Sandy Brown Jazz

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TEA BREAK

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

 

James Pettinger (June 2022)

 

James Pettinger

 

 

James Pettinger is the pianist, occasional accordionist, and bandleader for the band Stablefolk. He also leads his own trio and plays with various other bands in the UK. James grew up in Yorkshire, and moved to London to study jazz at Trinity Laban Conservatoire, learning from leading jazz educators and performers, such as Simon Purcell, Liam Noble and Tom Cawley; he graduated in 2017. He has performed at the top UK jazz venues - Ronnie Scott’s, Kansas Smitty’s and Green Note, to name a few, playing his own tunes and those of his peers.

Jazz wasn’t his first love, that title is held by the Dave Matthews Band, whom James has admired since his early teens, but his regular listening also includes the music of Shai Maestro, Jonathan Brooke, Dua Lipa, Jacob Collier and James Taylor.

James' technique for getting the best out of the Stablefolk musicians is described as 'elegant and subtle ..... he gets annoyed that they’re not playing it quite the way he wants it, then, after much pontification, announces that it was pretty good actually.'

Stablefolk includes some of the UK's prominent young jazz musicians: Tom Ridout plays soprano and tenor saxophone and bass clarinet. A multi-award winning saxophonist and recorder player, he was predicted by Jazzwise magazine in 2012 as an 'upcoming jazz musician to watch out for' and he went on to be a finalist in the 2016 BBC Young Musician Jazz Award, he is a graduate from the prestigious Royal Academy of Music and winner of the Lancaster Jazz Festival Youth Jazz Commission 2018. Guitarist James Maltby studied jazz at Guildhall School of Music and Drama, and won the Sheriff’s Prize for achieving the highest overall mark on the course. Aram Bahmaie studied jazz at Birmingham Conservatoire under legendary bassists Mark Hodgson and Arnie Somogyi, and went on to play around the UK and in Europe, including at the Cheltenham and Trondheim Jazz Festivals. Drummer Adam Woodcock graduated from the jazz programme at Trinity Laban Conservatoire of Music and Dance in 2019 with a first-class honours degree, after studying under some of the best on the British jazz scene, including Simon Purcell, Hans Koller, James Maddren, Gene Calderazzo and Asaf Sirkis. He has performed all over the UK and further afield, both as a sideman and leader of his own group ‘Meridian’.

Their music is described as contemporary jazz built on the 'songs and sounds from folk, singer-songwriters, and music that falls between the cracks. In the midst of its sweeping arcs and epic builds, Stablefolk balances the joyful alongside the melancholy, creating musical moments that transcend genre.'

More simply put, they have a talent for playing really creative jazz that keeps firm hold of the folk music from which it is drawn. Check out this video of Traveller to see and hear what I mean:

 

 

 

Their debut album, Unspoken Tales, is released in June. Altogether, there are five tracks on the album - First Road; Traveller; Riverbend; Hope Runs Deep and Maymolly. First Road is a short introduction on James Pettinger's accordion, down low with an engaging melody that rises from it. Down that First Road comes the Traveller. There is a second video of the third track Riverbend that we'll play during the tea break. It has a haunting, atmospheric theme from Tom Ridout as you will hear. Hope Runs Deep is a light dancing tune with a catchy theme that conveys well the hope in the title and Maymolly, the final track is perhaps my favourite - waves on a sea shore and a beautiful, gentle, lyrical piano piece with equally lovely guitar playing from James Maltby. As their website says: 'Warm, tonal music with a strong sense of home'.

 

Stablefolk's debut EP, Unspoken Tales, is released on June 10th - click here.

 

Stablefolk

Stablefolk: L-R: Adam Woodcock; James Pettinger; Tom Ridout; Aram Bahmaie and James Maltby

 

James dropped by for a tea break ....

Hi James, good to see you. Can I get you a tea or coffee? What do folk / jazz musicians drink?

Hi Ian! I’ll take a hot chocolate please – I don’t know what folk or jazz musicians drink, but I’m pretty certain it’s not hot chocolate, so please don’t tell anyone.

 

It's probably whiskey in the jar, but probably a bit early for that. Hot chocolate isn't a problem, but I'm right out of whipped cream and those small marsh mallows. Milk and sugar?

