Friday, June 19, 2015

Interview: Jason Yarde

Bold As Brass with Jason Yarde - 21st June 2015

Jason Yarde's Bold As Brass leads Cork Midsummer to a climax this Sunday...

The following article was published in the 18th June 2015 edition of Cork's Evening Echo.

Despite finding himself coming off the backend of a week-long recording session in London, Jason Yarde is upbeat and looking forward to his upcoming visit to Cork. Taking place in Elizabeth Fort as part of Cork Midsummer Festival’s closing events, Bold As Brass will see the English conductor and saxophonist lead a 100-strong band of varying ages and abilities through the piece’s Irish premiere. What brings the New Jersey-educated artistic director to Cork? Serendipity.



“It was quite lucky really”, explains Jason from his Hastings home on the south coast of England. “Bold As Brass was first commissioned in 2013 by Serious for the London Jazz festival, gathering 21 composers to write new pieces to celebrate the festival’s 21st birthday. They asked me to write a mass participation piece that all types of people of mixed ability and experience could get involved in and perform. We performed this a couple of times at the South Bank in London and, as luck has it, there was a delegate from Music Generation Ireland who just happened to be walking through the foyer and witnessed what we were doing, thought it was great, and booked us for the Midsummer festival. That’s what’s brought me to Cork. It was such a happy coincidence that they happened to stumble upon the performance we did in London, which in turn now gives us the chance to do it again.”

That opportunity arrives on 21st June in an event that will see Jason oversee a huge number of players. To compose such a piece must have seemed a daunting task. “I would say challenging is a more suitable description”, states Jason enthusiastically, “but I really like a challenge - and the brief was quite open: a piece that could run from five minutes to half an hour that involves brass, saxophones and all these different instruments. It had to try and engage beginners as well as virtuosos and old pros who’ve come out of retirement so that was quite a challenge but I love that. The most important aspect to the successful delivery of the project then is having a great team, like we had in London. Shauna [McCullough – Bold As Brass artistic coordinator and Music Generation Cork City lead brass tutor] has done a really good job at amassing a really strong team which makes life much easier for me. I’d liken it to me being a general with lots of different sergeant majors and corporals who are all fulfilling their different roles to the utmost. With that being the case, people are already ahead of the curb before I even turn up.”

Many of these “sergeant majors” are well known locally, and Jason is keen to stress the importance of these core members to the success of Bold As Brass“I’ve been very fortunate. When we performed in London I was able to handpick a team of musicians that I knew and had worked with over the years but in this instance I’ve had to place all my trust in someone else to select the band. Shauna, who is herself a trumpet player and ex-military band, very quickly and shrewdly picked local musicians: Carolyn Goodwin on saxophone, Alex Petcu in charge of percussion, Michael Mullins on trumpet, Robert O’Brien playing tuba and Roddy O’ Keefe on trombone. It’s important to have someone like Robert controlling the bass end so the groove sits right and Alex who can marshal all the drummers and percussion players because it’s difficult when you have 100 musicians for one person to go around and really hone in on an individual player’s needs so we’ve split the band into four with soloists each conducting a section. We then have mentors - twice as many as soloists - who look after all the other guys if and when they need this personal attention. The Cork model is really strong so it’s been a pleasure to work with those guys and just come in and concentrate on making the music sound good, focusing more on the fun end of it all.”

It’s rare these days for so much work to go into a piece of music with no intentions of ever laying it down in a studio. It’s this transience that especially appeals to Jason’s live sensibilities. “In times where you can access pretty much everything anywhere instantly online, these kind of one-off events that you have in real time where you can engage with people in the flesh have become more important. I’m sure there’ll be people there with camera phones but there’ll be nothing quite like experiencing being there in that fort, such a picturesque spot in the middle of all that sound, soaking up the atmosphere. It’s turning out to be a special spectacle before we even play a note!”

For more on Jason Yarde visit:


Cork Midsummer Festival presents Bold As Brass in Elizabeth Fort on 21st June at 4.30pm, 6pm and 8.00pm.

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