The jazz pianist will be at Woolwich Works for his first ever performance south of the river, so we sat down with him to hear all about his biggest influences, how his new trio came together and what to expect from their concert.
Hi Tom, you’re known on the London jazz scene for playing with the band Phoenician Blinds, so how did your jazz trio come about?
During the pandemic I was working on a bunch of new stuff. Essentially, I wasn’t too sure it would be something for Phoenician Blinds. I always really wanted to go and do a trio thing but never really had the confidence. I never felt confident enough as a musician to make that leap.
So I started working on this new stuff and then I thought screw it, let’s give it a shot. There’s a pandemic and not much to do, so I reached out to some of my absolute favourite jazz musicians from London and they seemed up for it. We started sending things back and forth, and recorded the album remotely. Then the pandemic finished and we started gigging it and rehearsing it.
What can the audience expect from your performance?
I wouldn’t ask the audience to expect anything, per se. We expect certain things from ourselves. I think with this kind of music, for me anyway, it’s really about listening. Listening is number one. It’s about how you listen to each other, how you listen to the moment. If you do that then you’re really being honest with yourself. As a musician you’re not trying to do things that you can’t do or trying to do things that you think are cool. You’re just listening to the moment and playing what’s most appropriate.
So really, for me, in terms of expectations, just expect to see three musicians on stage really listening and communicating in the moment. We have set tunes obviously, but we work around them, play around with the form a lot, and things go to different places they haven’t gone before. That’s what really keeps it exciting for us to play as well!
Tell us about your influences and how they’ve affected the way you make music.
In terms of jazz, one of my earliest memories is being taken to a gig when I was about 9 or 10. It was back in France and my uncle took me to the Orleans Jazz Festival and at the time I was like “I do not want to go see a jazz gig, thank you very much! Do we have to?” And he was like “Yep, you’re coming”.
We turned up and we went to see Esbjörn Svensson Trio (EST). He was an incredible pianist, sadly not with us anymore. But we sat down, and they went on and there was like distortion pedals and all sorts of crazy effects. The energy was really great. That really did a number on me! It festered within me for a few years and then I went on a kind of journey. I was a singer-songwriter first, singing and playing guitar, then I went into the whole blues and funk thing, rock as well. It wasn’t until much later, I must have been around 21 or 22, where I decided to go back to the piano and really do the jazz thing. Esbjörn Svensson is really the guy who carried that energy across of how you can play instrumental improvised music but it doesn’t necessarily have to be swing. You can blend a whole bunch of influences.
Currently Brad Mehldau, he’s my all-time kind of hero. Again, he’s someone who has obviously studied the greats of bebop and he’s studied the whole history of jazz piano, but he covers Radiohead tunes. He’s just come out with a Beatles album, where he just plays the Beatles.
For me the beauty of this music, especially these days, is how it finds itself blending in with lots of other different genres and influences. The beautiful thing is that jazz has permeated almost every culture.
You’ve had a quick look around Woolwich Works. What are you most looking forward to about playing here?
I think it’s my first time playing South London. That’s something. I never really get to play this far south, because I live up north, I don’t really get that chance. When you live in London you tend to play places that are closer to where you live.
I’ve never really ventured down here to play a gig so I’m looking forward to doing that. It looks like a great space! You guys enable a lot of varied kinds of acts and types of music so hopefully it will be a receptive audience.
Is there anything that you’re particularly excited to play?
We’ll play a few tunes that aren’t from the record and maybe a few standards as well. But otherwise we’ll be playing mainly tunes from my debut album The Sorcerer. It goes through a journey, a chronological narrative, like a story or fable through which you’re taken on this journey where the main kind of plot is that a sorcerer has put a spell on humanity, for its evil deeds, or something like that. So we go through that journey.
Thanks for joining us, Tom