Below is an extended interview from
the NuVoice of Noel Jewkes by Richard Cherry at the Caffé DiVino 37
Caledonia Street Sausalito May 2006.
Welcome to the new & improved NuVoice music
column. By new and improved I am referring to the column heading.
We have adopted the name “...Listen Up”;
and while we are listening, there is no more interesting performer
to hear than our own NOEL JEWKES, a consummate musician and composer.
Noel is a teacher, recording artist, comedian-although he probably
would not agree with that assessment, and generally, a show-stopping
saxophone and clarinet artist.
When Adolph Sax got his patent in 1864 for what
has evolved into the current single-reed brass horn, he was thinking
of a replacement or augmentation of the traditional bass clarinet.
Somehow he did not envision a player like Charlie Parker-or Kenny
G in the future mix. For an interesting story of Sax’s struggles
to bring his new instrument to legitimacy you can surf over to: www.saxgourmet.com/adolph-sax.html
But Noel brings another dimension to the usual,
run-of-the-mill virtuoso performance; and that is a consistent swing
and impeccable taste. I ran into Noel at DiVino recently, and here
is the result of an interesting banter session.
I am sitting here outside of the Caffe’ DiVino,
where Noel has just finished his second set with the Silver Fox Trio.
Noel has just brought down the house with a rousing rendition of “Avalon”,
a more traditional jazz piece from the 1930’s.
RICHARD: Hey Noel, that was some clarinet magic
on that last tune; do you prefer that instrument to your usual Tenor
NOEL: Well, since I am asked by Norris, our “Chief
Silver Fox” to play some clarinet from time to time, I chose
‘Avalon’ be-cause Benny Goodman really put it on the map
as a swing-era instrumental back in the ‘30’s. I like
to nod to that era sometimes in order to give some perspective on
where jazz music has been and compare it to where it is now. I started
out playing swing when I was a kid playing with my parent’s
family band out in Utah and Colorado. There is one bop version that
I like very much of this tune by John Coltrane and Hank Mobley (Prestige
7670). However, I think Norris is more geared up for the swing version
R: A be-bop ‘Avalon’? I had no idea
that Coltrane put that out...but it does have some interesting chord
changes. You can-and do-play a variety of instruments from the reed
family, as well as brass and piano. Can you tell us which you prefer
and the challenges of switching among different horns?
N: I guess I still prefer the saxophones...Tenor
in particular, but I also like Alto, Soprano & Baritone for different
musical requirements. One thing I DON’T like is lugging them
around! But when I record, sometimes I play them all in multi-track
and I enjoy writing for them and putting them together. I am also
trying to play some piano as I think it is the Master Instrument and
you can really define a tune on that instrument. Needless to say,
you have to have some chops to do so! I also dabble in Trumpet and
Valve Trombone, but I’m not very good! Bass Clarinet is another
instrument I love to play (I like it on a good ballad!). Switching
instruments is a BIG problem on the bandstand because of the time
element involved and also because I don’t do it for entertainment
reasons...I just like the way they sound and how they lend themselves
to different kinds of music!
R: Noel, we occasionally hear that jazz is dead,
or that it has morphed into just another style of ‘elevator
music’; can you comment on that?
N: To a certain degree it has. What is ‘elevator’
music? (brings you up and lets you down???) A lot of music is designed
to do just that; from classical stuff to movie scores. In other words,
music is designed to wring out your emotions and some music, classical
in particular, runs the emotional gamut from one end to the other
all in one piece! Jazz however usually explores one emotion at a time
and I think with a good improvisation, goes deeper into it than any
other music. (My opinion) I think that today’s world is so complex
that “Short Attention Span Theatre” has taken over! Just
listen to the ‘bumper music’ on PBS as a case in point!
All those lovely little themes deserve to be developed and explored,
but what do we get? 15 seconds! I think in order for Jazz to thrive,
it has to be played without those constrictions and it should be appreciated
for what it is: not for any other purpose!
R: Interesting thought about elevators and elevations.
When music is used as mere background noise or to sell products then
i believe that the culture suffers in ways that we have yet to determine.
But, i understand that you had previously been associated with several
famous big bands that remain active, even today, playing the REAL
music of swing era standards. Was this a significant learning environment
for you and is traveling with ‘road’ bands as glamorous
as some think?
N: Well, Richard, you have probably had as much
or more of that type of experience than I have. I’ve played
with a few big bands around the Bay Area: Harold Jones, John Coppola,
John Marabuto, Rudy Salvini, Ray Hackett and some cruise ships with
Rex Allen. (Also some shows with Billy Eckstine and Mel Tormé).
I would say that the one thing I have learned from all that is how
to read parts and blend in with a section! As far as glamour is concerned,
I missed that part...I was too busy trying to take care of business!
R: This particular Caffe’ venue must present
some problems, as it must be like trying to create with a boisterous
cocktail party in progress, alongside a Yoga class, while trying to
ignore the passing freight train. How do you manage to focus through
N: Thought you’d never ask! Well...let’s
see...I guess it’s like driving a wedge into a tall tree...at
first the job seems impossible, but as you keep hammering away at
it, the tree begins to sway and finally topples! OK?
R: If that tree falls in a forest and nobody is
there, does it still make a sound that can be recorded, packaged,
marketed and heard on MTV?
Allright, back to reality...in the practical sense
of primary education, if parents wish to start their children on a
musical path, which instrument would you suggest as a starting platform;
i am tempted to say the piano?
N: I agree, but I would also say that music theory
is equally important. If a youngster is interested in saxophone, however,
I would suggest they start on clarinet first, because that instrument
takes longer to master and it makes saxophone playing easier!
R: In the realm of your ‘day-job-vu’,
are you accepting students or are you associated with a university
or college at this time?
N: I am teaching one day a week at a middle school
in Mill Valley, Mt Tamalpais School. I’m just an adjunct teacher
and am working with a few kids (individually) from age 9 thru 12.
You might ask what’s a jazz musician doing teaching beginners?
My answer is: get ‘em early before they have developed and preconceptions
about what music is and you might be able to get them on to something
(good) that they might not get until much later. I am NOT teaching
Jazz however...I’m teaching them basics and instrumental control
and some simple theory that they can use in any form of instrumental
music. The kids are great and I really enjoy helping them!
The school has a wonderful performing arts curriculum
in band, dance & drama and is privately funded by the soccer moms
& dads of Marin!
R: Can we get your latest CD release here?
N; Well, probably not as it is not really my gig
here (It’s Norris’s gig and I don’t feel right about
pushing my stuff in front of his stuff) But...you can CALL ME AT:
(415) 945-9016 or 786-6894 and I’ll be happy to send you some.
I have been making some albums (me on piano and saxes with Mike Hallesy,
bass & Ben Randall, drums + Tommy Kesecker,vibes) under the name
of the “Junqueyarde Jazz Catts”)...( I have a studio in
Greenbrae where we record my compositions and arrangements...got a
nice old ‘38 Baldwin 6’3” Grand and some good recording
equipment) Also you can check my website at: www.noeljewkes.com for
more on me and some albums I am on as a sideman for a lot of different
groups & singers.
R: Well there’s Norris calling you back to
the stand; so we regretfully conclude this interesting chat. I have
learned a lot, and i am sure the readers will be more enlightened
as to the workings of a successful jazz artist.
Thank You, Noel.
Thank you Richard...my pleasure!
You can reach Noel at: firstname.lastname@example.org
Tel. (415) 945-9016 or 786-6894 website: www.noeljewkes.com
...and that’s a take.
Musical questions, comments, suggestions? Send them
over to: email@example.com
To link to the Nuvoice: www.nuvoicenotb.com