Jim Hart - Vibes and Drums

“Music’s a powerful drug,” says Jim Hart. “Sometimes it can make you feel rotten – and you really feel it. But when it makes you feel good, there’s nothing like that ‘feeling’, and it can last for days.”

Hart grew up surrounded by music. “My mother was into folk music and used to run folk clubs in Birmingham – I remember her singing and playing the guitar to me when I was a child. My brother studied trumpet with a jazz trombonist while I was very young and now sings and plays trumpet in a jump jive band, while my dad has just finished writing a musical.”

Hart started playing drums when he was about five years old. “My first kit was a Premier Olympic with all the old original hardware. When I was older we got rid of it. I wish we hadn’t! We’d always had a piano in the house and I was asking to have lessons before I was really ready to. I was very small at that age and they said I should come back when I could reach the pedals! I think I started having lessons around six. Then later of course I was fortunate to have private lessons with Cecil DuValle – a great teacher from Philadelphia. He taught me about playing whatever I was interested in and improvising as well as more formal classical stuff.”

At 16 Hart went to Chetham’s school of music, “which was amazing.” This was followed by the Guildhall School of Music and Drama. “I chose the Guildhall because it was somewhere where I could study jazz whilst keeping my classical and orchestral options open as I’d always enjoyed doing both.”

Hart’s had a number of drum kits since that Premier Olympic. “My second kit was a Premier APK, which I bought from a local music shop in Liskeard (Cornwall). This was followed by a Remo Bravo, which I also bought from the Liskeard shop.” Moving up to London, Hart purchased a Mapex Saturn Series. “I got it from Pro Percussion in Kentish Town. I still have this and use if for gigs when I want to use a 20” bass drum.” Hart then fell for a Pearl DLX Professional. “It was originally from John Rose Drums shop in Manchester and had had two previous owners – Steve Brown who bought it new and then Matt Fishwick. I bought it from Matt when Matt moved over to New York.”

As for vibes, “my first vibraphone was a beautiful 1930s Trixon that I got when I was about 11. It belonged to a neighbour of my piano teacher who had got too old to play it. I love the tone of it. It has that real old sound – bright like milk bottles. I still have it and it is set up at home where I play it every day. Then later I bought a Deagan Commander which used to belong to Lennie Best who died about ten years ago. Trevor Tomkins let me know that Lennie’s widow was looking to find a new home for it and so I bought it from her in 2003. It’s my gigging instrument and although it’s all of 40 years younger than the Trixon, it has a rich, warm tone and there’s still that element of the brightness in it, despite sounding like a modern instrument. I often think that many of the modern vibes sound a bit dull, as if they’re too well tempered! You can’t get a full sound out of them above a certain dynamic and they don’t cut through as well.” He continues. “I’ve never found a set that I prefer to my Deagan, although I did play a very nice instrument at Ronnie’s recently – a Studio 49, made by a German company. I guess I wouldn’t mind having one of those or a Musser Century. But that would have to be as well as, rather than instead of my Deagan.”

Hart uses Mike Ballter Super Vibe series mallets (generally 123R and 124R). “They’re quite heavy, which I like, as the mallet does a lot of the work for you and they produce a lovely warm tone. And My Deagan has a pick up system built in to it and so I sometimes use an amp with it. I have a Laney VC15–110 valve amp. It is quite light and transportable and again produces a very warm tone which reinforces the natural acoustic sound, so you don’t even really notice the sound of the pickups.”

But this beautiful instrument nearly came to a sticky end a few years ago in Cyprus. Hart takes up the story: “The first year I had my Deagan, I travelled with it out to Cyprus to play at a festival. I was young and very stupid and thought that I could just use the pickups and so not take the resonators, thinking that I might be able to get away without a flight case. I rolled the notes up and put them in my suitcase (which is fairly standard) and then spent a whole day wrapping the frame in foam and cardboard boxes to go in the hold. When it came out on the conveyor in Cyprus it was broken in two. I’d had it about a month. A friend of the promoter was a South African carpenter called Steve. He fixed it and not only that, he built me a fight case to bring it back home in! And the repair he did still holds good to this day.”

