An interview with: the Callum Au Big Band

 Callum with CABB (2012)At this year’s Two Moors Festival main two-week event in October, the very first concert – taking place on the 16th at St Peter’s and St Mary Magdalene’s Church in Barnstaple, North Devon – is a charity concert in aid of the Calvert Trust Exmoor, Barnstaple Samaritans and the festival’s work in rural areas put on by one of the most vibrant young big bands in Britain – the Callum Au Big Band. We caught up with director Callum to find out more about the band and the upcoming concert.

2MF: How did the Big Band form?

Callum Au (CA): Almost all of the band’s members (everyone but the drummer, actually) met while playing in England’s National Youth Jazz Orchestra. We had a really strong team during my time with that band, and I thought it’d be fun to bring together the best of those guys and form a new band to play some new music that I had written. Our first gig took place in the back room of a pub in Oxford with the great British trombonist Mark Nightingale in 2009.

2MF: What’s been the musical highlight for the band so far?

CA: Undoubtedly, recording our debut album Something’s Coming in Angel Studios, Islington. We spent a week rehearsing the material intensively before going into the studio and recording everything in one day (!) with Grammy-winning producer and engineer Steve Price. It’s very rare that a big band gets to do something like that in today’s economic climate, particularly with such intensive rehearsal requirements, and there was a really good feeling in the band throughout the time we were there. Working with guest artists like Nigel Hitchcock (sax) and Gareth Lockrane (flute) was the icing on the cake.

2MF: What piece do you all most like to play?

CA: There are, quite deliberately, people with a wide range of musical tastes and individual styles within the band – so I’m sure everyone has their own personal favourite! One of my favourites is a tune that was written by Gareth Lockrane called Fistfight at the Barndance – it’s a rip-roaring New Orleans-influenced feature for bass trombone and soprano sax. But I’m sure if you asked around, everyone would come up with a different answer.

2MF: What can audiences expect when they come to see you?

CA: My musical policy is to include new and exciting music for big band that will appeal to the widest possible audience. So I hope that audiences will like what they hear! Listening to a live big band is an exhilarating experience – you don’t often get to hear that combination of brass and saxes going at full battle volume, and it really takes some people by surprise.

2MF: Tell us about the programme for the Festival.

CA: I knew that the concert would be attended by a variety of people – both jazz and big band fans and people who have never seen a big band in their life. Due to the Festival’s strong classical music focus and Bosendorfer grand piano, I decided to include some classical repertoire that I’ve rearranged and adapted for big band – the West Side Story suite and Rhapsody in Blue. I have also included some new music written specially for the band by some of its members – Freddie Gavita’s Beloved and Gareth Lockrane’s Roots – both of these tunes feature on our new album, and I always think it’s important to play new music to broaden the art form as a whole. Finally, I’ve included a couple of genre classics in Basie’s All of Me and Ellington’s Beginning to See The Light so that traditional big band fans won’t be disappointed!

2MF: What do you think of the festival’s theme of Light this year?

CA: It’s an interesting theme – and it has a lot of scope for interpretation. Our inclusion of Duke Ellington’s Beginning to See the Light is our major contribution.

2MF: Have you played in a church before?

CA: I’ve never played in a church with a big band before, although I’ve played in plenty of them with brass groups. It’s hard to know what the acoustics will be like – as there are as many different acoustics as there are churches. We’ll have to wait and see!

2MF: What advice do you have for any young musician trying to make it as a jazz player?

CA: Listen to a lot of jazz as often as possible to really internalise the language, and transcribe solos that you really like. Play music with other people as much as possible – there’s only so much you can get out of sitting in your bedroom practising, and if you get out there and play with others, your development will be much faster. Remember that there are other sorts of music – there’s a lot to be learned from classical music and soul/funk as well – and anything else that you enjoy!


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