sax with Mark Hanslip and doubling instruments with Nick Moss, who is a big name on the musical theatre and session circuit.’

‘During the fourth year, my confidence levels rose as I was gigging more and more in a wide range of styles, paying less attention to how I thought I should play, rather approaching jazz with a more exploratory and inquisitive attitude.’

Tommy graduated from the Guildhall School of Music in 2010. He took on a part-time job at King’s College School in Wimbledon where he now works two days a week. He has a number of private music students, and during the holidays he continues to work with his parents running the music course at Sandle Manor.

He is playing regularly with the London City Big Band and smaller groups from that band, and he deps for Martin Hathaway at the Vortex with the London Jazz Orchestra.

‘These are both great bands,’ says Tommy. ‘There is a tremendous attitude in the London City Big Band. Everyone is driven and as we are all friends, we can act on the same level. We talk to each London City Big Bandother honestly about what we want to get out of the music and as the band is made up of many present and past Guildhall students we are able to rehearse at the Guildhall regularly which is very beneficial.’

Brass section - London City Big Band

‘The London Jazz Orchestra is more established, and plays each month at the Vortex. All the music is written by members of the band and is very organic allowing scope for large sections of improvisation. The fact that the music is written with the sound of specific players in mind gives it an extremely distinctive voice and atmosphere. I get a huge buzz playing with the LJO because a lot of the band members were big influences on me when I first came to London. Sitting three feet away from really unique, thought-provoking improvisers such as Pete Hurt, Martin Speake and the late Pete Saberton never fails to inspire my playing and I leave every gig with food for thought. ’ [Click here for the LJO website that has pctures of Tommy with the band and on the page 'Listen To The LJO' you can listen to him solo on the track Wrong Number].

Over the past year, Tommy has continued working on his own compositions and arrangements and 2012 will see the first gigs by his Quintet. The Tommy Andrews Quintet has a lot going for it: ‘The first stage was about getting people together that I wanted to play with and knowing that it is them that I hear playing when I write and create new music. It is always amazing to hear how they interpret my music and add their own individuality to it. The hardest stage is finding time for rehearsing!’ Not an easy task when each musician has his own commitments, and when those musicians are some very notable up-and-coming jazz musicians in the UK. With Tommy on sax, there are Dave Mannington on bass and Yamaha Award winners Rick Simpson (piano), Nick Costley-White (guitar) and Dave Hamblett (drums).

You can listen to Tommy and the Quintet in this recording made at The Oxford in 2011: click here

In 2013, with part funding from Jazz Services, Tommy was working to raise the rest of the money for his debut recording - the Quintet went into the studio in early July. He set up an initiative where people can sponsor the band by making donations of various sizes. Donors received copies of the album, photographs, launch gig tickets, credits on Tommy Andrews Quintetthe album, etc. in return for their sponsorship.

Tommy Andrews Quintet © Ian Dingle

Tommy says: 'The money that you donate is effectively a pre-order of the album. We are not asking for any more money than you would spend by purchasing the album upon release, but to help out with the studio costs up-front. Your money will therefore go towards studio hire, studio engineer fees, musician's fees, mixing, mastering, photographer's fees and piano tuning. I hope that knowing this will allow you to feel part of the creative experience, as your help will directly influence the production of this record!'

Following the recording, Tommy said: 'On the 8th and 9th of July, we recorded all of the material that will eventually end up on the album! The days were long and tiring, but we managed to get it all down. I'll be taking the files to Alex Bonney at the end of August to start the mixing and editing process.'

In June 2014, the album, The Crux, was released on the Jellymould Jazz label. It received good reviews. Here is what we said about it:

For his debut album, The Crux, Tommy has brought together in his Quintet some of the most talented young musicians around: Nick Costley-White (guitars), Rick Simpson (piano), Dave Manington (double bass) and Dave Hamblett (drums). Tommy plays both alto sax and clarinet on the album.