Ivo Neame - Piano

“I see music as a language”, says Neame, “and I’ve always been fascinated by languages and the way people express themselves. For me, improvising feels very similar to speaking French or Italian. I think about music a lot, or I’m usually singing something or other inside my head. It expresses emotions so purely – and there’s no room for bullshitters! I love it when music moves me to tears, when the musician is able to cast his or her spell over the listener.”

Neame’s musical roots go back some way. “My gran was a violinist and composer who used to write music under a male pseudonym, thanks to the rampant sexism that was rife in the classical music world of the 1930s. And my dad used to play Hammond organ in a band called the Boston Crabs during the 1960s, the less said about that the better!” The young Neame’s musical talents were evident at an early age: “I think I was about four or five when I set up my first drum kit from biscuit tins and milk bottles.” Neame attended a school that was “very stuffy and posh”, but it did have a “really good music department”.

“I used to play in orchestras and sing in the choir every Sunday in Canterbury Cathedral. I also used to play in the Kent Youth Orchestra which was great, because I was playing percussion. This meant hanging around doing very little, so it was a good way of getting to know the symphonic repertoire.” Neame also extended his horizons (and repertoire!) out of school by playing in a soul band.

Although Neame is perhaps best known for his piano and keyboard skills, he is also a very capable saxophonist. “I got my first alto saxophone when I was about nine. It was a Yamaha 32 – the basic student model. I had that until about age 17 when I went to an open day at the Royal Academy and I was blown away by the students on the course. I decided to apply and ended up by joining the course and at that point decided that I needed a better instrument. “I bought a Selmer Mk VII Alto, because I couldn’t find a Mk VI anywhere and I have to say it felt pretty good. I don’t think they’re as good as the Mk VIs, as they have a brighter sound and in my opinion, the keywork’s not as good either.” Having played the Mk VII for a few years, Neame finally got his hands on the hallowed Mk VI. “I finally found one which used to belong to Pat Crumly. It’s a brilliant instrument, but unfortunately one day I dropped it on its crook. So now I use a Series 2 crook on it and that works just fine. Neame also owns a Selmer Series 2 Soprano. “This is a great horn, and it’s silver. Silver horns are supposed to have a sweeter sound which is probably quite handy on soprano if you don’t want to sound like a snake charmer! He also owns a Selmer MkVI Tenor that used to belong to Phil Day. “It’s a beauty – I just don’t get to play it as much as I’d like.”

Neame’s favourite piano is clearly a Steinway, although he has a Yamaha P-121 upright at home which is a no-frills piano and is “fine for practice”. “The Steinway ‘D’ in Abbey Road studio is the most amazing piano. Steinways seem to have this incredible depth to their sound. If they’re kept in good condition they have that warmth and you can get more colours out of the instrument. It’s a cliché, but Yamahas can have that toppy sound and I’m not a fan of that. I’ve recorded on Bosendorfers, Yamahas and Faziolis, but Steinways always seem to come out the best.”

For gigging Neame uses a combination of keyboards and synths. “I have a Nord electro 2 which is a very handy keyboard in terms of size. But to be honest I have yet to find a piano sound on a keyboard that feels good to play. I’ve tried all kinds, Nord stage, Roland RD 300, Yamaha P90. Using Ivory as a plug in through Logic. It all sucks!” I must admit though that the Roland Juno 60 is a great synth and I’ve been using it to overdub things on recordings and for improvising. I love the sound, and it’s got some cosmic jazz possibilities that are endless.”

Neame also has a Nord Lead 3 that he uses in the Cinematic Orchestra. “It’s got lots of good options for finding weird and wonderful sounds and you can save all the sounds on it, unlike the previous versions of this keyboard.” For keyboard amplification Neame uses the Roland KC-200 keyboard amp. “I have a Mackie mixer and some JBL monitor speakers which the piano sounds pretty good through.”

When it comes down to musical communication, Neame feels very fortunate with the two instruments that he plays. “With the sax it’s the variety of sound that you can get out of the instrument and the way you can be very vocal with it – like you’re singing through the horn. With the piano, I really like the dynamic variation that can be achieved and the possibilty of creating counterpoint with different parts moving around symbiotically. I also like the way that it is a percussion instrument and I love playing as a rhythm section player and being part of a groove.” Interview by David Gallant

Evan Parker - Saxophones

Evan Parker’s fourteenth birthday was instrumental in guiding his future career. “It was either a sax or a racing bike, he muses. “I chose the sax, as I didn’t feel that I was really cut out for the Tour de France. So we went to a shop in the Charing Cross Road and were almost certainly mildly ripped off for an old Selmer alto from the period when they were still calling their saxophones ‘Adolphe Sax’.”

