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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.


Alex Hitchcock (Saxophone) - May 2020


Alex Hitchcock




Alex Hitchcock



Saxophonist Alex Hitchcock was born in London. His first instrument was the violin, but at nine he switched to alto saxophone. It was listening to Coleman Hawkins and Joshua Redman that caused him to turn to the tenor sax. Alex studied English at Cambridge, becoming part of the jazz scene in the city and director of the Cambridge University Jazz Orchestra. With them, he toured Istanbul before returning to London and the Royal Academy of Music where he first established his Quintet. He graduated in 2016. Alex formed a Quintet with James Copus (trumpet, flugelhorn); Will Barry (piano, fender rhodes); Joe Downard (bass) and Jay Davis (drums). The band won first place at the Conad Jazz Contest at the 2018 Umbria Jazz Festival and embarked on a 15-date nationwide tour promoting their debut EP 'Live at the London and Cambridge Jazz Festivals' launched at Pizza Express Jazz Club in Soho. They played Ronnie Scott's Club and the Love Supreme Jazz Festival, going on to play at the Royal Albert Hall and Jazz in the Round, as well as touring Spain, Hungary and Poland and appearing on BBC Radio 3, JazzFM and Hungarian television. The Alex Hitchcock Quintet released their album All Good Things in May 2019.




Tom Barford



Fellow tenor saxophonist Tom Barford, with whom Alex has co-operated in their new album, AuB, was winner of the 2017 Kenny Wheeler Prize, Tom was raised in a musical family and grew up surrounded by music, from Frank Sinatra to Louis Armstrong. He started the saxophone at the age of 9 but it wasn’t until a few years later that he developed a specific interest in Jazz. At sixteen, Tom joined the Junior Jazz Course at the Royal Academy of Music before going on to gain a scholarship place on the Undergraduate Jazz Programme at the Academy in 2013. He earned a First Class Hons degree in 2017. Tom released his Kenny Wheeler Prize album Bloomer on Edition Records in 2018.




For their new band, AuB, Alex and Tom have come together with two other respected musicians from today's jazz community, bass player Ferg Ireland and drummer James Maddren. Alex, Tom and Ferg also play synthesisers on the recording. Their self-titled album AuB is completely engaging. It opens with Not Jazz, a track we can listen to and that Alex talks about later in this article. The second track, Valencia starts out slowly and sensitively punctuated by Ferg's bass and here you begin to appreciate the fine interplay between the two tenors. Glitch picks up the tempo with bass and drums setting a scene until Alex's tenor sets a riff from which the saxes grow together and then emerge into a full band with a satisfying soundscape of synths and improvisation. Rufio is introduced by a bass solo over which the two saxes weave into a melodic conversation and an inventive saxophone solo outing


Here is a brief video introduction to the album.




Iceman has one sax riffing while the other leads the theme into a bass solo and then bass and drums state a pace for one tenor and then the other to explore before they finally come together and end at a full stop. Dual Reality, as you might expect, re-introduces that intuitive interplay between the two tenors, initially without bass and drums and then Ferg's bowed bass underlines the light saxophone flights that take us out of the piece. Doggerland has a strong bass rhythmic foundation right the way through a saxophone improvisation that echoes across the space and then Alex and Tom are back together again. I haven't mentioned James Maddren's drumming until now. As always, his playing is completely integrated with the music being played by any group he works with and on Doggerland we are particularly aware of what he is doing. Alice Flynn in Jazzwise wrote of a live performance of Doggerland:' "Doggerland’ unleashes Barford’s unyielding tone, filling the room as he thematically darts between bop and abstract language, juxtaposed by Hitchcock’s more earthy palette that dips and dives through explosive double-time runs against the agitation of Maddren’s beat. A vital element to AuB, Maddren’s drumming is a masterclass of inexhaustible tension and release." The album closes with Groundhog Tuesday. If you think of the movie Groundhog Day where someone gets caught in a time-loop, that is misleading, as like the rest of the album, the music takes us to more than one place, on the other hand, a time-loop that includes playing the album again sounds good to me.

AuB introduces us to an album and four musicians playing with great rapport that are well worth hearing. Hopefully we shall be able to listen to them live again in the not too distant future.