Probably no extra sugar, but milk in there somewhere would be great.

 

So, how are you feeling about the new album Unspoken Tales? It's your debut album so did it take some time to come together?

Right now I’m feeling a bit of a mixture: excitement for it to be out there, apprehension that it meets my probably too high expectations, and also a little tiredness to be quite honest. I loved writing the music, and the studio time, and seeing it come together, but it’s what follows that – making sure it doesn’t just excite my mum and teddy bears – that I’m less enthusiastic about, sending lots of emails and doing lots of admin! I’ve heard my tunes a lot by now… It has taken ages to come together actually, but maybe that’s normal, I wouldn’t know! Lots of the process took longer than I imagined it would, the artwork, the videos – but I’m massively a perfectionist so I really wanted it to be just the way I wanted. Which, credit to the people who I’ve worked with, it pretty much is! This hot chocolate is great by the way, thanks.

 

You're welcome ........ I'm sure the admin can be a real chore, but having put so much careful work into creating the music, it's got to be important to share it well so that a lot of people can enjoy it and so that it opens the doors to what will follow. By the way, I’m intrigued by the title – what and why are the unspoken tales?

I’m excited to be talking about the EP so excuse me if I’m a little self-indulgent!! Unspoken Tales refers to a couple of things. The first is that I can find it hard to express myself well in person, and I can feel that I don’t have much to say at times, so the ‘tales’ I do have to tell come through my music rather than my actual voice, hence ‘unspoken’. The second link I only realised quite recently, but it also fits well I think. I love the fantasy genre, and getting lost in fictional worlds. One of my favourite things is when an author refers just in passing to an event, or person or place, but it’s clear there’s a whole history behind it – and your imagination can go wild filling in the gaps. But it’s the endless possibilities that I find compelling, the not-said, rather than the inevitable prequel that explains exactly how the thing did the thing. Leave it to the imagination! The Kessel Run comment by Han Solo is a good example!

 

So the Millenium Falcon made the Kessel Run in less than 12 porseconds carrying glitterstim spice without getting caught when it usually took 20 porseconds. Hard to imagine how it did that. Some travelling - which makes a good link to the single - why did you choose the Traveller track to put out as the first single?

It’s upbeat! My music can be a little reflective/introverted, and I think that kind of thing might not grab you straightaway. I basically thought it was the most fun from the EP. Plus there’s a killer solo from Tom Ridout on soprano. And the 12-string jangling from the get-go…

 

We get that from the video which I played earlier ..... and why did you decide to put out an EP rather than a longer album? A number of bands are putting out singles and EPs these days and I wonder if there is the same response as for ‘LP’ albums? Could you have made the tracks longer with more impro. and put it out as a full album or are there reasons why that wouldn’t work?

I do love albums, and I grew up really listening through complete albums lying on my bed or on long car journeys. I’d get full body shivers quite regularly from Dave Matthews Band’s Before These Crowded Streets, which for me is a fully genius album. I would love to do a bigger, more ambitious work, but I didn’t have loads of tunes written, we hadn’t gigged together, and it was our first output, so I wanted to have a bit more experience before taking that on. As to the tracks being longer – I get a bit daunted when listening to something where all the tunes are Stablefolk Unspoken Tales album8 minutes or more. Also, the aesthetic isn’t super jazzy, so I wanted to lean into that.

 

 

That all makes sense and the album is self-contained in that it tells the story of a journey anyway. People will be able to download or stream the album but bands have usually benefitted from CD sales when they are playing live somewhere. There are quite a number of tracks and albums now that are being made available as downloads and I wonder if those CD gig sales are missing out?

I do still enjoy physical media. If I really love a film or album, I’ll buy a hard copy. The question is how much do people do this to make it worth producing them! I’m in the process of ordering a short run of CDs (which have some beautiful artwork by the way, buy one when they’re out!) and I’m really looking forward to having a ‘thing’ I can point to and say, look what I did! I debated getting some vinyl made as well, as they’re reasonably popular, but they’re very expensive to make.

