Soweto Kinch - Saxophone

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"I guess our house was like a creative hub,” says Kinch. “I grew up being surrounded by lots of musicians, poets and visual artists.”
Kinch’
s father is a playwright, his mother an actress. “Neither of my parents were avid jazz fans,” he says. “But people who passed through would mention Sonny Rollins or Charlie Parker or Don Byas, which certainly steered my direction towards jazz. Again a part of my upbringing was not seeing all kinds of pursuits in compartments. Sometimes I was exposed to renaissance men who were fluent in Latin, could write poetry, took up amateur dramatics and played music as well, so I wasn’t really encouraged to isolate any part of my interests.” Active Image

So when did he start playing a musical instrument? “I played the clarinet at primary school till I was about nine which was when I took up the saxophone. I remember going to a workshop in Handsworth [in Birmingham], where I lived, and saw a whole room full of saxophones and was encouraged to try them out. The shininess of it and the promise of being able to master it and some of the great names I’d seen or heard of on that instrument inspired me to give it a go."

“I remember my first horn, the Buescher ‘Aristocrat’ was a great beginner’s horn that was both affordable and playable. Then hearing Wayne Shorter and John Coltrane resonated instantly. But it wasn’t until I had personal encounters with live musicians that the penny really dropped. I met Wynton Marsalis for the first time when I was just 13 and when I was at uni [Kinch read history at Oxford university] I saw and met Courtney Pine.
Kinch recalls how the music bug took hold. “I just enjoyed jamming with like minded students both at school and later at university.”

He didn’t have any formal continuing lessons with any one teacher, but remembers encounters such as the time he saw Gil Scott-Heron and talked for a couple of hours with Scott-Heron’s saxophonist, Vernon. “He subsequently sent me some books which I sat down and read through, along with some records and this was when I started to embark on a more serious period of study. I was continually asking people for lessons or getting together with individuals who had more down than me." When he was 21 he was lucky enough to get his hands on a Selmer MKVI, and the Aristocrat was finally put on the shelf. “The Mk VI went some way to giving me the warmth and clarity that I was looking for, the eternal balancing act,” he says.

Kinch began to host jam sessions at the Jazz Café with Tomorrow’s Warriors “which for me was as close as possible to an apprenticeship." Then he got a call from Jazz Jamaica, asking him to dep for their then saxophonist Brian Edwards on a few dates. “Before I knew it,” says Kinch, “they were calling me fairly regularly and as soon as I left university I had the opportunity of going to Singapore. That for me was confirmation that perhaps I could pursue a professional career in music and that Jazz Jamaica was the route to doing it.”

In 2002, Kinch won the Montreux White Foundation saxophone competition. “I won a Selmer Tenor Reference 56,” he says, his eyes glazing over at the very thought of it.  So what’s his currently instrument model? An alto is laying on the couch beside him. “At the moment I’m playing a Reference 54, which is strongly modelled on a classic MKVI, but with a lot more modern tuning techniques. It’s a kind of a hybrid of the Classic and 54 MKVI with some of the higher tone holes and tone keys that you get on modern saxophones, together with different octave keys and different high pitch keys that you wouldn’t find on a vintage horn."

“A while ago I was talking to Courtney Pine about different impediments on the saxophone, and the fact that different types of lacquer impede the projection and no lacquer is certainly a fast track to getting a bigger sound. He said: ‘you can see, I’ve taken the lacquer off it, which not only gives it a more vintage appearance, but also I think a slightly more vintage sound. Selmer might be horrified, but, hey!’"
At the time of interview Kinch is getting ready to release a second album titled A Life In The Day Of B19, which he says is “loosely autobiographical.”

He is also setting up a website called jazzplanet.com (“it’s my vision of what the world would be like if jazz ruled the planet”) which he hopes will be a discussion forum for musicians and interested parties, with his already released single ‘Jazz Planet’ coming out as a download. Kinch also plays bass clarinet. “I’ve been playing it behind closed doors for a couple of years now and I pulled it out for the album – it’s the sound more than anything that pulled me towards it,” he says. “I’m still trying to get to grips with the alto, though. There’s just so much more that you can accomplish by just living in one instrument. Every time I play it, I’m discovering new hurdles to be surmounted and new things that I really enjoy about it – including its unique tone!"