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Profile:

Henry Spencer

 

Henry Spencer

 

Jazz trumpeter Henry Spencer was born on a farm near Stourhead in Wiltshire in 1990. It was a good place to learn the trumpet, although that would come later. Saxophonist Sonny Rollins took himself off to the Williamsburg Bridge; Henry would practice outside on top of a huge hill on the farm for hours. His parents still work the mixed farm – whether the milk yield is up or down since Henry left, it is hard to say!

At a very early age Henry spent a lot of time sitting at the piano at home 'just playing and writing tunes'. As Henry got older he started to write songs with lyrics that he could sing while playing the piano. 'I have piles of sheets of embarrassing and revealing lyrics somewhere at home!’ he says. ‘I found composing and playing the songs to be both a lot of fun but also therapeutic because their content was often emotionally driven by how I felt at the time'.

Henry took lessons on piano for a while before he discovered the trumpet. His mother had an old trumpet tucked away from a time when she had wanted to learn. ‘I must have been around ten or eleven,’ says Henry. ‘I knew straight away after my trial trumpet lesson that it was the instrument for me’. When the opportunity came at school for him to learn, he grabbed it.

'But it wasn't until later that I regarded the trumpet as an outlet for creative and, significantly, emotional expression. This was probably because the trumpet is, at least as a beginner, a very technically demanding instrument which requires a lot of persistent practice.'

‘At the time I started trumpet,’ Henry recalls, ‘I would set my alarm clock so that I could get up very early and practice before leaving for school. It was not until a few years later that my parents admitted they would sneak into my room and change my alarm to a slightly later time than the one I had set so I would get more sleep’.

Henry has a cousin who lived in Edinburgh, George Stevenson, who is a jazz pianist. 'He is a bit older than me and introduced me Henry Spencerto jazz standards and recordings of ‘the greats’ when I had just started the trumpet. We would play together a lot whenever our families would meet. It was also around this time that I started writing tunes for us to play'.

The music at school was primarily classical, but the school had a swing band and a small jazz group as well as a brass quintet and a symphony orchestra. Henry took advantage of them during his early teenage years until one day, at a parents’ evening, the teacher said to Henry’s parents: ‘I don’t know what he’s doing here!’ You might suppose that Mr & Mrs Spencer would have been worried by the comment, but the teacher went on to say that Henry really had the talent to take up music at a specialist music college.

In 2006, Henry was awarded a scholarship as a specialist musician at Wells Cathedral School. Henry would spend two years at Wells studying theory, history, composition, arrangement, music technology and playing both classical and jazz trumpet. Wells Cathedral School also had a big band and small jazz group which offered the opportunity to develop skills in improvisation and soloing.

After two years, Henry applied to most of the UK music conservatoires and was offered places at Birmingham and The Guildhall School of Music and Drama in London. ‘I decided to accept the place at the Guildhall,’ Henry says. ‘It seemed to me that London was where the scene was.’

His four years at Guildhall offered Henry many opportunities: learning with tutors such as Nick Smart, Noel Langley, Malcolm Edmonstone, Scott Stroman and Carlos Lopez-Real and playing with top musicians like Stan Sulzmann, John Surman, Julian Joseph and Jason Rebello. ‘Outside of college I remember gigging with a few different pop bands in my first and second years. I also played in pit bands for quite a lot of shows in London including The Full Monty, Call Me Madam, The Secret Garden and Fame. It was all good experience, but I found the repetition of playing the same thing night after night in a pit band quite frustrating.’

By the time Henry graduated in 2012 he had already set up his own quintet, Henry Spencer and Juncture. The interest he showed as a child in writing his own music has stayed with him, and the band plays Henry’s own compositions. Henry Spencer and Juncture has been playing for a while now and they work together well. Their playing has attracted attention and at their first public Henry Spencer Junctureperformance at the Marlborough Jazz Festival in 2011, Henry won the Best Newcomer Award.

The reviews said:

..the most exciting band ... Experimental, modern and minimalist but engaging and listenable to, these were serious artists who were refreshing and absorbed in their music-making. Definitely one of the highlights ... Watch this space!’ (missgivens.co.uk).

