Interview with Tim Garland - Saturday 26 January 2013

Jeff: Let’s talk about Lighthouse first. That’s been an ongoing project hasn’t it? When did it first come about?

Tim: Yeah. It’s been going for over eight years now. It started when I moved… I kinda live between two places, the London place, which I’ve been in for about 23 years, and Whitley Bay. And Whitley Bay has a very famous lighthouse. I recorded some music inside the lighthouse about the first year I moved there. I kind of got permission to go inside… it’s kind of hollow inside, you know… St Mary’s Light… and that turned into an album and the other musicians who were on it were Asaf and Gwilym. So that’s why it became the Lighthouse Trio, if you like, and we just shortened it to Lighthouse and since then we’ve toured the world and been more or less everywhere over all those years.

Jeff: And its been through several manifestations, hasn’t it?

Tim: Well, its always been Gwilym and Asaf, but what we did, especially in the early days, is have invited guests. And those guests would include people like a guitarist… like Don Patterson on the first one… but we’ve also had a dancer… we had Sharon Rae, the dancer… she would be our guest on live performances… and then sometimes the guest would be an orchestra. So far we’ve had the Northern Sinfonia and the Royal Philharmonic, which is on the album Libra. But the latest CD, the simply called Lighthouse, is just the three of us all the way through. You know, the more touring you do the more confident you get, just the three of you, and we feel we’ve got the sound we wanted to get.

Jeff: I know Asaf from Gilad’s band.

Tim: Yes, of course. Asaf is everyone’s favourite. He works in less bands than he used to, because I think he just wants to concentrate on the stuff he is really enjoying. But with our band he’s taken quite a long time to get there. When you see Asaf with our band its not like a regular drum kit. He’s using a lot of frame drums from the middle east, becaue this was obviously the sound he was brought up with, you know. So it’s a really funky, energetic sound. Thing is we’ve all had to adapt slightly to working with no bass player, and we’ve all got different ways of doing things, which makes the band sound complete as it is.

Jeff: Mmm. Interesting about the lighthouse, because I don’t know if you’ve seen our website, but we use a lighthouse on our home page. That’s the first thing you see when you come into Shetland, because you fly over it. It’s a Stevenson lighthouse. We’re very proud of it.

Tim: Right.

Jeff: So as well as all your work in Britain, you’re also doing a lot of work with Chick Corea.

Tim: Yes, that’s right. For about twelve years now, I guess, 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. That was from 1994, or 95, and he got in touch via a mutual friend, a piano player who lives in Los Angeles. It was a whole year after he first heard that album was when I got the chance to play with him. When it happened it was quite sudden. Someone dropped out (of a tour) and he thought, right that’s my chance and he booked me for a month of gigs. That was about four days before it actually started. It was like… wham!

Jeff: Wow.

Tim: 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 as well. And I got my Grammy for the New Crystal Silence album, for which I did lots of the orchestrations.

Jeff: So, what’s it like to get a 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, living in London, people like Kenny Wheeler and John Taylor, people you’ve grown up listening to… Stan Sulzman, you know, 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. And he knows a helluva 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, wring 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: I didn’t know you’d worked for Dankworth.

Tim: John and Cleo. Yes, for many years. In fact the very first gig I did with Chick was at the Stables in Wavenden. The old stables before they made it big. Little known to me it was a kind of an audition (for Chick). And the first gigs were at Ronnie Scott’s, in my home town, right there. All the others are American, so its like six of one and half a dozen. If the gigs are in Europe I fly for an hour and they fly for seven. If its in America it’s the other way round.

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

Tim: The Vigil, yes. There’s five of us. Three young guys, two from Los Angeles, one from New York. I’ve known the drummer for a few years, Roy Hayne’s 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, you know, it’s kind of electric, with tricky compositions, quite a lot to memorise. Lots of keyboard stuff going on. I’m playing saxes, bass clarinet and flute. In Lighthouse I don’t play flute.

Jeff: Very good.

Tim: The only other band I’m doing now is Lighthouse, because we’ve had so much success with that. In all the gaps on Chick’s tour we are trying to get as much Lighthouse work as we can. And being just three of us it makes it that much easier to travel. Working with Gwilym, he’s just going from strength to strength. When I was teaching him ten years ago, or whenever it was, at the Royal Academy, and now he’s won so many awards and he’s doing solo piano concerts all over the world. I think he’s the finest piano player in the country, really, on jazz piano. It’s a joy every time. Some projects begin and you can sort of see the end of them, it may be great but you can see that in six months time it will have reached all that can be done. But then other projects, like Lighthouse, the trajectory is always up and you can’t actually see where it could stop. It’s very exciting, because when you’re playing jazz you’re celebrating a product, like what you produce together, but you’re also celebrating a process, which never really finishes. It’s great to play something that you may have played a hundred times before, yet you’re still finding fresh stuff, and its great fun on stage, and I think that the excitement we feel in each other’s company is what the audience pick up on when they see how much fun we’re having.

Jeff: You seem to like a project- based thing, don’t you. I mean, when I first booked you it was Lamas.

Tim: Yes, that’s right. But a project can turn into a band and keep going and going. It’s the use of the word ‘project’, isn’t it, which implies it is something that has a file on it and you open it and close it at another time. But my favourite kind is when it just keeps going. The most precious thing of all is the rapport with the musicians, because you get to know them so well, you begin to take more and more risks. That’s what jazz is about, isn’t it? It’s not about playing safe. It is about melody and it is about rhythm, but it’s also about surprise and not doing the same thing every night. And in order to do that successfully you’ve got to know each other. It’s a long way from being a pick up band.

Jeff: Sure. So what inspired me to get in touch with you after all these years was seeing you at the prom.

Tim: Oh, okay.

Jeff: And I thought that 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 player when they are sixteen or seventeen years old are roaring, and I though, 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: Sure. It’s a smaller band we are working with.

Jeff: Yeah, what they call the NYJO Collective, the older members of the orchestra.

Tim: What I’m doing with them is… 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.

Jeff: So the gig is at the Mareel, which is our new multi-million pound arts complex. It’s all brand new and state of the art equipment.

Tim: Fantastic. It will be a busy day, of course, with the rehearsal and then the gig, but I’m really looking forward to it.

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