AuB band

AuB: Alex Hitchcock, James Maddren, Ferg Ireland and Tom Barford
Picture by Dave Stapleton


Alex and I linked up for a Tea Break - of course, in view of Coronavirus social distancing, it had to be a 'virtual' one:


Hi Alex, what have you got there – tea or coffee?

Strong black coffee!


I have made a coffee with plenty of milk – I saw on the news that farmers are having to pour gallons of milk down the drain now that they can’t supply cafes, hotels and so on. How are you managing at the moment? It must be tough for all musicians with gigs cancelled?

It is tough and I think it will be for the foreseeable future. Government grants won’t last for ever and we have to hope venues survive. When lockdown ends there will probably be a period where money for the self-employed dries up but concerts and gatherings still aren’t allowed to happen. People are resilient and often bursts of creativity come out of crises like this, but people need to eat and pay rent first and foremost! Of course, that applies to people across the UK and across the world, not just musicians.


Have you heard how other musicians are managing? Presumably you are in touch with Tom Barford and others?

One of the really positive things to come out of the current situation is that it’s reinforced the sense of community we’re lucky to have. People are being really supportive of each other, pointing out lots of sources of financial help and other helpful information and opportunities. I’ve been in touch with lots of musicians – everyone is trying to cope in their own way, some are in relatively comfortable situations and others aren’t. You don’t necessarily think of music as a priority given a global context where thousands of people are losing loved ones, but there’s definitely comfort to be found if you’re lucky enough to be able to keep on practising and composing. Lots of musicians are collaborating remotely, and I’m looking forward to hearing all the music that I’m sure is being written at the moment at the end of lockdown.



AuB album



It is a bit of a challenge bringing out an album at the moment. Your new album with Tom, AuB, could still get plenty of plays through the media though. Edition Records will promote it but will you be promoting it through Facebook, etc. too?

It’s definitely a unique time to bring an album out but perhaps people will have more time and inclination to check out new music now, if they’re not already saturated! We’ll do our own promotion of course, which is really important in building a personal connection to an audience who will hopefully follow us for future releases, if they like the music. And then that’s complemented by Edition’s wide reach internationally, so we hope the music can find a natural audience and brighten up some people’s days over the coming months!





Alex Hitchcock and Tom Barfod




Speaking of the album, how did you and Tom come up with the idea of a 2 sax band with bass and drums - that is pretty unusual?

There’s some precedent already – I know Tom cites Tenor Madness with Sonny Rollins and Coltrane, Sonny Meets Hawk with Rollins and Coleman Hawkins, and Sonny Side Up with Rollins and Stitt as important records for him. And more recently there’s Chris Cheek and Seamus Blake’s Bloomdaddies band, and of course Polar Bear in the UK. So I guess the lineup is a nod to all those heroes even if the album doesn’t sound anything like them! We wanted to keep the grit and drive you get with the harmony-less quartet but add colour from the synths and melodies that were almost earworms, but that still retained a bit of quirkiness and idiosyncrasy. It could have been a very ‘saxophoney’ album but I think we avoided that by being quite careful with the instrumentation and structures.







I see you played at Rat Records in London last year – bit of an odd setting? Not a large audience, but the child seemed quite intrigued?

Rat Records is just round the corner from me in Camberwell and I knew it because it’s a favourite crate-digging spot of my friends Joe Downard and Will Barry! It wasn’t actually a gig – they were just really nice about letting us set up and play in there. Dave Stapleton at Edition has been keen on taking the music a little bit outside where you might normally expect to see it and we thought setting up in that small but quite visually interesting place, as well as seeing who would wander in from outside while we were playing, was a good way to frame the music. Plus they’ve got some great records in there too, some of which you can pick out in the video! Ornette Coleman’s ‘This Is Our Music’ is right next to James’ head – we may or may not have positioned it there…


Here is the video of Alex, Tom and the band at Rat Records last year.




If a past jazz musician had walked into the shop and asked to sit in, who would you like that to be and would you have played?

Charlie Parker, and I would have just been listening!


Which brings us, I guess to the name of the band – AuB – clearly not the Arts University of Bournemouth or the Apostolic United Brethren (although I suppose it could be the latter!). I understand that AuB (pronounced ORB) refers to the meeting and unity of two musical minds and instrumental sounds melded into one group sound. I’ve not come across that before?

