Lesson #1 – Smooth Criminal on 2Cellos

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We often assume that violinists only play classical music, saxophonists only play jazz or electric guitarists only play rock music. Wrong! You can play any genre on any instrument…
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‘African’ drumming, the homogenisation of a continent

Media Diversified

Nathan Holder argues that its time to challenge the lazy ways in which UK music education treats musical styles from Africa

European string music has been in existence in Europe for thousands of years. Instruments such as violins, violas, guitars and lutes have provided the soundtrack for coronations, films and permeated into contemporary pop culture through the use of samples or harmonic structures. Children worldwide start their musical journeys by playing European string instruments with some progressing to play famous works by Vivaldi, Paganini and Telemann, as well as playing in European string ensembles in schools.

Ever heard the term ‘European string ensemble’, though? Probably not – because it doesn’t really mean much. Are we talking about a group of violins? Guitars? Contrabasses? A mixture of these and more?

This brings me to my question – why are we still talking about ‘African drumming ensembles’?

Consider the many different cultures…

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How Women Took Over The London Jazz Scene in 2017

2017 saw the beginning of a new generation of young women establish themselves as the new voices and faces of the male dominated UK Jazz scene.

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From left to right: Cassie Kinoshi, Sheila Maurice-Grey, Richie Seivwright (source)

The collective Nérija released their self titled EP in late 2016 and were awarded the Jazz Newcomer Parliamentary Jazz Award 2017 in addition to their Jazz FM Breakthrough Act of the Year 2016 nomination. The eclectic nature of the EP reflects not only the different ethnicities and broad influences that the individuals bring, but showcases writing, arranging and improvisational skills reflective of young musicians who are not just improvisers, but keen students and lovers of the music they play. Though many in the band have studied and performed with some of the best jazz musicians in the country, there seems to be a strong sense of purpose to use those lessons and experiences to push boundaries and create an authentic reflection of the cultures these musicians come from.

‘Making sure that people can view jazz as an accessible, down to earth music that is meant to be relatable is really important to me…’ – Cassie Kinoshi

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Cassie Kinoshi at SEED ensembles EP recording (source)

This thirst for knowledge, exploration and educating their audiences is exemplified in the work of Cassie Kinoshi, the alto saxophonist for Nérija and leader of the 10 piece band SEED Ensemble. Her politically charged music is encased in harmonically complex passages and lively rhythms, with each composition specifically written in response to situations she has either personally encountered or wider issues such as the lack of recognition for the contributions of Caribbean, African and Asian soldiers during both world wars in the UK. She appeared on my podcast earlier this year and spoke about her wide range of influences including Langston Hughes and Jackie McClean, as well as her views on many issues surrounding the state of jazz today. Cassie was joined by other band members including tenor saxophone and flautist Chelsea Carmichael (who could be seen performing at the BBC Proms this year) as well as trumpeter Sheila Maurice-Grey to recorded SEED’s eagerly anticipated debut EP earlier this year. Don’t be surprised come summer to see them performing at festivals not only across the UK, but hopefully around the world too.

I’ve had the pleasure of performing with Sheila Maurice-Grey for almost two years and I am constantly blown away not only her musicianship, but by her work ethic. Booking, organising, performing, and writing alongside other projects are just some of the activities that these women do almost daily. It’s not just about the ability to perform that separates these musicians from many others, it’s a statement about work ethic that is familiar to many people of colour; you have to be twice as good to get half as much. Sheila performed with rappers Little Simz and Kano this year, as well as with Nérija and leading the band KOKOROKO to cement her place as a musician to keep an eye on in 2018.

KOKOROKO’s front line consists of Cassie Kinoshi and trombonist Richie Seivwright who play music ‘inspired by Fela Kuti, Ebo Taylor, Tony Allen and the great sounds that come out of West Africa’. This cultural influence is not only heard but seen in how many of these musicians present themselves on stage, removing themselves from the traditional aesthetics of suit wearing musicians and cocktail sipping audiences by wearing West African prints, singing, dancing and inviting their audiences to do the same. As Cassie told me, this is not the result of detailed marketing strategies and planning but rather one of comfort and personal taste; headwraps and jazz are no longer mutually exclusive.