Parker’s mother played the piano. “She liked Fats Waller and my father used to sing. So there was some music going on around the house which was a good thing, as school and music were two different worlds for me. That was until I got to Chiswick Polytechnic, a school for ‘awkward characters’, ‘foreigners’ and ‘mature students’. I enjoyed life there.” Parker’s sax lessons proved to be no less interesting. “I had instrumental lessons with James Knott. He taught me about more than just the saxophone. He was a card-carrying commie – quite an adventure for a boy who had relied on the Daily Express to shape his world view to that point!”

The “Adolphe Sax” didn’t last long and was soon replaced with a Buescher 400 alto. “I bought the Buescher from James – that was a fantastic horn. Sadly I had to sell it to raise the money I needed to buy my next horns.” Parker bought a “no name” Czech soprano. “I relacquered and repadded that myself – an impossible thought now. At the same time I also had a Conn baritone although I’m not sure which model it was, but it was a gift from the parents of my dear friend Peter Smiles after he died in a road accident.” Parker then bought a Selmer Mk V1 tenor, once again from his tutor James Knott and also bought a Mk V1 soprano from Bill Lewingtons in Shaftesbury Avenue. “It was the earliest version before the adapted bore and double C# mechanism was added. This made significant improvements to the intonation but squeezed all the problems into an impossibly sharp high B.” Parker also bought a “top of the range” Yamaha tenor from Lewingtons – “because I liked the sound of it.” And for a while he switched from the Mark VI to that. Parker continues. “For years Willie Garnett had been urging me to try a King and finally in the late-1990s I bought a King Silver Sonic tenor with a silver crook and a silver bell. I bought it privately in Chicago while I was on tour and played it that same night and have been playing it ever since. Later I had a second King – a gold plated model, which again I bought privately. But I swapped that for a silver Selmer Mark VI soprano that I liked.” Parker has subsequently bought a Chinese Prince soprano. “But that’s just for air travel – when the regulations only permit one piece of carry on luggage.”

We get on to mouthpieces and reeds. “On the soprano I use Harry Hartman synthetic reeds on a Selmer Super session mouthpiece, as sadly I lost my three Selmer Soloist mouthpieces – all of which were of a great vintage. For the tenor, I use Roberto’s Reeds on a vintage Berg Larsen ebonite.” He reminds me that ligatures are also a vital part of the equation. “I used to use Winslow, but then Gerd Dudek made me aware of the Francois Louis ligatures and I’ve been using them ever since, albeit with a little adjustment. Minimal contact with the body of the mouthpiece makes sense. But I have had Willie Garnett flatten the plate so that it contacts across the entire heel of the reed, as I can see no reason not to damp vibration in that part of the reed. As to whether gold or silver plating effects the final sound, given the effort taken to minimise the area of contact between the ligature and the mouthpiece, I am not convinced that that can make any significant difference… a touch of snake oil there I think!”

Like many horn players, Parker’s not too keen on amplification. “I prefer to play acoustic wherever practicable. If amplification is needed, then a studio quality microphone like the AKG 414 or similar is much preferred to the dreaded Shure vocal mics that are often on offer.” Parker has also travelled widely and has a story or two to tell about the reliability of his instruments. “I was playing in the Radio Studio in Zurich with the Pierre Favre quartet back in the late-1960s and the whole low Bb mechanism came adrift. I found the screw in the interval but it was strange feeling when the whole long rod drifted away from the body. Then at Beanbenders in Berkeley when I was playing with Barry Guy and Paul Lytton, I hit the high D palm key a bit too emphatically and the key came away from the body. Larry Ochs went to his home round the corner and brought back a Mark VI for me to finish the gig with. He claims it has never been quite the same since – in a bad way!” Having owned so many different instruments, I wondered if there was a sax out there that would really make Parker’s mouth water. “I would have liked to have tried the horns that Freddy Gregory made using Conn bodies and Selmer keywork, but they were a bit expensive at the time and I think he wanted to sell the alto and tenor together. I have also heard good things about the In der Bienen saxophones from Switzerland and I’m looking forward to trying one – who knows where that might lead. John Stevens once said that music is ‘another little life’ and I intend to live that life to the full.”

