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Wednesday, 12 August 2015 16:13

Ten questions for Ian Chalk, English jazz trumpet player

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Ian Chalk is a professional musician, tutor and music producer based in York in the UK, with over 30 years experience of playing trumpet and tutoring brass instrumentalists. His most recent solo album, Dreamsville, was released on 22nd May, and is available on Bandcamp. He is also a member of the Firebird Quartet

1. What kind of music were you raised on?

Given the music I listen to and perform you would think the house would have been filled with sounds from all the jazz greats, sitting round the dinner table listening to Kind Of Blue or A Love Supreme, but that wasn't the case. On a morning before school the radio would be on Radio 2, Terry Wogan and, later, Radio 1 and Mike Read. So I was listening to pop, rock and hits of the day. This was in the late 70s and early 80s. My parents didn't have a huge record collection and I seem to remember Barry Manilow and Barbara Streisand featured strongly (and there's nothing wrong with that at all!). 

Having two older brothers meant I listened to what they were listening to. So my favourite bands at the time were (and still are!) The Police, The Jam and The Beat.

I didn't start listening to any jazz until some friends and I formed a big band (we all played in the same brass band and fancied playing in a different style). I found myself having to improvise short solos within the big band arrangements we had so I had to work out how to do that. A sensible place to start seemed to be to listen to other people doing it so I bought some Glenn Miller and Stan Kenton albums (that was the type of stuff we were playing) and tried to understand what was happening. That was the beginning of a long road of discovery which I suspect and hope will never end.

2. Do you think there should be more jazz improvisation?

Improvisation is central to what jazz is so more jazz 'improvisation' means more jazz and I'm all in favour of that! Improvisation is an important part of much of the music that is created and performed throughout the world (not just jazz) and I believe all musicians should be comfortable creating and executing music without preparing it beforehand. Music is an expressive art form and improvising allows you to properly express how you are in that precise moment. Your mood and feelings are constantly changing which means that the music you improvise changes too so the sounds you create are always fresh and unique. What greater goal could there be for a musician than to create music which shows who you are and how you are feeling at the time you created it? Louis Armstrong said it best: "You is what you blow".

3. In your opinion, could there ever be too much scatting?

'Scatting' is vocal improvisation and I believe every musician (not just singers) should use it to better explore their own musical creativity. Using your voice in this way is a direct method for you to get to grips with your own, unique musical ideas as there are no barriers between you and the creation of the notes and phrases. This makes it easier to execute on your instrument what you hear in your head. 

4. How do you think your new album differs from the last one? 

Dreamsville is a rather different project from my last album (DownTime) and is an eclectic mix of music from a wide range of genres framed in lush, warm string arrangements (created by George Hall) but a couple of cool grooves in there as well. In many respects 'Dreamsville' isn't a jazz album in a traditional sense (although there are a few jazz tunes present, All The Things You Are, The Party's Over, for example) but more an attempt to understand the value of melody and phrasing in the way Sinatra did with albums like In The Wee Small Hours Of The Morning. We've tried to create an album which is warm and comfortable but with an underlying sense of melancholy. Find it at www.ianchalk.bandcamp.com

5. You are also a teacher: do you think this fits well with your schedule as musician?

I'm a brass and jazz tutor/musical director and teach in schools, colleges and universities as well as workshops and I have a portfolio of private students. Generally I do that during the day and early evening and gigs happen later in the day so it all generally fits together well. The nature of my teaching means I can usually move things around to keep everyone happy!

I love teaching and it's thrilling to create an environment for musicians to develop and grow their skills but the best aspect of it is what you learn for yourself from your students. It's very much a two-way street. 


6. How do you think the UK jazz scene has evolved in recent years?

Jazz by its very nature evolves and so do the musicians who perform it. It's like the expanding universe; heading off in all directions at once. On a very simple level there seems to be more and more places putting jazz on creating more performance opportunities for jazz musicians. On the face of it this seems like a very good thing and it is. However, I am a little wary of the growth of 'open mic sessions'. The 'jam session' is an important tradition in the jazz world and it allows musicians to try new things out and develop their skills. What worries me is it also allows venues to put jazz on and not have to pay for a full band, maybe just a couple of people. Jazz on the cheap. What I want to see are more venues willing to hire established bands who have rehearsed and have carefully developed their music as the quality will be higher and the music can continue to grow an audience across all generations as the current one is gradually dying out.

7. Apart from the trumpet, do you have any other instruments you like and play?

I'm not proficient on any other instrument! Trumpet has enough technical challenges to keep me happy for the rest of my career. That said, I can play enough piano to bash through some chords while a student improvises over a jazz tune and that side of my game is improving all the time which really helps with my own understanding of harmonic structures and shapes.

8. We talked last year when DownTime had just come out, what's new in your world? 

Other than the release of Dreamsville I'm currently planning the launch of the York Jazz Initiative which has the aim of making York a centre of excellence for jazz education.  We'll do this by making available a range of education opportunities for young people and adults alike including ensembles (big and small), individual tuition, distance learning, workshops and performance opportunities. This will be available for all levels of development from beginner to experienced performer. We are also planning a York Jazz Festival for 2017!

Many of the different strands of YJI are already in place. In fact, our adult education big band has been in place a few years now and is going from strength to strength. As Director of YJI, I am absolutely committed to providing jazz opportunities to everyone who wants them and to make sure we all have a lot of fun in the process!

9. Given your busy schedule, do you have any time for reading? And if so, what do you choose? 

To my eternal shame I don't find time to read many books other than things like The Lydian Chromatic Concept by David Baker which, to be honest, lacks a little in plot and character development but is still a very good read! Occasionally I do return to Miles's autobiography which is a joy from start to finish.

10. What is jazz for you? In three words…. (no pressure there)

How on earth do I even begin to answer that question?

'Swing and groove'? 'Joy and pain'? 'Pay my mortgage'?

I'm going to go with 'freedom of expression'.


Interview by Erminia Yardley. Photos courtesy of Ian Chalk/Firebird Quartet, used with permission.

Read 3572 times Last modified on Wednesday, 12 August 2015 18:03

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