Tim Garland

Tim Garland will be the headline artist at the forthcoming Shetland Jazz Festival with a gig at the Mareel where he will not only play with own award winning trio, Lighthouse, but will also work with the National Youth Jazz Orchestra of Scotland, taking them through their paces in some of his own compositions.

Lighthouse is Tim Garland’s long term jazz project and one in which he takes immense pride. It has been in existence for over eight years, from around the time that Tim started living in two places, in London for work commitments and in Whitley Bay for peace and tranquillity.

Whitley Bay is in North Tyneside and has a famous structure, St Mary’s Lighthouse, set on an island just off the coast. It no longer functions as a lighthouse, so Tim got permission to go inside and record an album, utilising the unusual acoustics.

On that first album, called Lighthouse, Tim was joined by Gwilym Simcock, a celebrated pianist and composer, and Asaf Sirkis playing frame drums, bass Udu and Hang drum, all akin to his own Middle Eastern origins. The album became the band and after eight years of playing on the road, several other successful albums, including one with the Northern Sinfonia and the Royal Philharmonic Orchestra, they have established a formidable reputation.

After playing together for such a long period these three musicians have an extraordinary rapport. With their funky, energetic sound, they go onstage and play tunes they have played perhaps hundreds of times before, but they try to bring a freshness to them, to entertain each other with their creative invention, and above all to have fun.

I have known Tim for many years, first booking him as a young, up-and-coming sax player in the 1990s for the jazz club I ran in Essex with his then band Lamas. They played innovative jazz music with Celtic influences. It was very good, very interesting, quite unique. Since then he has become renowned as a sax and bass clarinet jazz virtuoso, a composer, a Grammy-winning arranger, and is regarded as one of the most prolific creative musicians in the UK. He has also forged an international reputation working with Bill Bruford and Chick Corea, and is a core member of Chick’s latest band. I spoke to Tim on the phone last Saturday and I asked him about this now long-term collaboration with Chick Corea.

Tim: It’s been about twelve years, I guess, that I’ve been working on and off in different bands with Chick. The first one I joined was called Origin.

Jeff: And how did that come about?

Tim: He heard an album of mine called Enter the Fire. It was a whole year after he first heard that album that I got the chance to play with him. When it happened it was quite sudden. Someone dropped out of a gig and he booked me for a month of gigs. That was about four days before it actually started. It was like… wham! And we’ve kept up a pretty close relationship ever since. As well as playing I’ve done quite a lot of orchestrations for him. I got my Grammy award for the New Crystal Silence album.

Jeff: So, what’s it like to get the phone call from Chick Corea?

Tim: Oh, it’s great. You know I’ve had the privilege to work with a few of my heroes over the years, people like Kenny Wheeler, John Taylor, Stan Sulzmann, people you’ve grown up listening to, the generation above you. It’s the same thing. You feel at first a bit daunted and then you realise that they want to work with you and they are great musicians but they are also human, like to have a laugh, and you get not quite so starry eyed. You get all professional about it. And I guess it’s the same with Chick. He makes it very easy for you. He loves to have a laugh, he has a very good, focussed personality, and he doesn’t come across as having a big ego or anything. He knows such a lot about music, so you’re always going to learn something. I’m quite sure that over the years what I’ve learned from him has affected my own band-leading – and my writing for bands as well. Like, writing for big bands, it just rubs off. That’s the old fashioned way of doing it, isn’t it? You’re on the bandstand alongside someone older and wiser.

Jeff: Tell me about this new band of Chick’s you’re going out with – The Vigil, is it called?

Tim: The Vigil, yes. There are five of us. Three young guys, two from Los Angeles, one from New York. I’ve known the drummer for a few years, Roy Haynes’ grandson, Marcus Gilmore. I first worked with him when he was about eighteen. In his mid-twenties now and an absolutely stunning player. I suppose it’s a bit like a Return To Forever kind of band, for the 21 st Century, kind of electric, lots of keyboard stuff going on, with tricky compositions, quite a lot to memorise. I’m playing tenor, soprano, bass clarinet and flute.

As well as playing with Lighthouse at the Mareel gig, Tim will be preparing all day with the National Youth Jazz Orchestra of Scotland Collective, the senior members of NYJOS, young musicians with blossoming reputations. This came about because I saw Tim play with the UK version of the National Youth Jazz Orchestra at the proms last year and it was because of that I asked him to come to Shetland and perhaps do something with the young Scottish musicians.

Jeff: I thought the prom concert was a terrific project.

Tim: Thank you. The band has been through a transformation, really, because a lot of the people, the young students of NYJO, are maybe in the Royal Academy of Music studying jazz or in different bands playing much more modern music than a lot of the stuff that was being played in NYJO. So they started to upgrade the repertoire, or update it rather, keeping the old classics in there. They knew that I’d been involved in educational projects in the past, so I was one of the first people they approached to write something. And it was great, because I’ve had over the years so much experience of big band writing that I felt I had quite a lot to bring. Sometimes the players, when they are sixteen or seventeen years old, are roaring and I thought, how much did I have together when I was that age? And of course it kicks your backside. That’s the reason I do it. It’s like a shot of caffeine, playing with people so young and so vibrant.

Jeff: So now you are going to be working with the Scottish version of the youth jazz orchestra.

Tim: It’s a smaller ensemble than the prom. I used to have a band called the Underground Orchestra, which had a residency at the Pizza Express in Soho. And it was a similar sized band, so I’m adjusting some of those old charts, making them just a little bit easier in places, so we can have some fun with it. The important thing is that people aren’t frightened when they come to the music stand and I hope they can feel they can have some fun. They will want to be challenged, of course, but I’ve not heard the band yet, so I don’t want to make it too easy or too hard. It will be a busy day, of course, with the rehearsal and then the gig, but I’m really looking forward to it.

Straight after Shetland Jazz Festival Tim Garland is off on a European tour with the new Chick Corea band, followed by a big American tour. You can see him playing in his own trio Lighthouse and also working with the NYJOS Collective at the Mareel on Saturday 16 February at 7.30pm. Also on the bill will be young Shetland members of NYJOS playing their own set of music devised just for the occasion. Full details can be found on www.shetlandjazzclub.org

Jeff Merrifield from Shetland Times 1 Feb 2013

CLICK here for full interview

CLICK here to see LIGHTHOUSE in a number of excellent video extracts - Experience Asaf on Hang Drum and bass Udu