John Warren directs LCoM Contemporary Jazz Orchestra
Monday 3rd December, 7.30pm
Acclaimed composer and arranger John Warren will lead Leeds College of Music's contemporary jazz orchestra next week in a concert featuring his music. As well as directing his own big band for many years, he contributed works to John Surman’s Brass Project, and has been commissioned by the foremost jazz ensembles across Europe, including Danish Radio Big Band; BBC Big Band, Tim Garland’s Northern Underground Jazz Orchestra, and The Dedication Orchestra. For the last fifteen years he has directed the North East- based Voice of the North Jazz Orchestra in concerts of his own music and that of leading guest artists. Jazz Yorkshire caught up with John to discuss the LCoM project, composition and music...
You've recently been working with students at Leeds College of Music. How did that project come about and how has it been going?
I was speaking to Jami Sherriff after his concert at the The Venue earlier this year and he invited me to do a project with the Contemporary Jazz Orchestra. I welcomed the opportunity to work with a new crop of talented musicians. I have played my music with players at many of the music colleges and it is always a rewarding and instructive experience to hear what they bring to the music. We will be doing a mix of old and new pieces. One is a complete revamp of a chart wrote for a German radio band back in the 70s. The newer work will include three sections of work in progress based on First Nations legends.
Apart from the work with LCM, what other projects have you been involved in this year?
This was the last year of the Voice of the North Jazz Orchestra which I have directed since it began in 1996, We did three concerts - two featuring music by one of the members of the band, tenorist Graeme Wilson,The final gig was with Julian Siegel as guest soloist and he wrote a new piece for the band. As we have done over the years, we play works by the guest artist alongside some of my music. It makes for an interesting programme. In June I had the opportunity to work with the big band at the Guildhall School of Music alongside John Surman. We performed the suite Tales of the Algonquin which John and I had recorded forty years ago. This came about because we had done it last year in Sweden with the Bohuslan Big Band and it was a great success.
What have you been listening to recently - have you got a favourite artist or album?
Since I have moved house I haven't been listening to CDs but I check out things on You Tube and Spotify that others draw my attention to. But mainly I keep going back to the people that first inspired me like Evans, Ellington, Bill Holman, Brookmeyer, Mingus, Monk. The live music I tend to go and hear are chamber and choral music, particularly baroque or early music.
When you compose, do you have a method you follow? What influences the music you write?
I just grab any idea that comes to me whether it is a fragment of melody, a bass line, a rhythmic figure - then play around with it until I can figure out what the possibilities are, and worry it into some form or structure. After much work, doubt, indecision and sometimes elation it might get to the stage of a finished piece. Almost at the outset I think in terms of individual players. Even if the person I am thinking of doesn't end up playing it, the exercise spurs me on. Anything can influence the process of writing - a fragment of something I hear, a conversation with someone, something I see in nature - anything really can have an effect on the way I think about what I am writing.