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BEHIND THE SOUNDS:

HENRY SPENCER

 

From growing up on a working Wiltshire farm, to being London-based, via conservatoire and performing on the London jazz scene, Henry Spencer is a multi- award-winning trumpeter, bandleader and composer releasing music under his name and touring internationally with his band, Henry Spencer & Juncture.

 

Having worked with multi-GRAMMY Award-winning Dave Darlington in New York (credits include Miles Davis, Prince, Herbie Hancock, Michael Jackson) for Spencer ’ s album released via UK/US record label, Whirlwind Recordings, he ’ s received critical acclaim across Europe: InMusic (DE) awarding 5/5 stars saying, “ Henry Spencer is one of the great talents of the British jazz scene drawing a high level of recognition. Listen to Spencer’s genius” and All About Jazz said, “ Contender for Album of the Year ”.

 

His band’s growing international touring schedule, radio and TV broadcasts, including major jazz festivals and broadcasts on Mezzo TV, have led to the increase of audiences and followers internationally. Henry has also been collaborating with his group and orchestras in performances.

 

★ ★ ★ ★ “Contender for Album of the Year.”

Hi Henry, it’s so nice speaking with you! Many congratulations on your amazing musical career – winning multiple performance awards, working with award-winning artists, your extensive touring and leading your own band! It ’ s great to see you being so active on the ever-changing music scene.

 

Thank you very much for having me!

 

Before moving to London for your music degree, you grew up on a small farm in Wiltshire, was this the place where you first discovered your love for jazz?

 

That’s right, when very young I used to spend hours sitting at the piano, making up tunes and discovering chords. I always loved improvising and the freedom of not being tied to playing the written music. Then, after starting the trumpet, I discovered jazz through jamming with my cousin and him introducing me to records.

 

How has your perception of jazz changed since you moved to London and established yourself there as a musician?

 

I’d say I’m more aware of the massive range of sub-genres, different influences and scenes. I think I’m also much more conscious of how jazz means different things to different people.

 

Later in your career, you had the opportunity to collaborate with multiple amazing artists in New York. As everyone knows the heart and home of jazz originated in New Orleans, but today some articles now consider New York the ‘New Jazz Capital of America’ . In what ways​ has New York influenced you as an artist, and how does this compare with your experiences in London, both equally inspiring and yet very different cities?

 

New York has an incredibly active scene with an incredibly high standard of musicians from all over the world. I find the intensity and commitment to the music inspiring. In London there is also a phenomenally high standard of musicians to be found. Culturally, generally in America, as you’d expect, jazz feels more ingrained and respected. It does also feel closer to the source of the music. But, I love London. There is a level of musicianship in London that is truly world class as well as an approach, and mix of influences, that is unique to the UK.

 

You’re both a trumpet player and a composer; was it a chicken and egg thing, did the trumpet come first or did composition, or both hand in hand, and how do these two different skills now complement one another in your career?

 

Before the trumpet, and still during the time I was starting to learn the trumpet, I was writing songs with lyrics and singing at the piano. I enjoyed writing and discovering chords but it was also a way to express and deal with emotion. As I learnt more about the possibilities in harmony and melody, alongside practising and developing my facility on the trumpet, I started to improvise with others and compose instrumental music. I began to write and improvise on the trumpet with the same evocative intent and feeling as when singing and writing songs at the piano. Still now, I often use lyrics as part of the composing process, even if the music is never performed with a singer. I think this can help to give the music a lyrical quality which can draw in the listener. It also keeps the music connected to the original subject matter, or motivation behind the composition.

 

 

Your music draws on a variety of influences, including jazz, rock, and minimalism, which is a fantastic combination to hear in the jazz world! How important do you feel it is to stand out in the jazz world with your own sound?

 

Thank you! I don’t think being original for the sake of being original is a good motivation. But, I think if you feel you have something that’s honest and sincere to express, whether original, within a style or drawing on different influences, then I think it’s worth developing, taking seriously and sharing with people.

 

It’s interesting that your journey during your degree training as a professional jazz musician, for two years, also included a focus on classical trumpet playing. How do you feel studying classical techniques and jazz techniques interplay with each other when developing both your technique and your work?

 

Whatever the genre, having technical facility is fundamental to being able to express something, and the trumpet is hard! It takes constant practice and commitment every day to at least maintain a level of ability. Studying classical music helped me develop my technique and learn to play appropriately for different styles. But also, musically, with improvising and composing, studying classical music helped me learn about different approaches to writing and interpreting melodies. I don’t view different genres as being so distinct as I used to. They can require slightly different approaches technically to perform, but I think the musical intent is still to express something, a melody or an idea, explore or move the listener. I love imagining, when playing or listening to classical or any written music, that the performer is playing it for the first time, spontaneously improvising the music, making it their own personal outlet.

