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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.


Alec Harper - December 2016


Alec Harper


I first came across reeds player Alec Harper in 2012 playing with Barney Lowe's outstanding London City Big Band. Alec was just completing his music degree at the Guildhall School of Music and Drama in London where he graduated with a First Class BMus (Hons) in Jazz Performance. He had already received the Young Performers Award from UK Jazz Radio and after graduating, he was awarded a Concert Recital Diploma and won a prestigious Yamaha Jazz scholarship. The scholarship was awarded at an event at Westminster hosted by the All Party Parliamentary Jazz Appreciation Group (APPJAG).

The scholarships were presented to a nominated graduate from each of the major Jazz Conservatoires in the UK and after the presentation itself, the musicians played a set for the audience - Members of Parliament and people in the Jazz industry. I found Alec suffering from the 'flu and looking pretty rough, but somehow the adrenolin kicked in and there was no question as to how justified that scholarship award was.

That was four years ago. Alec began visiting America and applied to study for his Master's degree at Boston's New England Conservatory. He had established contacts in New York and spent time working with fellow New England Conservatory electronic musician and recording engineer, Tyler Gilmore to put together a project called 'Beaker'. In 2014, Alec shared some of that experimental improvisation work with us (click here).

Alec completed his Master's degree and has now moved to New York. I caught up with him for a Tea Break:



Hi Alec, tea or coffee? Or do they only drink coffee over there?

Hey there. Wow that’s an opening question right there. Well right now I would have to say coffee has become more of a feature in my life and I think it helps to keep up with the pace in New York, but I will never tire of a good old cup of tea. Coffee is for now, tea is for life.

Eric Dolphy


Milk and sugar?

Milk no, milk is for baby cows isn't it? In all seriousness though I have less dairy these days but can't cut out sugar, always had a sweet tooth. 


If you could ask two past jazz musicians to join us for the tea break, who would you invite?

That's a great question (as they say over here). I would have to ask Eric Dolphy for sure and probably Thelonious MonkThelonius Monk as well.


Eric Dolphy

What would you ask them?

I think I would ask Dolphy what led him to approach the saxophone in the way he did. In the past few years I have been very inspired by his fearless approach and his staggering technical prowess, there really was nobody who played like Dolphy, nor is there someone who can play like him now.

Thelonious Monk


I would ask Monk if he had periods of low motivation towards composing (unlikely it would seem) and how he got through those times and came out the other side. I would also love to know what Monk was passionate about outside of music, I’m sure he would share some cool things.


Hob Nob, Bourbon, Garibaldi or Custard Cream biscuit? 

They have different purposes for me. Hob Nobs and Garibaldis are unquestionably dipping biscuits, both on a par I’d say. Bourbon is my binge biscuit and I’ve shared many a late night with them having come home from gigs and other such shenanigans in London. Alec HarperCustard Creams will always remind me of school trip lunch boxes from my earlier years, they make me feel young. I told you I have a sweet tooth - this is probably the longest answer yet! You can’t buy these over here in the U.S so I will have to add them to my list for the next English visitors.

Are you finding the music scene different in America? and is Boston different to New York?

The music scene is different over here for sure, mind you I'm mainly comparing it to my time in London as my Europe experience is limited thus far. I would say the main factor is the history. Jazz began here as we know and the country is very proud of that, keen to nurture it. Kids in school are pushed from a young age to play in bands. I would say most jazz musicians here have had a connection with the tradition from a younger age. There is also the church scene of course that hugely influences a lot of the musicians over here.

Then there is the sheer scale of America with all its cities and scenes. I have only lived in two cities, Boston and now New York. Boston to New York is no comparison in my opinion. Boston is a great place to study but New York is truly a Mecca and it's not just for jazz, it's at the forefront of so many arts with people from all over America and the rest of the world. That's not to say there are better players here than the best players anywhere else, it's just that there are a lot more of them, and if you want to succeed, my oh my, you have to up your game! That being said, New York is by no means for everyone and I'm realising now having studied Jazz for 6 years that there is so much more to life than music, so it's important to be somewhere you can do as many of the things you enjoy and need as possible. Would I recommend it? Hell yes!!! 


Aaron Edgecombe

What gigs have you played recently?

I had a couple of gigs last month with a very interesting new collaboration I'm a part of. It's with fellow alumni of the New England Conservatory where I did my Masters: Eliot Cardinaux on piano and spoken word and Aaron Edgcomb on percussion. Eliot is a fantastic poet and we have all had a lot of fun working together to sculpt our improvising around the poetry. The group is called ‘The Gown of Entry’ and is great fun, I'm very excited to see where it goes in the future.


Aaron Edgecomb





[Here is a video of Alec and Tyler Gilmore with Song 2 from the Beaker project].





What have you got coming up in in the next few months?

The next few months is all about immersing myself in the music scene here, meeting lots of musicians and seeing where it takes me. I will be releasing a record with the trio I mentioned in the previous answer, ‘The Gown of Entry’. I also have some exciting improv gigs early next year and aim to get to writing to put to life some new ideas I have. There is of course the dreaded Visa application to look forward to. 


['The Gown Of Entry' (Alec Harper, Eliot Cardinaux and Aaron Edgecomb) playing Public Alley].





Who else have you heard recently that we should listen out for?

Andrew Schiller


I think Cory Smythe is one of the most interesting pianists to be surfacing. I have heard him recently in a few contexts and was blown away. I am really enjoying hearing Ned Gould (tenor sax) play with his group on Wednesday nights at Fat Cat in the Village. He is a fantastic musician with a very interesting approach to changes. Keep your ears peeled for a debut album from bassist and composer Andrew Schiller (I may be on that one). I am also really digging Anderson Paak right now, getting my hip hop on.  


Andrew Schiller



[Anderson Paak and the Free Nationals with Come Down].





Another biscuit, or should I go out for Cookies or Coney Island Classics Butter Me Up Popcorn?

Did you know that a biscuit in America is actually similar to the scones we are used to but they are a lot fluffier in texture. Well worth trying if you get the chance. Popcorn is great but it gets stuck in the teeth, plus Coney Island would be FREEZING now. Winter has come sadly...


Alec Harper Gown Of Entry

The Gown Of Entry


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