Jazz books: A.B. Spellman/Louis Armstrong

I recently read two great books about jazz that paint vivid pictures of important and fascinating times and places in the history of the music.

A.B. Spellman’s Four Lives in the Bebop Business is divided into four sections, each one portraying a key figure in the 1960s jazz avant garde: Cecil Taylor, Ornette Coleman, Herbie Nichols and Jackie McLean. Each section acts as a mini biography, featuring interviews with the musicians in question and with family members and musical associates.

The interviews were conducted in New York City in the mid 1960s, a time when jazz was starting to be hit economically by the popularity of rock ‘n’ roll and pop music, and when the scene was still dealing with the impact of Ornette and his followers’ new and innovative music.

The book gives an interesting snapshot of what life was like as a jazz musician at that time, and how things have changed. I was struck, as jazz musician in 2018, how a couple of the profiles described how barren things had been for the artist in question, save for the odd four or six week-long run at a particular club. I have no doubt that those guys had things infinitely tougher than I do in a multitude of ways, but most jazz musicians I know nowadays could only dream of even a week-long engagement in a single jazz club!

The section on Jackie McLean was of particular interest to me, with its tales of his encounters, as a fawning youngster, with Bird, and of McLean’s time as a teenager in Sugar Hill, Harlem, where he attended the same high school as Sonny Rollins. The area was an incredible hot house of jazz during the 1930s, ‘40s, 50s and beyond: Duke Ellington, Lionel Hampton, Billy Strayhorn and plenty of others lived in the area at various times, and the book describes how McLean and Rollins would go round to Bud Powell’s apartment to learn from the great pianist: Bud was around a six years than the two saxophonists and also a Harlem resident.


Louis Armstrong  would eventually come to live in New York too, and he is considered to be a figure in the ‘Harlem Renaissance’, but his book Satchmo: My Life In New Orleans deals with an earlier period in a place that was just as important in the development of jazz. Armstrong dropped out of school aged 11, and the conditions he describes are fairly shocking: Jim Crow laws were in operation and he was surrounded by poverty, prostitution and violence. But his writing style is distinctive and likeable, and he exudes nothing but warmth and generosity whilst describing the larger-than-life characters who inhabited his youth. New Orleans was of course central to the birth of jazz as ragtime fused with marching band music and other varied musical forms in the early 20th Century, and other key figures from the city around this time included Sidney Bechet, Buddy Bolden and Jelly Roll Morton. The book is filled with wonderful anecdotes and takes the reader up to 1922, when Armstrong moved to Chicago to join the band led by his idol, Joe ‘King’ Oliver.

As an aside, for more of an insight into Pops’ life and work, the Louis Armstrong House Museum in Queens, New York (where he settled with his wife Lucille in 1943) is extremely worth a visit!

And here’s an interview with A.B. Spellman, author of Four Lives.

Interview in Jazz Journal

The May issue of Jazz Journal features an interview I did last summer with David West. It’s mostly about my duo album with Michael Kanan, which was released shortly after David and I had this conversation. Hoping to have some more concerts scheduled with Michael soon!

Recording in Spain

I’m recently back from a fun trip to Spain recording with an international quintet featuring Jorge Rossy. We recorded in Jorge’s studio in Begues, a small town outside Barcelona, and the resulting album should be here in the not too distant future. The band (now called Jorge Rossy’s ‘Rebop’) also features Linus Eppinger on guitar, Tilman Oberbeck on double bass and Phelan Burgoyne on drums.

Spring 2018 trio dates

Happy to have some nice trio dates coming up this March and April. Check the flyers above for more info (click twice for full size), and click on the links in the list below for venue details/tickets. And here’s an interview/preview with London Jazz News. Hope to see you at one of them!

7 March – Hampstead Lounge & Jazz Club
16 March – Burdall’s Yard, Bath Spa Live
19 March – The White Horse, Bedford
21 March – The Flute & Tankard, Cardiff
31 March – The Bear Club, Luton
4 April – Kansas Smitty’s, Broadway Market

Braysher/Kanan live duo videos

My album release tour with Michael Kanan seems like ages ago now, but we had great time and I’m finally getting round to putting up some videos from the album launch we did in Dalston, London.

There are four videos: two short promo clips (an extract from Cole Porter’s You Do Something To Me and an extract from Harry Barris’ Wrap Your Troubles in Dreams) and full length videos of The Sweetest Sounds and There’s a Small Hotel (both by Richard Rodgers). All videos filmed/edited by Palle Nodeland of Banquet films. Find out more about mine and Michael’s duo album here.

BBC Radio 3 Jazz Now interview

I was kindly invited to be interviewed on Radio 3’s Jazz Now programme a few weeks back. Emma Smith asked me some questions about influences, my album with Michael Kanan and our forthcoming tour, as well as playing a few tracks. You can listen to the whole show, which also features a broadcast of a Mark Turner Quartet gig and an interview with Ambrose Akinmusire, but it requires a login and is only available for a limited time. (I’m at 1.02:36) Or you can listen to my interview segment on YouTube here.

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September tour dates with Michael Kanan

Very happy to be welcoming Michael Kanan to the UK for the album release tour of our album, Golden Earrings. We’re playing eight gigs across a week in September. Hope you can join us! The dates are:

7th: Café Jazz, Cardiff
8th: The Verdict, Brighton*
9th: Norden Farm Centre for the Arts, Maidenhead*
10th: Seven Jazz, Leeds (afternoon)
10th: Toulouse Lautrec, Kennington, London (evening)*
11th: Ronnie Scott’s Late Late Show, London*
12th: Anteros Arts Foundation, Norwich
13th: The Vortex, Dalston, London – ALBUM LAUNCH

We are doing a mixture of duo and quartet gigs. All dates feature me on alto saxophone and Michael Kanan on piano. Dates marked * also feature Dario Di Lecce (double bass) and Steve Brown (drums).

With thanks to Arts Council England and Norfolk County Council Arts Project Fund.