Interview - David Gallant

Danny Thompson - Bass

Thompson has worked with some of the finest British musicians and a host of top American stars including Art Farmer, Red Rodney, Joe Williams, Jimmy Witherspoon and Little Walter. “I always knew I wasn’t fit to share the stand with them,” he says with a magnum of modesty. “But I was an enthusiastic learner.... and still am!”

His very first musical experience was going along to his uncles’ band rehearsals in the school holidays, where they both played trombone. “When I was about 13, I started listening in to Alan Lomax on the Voice of America and immediately got the urge to be a blues player. I decided to make a T-Chest Bass that I could get stuck into playing with my mates in a skiffle band. At the same time I remember my music teacher at school telling me that ‘this (classical) music is beyond you’. If he had told me that nearly all the great composers were womanising piss artists it may have made more of an impact, rather than being told how sophisticated this music was, as opposed to ‘The Trash’ that I loved. Fortunately I was able to keep my sanity by playing most evenings in the skiffle group.”

Thompson bought his first ‘proper’ bass when he was 15. “It’s the same one that I play today,” he enthuses. “Victoria, that’s what I call her, is a French swell-back Gand circa 1860, which I bought for a fiver from an old man who I promised to repay at five shillings a week. I collected her and the same night did a gig in a Wandsworth pub for fifteen shillings [three weeks’ money!]. On the way to the pub it was drizzling and she got quite wet and when I started to wipe the rain from her, all the beautiful varnish came through making the trumpeter remark: ‘blimey it’s probably a Strad or somethin’!’ The next day he took me to Foote’s bass shop in Brewer St, Soho and they offered me £130. I took her back to the man and said ‘this is worth £130, not a fiver’. But he said ‘look son, if you want to play it, just give me the £5’. I think back to that a lot and think that it was meant to be, especially as it turned out that this was an extraordinary instrument that I now cherish. She’s been on countless recordings from the 1960s until now – and she is beautiful.”

“Did I go to music school?” he answers my question. There’s an obvious pause. “Well, I wanted to go to the Guildhall School of Music to study with Professor Merrett, but I was told that I had to have 5 GCE levels. I didn’t even have a spirit level, I just wanted to study bass and couldn’t understand why I had to have Classical Greek, Latin, Mathematics, History etc to study bass. So, as luck would have it I found Pete Blannin, a fine man and teacher and the Simandl book volume 1. He gave me a very important foundation to work on and I have very fond memories of those days and realise now how crucial it is for a young person to have an enthusiastic and generous teacher.”

I wondered whether ‘Victoria’ accompanies Thompson on his world travels given the new airline restrictions. “I have been flying with ‘Victoria’ since we used Bi-planes, BOAC and TWA. Now thanks to all the fuss and bother and the usual check-in epics I now possess two Czech–Ease travel basses made by David Gage in NYC. ‘Alfie’ and ‘Albert’ meet the weight and size requirements and are more importantly not the ‘compromise’ that I was fearing. I enjoy playing them and of course if one got run over by a bus I could get another exactly the same.”

Although Thompson has developed his technique and his sound in order to be heard in an acoustic setting, these days nearly everything is amplified. “I have been constantly searching for something that would achieve a true reproduction of the sound I was producing. As a teen, I used to strap tank commander’s crystal throat mics between the feet of the bridge. Then later I fitted a Di Armond pick up. Then came the Polytone and on and on and on. I finally came to the realisation that even if I had the perfect system, I was still going to be in the hands of the dreaded soundman. So after eventually getting an SWR Redhead I met the president of the company Steve Rabie and explained my problem and the question of what could I do to be in total control of my own sound. He said ‘I know exactly what you want’ and then went off and constructed the Raven Red-Box. After a few prototypes we had a great system which enabled me to put my two pick-ups into the Red Box, do my own E.Q. and then the soundman just took a feed from the box. I eventually bought a Highlander guitar piezo which Danny Farrington fitted into my bridge and a Shadow in the wing of the bridge – these work really well when mixed. For amplification I use the AER Bass Cube and it is the first time that I have had a system that reproduces my acoustic sound so honestly. As for volume, I don’t think I have ever gone past 1 – heavens knows what 11 sounds like!”