Beside music, Tommy's other interests are science and rock-climbing. Originally, Tommy says, the album was going to be called ‘Particular’, but when CERN, the European Organization for Nuclear Research, announced the scientific existence of the Higgs-Bosun Particle, Tommy changed his mind. ‘As the discoveries at CERN explain why certain particles have mass, I was taken along the route of finding a term for the substance of my project,’ Tommy explains. ‘Crux kept cropping up in my mind, often being used to describe the heart or core of something. The Crux can also be the most pivotal and perplexing stage of a process. As this album brought its puzzles and difficulties whilst also being at the centre of my focus, the term fitted the bill … Crux (also) happens to be a word I use every week in a rock-climbing context when describing the most difficult part of a climb’.

Tommy also says of the album: ‘We reckon that there’s a bit of something for everyone.’

I liked the opening track Sirens and the way the music grew out of Rick Simpson’s repeating piano motif. There is some nice playing by Tommy that leads into an excellent piano solo. Tommy says: 'Sirens remains my favourite composition to date. I wrote this whilst living near the Henry Wood Hall in Borough. It was during the coldest winter I can remember, in a huge drafty house. Sat at the piano in a duvet and next to an electric heater, I was experimenting with four-part ostinato movements and dealing with a faulty burglar alarm that went off every few minutes. This, coupled with living near to the hospital at London Bridge brought about the title’. Click here to listen to part of Sirens.

My first listening to The Crux was in the car, and it was not until I sat and listened to the album through headphones that I came to appreciate the nuances of the music on this album and the thought that had gone into it.

The Crux albumI particulary enjoy track three, Crystal Car, a ballad with feeling. Drums and bass slowly set the scene for Tommy’s exploratory sax as the intensity of the piece steadily grows. Tommy says: ‘During the early part of the Quintet's life, the tunes were almost all lengthy and complicated in some way. I promised myself that I’d try and write something that fitted on to one sheet of A4 and was concerned solely with creating a strong melody … If you listen carefully when the sax enters and the bass has finished playing the tune, you’ll hear that the root notes of all the chords are constantly falling in 3rds. I change between minor 3rd intervals and major 3rd intervals to explore how they affect the brightness or darkness of each harmonic shift’. Click here to listen to part of Crystal Car.

Mr Skinny Legs is the earliest of Tommy’s compositions from his time at the Guildhall School of Music and Drama. The title is dedicated to his young cousins, Jack and Freddie and hunting in the garden for what the boys called ‘Mr Skinny Legs’ - spiders.The origin of the piece is explained by Tommy: 'The basic idea was to find a four-note chord as a starting point and then try changing one note at a time until you find which shifts in harmony most attract your ear. This is a really good way to create a sequence and the skeleton of a melody, as it relies solely on where the ear takes the composer, rather than using any analytical processes or relying on a grasp of jazz theory ...'

LHB stands for ‘Late Heavy Bombardment’ and is another reference to Tommy’s interest in science. A long track with an ear-catching, lyrical piano introduction from Rick Simpson, the reeds and guitar set a background canvas as the piano continues to explore the piece as intensity grows and Tommy eventually takes over with a solo that gives us an opportunity to appreciate his playing.

Track six, Toscana, again begins with a piano motif with Tommy on clarinet and Nick Costley-White’s guitar coming together to create a track that seems to be very much about creating musical textures. The album concludes with Steep, with the piano entering after two minutes with a fascinating syncopated solo before the saxophone takes over in another enjoyable solo. Click here to listen to part of Toscana and other track samples.

I think The Crux is a fine debut album from the Tommy Andrews Quintet. It is a democratic album with contribution well-spread amongst talented band members who clearly work well together. This is an impressive first release that deserves committed listening time to fully appreciate the music. Details can be found on Tommy’s website (click here) where you can also read Tommy’s commentary on the approach taken to the album tracks, something I wish were available far more often as it makes listening to the music all the more rewarding.

Click here to sample the album. Click here for more about the Quintet.

The album was launched at The Forge in London on 17th June before the band start a tour in the UK.

Click here to stay up to date with Tommy's latest news.

 

© Tommy Andrews and Ian Maund 2012 - 2015

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