NEWS Behind The Beat
The fourth in a series of interviews
by writer Paul Deegan.
Interview: Frank Sebastian
Paul Deegan: What's it like to be a Radio 3 Jazz Today programme featured artist?
Frank Sebastian: We had two hour's studio time to record a half hour programme, so we were under a lot of pressure to get it right first go. Also they were my own pieces so I wanted them to go well. It was exciting work in the studio at the time. Then it was straight on to the next thing… a busy period of my life.
PD: What section process did you go through to become a national jazz finalist?
FS: The band recorded a demo at Mike Perry's, which got us through to the semi-finals. The semi final was a live concert with three judges and we were selected to represent the South of England.
PD: You started out in engineering. To an outsider that seems to be the diametric opposite of being a musician. Are there any parallels?
FS: There were enough musicians at the research centre where I worked for me to start up a music society with a recorder player, John Edwards. Together we put on a monthly concert, which touched on everything from flamenco guitar recitals to orchestral and chamber music. Music is a science as well as an art. I don't really know why so many engineers in one place should have been such accomplished musicians, but I formed an impression that the engineers I worked with were truly creative individuals and very similar perhaps temperamentally to musicians I have subsequently known.
PD: You keep your hand in on the engineering side by producing wood and metal moving sculptures and clocks. What are you currently working on?
FS: I write down all my ideas and inventions in a series of sketch books. I have for example a book of ideas for clocks and another of knot designs and so on. I have always been fascinated by automaton and from time to time one of my ideas gets translated into something in 3D.
PD: South Bank, Bass Clef, The Vortex, Ronnie Scott's. What's your favourite venue and why?
FS: A good venue and a good audience go hand in hand: full marks to all those venues and many others including The Bass Clef, The Bull's Head, Barnes, and The 606 for keeping live music going. Ronnie Scott's has to be the pinnacle. Maybe it's because Ronnie Scott was such a prominent and warm character and sax player, or maybe it's just the particularly good personal memories that I attach to the venue.
PD: If you could play in a quartet with musicians of any era, who would you invite to appear on stage with you?
FS: So many to choose from… the first thing that comes into my head is that from a sax player's point of view, what's most important is the way the trio that is backing you work as a team. There are so many famous trios, any one of which I would love to play with. Two things make up music; talent and friendship. In the end, I do believe I would be happier working with people I knew really well, or simply clicked with on the night.
PD: The government ban jazz for a week. Which artists from other music genres are you going to listen to?
FS: I'd move on to the baroque classics - Bach, Telemann, Dowland, Francesco da Milano, and other music of that period.
PD: I want to become a professional musician. What three pieces of advice would you give me?
FS: Fine-tune your technique so you can be ready for anything. You are an ambassador for the live event. Learn to respond to the audience who are as much a part of the performance as the music you are creating. Be proud. Keep going. You are a vital part of civilisation as we know it.
PD: What is your favourite musical composition that you have written, and what motivated you to write it?
FS: I have written some compositions about the places where I've lived, which I really like, and also people I have known. I am always hoping to write my favourite tune. I haven't done that yet, but I like those ones which give me the most opportunity to improvise. Anticipating the fun of playing the tunes with the people I'm writing for is what motivates me.
PD: You’re stuck on a desert island but Sue Lawley will only let you take one album. What’s it going to be?
FS: Something by Charlie Parker. He was such an amazing jazz player. 'Bird of Paradise' is a wonderful track. I went with Guy Barker to Boots when we were teenagers. I remember Guy buying a Jazz at the Philharmonic-type compilation. I bought an album by Charlie Parker, who I'd not heard play before. Bird of Paradise was my first jazz revelation.