 

 

I'm fascinated by the way vinyl has come back, but you're right, they are not cheap. Going back a step - how did you come about the idea of focussing on folk music in jazz? Do you have a particular leaning towards folk? There are others of course who have that interest like Fergus McCreadie and Scottish folk music and his albums are really popular.

I’ve never actually listened to a lot of folk music. I think the thing that leads me in that direction is the acoustic guitar, which I blame on my church attendance and Dave Matthews Band! I’m very drawn to sounds that are organic, natural feeling, and there’s something about a strumming acoustic guitar that seems that way to me. I started to write music during uni, with varying degrees of success, but I found I kept stripping the jazz back from it. There were some groove-based tunes, some rhythmically complex arrangements of standards, but gradually it became about finding something simpler and organic, which comes out quite tonal and maybe gentle. Fergus’ music is great, as is Matt Carmichael’s, and I found a lovely album called Shores by Fergus Hall. There’s a real scene in Scotland of this music, which is great! I wish there was a bit more of it here in London to be honest.

 

There is a nice video for Shores, James, that I think illustrates what you are saying:

 

 

 

 

Can I top up your hot chocolate? I should have offered you a biscuit – let’s see what’s in the tin – hmm, the Hob Nobs are probably a bit stale but I’ve got some Bourbon’s and Garibaldis or Custard Creams? I’m thinking of branching out and offering visitors cake (unless they’re on a diet) – do you have a favourite cake with your morning break?

I’m an awkward customer sorry, I’m gluten free. So I’ll pass!

 

There's nothing for it - I really have to up my catering game if I'm ever to become a perfect host. I'll talk to Chet at the patisserie tomorrow about getting in a proper selection of gluten free cakes. Talking of folk music - if you could ask a particular folk musician to guest with the band, who would you invite?

 

Quercus

 

 

As I said, I’ve not listened to large amounts of folk, so I couldn’t name you loads of folk musicians. But there’s an album called Quercus, with June Tabor on it, and her voice is amazing, a little bleak in a good way – although none of my tunes have a vocal part. Some of the people she’s played with are awesome too: Martin Simpson on guitar and Ian Ballamy (though he’s a jazzer). There’s an unreal mandolin player called Chris Thile, who is vaguely bluegrass-y, so if that’s allowed, I’ll take him; he’s my current idol.

Quercus (photo from ECM records)

 

 

 

 

 

Interesting. Have you seen this video of Chris Tile with Jacob Collier playing Loves Me Like A Rock from 2018?

 

 

 

 

What would you ask them in the tea break?

Ooh cool question! I think I’d just listen to whatever June Tabor wants to tell me about. Folk songs are often about telling a story, and she seems like she’d be a great teller of tales. Chris Thile, hmm… I’d probably ask him about how he practises improvising his super quick lines, or about how he composes! He has some beautiful music.

 

Are you planning gigs to promote the album?

Yes I am! I've just confirmed a gig with Pizza Express at the Pheasantry in Chelsea, on 29th September. So that's exciting! I'm also booking a mini tour for some time around then. We're also playing the Monday Marquee Sessions at Sidmouth Fringe Festival on 1st August.

Great! let me know when you have the rest of the schedule and I'll share it. If people want a taste they can see the band and hear Tom's haunting refrain to the more gentle Riverbend in your second video release:

 

 

 

What else have you got coming up this year?

I’ve not got loads booked in! I’ve got a few random things going on: I play accordion with Milena Granci’s sextet, which is a lot of fun and she has some lovely tunes, so hopefully some more of that. I’m in the London Vocal Project which is demanding (!), and we’ve got a gig in June at Pizza Express. I play piano with Adam Woodcock’s 'Meridian', and don’t tell him but I think the music is actually alright. That’s been off the boil since Covid, but I do believe things are happening at some point!

 

Gigs do seem to be picking up now since the Covid hiatus, thank goodness, so I think you are going to be busy, especially once the EP is released - people really must hear it. Thanks for dropping by, James. It has been great to grab a tea break with you - or hot chocolate - I'll see if I can drum up a lash of whipped cream and marsh mallows next time.

 

Click here for the Stablefolk website.

 

James Pettinger

 

 

Utah Teapot

 

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