For the past year Thompson has been working with Elite Strings to develop his own ‘signature’ double-bass string. “It’s been a load of dedicated hard work to get to the point where I have a string that I am happy to recommend. It’s going to be called the ‘Danny Thompson Elitist’ – I’m really excited!”

Interview by David Gallant

Claude Deppa - Trumpet

Deppa used to refer to himself as “the cymbalman” and with good reason. “The first instrument I played in the brass band was cymbals. Endings of brass band music were always a big climax and I have vague memories of waiting for the finale by taking it easy towards the end, so that I could really go for the ending. Hence I became known as ‘the cymbalman’.”

Deppa was born into a musical family. “My grandfather ran the Athlone Brass Band and a choir called the Alpha Choristers – both in Cape Town.” Although Deppa remembers wanting to play the trombone at an early age, he reckons it would have been a step too far. “Just think, one knock on the slide would have rendered the instrument unplayable till it got fixed. So I played most of the other brass instruments, which included the second tenor horn, which I played for many years.” Drums were still very much Deppa’s first instrument. “It was only when my parents uprooted us to England in 1975 that I made the decision to take up the trumpet as my main instrument. Drums are just too heavy to lug about.” The drums may no longer take centre stage, but Deppa still plays and teaches the instrument.

“My first trumpet was a Lark,” says Deppa. “I bought it when I was 17 and from then on I played in all musical genres from marching bands, to reggae bands, to funk bands to big bands, in fact wherever I could play I would and that is where I did most of my learning. I was also fortunate to encounter such great teachers as Cathy Stobard, Olaf Vass and Brian Booth, all of whom guided and encouraged me. But it was my teacher Bob Bell who was my greatest influence. He had a really big sound and that is where my sound actually comes from.”

Two years later Deppa bought his second horn, a B&H trumpet from Rose Morris. “I went from that on to an Olds ‘Super’ trumpet and then bought a Yamaha 731 Flugelhorn at Bill Lewington’s.” Deppa continues. “I really liked these two horns, but they got stolen (Olds Super/Yamaha 731) and I looked high and low to find replacements until I finalIy found the sound I was looking for in the Stomvi. So I replaced my stolen beauties with a Stomvi trumpet and flugel’. Then while I was on tour with In-Co-Motion in South America, the lead pipe gave way and when I went to get it fixed by a Stomvi importer in Caracas I learned that the quality control on the horns was not that good, so on my return to London I had the horns overhauled. Then six months later, while I was in Yorkshire with Abana I walked on stage and my first valve just snapped. As the only horn in the band I just asked for any instrument with three valves. I was brought a cornet!”

Returning to London, Deppa concluded that he needed to find an instrument that would stand up to the rigours of the road. “That’s when I saw Taylor trumpets for the second time. They’re strong and sturdy – an almost unbreakable looking horn. I went to the factory to look at some and have played them ever since.”

Deppa owns three Taylor horns. “The first was a Custom trumpet. It’s a wonderful instrument, really warm and dark. It’s been through a lot in its life. My horns seem prone to accidents. Its last mishap was when my son knocked it off the mantlepiece [Deppa only cases his horns when he’s out and about]. Andy Taylor relacquered it for me in a ‘vintage’ finish, and it’s all the better for it. I have a second Taylor trumpet which has also had quite a hard life. The last time it hit the ground I got Andy to make it more bright, with more edge and bite to the sound – more like a lead trumpet. And he also replated it in silver, which not only looks great, but also sounds good too. My third Taylor is a Flugel Phatboy, which is everything a flugelhorn should be – and more!” Deppa uses Taylor mouthpieces on all his horns. “They stem from my old Bach 10 mouthpiece that I played for over 20 years. I guess they’re kind of copied, but then slightly altered, so now I can’t actually give them a clear number. But they have a cushioned rim with a small cup as that’s what I have always felt comfortable with.” Would Deppa I wondered ever consider switching to another make of horn. “Why should I? I play my ideal horn. But I might get one more if I could find the Taylor trumpet with the serial number that is in between the two that I have now. But I guess that might be a little too self indulgent.”

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