NEWS Behind The Beat
The second in a series of interviews
by writer Paul Deegan.
Interview: Paul Mason
Paul Deegan: Why Big Band music?
Paul Mason: I had an active interest in music from an early age. When I was six, I was recording Mozart off the radio, and later trying to play along by ear with records of clarinet concertos that didn’t play at the right speed on our old Hitachi music centre. I mucked around on the recorder and the harmonica and drove my parents mad for a while.
I studied clarinet at school under the tutelage of a well known British jazz saxophonist called Don Rendall. Whilst there, I also met one of those people who leaves a lifelong impression on you with their enthusiasm and passion for the subject. His name was Brian Booth. He was a peri drum teacher and jazz was his love. Booth ran after-school classes and a Saturday youth big band. By the time I was 14, I had played concert tours in Canada (playing Avant Guarde [AKA Squeaky Gate] music), and also in Germany, where big band music was a much loved form - even among fellow students. I guess that was where it all started.
PD: Why did you team up with Angus?
PM: I met Angus at the Royal College of Music sometime around 1987, when we were both doing other things. Angus was studying classical voice and piano, and I was doing a joint first study on classical clarinet and saxophone. At the Royal College of Music at that time the singing and woodwind fraternities didn’t mix a great deal, but I vaguely remember Angus being a well mannered and polite chap, without the stand-offishness of some of the other ‘singer types’ there!
A few years later, after leaving college, Angus invited me to join him on a local gig, and whilst trying to place each other from college, we found that we enjoyed working together. Over time, we began to discover that we had complimentary abilities – the sort that helped the other person to strengthen their weaker areas. During the years that we have worked together I’ve gained a lot of respect for Angus, because he’s made the decision not to follow the ‘I’m a band leader’ mentality, where eventually almost anything goes to get the job done. But Angus has kept his integrity and ideals and actually wants to bring a real ray of happiness into the lives of the people he plays with and for, a very rare thing indeed in this day and age.
PD: You're billed as being the band’s Musical Director. How does your role differ from that of Angus?
PM: Angus looks good out front and I do all the donkey work. No, that's not quite right, hang on. Let me see… Angus works on preparing and setting up a concert, the venue, the advertising, the marketing, writing half of the music, booking the band, setting up the sound system, and then being right there on the night where the audience needs him to be, as the teller of the story, the communicator. Then the band and myself work our butts off (in a fun sort of way).
Jesting apart, I guess the serious answer would be that Angus’ role is directed towards the audience and my role is aimed at the band. I make sure everything runs as intended and I also ensure that the musicians are having a good time too, allowing Angus to put all his attention into the job of looking after the audience.
PD: Do you find it frustrating that you have a significant input into the direction of the band, but that Angus is the ‘showman’, and naturally draws much of the attention and credit?
PM: The short answer is ‘horses for courses’. You don’t put an Olympic weightlifter in for a 26 mile marathon run. Angus and I have different strengths in what we do musically. So no, I find no frustration whatsoever that Angus draws the attention and credit: in fact I seem to produce better results (and enjoy myself more) when I’m not worrying about being in the spotlight! Also, as a strange twist to things, I’ve found in the arranging of several of the band charts and in the musical directing role, that I’ve received a level of credit and respect from folks that I wouldn’t have expected.
PD: What attracted you to the Saxophone?
PM: I think it was my mother who wanted me to play the clarinet when I went to comprehensive school and I guess it was only a short hop (in the jazz and big band worlds at least) across to the saxophone, and so here I am! I often thought that if I were to do it again, I might try jazz trombone, who knows!
PD: If you were unable to play a wind instrument, what instrument would you like to play and why?
PM: Most probably piano because of the harmonic possibilities on the instrument. Definitely not anything with strings: I’m no good with strings...
PD: If you weren't able to be a paid musician, what job would you like to have?
PM: Something similar to what I’m doing at the moment. About a year ago my wife, Yvonne, and I left London to live and work in mid-Wales for the churches there, as worship musicians and tutors. Funnily enough, this hasn’t got in the way of being a ‘paid’ musician very much at all. The only problem I now have is trying to find the time to be creative and write/arrange music, as we now have a 17th century house to renovate and live in and a five month old daughter thrown in for good measure!
PD: What was the first record you bought with your own money? And what was the last album you purchased?
PM: My first and most noticeable album was ‘Urbie Green and his Big Beautiful Band’. It still knocks me out today when I listen to it. And the last album/CD I bought? Jamie Aebersold II-V-I playalong series, both to finally legitimise the bootleg copy I had listened to for (ahem) years and to brush up on my playing! It feels good to be legit!