The former BBC Jazz Award-winning tenor saxophonist discusses the latest Partisans album By Proxy
How did Partisans come about?
I’m from Nottingham and I came down to London in the early ‘90s and met guitarist Phil Robson who’s from Derby, my neck of the woods. We hit it off and started playing with various combinations and then hit on the current line-up. The first record had the title Partisan – and it’s stuck.
How is By Proxy different from previous Partisans discs?
We’ve done four now. On the last one, Max, we had some great guests. We wanted to go back to the original feel of being just a quartet as most of the gigs we do have been just quartet. Somebody once said that we’re a quartet that plays like a trio. I like that – it’s definitely not just saxophone with a trio backing, it’s very tight-knit.
You’ve got Duke Ellington’s ‘Prelude to a Kiss’ on there?
I really like ‘Prelude to a Kiss’ (click above right to hear a clip) and we played a re-harmonisation with a drum and bass groove on it at a couple of gigs. When we did it in the studio we wanted to beef it up and we gave our bassist Thaddeus Kelly the job. We said ‘OK, you’ve a week’ and he did.
How much of the album is composed?
I’d say that around five per cent is composed and the rest improvised. The band’s strength, as with all jazz is letting people have the freedom and the dialogue without getting in the way. So as a composer it’s a case of always looking to not join all the dots and leaving some things unanswered and then you can leave that to the band. No two performances are the same.
You been referred to as the ‘godfathers of post-jazz’. What’s your take on that label?
Well... I’ve no idea! It’s not really for me to say: we think of calling it things ourselves and then we think: ‘Well it’s jazz really’. It’s contemporary improvised music – lots of improvisation and groove… it’s already getting really hard to describe. The best thing is to whack it on and see if you like it!
You’ve got followers from anarcho-punk group Crass?
Yes, they used to come to gigs and scream out at the front and then we got to meet them. They’ve been involved with the artwork on all our records. This time it was done by Bronwyn Jones, [aka singer ‘Eve Libertine’]. We’ve also done gigs with them. Jazz is thriving music but it really thrives when it isn’t just itself but when people bring their own influences in to it. It’s not punk rock but they like the energy that we play with. If you went to see John Coltrane’s quartet – without in any way comparing us to that band – the energy they played with, or that of Miles Davis’s band, would have been sky high.
What got you into playing jazz in the first place?
It was listening to my dad’s records. I was surrounded by tenor saxophone players like Eddie Davis and Ben Webster. Then being taken to concerts: I saw loads of singers like Sarah Vaughan and Joe Williams. Wherever my parents were going they took me to good music. I didn’t always want to go but they made me.
Interview by Neil McKim
Audio clip: Partisans: 'Prelude to a Kiss'
CD Details: Partisans: By Proxy
Julian Siegl (sax), Phil Robson (guitar), Thaddeus Kelly (bass), Gene Calderazzo (drums)
Babel BDV 2983
For more information on Partisans see: www.myspace.com/thebandpartisans