Eric & Ernie, Paul & Art, Stan & Ollie, Don & Phil, Don & Walt… perhaps Clifford & Max is the most appropriate analogy. Sometimes two can achieve so much more than just one. The pair that have done more for jazz in Birmingham, and therefore for my live listening pleasure, in the past few years than any other is called Richard & Jonathan. Trombonist and leader of Young Pilgrims, Richard Foote, and drummer, composer and leader of the JS Big Band and JS Sextet, Jonathan Silk, do a lot individually in the Birmingham jazz world and beyond. But together, as promoters at The Spotted Dog in Digbeth, they have, in Richard’s oft-used words, “shared the love” not only with their cohort of Birmingham Conservatoire graduates, but with current students, with older generations of jazz musicians, and with all of us listeners. They have a lot going on at the moment, including the #jazzdoesnaygrowontrees CD just out, and, as our conversation shows, their enthusiasm is infectious.
Q How and when did you get involved with the Tuesday evening jazz nights at The Spotted Dog? Why there?
A We were looking to start up a new night in Brum and were speaking to Mike Fletcher about it when he suggested taking over from him at The Spotted Dog, a night he and Miriam Pau had previously set up on the strength of a one-off Christmas big band event. We started running Jazz at The Spotted Dog in July 2013, and have been raving ever since!
Q What were your aims at the start and how have you realised them?
A Initially we wanted to create a space for local bands to have somewhere to perform creative and innovative music as well as cultivating an exciting environment in which it could be played and listened to. It was always a key focus to try and spread the word of the night to as many people as possible to give the bands a diverse and engaging audience to perform to.
We also wanted to encourage the very best of the national jazz scene to have Birmingham as a key part of the touring network to bring the best creative jazz to our doorstep and establish Birmingham as a key part of the national touring circuit. It is vital to us that it is not just a night for musicians to check out other musicians, but that it is rammed every week with an eclectic and varied audience as excited about hearing this incredible music as we are!
Looking back to when we started, the night is definitely more popular and the quality of the music has only gotten stronger and stronger (although it was never weak!) and we’re really excited to see how far we can push it!
Q What have been the major challenges along the way?
A Amongst the weekly admin grind and the odd act dropping out last minute, the biggest challenge is convincing people that jazz does not grow on trees! and the music that we are putting on is not only worth paying for, but that the suggested £5 donation to the glass is a small ask in comparison to the calibre of music you get to hear, not to mention the discounted drinks!
Q What have been the major successes? And the personal highlights for you?
A Collaborating with Jazzlines to host some otherwise impossible gigs has been a huge highlight and a great opportunity for us to play with heroes such as Stan Sulzmann and Jean Toussaint. Our close links with the Conservatoire help to bring huge names to the local pub such as John O’Gallagher and Julian Argüelles and our links with the Scottish bredren back home enable us to bring the legendary Liane Carroll alongside Malcolm Edmonstone and Andrew Bain to sing with an entire big band at the pub “just because it’s a great hang! “
Q What plans do you have for the future as promoters?
A As well as constantly striving to put on the best music every week, we are currently working on the follow up CD to #jazzdoesnaygrowontrees that will see a collaboration with Stoney Lane records and Flood Studios, both creative outlets also based in the heart of Digbeth. This will be a live CD recorded as part of our Tuesday night gig programme and will showcase more of what is happening in the Birmingham scene. We are also looking forward to hosting another all day big band session on 31 July and looking ahead to a continued programme of cutting-edge jazz at our favourite Irish pub.
Aside from the Dog we will be presenting a radio show on BrumRadio in the near future and the idea is to have a place to play all the new cutting edge jazz that we not only hear at the Dog and Pilgrimage but to include all the other great things happening in Birmingham too including Fizzle, The Red Lion and Jewellers Arms’ sessions to name a few!
Q Tell me about the new compilation CD you have just released.
