“Improvisation is kind of composing on the spot”
26 September 2017
Jazz-house collaborators Alexander Bone and Toby Comeau talk artistic control, Kylie and starting young
Can you tell us a bit about Tube Zone 83?
Alexander: Tube Zone 83 is a one-hour piece of music that Toby Comeau and I have written, commissioned by Marsden Jazz Festival. It’s essentially a fusion between jazz and dance music with a six-piece band with a slightly unusual lineup, including an electric drum kit and synths as well as acoustic instruments.
Toby: The piece is primarily built on house grooves. We’ve then overlaid this with funky instruments, rich jazz harmony and memorable melodies that will lead into long, improvised sections that are wild and unpredictable, in a way that is hopefully bringing something new both to jazz and to house music. There’ll also be slow ambient sections that explore alternative soundscapes. To summarise, “Post-funk electronic dance grooves meet with jazz improvisation.”
What’s the inspiration behind it?
Alexander: We both study in London, which is a real cluster of incredible art and events. However, home for me is North Yorkshire and for Toby it’s Cornwall. We wanted to write a piece that acknowledges these other areas of the country that we know so well, as many things are incredibly London-centric.
Alexander, you started playing music at the age of two and were one of the youngest people in the UK to get the diploma (DipLCM) in saxophone (at 11 years old). How important is it to start young and could you have ever achieved so much if you’d left it to later?
Alexander: I think the biggest benefit of starting young is your life is less cluttered. Music is about being creative, exploring ideas and having fun. When you’re young, perhaps being inquisitive and playing with ideas is easier. You have more time to try things, just for the sake of trying them.
You’ve remixed records by Kylie and worked with Nile Rodgers and on your website you describe yourself as saxophonist, producer and songwriter. What’s your biggest passion, playing, composing or producing?
Alexander: Honestly, I love all three equally. They’re all very linked to me. My first love was playing. But then that, especially in jazz music, merges with composition, as improvisation is kind of composing on the spot. Then production is very linked to composition and songwriting. The instruments and sounds you use in a piece of music and how you arrange them are arguably just as crucial to the overall result as the melody, harmony and rhythm.
Alexander: Both my parents play jazz music as well as rock and pop and I grew up hearing it around the house. When it came to playing an instrument, I loved improvising. My dad taught me saxophone with a more jazz foundation, but when it came to playing other genres, I found a lot of elements from jazz playing could apply to them too.
Toby: The word jazz can be defined in a million different ways but to me jazz has everything to do with finding new paths using what has been created so far, as opposed to repeating what has already been created.
When did you start working together?
Alexander: Toby and I met when he joined Chethams School of Music in Manchester in 2013, where I’d been studying since 2009. We started working together pretty quickly. I found Toby’s creativity and ideas to be really unique when we improvised together and his compositions were all works of genius. We haven’t really written much music together before, so the opportunity to do that for Marsden Jazz Festival is massively exciting.
How different are your approaches and how do you work together?
Toby: We share a lot of approaches, as we’ve been working together since we were 16 and learnt through similar institutions. We’ve tried to play to our individual strengths. So far, Alexander has been focusing a bit more on the sound design and groove ideas whilst I’ve focused more on harmony and melody, but overall we’ve very much shared everything. Our process has essentially consisted of one of us having an idea and making it into something, then the other one will build on it, then the first will edit that, until it grows into something complete that we are both happy with.
Why did you agree to play at Marsden Jazz Festival? (Apart from the cold, hard cash)?
Toby: The opportunity to write an hour of music where we have full artistic control and the gig logistics funded was impossible to refuse! Opportunities like this do not come around often so we feel extremely lucky. A bonus is that we have played at Marsden Jazz Festival once before (with Jam Experiment) to a very friendly audience and we got a really good vibe from the festival in general (not to mention the amazing scenic surroundings).
Toby: In order to find new paths in music there is an element of risk that cannot guarantee a short-term profit, which is why opportunities such as this are a rare thing. The funding provided to us and other artists who are trying to break new ground is essential for allowing the time and space to do so. As history has proved, new answers to music do actually create masses of profit in the end, however, those who are now making billions from the hip-hop industry (for example) could not have predicted it at the time that hip-hop was being born.
Alexander: Also the cold hard cash was too tempting. We may perform wearing gold chains.
Tube Zone 83 is on Sat 7th Oct at 2:00pm at Marsden Royal British Legion
© 2017 Hazel Davis