Haha, so you’ve read the press release! We were thinking about Venn diagram terminology where ‘the union of’ two separate areas A and B is represented by ‘AuB’. And using the imagery of that as a way of suggesting that the individual elements keep their own distinct personality whilst also combining into a whole that blends both. We also like that it could stand for ‘Alex und Barford’.




That's clever! Sounds like you were spending time with Wang and Brandon from 2020's University Challenge! We can listen to the track Not Jazz – What’s that all about?!

The title is slightly tongue in cheek in that I was conscious that there are various different pressures surrounding an album release, the ‘framing’ of the music being one that I have a particularly hard time with. Obviously, the music on this album is in the jazz and black American music tradition, as is evident from the style and content of the playing as well as the instrumentation. You want to honour that tradition and at the same time you want to connect with as many people as possible through the music; you don’t want to compromise the music but there’s a certain pressure for it to be ‘accessible’, as far as that means anything. So those concerns can often make you second-guess how to shape the music even while you’re writing or playing it, at a point in time way before the music is released, so the process kind of feeds back on itself, like Ouroboros the snake eating its own tail. The suggestion that X or Y new band or album is ‘great, but not jazz’ is thrown around a lot at the moment which in itself is kind of meaningless, as well as patronising – and who is in charge of deciding what is and isn’t ‘jazz’ in any case?! You can probably tell my thoughts on this aren’t particularly ordered or consolidated, but Not Jazz is a nod to those kinds of uncertainty.




Listen to Not Jazz.




I love that track! I know that Tom and yourself have a tour planned to promote the new album starting in May – what’s the plan now?

We still have dates in the diary for September and October, and who knows if we’ll be able to play those?! It’s hard to book gigs for 2021 at the moment because there’s so much uncertainty, and also venues understandably want to reschedule stuff that’s been cancelled first so there’s quite a bit of pressure on next year’s dates already. In the immediate future we’re focused on getting the album to as many people as possible and we might also use all this time to plan and write for the next recording…


I know a few people who are writing for new recordings. Once this is all over we should be in for a real treat of new music! What other plans have you got for your music once everything settles down again?

Hopefully I’ll release another album on Fresh Sound next year, if I can reschedule the recording, and that will have some really special guests I’m looking forward to working with. I’ve also got some exciting plans with the amazing French drummer Marc Michel (currently playing in Jasper Hoiby’s Planet B) for some recording and touring with some musicians from the US next year but that’s still in its infancy. I recorded albums with Matt Ridley and Joe Downard’s bands last year so I really hope to be able to tour with them. It’s a good opportunity to take time to think about what happens next, and if we’ll even be able to carry on in the same way as we were before!


I really like that version of I'm Travelling Alone you did with Marc Michel, Will Barry and Conor Chaplin.




Who have you been listening to while you have been at home? Tell you what, I’ll play something then you can go and practise and I’ll make another milky coffee.

I’ve gone quite deep into Tigran Hamasyan’s back catalogue (the title tune from his album A Fable is a particular favourite) trying to understand something about his rhythmic approach and facility, which is on another level completely! I read a couple of really good interviews with Ron Carter on Ethan Iverson’s website so I’ve gone back to some of the albums he was on like Wes Montgomery’s So Much Guitar and the amazing Jaki Byard album Hi-Fly. Wayne’s album High Life from the '90s has been on heavy rotation because it’s so uplifting. And then three of my absolute favourite releases from the last year have been on Edition: Hope by Lionel Loueke and Kevin Hays, Ascent by Pablo Held and Nelson Veras, and Tineke Postma's Freya. It’s kind of amazing to be in that company on the label!


How to choose! There are some in your choices that I remember really struck me when they were released, A Fable and Hope for example, but I think I'll choose one I don't know so much about, that's Tineke Postma's Freya, I'm glad you have introduced me to them, they are amazing! Thanks for dropping in Alex, take care, stay well and lots of best wishes for the album. Let us know how things go.


Tineke Postma's Freya playing Comprends at the Jarasum Jazz Festival in 2019





Click here for Alex Hitchcock's website.

The album AuB is released on the 29th May on the Edition label - click here for details.


Alex Hitchcock


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