Welcome to the first of a series of interviews with some of the best UK Jazz Guitarists. This month we are interviewing Jez Franks, London based jazz and fusion guitar player who has recently released an album with his band ‘Compassionate Dictatorship’. When Jez isn’t touring wit his band or busy as a side man he teaches at the Royal College of Music and Leeds College of music.
Congrats on the new album! Could you tell us a bit about it?
Certainly! It’s all original compositions by myself, and the saxophone player-Tori Freestone. We’ve got Jasper Hoiby on bass and Ben Reynolds on drums, and they are just an absolute joy to work with. As far as the album goes I think it’s a pretty fair representation of my musical ethos (if that doesn’t sound too jumped up!), that is that I want my music to have freedom and rhythmic content, but not at the expense of harmonic content, and I want it to have aggression and fire, whilst maintaining an element of beauty and introspection. It was recorded and mixed by Nick Taylor at Porcupine Studios, and I think he’s really helped to capture the sound of the band.
You graduated from Leeds College, how did you start to find your place in the music scene in London?
I’m not entirely sure I have. I moved down here because virtually everyone I played with in Leeds had already done so. I was also doing the odd gig down here, so it seemed almost as if there was no other option. I’ve been fortunate enough to have played with quite a few great players down here, but I don’t really feel like part of a particular scene, and I never did anything to try to become part of the scene, I just really focused on my own development, both as a player and composer. I’ve always found being part of something very tricky, and I always see myself as existing on the peripheries, where I feel a lot more comfortable-strange really!
There’s so much great music in London, it’s just really healthy to be able to hear it, without feeling that you must be involved in everything that goes on.
Other than compassionate Dictatorship what projects are you involved with?
I’m doing an interesting thing with an accordion player called Koby Isrealite, he’s a very talented musician, and his music is crazy! I could only describe it as Balkan/Kletzma/Thrash Metal ! which is really exciting, as no-one ever wants me to use ‘rock out’ these days, and I’m really into the Balkan odd metre thing. I’m in a band lead by trumpet player Joe Aukland, which will be gigging soon, I play in Loz Speyer’s Time Zone and Darren Altman and Russell Vandenberg’s Centre Line band. Tori and I do a lot of duo gigs and I’m thinking really seriously about putting together a larger ensemble, perhaps a septet.
What are you practising and working on at the moment?
Blimey! Probably very disappointingly fundamental things! A real mixture- a lot of odd metres, time stuff, learning new standards, my tunes. I think I do a bit less practice these days, more listening and thinking, although I did make a new years resolution to do something about my sight-reading!
Who are your influences and what are you listening too at the moment?
Influences- Jarrett (I consider him the ultimate improviser), Holdsworth, Metheney, Sco, rosenwikel, Shorter, Zawinul, John Taylor, Ellery Eskalin, Julian Arguilles, Django Bates-I could go on and on, but I feel it’s also important to mention people who were in my immediate environment when I was learning to play, like Mike Walker, who had a profound effect on me.
I’m listening a fair bit to the latest Meldhau album- progressions , I really like his newer stuff, but we just bought a nice new stereo, so we’ve been going through the collection, listening to Brian Blades’ Fellowship, Weather Report, Stevie Wonder, Radiohead, Bartok and loads more.
You teach at two prestigious music colleges in the UK, how important do you think jazz education is? Do you think it lacks anything? There seems to be a pretty healthy jazz scene in the UK does the college system help younger musicians develop their style
As this is a guitar website, what gear are you using at the moment?
The phrase ‘can of worms ‘ springs to mind! This is a complex subject, and I think there are many pros and cons regarding jazz education. At the end of the day, I have to disregard the ethics of it all, as it comes down to me, in a room with a student and as such, I feel all I can do is try my absolute hardest to help that student fulfill his/her potential, so they can start to express themselves within the jazz idiom, or any other idiom they might be drawn to. I’m certainly not there to inflict my ethos and ideas about what jazz is, or to ‘spread the word’ of how I think it should be approached. I don’t want it to come down to ‘jumping through hoops’, but I realise as soon as any assessment criteria are introduced, this starts to creep in.
I am also acutely aware that every time I show a student something new, I am taking away the joy that they would feel in discovering that thing for themselves, but then sometimes someone will take that thing and run with it, which is lovely! I think, by its nature, the people involved in jazz education are passionate about this thing, and wherever you find passionate people you will find conflict. At the end of the day though, I think you only have to listen to some of the young guys coming out of the colleges to believe that something very positive is happening. They’re really pro-active as well, and are creating their own ‘scene’.
An Epiphone Sheraton, with 60’s PAF’s (I’m boring myself now!), through a Kustom Coupe 2x12 valve amp. I just bought a T Rex Room Mate reverb, and I use a Yamaha Magicstomp for any other effects I need.
You’ve played with some great musicians, anybody stand out in particular?
It was a real experience playing with Gerard Presencer at the launch of the Jazz Awards this year- He just makes the most complex things seem effortless! Also, I would have to say that it’s a privilege to play with the guys in my band- they’re amazing!
Have you got any gigs coming up we should know about?
We’ve got the last leg of the Dictatorship tour coming up soon-
28th Feb-The Hawth crawley
04th March-St Ives Jazz Club
06th March-Tachi Morris Centre-Taunton
07th March-Broomhill Art Hotel-Barnstable
08th march-sherbourne Jazz Club-Dorset
27th March-Spice Of Life –London
We’re also doing the ‘Oxford’ in Kentish Town on 28th April
Whats next for you? More gigs? More recording?
When the tour is over, maybe April/May, I plan to record another Album-we have more than enough stuff, then hopefully another tour, some festivals, maybe a larger ensemble….a crazed plan for world domination…. You know the usual stuff!