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Nubya Garcia’s 5ive album artwork (source)

Saxophonist Nubya Garcia appears in a headwrap on the artwork of her EP entitled 5ive which also features Sheila Maurice-Grey on the track Lost Kingdoms, a tune which has over 200,000 plays on Spotify alone to date. Since the release in May 2017, she has gone on to perform in Brazil, appear on BBC Radio 6 with Gilles Peterson, headline at Ronnie Scotts as well as playing in the band, you guessed it – Nérija. She has appeared in numerous articles detailing her work and career path, all seemingly vying to speak to one of the faces of the new London jazz scene before she becomes an international star. Her EP reflects her eclectic influences, with her laid-back style of improvisation and rhythmical interaction with her band engaging the listener without the use of clichéd licks and phrases. Like the music of her contemporaries, you can hear an underpinning of a solid jazz theory education, but diffused into the many different styles personal to members of Nérija, SEED and KOKOROKO. Nubya received a British Jazz Rising Star nomination in 2017, a category which also included fellow saxophonist Camilla George. Camilla’s debut album Isang earned her glowing reviews in the Evening Standard and The Guardian, paving the way for her to support legendary singer Dee Dee Bridgewater at the EFG Jazz festival in November 2017 amongst numerous other gigs up and down the country. Next year promises to be another fruitful one Camilla who Jane Cornwell referred to as ‘the girl with the golden touch’.

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Camilla George (source)

#jazzmum was a hashtag used by Nubya herself to describe pianist Nikki Yeoh who won Jazz FM Instrumentalist of the year in 2017. Although she is not new to the scene having performed with the likes of Chick Corea and Courtney Pine, I’m excited to hear great things from her in 2018, having seen her live with Denys Baptiste earlier this year. Honourable mentions go to Yazz Ahmed who released her album La Saboteuse this year to critical acclaim, guitarist Shirley Tettah who is one of the driving forces in Nérija and pianist Sarah Tandy who features in the Guardians top 40 newcomers of 2018.

One of the most striking aspects about all of these musicians’ success is the sense of community. Most of these musicians mentioned have played together either with Tomorrows Warriors or Jazz Jamaica, and still supporting each others’ projects, contributing to the London sound which is gaining international attention. It’s encouraging to see these women utilise the resources available to them and producing music which is able to speak to so many people on a multitude of different emotional and intellectual levels.

It’s not hard to see that Jazz in 2017 belonged to these remarkable women. In addition to creating great music, they carry a sense of humility that seems to acknowledge what they are doing, but realise that the possibilities are endless, and that 2018 looks set to see a continuation of the new London jazz sound as led by these talented and hard working women. 

Why you shouldn’t freak out in auditions

I get a Facebook message the other day asking me if I’d like to come to an audition.

Me, audition.

I haven’t done one of those in years.

Not that I’m above all of that by any means. It’s just that for the last few years, work in the music industry has come through word of mouth, not from auditions or interviews. But surprisingly I’m not nervous. I’ve been doing what they’re asking for for years so realistically it shouldn’t be a problem, even though this audition could open up some doors to some pretty big stages. Plus the date falls on our day off from our current tour. Perfect.

Until I get there.

I’m in the heart of Mayfair, the most expensive purple spot on the Monopoly board, in a swanky dim lit club where everyone around me is wearing brands I can’t pronounce. I zip my faux leather jacket up to the top to cover my slightly faded white M&S shirt.

There’s another sax player who plays before me and that’s when the nerves start to kick in. He’s a really great player and I’m thinking that at least if he leaves the room when his audition is over, there’s only 3 people left to be embarrassed in front of.

He decides to stay to offer me moral support.

I appreciate this though. I actually want him to get the gig. He’s a cool guy wearing a cool suit – I’d hire him after that performance!

Anyway, I did what I had to do and they smiled afterwards. Good sign. Myself and the other sax player left and had a coffee and geeked out about all things saxophone and music.
Why share this story?

Before I started playing I thought a few things:

I need to practise

Maybe I’m not good enough

I really need to practise

When I got the email a few hours later letting me know that they want to work with me, I thought:

I need to practise

I’m glad I was ready

I hope the other guy got a similar message

I really need to practise

I realised that I felt confident before I heard the other player, but when I did, fear and doubt started to creep in. That email just affirmed to me that you are good enough. You haven’t got this far out of sympathy or charity. You’ve worked hard and the benefits of that are slowly coming.