A The #jazzdoesnaygrowontrees compilation CD highlights a small part of the thriving jazz scene that is being cultivated in this city. We wanted to showcase the creativity and breadth of the different improvisers that we host at the Spotted Dog week in week out whilst also giving a one stop place for people to check out the diversity in Birmingham’s jazz scene. Obviously we couldn’t fit everything in, so we’re super hyped for the follow up! You purchase a copy for a mere £5 at the Spotted Dog or for any readers who live out with the city, send us an email and we can post one out to you! Oh yeah, it’s limited edition too so don’t wait too long!
Q Richard, tell me a bit about Young Pilgrims and what you have planned for them.
A Young Pilgrims has been my main project and focus over the last few years and its been a lot of fun so far! It’s a nine-piece brass band mixing the New Orleans marching band tradition with a focus on the rock and indie music I grew up listening to and we like to jump around a lot! Last year was great with the Paris Jazz Festival and Love Supreme being some of our highlights and we’re looking forward launching the new programme at Pilgrimage alongside promoting our debut album Little Things which will be available on Stoney Lane records and all our gigs!
We’re currently working on new music too which is really exciting and there are some festival appearances in the pipeline at the moment so keep up to date with us on twitter/facebook etc to find out more! Or even better, come hang at Pilgrimage!
Q Jonathan, tell me about your bands and future projects.
A I have recently finished recording my big band again with the addition of a 13-piece string section for this album project. This has been supported by the BBC PAF Legacy fund and I am looking to release the recording in the autumn alongside a tour for the band in both large and small ensemble format. My Sextet had a great year last year playing around the UK, particularly London and Glasgow Jazz Festivals. I plan to do some recording with the band later in the year too.
Q And tell me about Pilgrimage – a change of venue – how do you see that as complementary to what you do at Spotted Dog?
A Pilgrimage began as a residency for Young Pilgrims and an opportunity to explore other music we loved that wouldn’t be suited to the Tuesday night sessions at the Dog. We wanted to go down a different route to Jazz at the Spotted Dog and create a night with more of a club feel to give us the space to present not only jazz music but other genres that either are strongly influenced by the jazz tradition or share a similar ethos to it, wether it be improvisation, groove or harmony.
Each event kicks off with a set from Young Pilgrims and there are no seats for a start (so dancing is strongly recommended!) following that there are two more sets from two different bands with a DJ set well into the early hours! So far it’s been really successful and we’re really looking forward to moving it to the Hare and Hounds (in Kings Heath) as it is a venue with a great reputation and it’s a perfect space for what we are trying to achieve and hopefully grow the night!
It’s also moved to the first Friday of the month and the first one is this Friday (4 March): it features London based ‘FUR’ – a mixture of spiritual jazz, psychedelia and hip-hop – with Cop Music playing all your favourite cop show themes as the final set. ∆ Autumn will be providing their DJing skills for this one too!
We’re also hoping to engage with a new audience in Birmingham, one that maybe didn’t realise they liked jazz or have heard it in this context and hopefully they’ll come to check out the music at the Dog and vice versa!
Q As contributors to the Jazz In Birmingham group (a coming together of promoters in the city which has now produced a bi-monthly what’s on pamphlet), how do you see that helping jazz in the city?
A The new flyer is awesome and to be able to see all the gigs that might be happening across two months in one easily accessible place is great and has loads of benefits, especially for people wanting to check the scene out! It’s great to have all the promoters engaging in a positive dialogue to try and help strengthen the scene and make the most of each venue’s own characters and endeavours to present a well rounded picture of what Jazz in Birmingham has to offer and how exciting all the music is!
Q Any other random thoughts?
A It’s great to see and be part of such an exciting scene at the moment. There’s lots of new nights starting up with real promise and it’s rad to hear all the amazing music being created in Birmingham. Also, jazz is great, it’s really great and its really diverse so go check some out and have a fabulous time!
- For all you need to know about Jazz at The Spotted Dog go here.
- For Jonathan Silk’s website go here.
- For Richard Foote’s Young Pilgrims website go here.
- Tonight at The Spotted Dog you can hear Percy Pursglove’s Far Reaching Dreams Trio. Read my short interview with Percy on London Jazz News here.
- The first Pilgrimage of 2016 is at its new venue this Friday. More here.