Friday 23 November 2012

The Friday Interview: Django Bates

November 29th - Sheffield Crucible Theatre
November 30th - Wakefield Jazz
December 1st - The Venue, Leeds College of Music

Pianist, horn player, composer, educator and professional hat-wearer Django Bates has led a varied and creative career and made a significant impact on both British and European jazz scenes with projects like  Loose Tubes, StoRMChaser and now his trio Beloved to name but a few. So loyal are his fans that when StoRMChaser toured the UK in 2008, one fan, Jeffrey Richter, made the trip from Seattle to see every show and was invited to travel on the tour bus with the band.

"Django and his manager (Jeremy Farnell) were very gracious to me. I was able to help set up, I knew all the songs, and loved every minute of it. Every show was unique and band had incredible energy."

Ahead of the his 3 Yorkshire dates, we spoke to Django about the trio, being a teacher and how he composes...

The venues you'll be playing at vary in size and design a lot (club venue, concert hall etc). How does that affect how you think about the music and the decisions you'll make?

It’s good to play a variety of venues because the character of each club, theatre, or other space, has a big effect on our performance and that keeps the music fresh each night. During our sound check, Beloved get a feel for the acoustics and vibes of the venue and then I choose the programme based on that feeling.  

Apart from this trio, tell us a bit about the other projects you are involved in at the moment?  

I’m writing for the Sønderjyllands Orchestra in Denmark and arranging pieces such as Sad Afrika that they will perform in November 2013. I must start a year ahead as it’s a mammoth project. I’m also expanding most of my Charlie Parker arrangements for the Swedish Norbotten bigband. Beloved will perform with them: an exciting way to take the trio to Sweden. 

As an educator, do you have a teaching method that you follow? What do you think is most important in jazz education? 

I wouldn’t call it a method; for instance, I have lots of techniques for teaching improvisation over challenging forms, but these techniques are constantly evolving and reflect my most recent playing and composing experiences. The most important thing in jazz education is to remember that we PLAY music; when I'm teaching I choose to celebrate the PLAYING and the PLAYFUL aspects of our art form.  

What music have you listened to recently - is there an album or musician(s) that you're particularly drawn to at the moment? 

When I’m teaching I refer to a vast array of composers and performers that students may not have discovered, then I get reminded of these artists and start a spate of listening to them myself! Recently it’s been composers Claus Ogerman, Morton Feldman, Don MacLean, Zawinul… and bands: Sidsel Endresen, Farmers Market, Troyka, Brotherly... So my listening habits are also constantly evolving. 

As a trio, how did you approach the Charlie Parker tunes you recorded on the two albums (and when you perform them live) - did you have a specific arrangement in mind for each one, or did the finished article grow out of playing together as group and trying things out? 

I arranged the Parker tunes myself, with one exception, and took them to the trio for many hours of careful rehearsal. The exception was Moose The Mooche for which Petter and Peter made a wonderful suggestion. Unfortunately I can’t explain their suggestion here, it’s too complicated! I like to give each arrangement a distinct character by always focusing on different elements within Parker’s melodies.

You've said before that you were fond of "metric games" - how much of what goes on in the music is arranged or at least talked about, and how much is action/reaction that comes through playing together a lot?

The metric stuff is written before the band get the music but it is written very much with them in mind. They are full of ideas and constantly reinvent their own playing within the pieces. Before we started using Parker’s music as inspiration we had two years of regular rehearsals where we just played free. This gave us a solid “band feeling” and it has strongly informed the writing that I do for this trio.

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