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Friday, 27 July 2012

Indie Jazz Labels

The independent record label has had a boom in recent years, as a means by which jazz musicians can officially release their own music, without having the financial backing of a major label.  The first independent record labels (Sun Records, f. 1952, which released Elvis Presley’s first music; The Beatles’ Apple Records, founded in 1968) were a new concept, breaking away form the big guns, and giving rise to the “Indie” bands of the 80s.  Now, we can technically class many jazz musicians in this city as “Indie” bands, as the Independent record label increasingly becomes the fastest and most effective way of getting your music out there.

There are countless singers and instrumentalists who have self-released albums on their own labels (some are so named that you can easily deduce to whom they belong: Lady K Records (Kelly Dickson); Feenz Beenz (Fini Bearman); and the most recent I’ve seen: Frantic Jazz (owned by jazz manager/entrepreneur Fran Hardcastle, and on whose label the superb debut album from Emma Smith is released).  Some have turned from “Indie” projects into established and sometimes major labels, supporting the jazz scene immeasurably by working with artists at the beginnings of their careers who would struggle to get any airtime with bigger record companies.  

Probably the first example of an independent jazz label would be Bet-Car Records, which was founded in 1970 by Betty Carter after she had had negative experiences with other labels. As an Indie label, she released four albums, before interest from Verve Records led to Bet-Car becoming a Verve imprint in 1987.

In the UK, it is becoming more common for the independent label to mark the way forward for jazz artists, and some of my own peers and colleagues have found it an effective way to develop as an artist.  I spoke to Georgia Mancio about her label, Roomspin Records, which she set up in 2003 after negotiations with a record label regarding her first release, Peaceful Place, broke down.  More talks followed in 2008 for her second album, but again nothing came to fruition, so by the time Mancio came to produce her third album in 2010, she says, “There was no question I'd be releasing it.” 

At first, it seems that there was a stigma attached to self-releasing and at the turn of the millenium not a great deal of musicians were doing it.  Now, though, it seems to be the best way to retain artistic and monetary control, particularly when you can work together with friends and colleagues to share the responsibilities of promotion and financial input.

This is what I’m trying to achieve with my own record label, SaySo Records (so named because my initials SEH can be phonetically pronounced “Say,”, and I wanted a title that wouldn’t obviously be associated with my own name).  In the last year, I have released four albums from four different groups:  The Story So Far (my own quartet); Sector7: The EP; Semi Wogan (by Rick Simpson); and New Kid, from Tim Thornton. 

Three of these groups have major things coming up in 2012: Tim Thornton’s album launch is at Pizza Express on 31st July; Rick Simpson’s quartet will launch Semi Wogan on 12th September, also at Pizza Express; and Sector7 have an autumn UK tour including two London dates (1st December at Kings Place and 9th December at Hideaway – which will be a world premier of the Sector7 Big Band).  2013 will see the first SaySo Records festival at The Spice of Life.

It’s by no means an easy job running a record label, and in a way it’s second to the desire to be a live jazz musician, but the more I get into this career, the more I realise that the two go hand in hand, as to be successful you must have good-quality recordings out there.  It’s also important not to do it all on your own - I have found a great deal of comfort in working with Rick and Tim on their own releases - they could well have released the records themselves, but on making it a collective effort, it diminishes the stress and the solitary feeling one can sometimes get from being a musician in this vast jazz scene.

Get in touch with SaySo Records:

Friday, 6 July 2012

Photo Fits

Here's a photo representation of what I've been up to since the last newsletter...

Sunday 27th May
144 Jazz Club in Rochester ("The Ronnie Scott's of Medway!")
I played here in October as part of my most recent UK tour, and they invited me back for a Sunday lunchtime gig.
So here I am with evidence of my previous appearance - pride of place in the "Staircase Hall of Fame."

Sunday 27th May
Da Scalzo restaurant, Elizabeth Street, London
A fantastic family-run Italian restaurant.  You can just about make out the chalk board (it's considered un-PC to call it a
"black board" now, you know!) with my name at the bottom right and... on the left, an advertisement for their upstairs
art gallery......

...... a collection of Italian toy cars.

Sunday 3rd June
Milestones Jazz Club, Lowestoft
Lowestoft is the furthest east point on mainland Britain.  (Can anyone tell me the furthest West, South and North?)
As such, a trip to Lowestoft and back in one night is tiring!  Hence pianist Rick Simpson's coke/red bull cocktail.

Wednesday 6th June
Ronnie Scott's Jazz Club
I performed at Ronnie's on Monday 18th June as part of Renato D'Aellio's "Acoustic Jazz Lounge" which is a Monday night fixture in the upstairs bar.  I didn't manage to get any pictures of that night, but I had been snapped singing on the main stage during the late late show a couple of weeks previously.  This picture I think is fantastic - showing real skill from photographer Benjamin Amure for getting these vibrant colours to work so well together.  And who would have thought that a combination of no make-up, glasses, greasy hair and trainers would actually work?!!

