High quality jazz made in the South of England
.- Interview with Bad Ass Brass -.
A joyful musical experience; that’s what they have to offer and what people can undoubtedly expect.
This week, Bad Ass Brass are visiting Manchester.
Over the next few days, this London-based band will be travelling the 166 miles that separate the two cities to offer Mancunians a great opportunity to listen live to their funky jazz.
Bad Ass Brass is vivacious.
Its eight members take the best of the traditional New Orleans music and make it look modern and bright. They are all talented musicians with very diverse backgrounds —their careers are linked to the theatre, other orchestras and big bands— who compose cheerful and electric tunes and, occasionally, breath new life into popular songs previously played by Louis Armstrong or Ray Charles.
Many of those tracks are already part of their first (self-titled) album, released in 2010. However, in 2012, the band has started to record new tunes for a CD they would like to launch very soon.
Autumn has been busy as well. So far Bad Ass Brass performed in Newcastle, Sheffield and Gloucestershire; the band is playing in London this week, and on Saturday 13th October, it will be travelling to Manchester to close their debut UK tour at Matt and Phreds.
Just about to get on the road, Jon Stokes —guilty of having brought together such a skillful group of musicians— spares a few minutes of his time to speak about the band, and their present and future plans.
I.B.: Bad Ass Brass started with you getting together the best team – why did you think of a brass band?
Jon Stokes: I was raised playing the trombone. I started to play when I was 11 and so you just get caught up in that whole world. I was really into big bands and jazz and things like that. And it wasn’t until a coach journey when a tuba player played me some new blood brass band and I said “Wow, why I haven’t heard this before?”. It is absolutely incredible, you know. It was such a feel good funky vibration that I really got into it and I thought: “That’s the kind of thing I really want do”.
I.B.: And in 2008 you created Bad Ass Brass. How did it happen?
J.S.: A lot of us were studying at the Royal College of Music at that time in London. We had been listening to a lot of bands, like Youngblood Brass Band, Dirty Dozen Brass Band, and New Orleans Nightscrawlers, and I was really keen to put together a New Orleans inspired brass band, but with really intricate jazz soloists to go on top of it and then also a real sensible ensemble —that you only get from a sort of swing big band from the 90s and 40s and 50s like Count Basie—. I wanted to bring all these elements together to create a really sort of tight funky soul brass band sound, and Paul Munday, one of the trumpet players in the band, actually forced me to bring all the players I wanted, and get it all going.
I.B.: All that happened in 2008 but how has Bad Ass Brass evolved since then?
J.S.: It is funny because a few of the guys in the band came from a classical background, including myself, so we were all studying orchestra playing and solo playing at the Royal College of Music in London –even though I was into big bands. Doing this band has definitely improved and inspired me as a jazz musician, and the same applies for our tuba player Mike Poyser, and our trumpet player Paul Munday. Mike now plays the sousaphone and sound is absolutely incredible. He is gone from being an orchestra tuba player, which he still does, to being this totally unique forward-thinking sousaphone player, which is quite incredible. And the same with a lot of the guys in the band: it has really pushed us and inspired us as individuals as well as getting the band going, and as a result the shape of the band has changed and there is a lot more emphasis on the jazz now than there was at the beginning. We used to take the odd solo here and there and now there are just huge all-improvised solo sections with all of us blowing with each other… All the grooves started to change, all the ideas started to change, and as we grow the band grows. Basically, the band helps us to improve as musicians; it is an excellent vehicle for every single player in the band to bring what they can do into it. I suppose when you are just singing in a show or singing in a big band you have to do it their way by playing the same as everyone else, but in Bad Ass Brass you can bring your own skills into the room and create something truly unique. The band is constantly evolving and that’s pushing the musicians to evolve with it and then that makes the band evolve even further! So it’s an incredible thing!
I.B.: And where is it going? What does the future look like?
J.S.: To be honest I am not very sure. I just think we are enjoying what we are doing right now. As long as we are going to be making good music and we grow, we are happy. Looking to the future we’d obviously love to get the new album out and keep writing new tunes and keep playing great concerts all over the place. I think we’d love to get into Europe. We would love to go and play a few gigs over there, in France maybe, and see what happens –see if they like it. Yeah, as long as we are still playing, we’ll be happy!
I.B.: There are brass bands were the vocal element is very important. However, in the case of your band the majority of the tunes are instrumental. Is it more difficult to tell a story and reach the crowd when you haven’t got any lyrics?
J.S.: I think it is very different. The vocalist didn’t really become a part of pop music until very recently. In the grand scheme of things, instrumental music was pop music for a very long time, you know right up until at least 1940s. People just got used to hearing the lyrics and that’s how they get the story across. It is no longer really about the melody and with an instrument that is the one thing you’ve got, you can make up your own lyrics if you like and you just get involved in a melody and the harmony of the song. That’s what is so beautiful about it that’s what we aim to do: create a great groove with a great melody and great soloist that evokes different emotions in people, I suppose, without having to have the lyrics. It is very difficult, people definitely got used to vocalists and it is a hard thing to break out. A question we get a lot is “Have you ever thought of having a vocalist?” and I say “one vocal member but that’s it!”.
I.B.: The strength of Bad Ass Brass is being a well-connected bunch of very good musicians. But, just before finishing, if you had to define each member of Bad Ass Brass, just with one word, what would you say?
J.S.: That’s a difficult one…! Well, Jimmy Norden on drums would be… is crazy actually; Gavin Broom on trumpet would be late; Paul Munday on trumpet would be indispensable, and Mike Poyser on sousaphone would be hard-working. Jean-Paul Gervasoni would be suave; Gemma Moore, lovely; and Sam Bullard, if we were allowed two words, would be Alan Partridge.
I.B.: Last week you went to Sheffield, Newcastle and Tewkesbury. You will be in London this week, and Manchester closes your UK tour. What will those going to Matt and Phreds see on Saturday 13th October?
J.S.: On Saturday 13th October we will do three sets, starting at 9pm, and… it should be a fantastic night! Russell Bennett —who is good friend of the band and has written lots of tunes for us— is joining us for this tour, and we’ll definitely be playing tunes of the album, New Orleans standards like Bourbon Street Parade or Funky Mamma, and a lot of tunes written by Gavin. We have also got new tunes from Russell Bennett and also new tunes from Sam. So lots and lots of great new stuff to come and check out!
Who are Bad Ass Brass? Jon Stokes – Trombone/vocals, Jean-Paul Gervasoni – Trumpet, Paul Muday – Trumpet / flugelhorn, Gavin Broom – Trumpet, Sam Bullard – Tenor and Alto Saxophones, Gemma Moore – Baritone Saxophone / Flute / Clarinet, Mike Poyser – Sousaphone, Jimmy Norden – Drums / percussion
Why Bad Ass Brass? “We didn’t know what to call it and the tuba player Mike Poyser came up with the name”, says Jon Stokes, “It was more of a joke really but we use it in our first gig and got a very good reaction, so we keep using it!”
Genre: Funky jazz
Their album: Their first self-titled first album was released in 2010 with songs like Human Traffic and Big Shake Up. Amongst their new songs, there are titles like Sugar Rum Complete and the popular Louise Armstrong’s You Rascal You.
Where to find them: Everywhere on the Internet (Facebook, Twitter, etc.) They have their own website with tracks, videos and a list of upcoming gigs http://www.badassbrass.co.uk/about/ You can also listen to some tracks on Soundcloud: http://soundcloud.com/badassbrass/tracks Definitely worth checking this out and seeing them live if you can turn up to any of their gigs!