Local legend that has been at Marsden Jazz Festival from the start.
Rod Mason has played at every single gig since the festival began. Last year, his impressive record increased to 51/2 gigs across the weekend.
Why 1/2 a gig?
“I wasn’t actually on the bill, but ended up playing anyway”
The first gig Rod played at the first ever Marsden Jazz Festival was at the Hey Green Hotel. He played with Ben Crosland and Alan Skidmore. He remembered that it was quite full, the audience being comprised of general music fans rather than jazz fans in particular, friends and followers and people who weren’t really sure what it was all about but were prepared to suck it and see! Rod commented “Now, by contrast, its very busy, especially if the weather is nice. It’s a much bigger buzz, more busy, with stuff going on all over the place”.
Do you have any stand out festival years?
“There were two Friday night gigs working with John Surman at the Hey Green and Jim Heat , when he played at the British Legion. Maybe the second and third years? I loved those two gigs to death. Surman is God. If I’d have had to pack up the day after and given up music I could have, having been at those gigs. Everything with him involved is extra special. The Jim Heat gig, set pieces by Steps Ahead, which had a vibraphone saxophone frontline, was unbelievable. We had only been able to practise without the sax, when we got to the gig warm up and played together it was euphoric – everything was incredibly perfect and Jim is so amiable, it’s just a pleasure. There have been loads of great moments over the years.
What makes the MJF experience?
“It’s the banter that comes with it. Having played every year I know everyone.I love to be heckled when I’m introduced and I am always heckled. The festival has evolved so much… literally there is something going on in every nook and cranny. I like the new stream stuff, its ace. I don’t know how much more the festival could be. Its so friendly too and people really chat. You’re walking around and you will just hear someone shout ‘where’s your horn?” or have a joke with you. It really adds to the experience”.
What’s the craziest thing you have ever been involved in at the festival?
“… that would have to be the big fight improvisation. It was the southern softie musicians versus the northern heavies. There were three two minute rounds of improvisation against each other in … a boxing ring. A real ring. It was completely chaotic. Musicians would play out of the ring as well as in, and no quotes were allowed, otherwise the ref would give you a warning. Its so entertaining to do gigs like that, there are real opportunities for audience involvement. And for the record… the northern heavies won that one!”
Has anything changed over the years that you have been performing?
“I have noticed changes in the village throughout the last 25 years too. I notice that everyone gets involved now. Special things are put on for the festival weekend. Its as if Marsden Village is just looking for an excuse to join in a party. It feels like there is more and more happening. There are some lovely shops in the village now. So many places to go for a great coffee or for a walk. And the village reaps the rewards when the festival is on too. The chip shop has a permanent queue; the Riverhead brewery is packed. Especially when they are brewing the jazz festival beer! If you haven’t tried it…”
“There are some guys from Lichfield and from Bournemouth who bring their motorhomes and tents up. That’s where this festival is at these days. The Marsden Jazz Festival is being taken seriously in the jazz circuit. It’s still quite a small festival because of the size of Marsden, but it attracts big named people. I imagine that it’s always a hard job to get the balance between artistic, traditional and new and different music and also get bums on seats. I like to go to the more experimental stuff. Jazz in the north is so much more happening than jazz in the south. There’s a good pedigree of musicians in the north, maybe through the Leeds colleges. People like the Cory brothers, Jimmy Russell, Matt Holme, Tom Challenger”
Rod also commented on the involvement of young people in the festival:
“The other thing the MJF has in spades in the focus on families. I took part in the street parade last year and that was bonkers! We didn’t do a thing that we had practised for two days – it was way more of a free for all!. It was nice to see the parents bringing the kids down and having a laugh. Also, there is the music centre big band theme. This is such an opportunity for children to learn and improve their music. That is how we started. Getting an opportunity to play in public. That is where the learning happens. You can practise as much as you like at home, but you don’t learn until you are performing in public. I can remember my first solo. It was rubbish. I didn’t know what I was doing. I hadn’t had any lessons in improvisation or jazz music. I just had a go. I wanted the ground to open up and swallow me. There seems to be many more opportunities for school and junior bands to play at Marsden than at other festivals. It really does push younger players’ involvement in jazz”.