Wednesday 13th June
The Spice of Life, Soho
I went to see the Callum Au Big Band play their fantastic West Side Story suite (and reviewed it here:
 I inadvertently stood in front of an artist who had been trying to draw the band... so he drew me instead!
"Hips of a hip chick."

Sunday 17th June
Margam Orangery, Port Talbot.
This is one of two banners for gigs in June that had a picture of my face that was as big as my face!

Sunday 17th June
Cardiff Central Station.
An inquisitive seagull.

Sunday 24th June
Ziggy's World Jazz Club, Enfield
The second banner where my face is ACTUALLY the same size as my face!

Thursday 28th June
Hideaway, Streatham
As its name suggests, Hideaway Jazz Club is "hidden away" down an alley off the high street.  The proprietors have made an excellent decision to have a Hideaway cafe at the front with live jazz playing, and an opportunity for passers-by to see the listings for the week - old-school cinema style!

Friday 29th June
"Oxford Live Jazz Club" at Carswell Country Club, Faringdon, Oxon.
From left to right: Dave O'Higgins, Darren Altman, me, Rick Simpson, Connor Chaplin.

Saturday 30th June
Oxford Town Hall (total coincidence that I had two gigs in Oxfordshire two nights running)
What an amazing hall!  This was a gig with "King Candy and the Sugar Push," a brilliant swing dance band, who were playing for the Oxford Lindy Exchange.  I've done a number of gigs with this band, and with other dance bands, so have seen many dancers doing their thing.  This was one of the best dance nights I have ever been to - the standard was superb, and it's great to be able to sing at a gig like this because I get the privilege of looking out at the dancers (rather than them looking up at me) and marvelling at their skill.

Now a few photos that my sister took at Margam Orangery...

No, that's not me playing the bass.

Great window shadows.

Bec noticed that quite a few times in the set I made a gesture like this guy in the background.... and managed to capture one.  Separated at birth?!

Thursday, 5 July 2012

Sector7 Heaven

Sector7 has had a busy May and June.

From my perspective, I've spent most of those two months on the blower/email (typer?) organising gigs for an autumn tour for the band.  We've got a superb list of gigs lined up for October and December, and these will be advertised in next month's newsletter.  For now, you can check gig listings on the Sector7 website:

From the public's perspective, we've had a couple of great gigs and been featured on Jazz FM.

Bob Sinfield - presenter of the One O'Clock jump on a Saturday - was so impressed with the group when he came to my album launch in February (Sector7 sang a couple of songs given that our version of Spain is a bonus track at the end of my most recent album), that he invited us into the studio to do a couple of numbers and answer a few questions.  As it was a live show, I had to do the classic "listen again" when I got home, and recorded the session for all you Sector7-mad fans out there!  So here it is:

Simon Carter runs a fantastic jazz night at The Boaters in Kingston which, having been going nearly every Sunday since 1990, is one of the longest running weekly jazz nights in the capital.  Usually, Simon plays keyboards himself and invites the rest of the rhythm section plus a guest soloist (the likes of Natalie Williams, Simon Allen, Jacqui Hicks are frequenters).  However, being a busy session musician and doing a number of pop tours, Simon is quite often away on a Sunday, so on this particular Sunday in May, he needed a full band to take the reins.  In steps Sector7!

The Boaters was packed - owing much to the atmosphere of the pub and the enthusiasm of the landlord - and we did a fantastic gig to a fantastic crowd.

Amazing advertising at Ziggy's World Jazz Club, Enfield
The end of June saw Sector7 taking the stage at Ziggy's World Jazz Club - a new venture at the Dugdale Centre in the heart of Enfield Town.  Ziggy's is a once-monthly jazz club that has been going since March.  We were sharing the bill with organisers Steve Taylor and Josie Frater's band "World Runners," and had a great gig to a sell-out audience.  We'll be back there in the new year.

What struck me most about this gig was the advertising: walking up from the station, the impressive Dugdale Centre had most of the front facade adorned with posters of activities going on.  I immediately spotted a Sector7 poster and went up to get my photo taken in front of it (for blog purposes!).  But I quickly spotted a much better photo opportunity in an A-board just by the side with Sector7 pictures all over it... and walking over towards that, what should I see on the other side, but this gigantic poster (above) with a picture that was ACTUALLY life-sized!  Apparently, there were two of these banners produced and attached to the railings, but one was stolen before the gig!  So someone, somewhere, has a life-sized picture of Sector7 in their bedroom!

Sector7 has been the feature of a South London music blog: time and leisure.  I met their correspondant in Peckham to chat about the future plans for the band.  The first paragraph has a little comment about my ability to cross the road in Peckham (!) but the rest of the article is interesting and well-written.

"Playing tonight" at Pizza Express
Some of you may be aware of the personnel change at Sector7.  We are saying goodbye to two of our amazing singers: Kwabs and Shakka.  They are both moving on to greater things, so our last gig with both of them was last night at Pizza Express.  It was brilliant!  There'll be some footage coming up soon.