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Josh Arcoleo


August 2013 and I am talking to tenor saxophonist Josh Arcoleo shortly before he leaves on another tour with singer Joss Stone. They are off to Salvador, Angola and Brazil and they will be away for two weeks.

Josh and alto player James Gardiner-Bateman were asked to join Joss Stone’s band in 2012 for two UK gigs. Things went so well that they would have been invited to continue with the tour as it went to Europe, but there was no room left on the tour bus. ‘James suggested that we hire a camper van and go with them,’ says Josh. ‘So they said, O.K., if we could do that they would pay for it. We hired the van and joined them in Europe and by the time that part of the tour ended, we were included in the band for the rest of the tour as Joss went on to the USA, South America and Asia.’Josh Arcoleo

Broadcaster Helen Mayhew has described Josh as 'one to watch' and Andy Robson writing in Jazzwise magazine said: ‘Arcoleo could yet go very far indeed.’ Both observations are proving to be well founded as quietly, Josh has already become a respected presence on the UK jazz scene. As Stephen Graham of Jazzwise magazine has said: 'Arcoleo came ready to slay the audience not with sheer firepower but with a fist inside a velvet glove’.

Josh Arcoleo was born in Guildford, Surrey in 1989. His family is musical – his mother a classical flautist, his father a classical guitarist, and his younger brother a music producer. Josh’s grandfather was a Sicilian who moved to Tuscany, the family eventually coming to the UK. Josh is currently based in London.

Home-taught, Josh started to play the cello when he was seven. He continued to play the instrument for another three years, but took up the saxophone when the family moved to Somerset. At thirteen, he started to take lessons with legendary saxophonist Pee Wee Ellis who happened to live a couple of streets away. At sixteen, Josh was touring with Pee Wee’s bands Assembly and Still Black Still Proud. They are still in touch and when Josh recently played a gig in Bath with his band, Pee Wee came and sat in. ‘It seemed very strange, but really great,’ Josh says. ‘Pee Wee playing with my band.’

Josh Arcoleo and James Gardiner BatemanHe toured with Pee Wee for around three years, during which time Josh won an award from the EMI Music Sound Foundation and a Musicians Benevolent Fund Young Talent Award. He was also playing with a variety of bands around the Bristol area where he first met alto player James Gardiner-Bateman. The two have frequently played in bands together since that time.

Josh Arcoleo and James Gardiner-Bateman

In 2008 at the age of eighteen, Josh was offered a place on the Jazz course at The Royal Academy of Music in London. ‘I got so much from that course,’ Josh says. ‘I made a lot of friends and contacts. I was there with people like Joe Wright, Mike Clowes and Tom West and having so many other talented musicians around really helped to create a standard of playing. The Academy was also good at encouraging composition. The tutor, Pete Churchill is incredible. I now find that writing my own music continues to inform my playing and vice versa.’

In 2011, Josh not only graduated from the Royal Academy with a First Class degree, but was awarded a Yamaha Parliamentary Jazz Scholarship and the Kenny Wheeler Jazz Prize for that year. The Scholarship award is made to one nominated student each year graduating from the seven music conservatoires in England, Wales and Scotland. The financial grant from the scholarship helps to launch the award winners and they are also recorded and featured on a CD that is released with the December/January issue of Jazzwise magazine.

‘The Kenny Wheeler Jazz Prize also includes a recording contract,’ says Josh. ‘The contract is with Dave Stapleton’s Edition Records and this helped me to release my debut album, Beginnings. You have just six months to get your material together for the album and that really concentrates the mind!’

Beginnings was released in February 2012. The tracks were all Josh’s own compositions with a Josh Arcoleo Beginningsre-working of Dean Road that had appeared on the Yamaha CD. The reviews were good. Writing in The Guardian, John Fordham said: ‘Arcoleo is only 23, but he sounds as if he has covered a lot of mileage. Tenorists Sonny Rollins and Joe Henderson are among his models, but for much of this fine album he deploys something of Wayne Shorter’s hypnotic tentativeness, and the melodic style of the Cool School-inspired Mark Turner. Arcoleo's dark, hooting sound edges into softly grooving intros as if he's not sure of his welcome. Then come solos that develop from painterly brushstrokes to searing intensity. His ballad tone is rich and smoky on ruminations such as Glade and Kite Flight.’

Click here for the Edition Records website where you can listen to each of the tracks from Beginnings in full. Try Dean Road and Glade. Beginnings is available from Amazon as a CD or MP3 download (click here).

The album was made with Ivo Neame (piano), Calum Gourlay (bass) and James Maddren (drums) and they continued to play with Josh as his Quartet for a time. He still plays with each of them in different bands and he was playing with Calum and James in Kit Downes’ Quintet as the band toured with Kit’s 2011 album Quiet Tiger.

As John Fordham mentioned, Josh’s early jazz influences included Sonny Rollins and Joe Henderson. As time has passed, other music has made an impression. ‘There are many musicians I respect,‘ says Josh, ‘Outside jazz I have been listening to Roots Manuva and Justin Vernon, a guitar player and vocalist with the band Bon Iver (click here for Bon Iver’s track Halocene ).

Josh ArcoleoOver the past two or three years, Josh has established himself in a number of bands including Stan Sulzmann’s Big Band, Jeff Williams’s UK Quartet, Mike Chillingworth’s Sextet and Dave Hamblett’s Sextet whose debut album Light At Night was released in January 2013. (Click here for an introductory video for the album with Josh and Joe Wright on saxophones).

You will see on the website MusicTeachers.co.uk that Josh is listed as a tutor for ‘beginners and advanced saxophone’. Sadly, or fortunately, whichever way you look at it, Josh has little time to teach. ‘At the beginning of the year I had six students,’ Josh says. ‘I just wasn’t around enough to consistently give lessons, so unfortunately, I had to stop.’

In addition to playing with Rhino Horns on the Joss Stone tours, Josh has a number of gigs lined up for the rest of 2013 including gigs in Switzerland in September with Get The Blessing where he is depping for an injured Jake McMurchie. A further short tour with Stan Sulzmann’s Big Band follows in November with gigs at the Purcell Room, London (15th Nov - London Jazz Festival); The Sage, Gateshead (26th); RWCMD, Cardiff (29th), Birmingham (30th) and Sheffield (5th December). You can expect to see him playing in other gigs with various bands, including two new projects in which Josh is involved.

The first is with The Bears, Chris Hyson’s band that includes Josh, Matt Robinson (piano), Reuben Fowler (trumpet), Dave Hamblett (drums), Nick Costley-White (guitar), Chris Hyson (bass) and Lauren Kinsella (the vocalist who has won the 2013 Kenny Wheeler prize). Two definite gigs are booked for the Jazz Nursery (November 7th) and The Oxford (November 11th). The band is also planning to go into the recording studio in November. The talented musicians that form this ensemble make this a band to look out for in coming months.

Josh is also working with Chris Hyson and Josh Blackmore (drums) in a trio they have called Tiny Beast. ‘I am excited by the way the band is developing,’ says Josh. ‘My brother inspired me to develop work with electronic music and we are all writing the material, exploring the ideas each week in a studio in Acton and seeing what works. We recently played a gig in Cardiff where we tried out some of the compositions and the response was very positive. We may take the band into the studio and put out an EP, but we’ll see how it goes.’

At Edition Records Dave Stapleton said of Josh Arcoleo: 'He has great maturity in both his playing and writing as well as a great command on his instrument. He is a supremely gifted musician who is destined for great things'. We agree. Whether on his recordings or listening to him live, seek him out.

© Josh Arcoleo and Sandy Brown Jazz 2013-2015

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