The same goes for you.

You’ve got this.

Now go and practise.

3 Tips To Find The Perfect Music Teacher

Teacher assisting a girl to play a guitar in classroom at school

Your child wants to play an instrument.

Great.

So you’ve been on a websites and asked friends, trawled through endless names, elaborate biographies and dodgy videos. Once you’ve located a few hopefuls, what should you do?

Ask questions
First of all, its important to know what youwant. Just because Pete Howard* has performed on TV many times, it doesn’t mean he’ll be able to teach your tired child a C major scale after school. Take the time to call any teachers that have potential and tell them about your child, what you want from a teacher and ask what they want from you. The more questions you ask, the better informed you’ll be. It’s like buying a car. Most people will buy car that will not only take them from A – B, but will make the journey as smooth, comfortable and be as reliable as possible. A child’s music teacher can potentially shape the rest of their musical lives. Take your time, get informed and ask questions.

Trial lessons
Again with the car analogies. Test drive! Thankfully many teachers will offer a free trial lesson so take advantage! Visit a few and again, don’t make a decision in a rush. Use this time to see how the teacher interacts with your child, if they are only interested in going from point A to point B, or more invested in the journey. Also, try and sit in during that first lesson. Clearly the teacher in question will be trying to impress you, but it’s best not to just rely on your child’s decision.

Communication
Talk to your child and the teacher. Many children after having one introductory lesson with a smiling and friendly teacher might be inclined to approve without much thought. Try to find out why your child likes the teacher (just saying they’re nice is not reason enough) and even what they didn’t like.

The same goes for the teacher. Be open about your schedules, expectations and the role music plays in your family. Allow the teacher to see if they can fit into your child’s life, after all, they also need to make a decision whether they can really help your child or not.

A good teacher can help your child learn an instrument. A great teacher can help to shape their whole musical lives.

 

*random made up name. If he really exists, I’m sure he’s a great teacher…

#Saxthem

It’s the NFC Championship game on the 22nd Jan 2017 between the Atlanta Falcons and the Green Bay Packers. As traditional before a sporting event in the US, the national anthem was performed. This was a special one with saxophonist Mike Phillips stealing the show before the opening kickoff. 0
Hear how he uses the blues scale at 0:44 add a different ‘flavour’ to the anthem. He doesn’t play the anthem in strict time but instead emphasises different parts of the melody (0:37 for example) by adding extra notes and using particular saxophone techniques. He builds the anthem at 1:06 and uses a technique called circular breathing to extended the note on the word ‘free’. One of the reasons Mike Phillips’ version is so special is because you can hear that this is his clear interpretation of it. He isn’t trying to copy anyone else. He’s played with the late great Prince,  Stevie Wonder and countless other superstars but always retains his unique sound and energy.
National anthems, hymns or other songs with deep meaning do not have to be played in a solemn or sombre way. By watching this video and others like it, children can begin to understand that any song can be interpreted by a performer in any way, and like Mike Phillips demonstrated, if you can do this well, people will remember it forever.

Go Falcons!!

Reblogged from www.nateholdermusic.com

 

Pops Is Still Hot After All These Years

I Can’t Breathe

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Scrolling through my TeamStream feed this morning catching up on the weekends sport, I came across the headline ‘Giants, Yankees Step Up for Fallen NYPD Officer’. The article went on to say that the NY Yankees will be paying for the education of  murdered NYPD officer Rafael Ramos’ sons, and that the New York Giants head coach Tom Coughlin, wore ‘a black strip on his left arm + a peace sign under the NY on his shirt in honor of slain NYPD officers’. While these gestures will in no way make up for the loss of life, they do show that sports teams are truly supportive to victims of heinous acts like murder, brutality and domestic violence. Or are they?

After the murders of Eric Garner and Michael Brown, many basketball and football players joined in the public outrage and showed their support of the fallen men. LeBron James, Kyrie Irving, Derrick Rose, Kevin Garnett and others wore the last words of Eric Garner emblazoned across their chests ‘I Can’t Breathe’.

