Who or what inspired you to take up the saxophone and pursue a career in music?
From as early as I can remember I was obsessed with pianos. When I saw one as a child I would just sit and hit the keys for as long as anyone around me could put up with it. My parents bought me an old piano for my eight birthday and I had regular lessons until I was eighteen.
I was introduced to the saxophone at secondary school when I was fifteen. The school big band was going on tour to Europe and they were a tenor saxophonist short. The head of music told me to buy a tenor and he would teach me the parts so I could play on the tour. I rented a tenor from my local music shop, learned the parts and did the tour. This was such an amazing experience for me I think it was at this point I knew I wanted to be a musician.
Who or what have been the most important influences on your musical life and career?
I think there are many moments that define what kind of musician you are / will become. One of the earliest I remember was borrowing a John Coltrane double album from school. It was probably the first jazz CD I checked out. The first of the two CD’s I listened to was “My Favourite Things” which I didn’t really get and can’t say I enjoyed. I got a few minutes in and then swapped to the second CD which was “Blue Trane”. This blew my mind. I was intrigued how someone could play the instrument in the way Coltrane does on that record. The sound, technique, composition were all completely new to me. That started me on the road to wanting to be able to get serious about playing, improvising, composing etc and also started to open up the history of the music to me. From here I found Miles Davis then Wayne Shorter then Art Blakey etc etc its all linked.
What have been the greatest challenges of your career so far?
The last two albums I made with Partikel have most definitely been the biggest challenges. Both records were moving into areas that I didn’t really have any previous experience in. It is rare that all of your ambitions will come to fruition exactly how you would like especially when the learning curve is so steep. In my case here maybe the learning curve was too steep! Dealing with the many unexpected obstacles I did find extremely challenging throughout the process of making those albums, but what doesn’t kill you makes you stronger, right?!
Which performances/recordings are you most proud of?
A few years ago I made an album with Partikel which was a collaboration with String Quartet. I’m still really pleased with the results of this recording and the live experiences we had with this project is something that will stay with me.
How do you make your repertoire choices from season to season?
I don’t really have a system for choosing. I only really compose when I feel inspired to and then some tunes will stay with me for years and some will only see a few gigs.
Do you have a favourite concert venue to perform in and why?
Pizza Express Dean Street is a great place to play. The sound guy is great, it’s not too big and the room sounds nice.
As a composer, how do you work?
I tend to focus on the melody first. Sometimes I will write with my saxophone by recording ideas on my phone and build the composition from there. Sometimes I will write the whole thing at the piano.
Most of the process will happen at the piano. Once I have a strong idea of where the melody is going I will do everything else at the piano. The harmony, arrangement etc. I find the tunes that I am happiest with come through very quickly sometimes in one sitting.
I find it hard to be inspired to write all of the time so another exercise I find helpful will be to focus on a particular musician who’s compositions I’m into and try to replicate what it is I like about their style in my own composition. Most of the time you end up with something that sounds nothing like what you have been listening to but its a great starting point for growing your own set of music.
Also using composition to improve areas of your musicianship you are working on. Maybe you are getting to grips with a certain time signature or a specific mode of harmony. Incorporating these things into your writing will really help in getting more fluent in these areas.
Who are your favourite musicians?
The list would be way to long for here but of the current musicians that have put albums out recently I would say, Logan Richardson, Walter Smith 111 and Ben Wendel are getting a lot of rotation at the moment.
What is your most memorable concert experience? Kenny Garrett Quartet at Ronnie Scott’s in 2003. It was one of the first jazz gigs I went to see. It was outrageous.
As a musician, what is your definition of success?
Having any kind of emotional impact on someone via your playing or writing is big success.
What do you consider to be the most important ideas and concepts to impart to aspiring musicians?
Keep positive, stay inspired, have clear goals and enjoy what you do.
What is your present state of mind?
I’m feeling pretty focused at the moment. I have just signed with USA label Ropeadope for an album which will be released early next year. I’m currently writing and shedding a lot in preparation for recording this summer. I’ve also just got back from a week in Mexico so I’m still riding the vitamin D high!
Duncan Eagles a London-based saxophonist who performs regularly at venues and festivals all over the world.
Throughout his career so far, he has appeared at many major venues and festivals around the world including Ronnie Scotts, Pizza Express Jazz Club (Soho), Cheltenham International Jazz Festival, Vancouver International Jazz Festival, Istanbul Jazz Festival, EFG London Jazz Festival, Moods Jazz Club (Zurich), Wuhan Jazz Fest (China), The Kings Place, Brecon Jazz Festival, Love Supreme Jazz Festival and The Paris Cat (Melbourne).
Full biography and website here