‘...played with touching reverence ... remember their names. They are the future.’ (Evening Standard).

Juncture included Nick Costley-White (guitar), Rob Brockway (piano), Andrew Robb (bass) and David Ingamells (drums) and it says a lot that after four years, the line-up is mostly unchanged.

'I have always been moved more by music's emotional intent rather than merely the display of technical facility or academic accomplishment,’ Henry explains. ‘Although, that is certainly not to say that I don't constantly practice and try to develop my technical facility and academic understanding. However, when performing, the emphasis is very much on using the technical facility to promote creative and emotional expression.'

 

Here they are playing Eulogy (Goodbye Old Chap)

 

 

 

‘I believe the music we play is accessible because of its emotional intent, its musical influences; from jazz, rock and minimalism, and also because of the nature of the compositions and their melodies. This probably goes back to how I used to write songs in the past. When I compose now, the melodies I write are subconsciously and sometimes consciously written to have that lyrical, singable quality.'

'We (Henry Spencer and Juncture) are preparing for the recording of our debut album in the not too distant future.'

 

Listen to the band playing'The Survivor and the Descendant'

 

 

 

Henry’s influences? ‘I think my jazz influences started with Lee Morgan, Clifford Brown, Coltrane, Freddie Hubbard and Miles Davis, of course! I was heavily influenced by Miles's playing from 1959 through to his later recordings. I wrote my dissertation while at Guildhall on Miles with a big focus on his album, Bitches Brew. I also love Ambrose Akinmusire, Walter Smith III, Tom Arthurs, Kenny Wheeler, Radiohead, Athlete, Dave Binney…I could make a list(!)’

Juncture at Ronnie Scott's ClubHenry is now based in London where he plays and works with a number of different bands as well as with his own group, Henry Spencer and Juncture. He is the trumpet player in a newly formed jazz quartet led by drummer, Jon Desbruslais. 'This is an exciting new band that I really look forward to playing more with'. Henry plays in the funk/hip hop/rock band, Hot Air. 'This band is a lot of fun. We are due to be recording our album later this year’. He also plays with Sibilla, The London Salsa All Stars, Chromatone, Sashi and the Wild Beans, The Blue Flamingoes and various function bands. Henry has also performed with the National Youth Jazz Orchestra, and is called upon by Henry Lowther to play with the London Jazz Orchestra.

In 2014, Henry Spencer was among the winners of the Help Musicians UK Emerging Excellence Award. Henry told us that he would be using the money to go towards making films of his band, Juncture, playing with a string quartet and also towards the cost of promotional videos for their album.

In 2016, we start to see the results of that plan with the release of The Reasons Don't Change, the debut album they have been recording. Most of the band remains the same although Matt Robinson is now on piano. Each of the musicians is an award-winner in their own right: Henry Spencer - Trumpet/Compositions/MD (Winner Emerging Excellence Award, Best Newcomer Marlborough Jazz); Nick Costley-White - Guitar (Winner of Yamaha Jazz Scholarship for Outstanding Musicians); Andrew Robb - Bass (Winner of BBC Radio Scotland Jazz Musician of the Year 2009); David Ingamells - Drums (Yamaha Jazz Scholar 2013, Winner of Chartered Surveyors' Prize 2013) and Matt Robinson - Piano (BBC Radio 3, Yamaha New Jazz Sessions).

Having heard them play individually and together as Juncture, this is a band brim-full of talent that deserves to be heard whether you listen to their recording or you are lucky enough to catch them live.

 

Here is Still Open To Confusion - a taster for the album:

 

 

 

When Henry is not playing or composing he teaches classical and jazz trumpet.

Click here for Henry’s website where you will find details of Juncture and contact details for Henry. Click here for Henry's artist Facebook page.

Henry currently plays Monette mouthpieces with Eclipse trumpets and Flugelhorns.

 

© Sandy Brown Jazz and Henry Spencer 2013 - 2017

 

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