LeBron James

What happened? The NBA commissioner Adam Silver said that although he respected the players’ stance, he would prefer the players to ‘abide by our on court attire rules’. He might as well have said ‘Yeah do it, it’s good that you have those views. But post it on your Instagram or Twitter. Don’t do it on the NBAs time. We have a brand to protect. Now drink your Gatorade and make sure the cameras see’. Images Tommie Smith and John Carlos come to mind.

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5 members of the St.Louis Rams including wideouts Tayvon Austin, Kenny Britt and Jared Cook, came out of the tunnel before kick-off, and made the ‘Hands Up, Don’t Shoot’ gesture in reference to the killing of Michael Brown. What did Missouri Police labelled the gesture as ‘tasteless, offensive and inflammatory’, also calling for the players to be disciplined. Disciplined?? These are grown men! No sorry… they used to call us ‘boys’. Almost forgot…

ADDITION Raiders Rams Football

And now 2 officers are murdered in New York, and sports teams are first on the scene to offer support.

So it’s not about looking after those affected by murder is it?

The police officers were killed in cold blood. They just happened to be at the wrong place at the wrong time. Paying for the education of the Rafael Ramos’ children is a wonderful gesture (Wenjian Liu had no children) and we all wish we saw more acts of benevolence like that in this world. Eric Garner was killed with the use of an illegal choke hold. He was the father of 6 children and 3 grandchildren. The Yankees, the Mets, the Jets, the Giants, the Nets, the Knicks, the Rangers and the Islanders are all professional sports teams in New York. No money. No apology. Don’t show any support for him at our games. We have a business to run.

It seems as though there is this undying loyalty shown towards law enforcement, where they can do no wrong in the eyes of America. They are enforce the law, and are above it at the same time. And it’s not even about race! It’s not like these 2 officers were white. But they are part of the police force. Law enforcement. There’s a reason why the word force is used rather than police team or law upholders. It means that the values they hold true, will be upheld by force. So go ahead and protest against what we do. Just know that your sports teams are on our side. Your favorite tv shows are on our side. Politicians are on our side. Speak out against us and we will force you to comply, even if it means death. We’ve got you in a choke hold.

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#icantbreathe

Should we still have Black History Month? Part 2

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Following on from Part 1

The history is predominantly to do with slavery and fighting for civil rights. There is hardly any mention of the kingdoms of Mali and Cush. No mention of the history of Black people throughout the world before slavery apart from Egypt. Considering that we often go into English history to 1066 and beyond, there is rarely any mention of successful Black people before the 1800’s.
It should come as no surprise as there is only a particular part of British (or English) history taught anyway. Triumphs in war and the Industrial Revolution are taught rather than the horrors of the Crusades, wars in Ireland and the colonisation of India. In short, we don’t learn about anything negative in British history. And if slavery is brought up, it’s framed as ‘history’, rather than a series of events which influence how we live today. We learn about how the Industrial Revolution affected us directly, but as for slavery – everything is ok now. Look, there’s a Black President! What about Sir Trevor McDonald?!

In the clammer for equality and integration, it seems as though Black people want their history to be recognised as just as important as British history. All of the arguments for an integrated Black history range from examples of the contributions to history, to the social influence that Black people have had. Could it be that that notion in itself is actually quite selfish? If it is really true equality we are after, what about an Asian history month or even integrating Asian history into education?
There are over twice as many Asians in the UK as Black people, as they make up 7.8% of the population of Britain. Large parts of India were effectively ruled by the East India Company, and the British took direct control of India in 1858. There was a genocide before the Partition of India in 1947 which killed between 200,000-500,000 people, and displaced almost 14 million people. Prior to this, the region had one of the richest and advanced cultures in the world, with some of the oldest sacred texts in the world (the Vedas) found there. Asians don’t even get a week. Maybe there are more similarities to Asian and Black history than we realise. For example, the fact that the Caribbean is known as the WEST Indies, and India is part of the EAST Indies, shows that the names were given by Europeans, who produced the maps we use today. Notice how the most used maps have Europe at the center? I digress…

