The first of three interviews with members of J.A.M. String Collective
Who or what inspired you to pursue a career in music and who or what have been the most important influences on your musical life and career?
I can’t give an exact answer as I never thought of being a musician as a career when I was younger – I made music with my friends in bands and wrote songs, and just carried on doing it…and in my 20s starting trying to make money from it. I’m very poor on the business side of it! Probably my viola teacher in secondary school inspired me the most to keep playing, and it was older fellow students in college who were working, who inspired me in a more practical sense to turn it into a career.
What have been the greatest challenges of your career so far?
I found the highs, and more specifically the lows, of funding applications very challenging. Last year was the first time I had applied for funding for my own projects, and through the rejections I couldn’t help but question everything from the value of my work, to my career choice.
Another ongoing challenge which I often relish, but in my lower moments, find a struggle, is finding where my music ‘fits in’, who my trio, J.A.M. String Collective’s audience, what genre are we? As a jazz string trio it’s not a straightforward path…but I try to not let that affect the music we love making.
Of which performances/recordings are you most proud?
J.A.M. String Collective’s debut EP – ‘J∆M’! (Out 5th May!).
Which particular works/composers do you think you perform best?
I guess our own compositions.
What do you do off stage that provides inspiration on stage?
So important! Lockdown afforded us the strange and unique situation of being stuck at home, and I thought – wow – for the first time I am able to practice as much as I want without life’s distractions. What I soon realised was that ‘life’s distractions’ feed into our to practice…tension/ release, highs/lows etc. So apart from my answer being – everything and ‘life’ inspires my practice, I try to stay healthy through swimming/running/hiking; I also try to nourish my soul and that might be through seeing friends, and experiencing other art.
How do you make your repertoire choices from season to season?
The trio performs original compositions, but we also play our own arrangements of musicians who have influenced us (eg. Monk/Mingus), or the music someone we want to champion. I also like finding jazz compositions with melodies that are well suited to string instruments, a may be an unexpected choice.
Do you have a favourite concert venue to perform in and why?
The Crypt in Camberwell. It has a great weekly jazz night on Fridays and has cultivated a dedicated following, putting on both established and emerging artists. The venue itself, being a crypt, has an intimate feel although you can fit quite a lot of people down there, and it suits jazz very well. When we played there for the first time we got such a warm reception, and the audience listened very attentively throughout, which as a string trio in a jazz venue does not always happen.
What do you feel needs to be done to grow classical music’s audiences?
Perhaps a venue for chamber music following the model of The Crypt, above!
What is your most memorable concert experience?
I love experiencing live music. Something that has stayed with me recently is seeing the jazz singer Sheila Jordan in Norway last year. Although she was then 93 years old, and obviously with a reduced vocal range to what I know from her records, she absolutely held the audience captivated with her entertainment skills, radiated a pure love for music, and made every one of us in that large concert hall feel included in this beautiful shared experience. Storytelling is an integral part of performing, and it was inspiring to see her do that with the vitality of life. Also – I want to add that she sung for just over 2 hours and the venue had to ask her to finish!
As a musician, what is your definition of success?
For me success is reaching a point where I feel I can best express myself though composition and improvisation. I think that will come and go, as I continue to grow as a musician, and I may reach it for one project and then continue onwards on that journey once more.
What advice would you give to young/aspiring musicians?
Say ‘yes’, and worry about how later.
Surround yourself with people who support and inspire you, and equally give back.
More practical, but I frequently find myself using this; a gig/work must fulfil two out of the three: working with friends, well paid, develop your craft.
What’s the one thing in the music industry we’re not talking about which you think we should be?
I can see more of it happening – but I think the mental health of musicians can be spoken about more, and how the career/lifestyle eg. freelancing can affect your mental health.
What is your idea of perfect happiness?
Perfect happiness is when you reach a state of ‘flow’ – this could be playing your instrument, laughing with friends, cooking.
J.A.M. String Collective’s 5-track debut EP ‘J∆M’ is released on 5th May. Find out more