Theo Travis - Saxophone

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“The first thing that really got me was the Beatles' Sgt Pepper album when I was about seven years old and I still love it,” says Travis.  Both his parents were keen listeners to music. “We always had music in the house and my parents had a good record collection. Mum was a big Chopin fan and dad had some Stan Getz and Dave Brubeck, so I heard a lot of music from a very early age.”

Travis’s parents also took him along to classical concerts. “We lived in Birmingham and I remember going to see the CBSO (City of Birmingham Symphony Orchestra) quite a lot’. Stravinsky, Sibelius, Mozart, Brahms… all the usual stuff.”Active Image

From the age of eight, Travis studied classical flute. “I had private lessons and did all the flute grades up to grade 8,” he says with some pride. “It was a basic B & H flute – but it did the job.” But when did the jazz bug bite? “When I was about 16, I was what you might call a bedroom guitarist – listening to discs and working out what the chords were, then strumming along and working out the bass lines. I was listening to a lot of pop and rock and I joined a band where I played electric bass. And I also played flute on a couple of tunes. We had a keyboard player called Hugh Mankivell and he introduced me to Charlie Parker and John Coltrane. That’s when I began learning how to improvise on the flute.” It wasn’t long before Travis turned up at the door of the Midlands Youth Jazz Orchestra. “I was asked whether I played the saxophone,” he says rather ruefully, “and of course I didn’t. But my sister did. She had been learning for a while, so I borrowed my sister’s Yamaha alto,” says Travis. “She didn’t see much of it after that!”

Travis was soon playing his part in the MYJO.Andy Hamilton’s son Graeme played Trumpet in the MYJO and he came to play with our band,” says Travis. “And he was totally into Miles Davis and all the connected bands, so I got even more jazz exposure.” After a B mus with honours from Manchester Uni and a spell studying classical saxophone at the Royal Northern College of Music, Travis arrived in London.

“It takes time. I made contact with NYJO and managed to get some gigs at the Pembury Tavern in Hackney where they had an anything goes policy.” He played at the Festival Hall Foyer, The Vortex and that legendary venue – the Plough in Stockwell. “Then in 1991 I put together my first quartet. And after playing some gigs around London and putting together a self financed cassette album, on the back of that we got offered a CD deal with 33 records and in 1993 produced the album 2am."

“It was kind of atmospheric and moody and it reflected a lot of the music I was listening to and the music the band was playing.”

We move on to instruments and Travis’ face lights up. “I play a 1965 Selmer MkV1 Tenor,” he says with obvious pride. “I got it in 1981 from an advert in Exchange & Mart. I also have a Keilwerth Soprano 9011 with a curved crook, which I bought when I sold my Yanigasawa and Buffet Alto that I had had when I was at college. I bought the Keilwerth because it has a beautiful haunting, almost cor anglais sound. It’s less shrill than some of the other saxophones and quite wooden and warm in a positive sense. I can tell you want to know about mouthpieces and reeds’.

"I use an Otto Link 7star with Vandoren 21/2 reeds. Then on my Keilwerth soprano I use the Keilwerth mouthpiece that it came with, together with the same Vandoren 21/2 ‘normal’ reeds – they’ve just got such a wonderful tone”. Travis muses for a moment. Then suddenly we’re into flutes. “Oh yes,” he says. “I bought a new flute about five years ago – it’s a Murumatsu – Japanese. It has a lovely warm ‘singing’ tone and I have this Trevor J. James Master Series flute. I did a whole album with it in 2003 – Slow Life – solo alto flute with electronics & looping. The alto flute has a sort of mysterious sound, it really resonates with me."