Of course there are so many positives to having a Black History Month, and if it was absorbed into mainstream history, perhaps the many debates, discussions and events could die out too. Should Black people stop arguing about integrating their history into this society and focus energies on setting up centers which teach this history to children and people who are interested? There are so many people researching into the history we aren’t told about, and so much more is out there to be discovered. If Black history is integrated or not, what shouldn’t stop is the quest for knowledge and the truth. The schooling system will never give you all you need to know. I mean, there should be more lobbying for things like mortgages, growing your own food, nutrition and money management to be taught in schools? Media analysis: why is Islam always mentioned when someone who happens to be a Muslim commits a crime, but there are never headlines about the Christian male who raped and killed, with pictures of him proudly displaying a cross tattooed onto his arm?

Ok I’m going so far off topic now.

Let’s stop waiting for information to come to us, and let’s go and get it, regardless of the time of year.

Make Black History every day, I don’t need a month – Kanye West

Should we still have Black History Month? Part 1

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With many thanks to Akyaaba Addai-Sebo, since 1987, the UK has been celebrating BHM in the month of October. Schools up and down the country usually put up displays and encourage students to do a piece of writing, usually focusing on Martin Luther King Jr, Rosa Parks, or others of that ilk. Should BHM continue to be as it is, or should it be, as many would like it to be, integrated into average history lessons and curricula?

Currently in most schools, history lessons focus on a certain selections of history. We in England learn about the Tudors, the Victorians, the two World Wars, how the Allies triumphed, and how the Holocaust was one of the worst events in history. We even learn bits about the French Revolution and the Middle Ages including the Black Death and the Magna Carta. Sure there have been Black people living in Britain for hundreds of years, they played a part in the two World Wars and struggled for equality, but is that any reason to introduce more Black History? Isn’t one month enough?

At the end of the day, England is a White Protestant country. Don’t let Stratford Westfield or Peckham fool you, of the 80 million people living in Britain, Black people only make up 3.5% (1.8million people). To put that number into perspective, you can fit almost all of the UK’s Black people into the built up areas of West Yorkshire. How then on that basis can such a small minority justify changing how history is taught to everyone in the UK? Majority rules right?

Black History Month was often a time growing up where more questions were directed to you, and if you didn’t know an answer, you were likely to be laughed at during break, ‘I thought you were black’. It was unwanted attention and pressure to pay extra attention and raise your hand a little bit more. It wasn’t a time of pride, it was a time of wondering why people were looking at you more than usual. The content of the lessons were a welcome break from hearing about Isambard Kingdom Brunel and Sir Walter Raleigh. Growing older, and reflecting on the things we were told during BHM, questions begin to form.

There is a heavy focus on the 1960‘s Civil Rights movement in America and slavery, in comparison to mention about the Empire Windrush in 1948. I remember going to history class one day, and the teacher told us to stack tables on top of each other, and line them in a semi-circle around the classroom. We were then instructed to lie, one under and one on top of the tables to simulate how slaves were transported to Brazil, America and the Caribbean. As much as it was ‘interesting’ and somewhat informative, growing older, we start to realise that these few events only show a particular selection of Black History. For example, Brazil is hardly ever mentioned as the country which received the most slaves from West Africa. Black British history? John Blanke, Mike Fuller or John Edmonstone? Never.

First of all, the way BHM is at the moment, it lumps together African, African-American and Afro-Caribbean history into one. There is no real distinction between the many differences between these different groups, it’s a broad and fragmented history or people with dark skin. It doesn’t take into account that the experiences in Black America, were and still are very different from the Caribbean, Brazilian, British and African. But of course in one month there is no time to get into things into detail. Really? No time?

We spend 2 years studying for GCSE History exams, but it seems as though it’s more important to remember how many wives Henry VIII murdered, than how many people perished on those slave ships in the Middle Passage. Knowing other trivia like the disgusting ‘Queen Elizabeth I had 1 bath a year’ is absolutely pointless and currently trumps other relevant facts and events such as the evidence that the palace in the Kenyan city of Gedi had indoor toilets and piped water controlled by taps. Even if these facts aren’t deemed relevant, wouldn’t time being best served by learning about why Britain has become so multicultural, and the reasons behind many people wanting to Keep Britain White?

End of Part 1…

Part 2 here