 

 

Jazz and classical have an integral and long history, do you feel there is a contemporary compositional relationship between jazz and classical music?

 

Sure, with the writing of larger ensemble music, orchestrating and arranging, there are absolutely overlapping values. Improvisation is of course just composing in the moment of performance and composition is just improvising ‘slowly’. The harmonic depth and variation embraced in jazz has certainly influenced ‘classical’ composers , and to an extent, vice versa. You could certainly argue that rhythm is generally more of a priority in jazz compared to classical music, but they’re definitely overlapping languages, just with some contrasting vocabulary.

 

In one of your interviews you said ‘I want to draw in the listener so they engage with the music, relating it to their own personal experience – with as much emotive clarity as if the music had lyrics’. How do you feel the relationship between being an instrumentalist and the process of conveying emotional messages as compared with as singers/songwriters who have the additional medium of language?

 

I wanted to be a singer songwriter for a while because I loved how directly and unambiguously I could express through lyrics and music. I’ve always been driven to play and write music that’s driven by emotional and evocative intent. As I learnt more about the possibilities in melody, harmony and rhythm, as well as technically and sonically on the trumpet, I started to become excited about how there can be an even greater opportunity to express through music without words. As it’s abstract, without the restriction of language, the performer and listener has even more freedom to personally interpret music.

 

Congratulations on your new upcoming album in 2023! It’s great to see you working with Platinum-selling producers who’ve worked with massive greats of the past and present (John Lenon, Paul McCartney, Richard Ashcroft, Kate Bush). We’d love to hear more about it – how did it come about and what can people expect?

 

Thank you! I’m really looking forward to releasing this one and I’ve loved playing the new music on tour. In fact, we’ll be performing some of the new album on 10th October at PizzaExpress Jazz Club in Soho. I’ve been developing relationships with the producers over time through collaborations and past releases, like the EP, ‘The Survivor and The Descendant’. I love that they bring such a range of experience. I especially wanted to work with people from outside the jazz world, because of the different perspectives and influences they bring.

 

Can we touch on your previous EP release ‘The Survivor and the Descendant’ which it’s been said represents your musical development. It would be great to hear more about how this impacted your musical development and what further opportunities this release brought for you?

 

The EP release ‘The Survivor and the Descendant’ was about exploring new musical ideas and collaborations with producers, with a view to the next album. The work and collaborations behind this EP are continued for the new record. This EP has also led to special performances with the band plus orchestra.

 

 

Alongside your hectic schedule, you’re also leading a band ‘Henry Spencer & Juncture’. It’s great to see you touring with the band in France, Romania, the UK, including such great venues as Ronnie Scott’s. How did the idea for a band come about, and were there any challenges you bumped into as its leader?

 

I always wanted to form a group with which to perform, experiment and develop, and as an outlet for my writing. All music is released under just my name on Spotify etc., but for touring and performing, I use the name ‘Henry Spencer & Juncture’ to refer to this particular band and instrumentation. I plan to have different groups with different instrumentation under other names. Being a bandleader definitely has its challenges. The composing and the performances are the fun and ‘easy’ bits. It’s all the organisation and responsibilities outside the music, that’s needed to make the gigs and releases happen, that are the challenges. From negotiating with promoters, keeping the band happy and making sure all our flights are sorted … We were once playing a gig in London and early the next morning we were due to fly to Belgrade to perform at Belgrade Jazz Festival. During the soundcheck for the London gig, and also during the actual performance, we received emails saying all our flights had been cancelled and changed! After the London gig, at 6am I was at Heathrow making phone calls to the Belgrade festival team and trying to buy plane tickets in time to get the only flight that would get us to the gig in time. That was pretty stressful! Our gig at PizzaExpress Jazz Club in Soho on 10th October shouldn’t be so difficult for us to get to!

 

With so many accomplishments already, your band appears to have a bright and promising future. We’d love to know what’s planned for your band for 2022 – 2023!

 

Thank you very much – I’m really excited about the new releases on the way, more touring in Europe and about how the team behind the project is growing. We’re also planning some special performances with the band plus orchestra.

 

Finally, where can people hear your recently released EP as well as other works?

 

It’s everywhere online, on Spotify, Amazon etc., available to buy at henryspencermusic.com, but what would be awesome is if people could to check it out on bandcamp here: https://henryspencermusic.bandcamp.com

 

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