Trish Clowes, saxophonist and composer

Who or what inspired you to pursue a career in music?

Pretty much when I started to do gigs in Shropshire (where I grew up) with older musicians, in particular, getting the opportunity to play some of my own music with them.

Who or what are the most important influences on you as a performer and as a composer?

Saxophonist and composer Wayne Shorter is my biggest guiding light for sure, but Maurice Ravel is another longstanding influence. I loved discovering that album called ‘Maurice Ravel Plays Ravel’ – such a window into his intentions and personality.

What have been the greatest challenges of your career so far?

I really enjoyed the challenge of preparing Joe Cutler’s saxophone concerto ‘Hawaii, Hawaii, Hawaii’ – he wrote it for me, so there’s space for improvisation, but there are also an awful lot of written notes! Lots of quirky, gnarly running lines, very little repetition, and a lot of variation on riffs and melodies, so a devil to memorise too. I premiered it with the BBC Concert Orchestra in 2019, with Ben Palmer on the stick – who I think is fantastic – and Ross Stanley, who is a long-time collaborator (and in my band MY IRIS), on Hammond organ.

As a composer, how would you describe your compositional language/musical style?

That is a hard one to answer… I’m not sure where I fit really… maybe that’s the point. I hate boundaries/labels… the music chooses you!

How do you work?

Morning is my best focus time… and late at night. I still have a practice diary, which keeps me on point with my playing, making notes here and there, taking things down from recordings etc… and for my writing, there’s a pencil, manuscript, lots of scribblings and pondering, and a waste paper bin nearby!

Of which works are you most proud?

‘Abbott & Costello’ has got to be up there – it’s a tune from my album ‘Ninety Degrees Gravity’, and I managed to get filmmaker Rose Hendry on board to turn it into a music video. I love what she did with it. It’s dedicated to the alien characters in Denis Villeneuve’s sci-fi movie ‘Arrival’. You can watch/listen here:

And I was also pretty happy with my solo cello piece ‘Round By The Ness’ for Louise McMonagle. This was written in response to images/footage sent to me by Rose – the opposite process to ‘Abbott & Costello’. I later rewrote the piece for my band, calling it ‘The Ness’, which is on my latest album ‘A View with a Room’.

How does your performing inform or influence your composing, and vice versa?

The two have been intertwined for me ever since I started down this path… Also thinking about the playing/personalities of the musicians I work with and write for, whether that’s my improvising bandmates, or something through-composed for a soloist, chamber group, or orchestra. Considering how we live through the music we play… I think about that a lot when I’m writing music.

Performing/improvising on something you’ve written can have a lot of baggage attached to it I find… I often envy the freedom with which my bandmates approach playing on my music – but I do get there eventually, of course.

Tell us more about the programme for your concert at Wigmore Hall on 1 March…. What was the concept/inspiration behind the programme and why have you called it HOME?

I have a pretty eclectic taste in music, and I wanted to put together a concert that celebrated my interests, as well as those of my fellow performers. I also realised how much of my favourite music was made in the UK… hence choosing the concept of ‘Home’ for the whole concert.

There’ll be seven of us on stage: pianist Ross Stanley (mentioned above), guitarist Chris Montague, and drummer Joel Barford, as these 3 are in my band MY IRIS – Joel being our very new member; then I’ve invited 3 special guests to join us, cellist Louise McMonagle (mentioned above), violinist Mandhira de Saram, and Cevanne Horrocks-Hopayian on vocals and harp, who is also contributing a composition – as are Ross, and myself.

Quite a few of us are both John Dowland and Jimi Hendrix fans, so there’s something by each of them. We’re going to play a version of ‘Blackbird’ by Paul McCartney, and Purcell’s ‘Dido’s Lament’. Ross has chosen a Herbert Howells piece that the two of us have adapted… Then, something really important to me, we’re going to play one of Joe Harriott’s tunes from his album ‘Abstract’. He was such an innovator – an alto saxophonist, composer, improviser, emigrated here from Jamaica – but he does not get anywhere near the kudos he deserves.

As a performer, what do you do off stage that provides inspiration on stage?

Talking about life and music with anyone I make music with…

What is your most memorable concert experience?

I think, weirdly, it’s a livestream, with an in-person audience of just three people at Wigmore Hall (John Gilhooly, the presenter Georgia Mann, and my agent Ina Wieczorek)…. It was a duo set with Ross Stanley during the pandemic… It was such a rubbish period of time, and this concert was a magical oasis in the middle of it all.

What’s the one thing we’re not talking about in the music industry which you really think we should be?

I think anyone who’s tried to create something in the music industry is aware of the issues, we just need more action and less talk…

What advice would you give to aspiring musicians/composers?

Protect and dedicate some time each week to music-making on your own terms.

As a musician, what is your definition of success?

Another tricky question… ultimately, being able to stay joyful in one’s music-making, not getting cynical, staying fresh.

What is your present state of mind?

Optimistic, and focussed.

On 1 March at London’s Wigmore Hall, Trish Clowes and her ensemble are joined by guests to bring a programme of music created in England from various periods adapted to their own unusual combination and unique style of performance. Find out more/get tickets

Saxophonist and composer Trish Clowes has been described as “an improviser to be reckoned with” (Downbeat Magazine) and “one of the most agile and original jugglers of improv and adventurous composition to have appeared in the UK in recent times” (The Guardian). Clowes is currently an Associate Artist at Wigmore Hall and she is devoted to reimagining the musical landscape for the saxophone. Her latest album ‘A View with a Room’ is out on Dave Douglas’s Greenleaf Music, the seventh of her critically acclaimed album releases as leader. Clowes enjoys playing and writing for a wide variety of settings, and her band MY IRIS has been hailed as “the jazz of the future” (Augsburger Allgemeine).

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