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Below is an extended interview from the NuVoice of Noel Jewkes by Richard Cherry at the Caffé DiVino 37 Caledonia Street Sausalito  May 2006. 

Welcome to the new & improved NuVoice music column. By new and improved I am referring to the column heading.

We have adopted the name “...Listen Up”; and while we are listening, there is no more interesting performer to hear than our own NOEL JEWKES, a consummate musician and composer.
Noel is a teacher, recording artist, comedian-although he probably would not agree with that assessment, and generally, a show-stopping saxophone and clarinet artist.

When Adolph Sax got his patent in 1864 for what has evolved into the current single-reed brass horn, he was thinking of a replacement or augmentation of the traditional bass clarinet. Somehow he did not envision a player like Charlie Parker-or Kenny G in the future mix. For an interesting story of Sax’s struggles to bring his new instrument to legitimacy you can surf over to: www.saxgourmet.com/adolph-sax.html

But Noel brings another dimension to the usual, run-of-the-mill virtuoso performance; and that is a consistent swing and impeccable taste. I ran into Noel at DiVino recently, and here is the result of an interesting banter session.

 

Caffe’ DiVino

I am sitting here outside of the Caffe’ DiVino, where Noel has just finished his second set with the Silver Fox Trio. Noel has just brought down the house with a rousing rendition of “Avalon”, a more traditional jazz piece from the 1930’s.

RICHARD: Hey Noel, that was some clarinet magic on that last tune; do you prefer that instrument to your usual Tenor Saxophone?

NOEL: Well, since I am asked by Norris, our “Chief Silver Fox” to play some clarinet from time to time, I chose ‘Avalon’ be-cause Benny Goodman really put it on the map as a swing-era instrumental back in the ‘30’s. I like to nod to that era sometimes in order to give some perspective on where jazz music has been and compare it to where it is now. I started out playing swing when I was a kid playing with my parent’s family band out in Utah and Colorado. There is one bop version that I like very much of this tune by John Coltrane and Hank Mobley (Prestige 7670). However, I think Norris is more geared up for the swing version

R: A be-bop ‘Avalon’? I had no idea that Coltrane put that out...but it does have some interesting chord changes. You can-and do-play a variety of instruments from the reed family, as well as brass and piano. Can you tell us which you prefer and the challenges of switching among different horns?

 

TENOR

N: I guess I still prefer the saxophones...Tenor in particular, but I also like Alto, Soprano & Baritone for different musical requirements. One thing I DON’T like is lugging them around! But when I record, sometimes I play them all in multi-track and I enjoy writing for them and putting them together. I am also trying to play some piano as I think it is the Master Instrument and you can really define a tune on that instrument. Needless to say, you have to have some chops to do so! I also dabble in Trumpet and Valve Trombone, but I’m not very good! Bass Clarinet is another instrument I love to play (I like it on a good ballad!). Switching instruments is a BIG problem on the bandstand because of the time element involved and also because I don’t do it for entertainment reasons...I just like the way they sound and how they lend themselves to different kinds of music!

R: Noel, we occasionally hear that jazz is dead, or that it has morphed into just another style of ‘elevator music’; can you comment on that?

N: To a certain degree it has. What is ‘elevator’ music? (brings you up and lets you down???) A lot of music is designed to do just that; from classical stuff to movie scores. In other words, music is designed to wring out your emotions and some music, classical in particular, runs the emotional gamut from one end to the other all in one piece! Jazz however usually explores one emotion at a time and I think with a good improvisation, goes deeper into it than any other music. (My opinion) I think that today’s world is so complex that “Short Attention Span Theatre” has taken over! Just listen to the ‘bumper music’ on PBS as a case in point! All those lovely little themes deserve to be developed and explored, but what do we get? 15 seconds! I think in order for Jazz to thrive, it has to be played without those constrictions and it should be appreciated for what it is: not for any other purpose!

 

BIG BANDS

R: Interesting thought about elevators and elevations. When music is used as mere background noise or to sell products then i believe that the culture suffers in ways that we have yet to determine. But, i understand that you had previously been associated with several famous big bands that remain active, even today, playing the REAL music of swing era standards. Was this a significant learning environment for you and is traveling with ‘road’ bands as glamorous as some think?

N: Well, Richard, you have probably had as much or more of that type of experience than I have. I’ve played with a few big bands around the Bay Area: Harold Jones, John Coppola, John Marabuto, Rudy Salvini, Ray Hackett and some cruise ships with Rex Allen. (Also some shows with Billy Eckstine and Mel Tormé). I would say that the one thing I have learned from all that is how to read parts and blend in with a section! As far as glamour is concerned, I missed that part...I was too busy trying to take care of business!

 

VENUES

R: This particular Caffe’ venue must present some problems, as it must be like trying to create with a boisterous cocktail party in progress, alongside a Yoga class, while trying to ignore the passing freight train. How do you manage to focus through all that?

N: Thought you’d never ask! Well...let’s see...I guess it’s like driving a wedge into a tall tree...at first the job seems impossible, but as you keep hammering away at it, the tree begins to sway and finally topples! OK?

R: If that tree falls in a forest and nobody is there, does it still make a sound that can be recorded, packaged, marketed and heard on MTV?

 

MUSIC EDUCATION

Allright, back to reality...in the practical sense of primary education, if parents wish to start their children on a musical path, which instrument would you suggest as a starting platform; i am tempted to say the piano?

N: I agree, but I would also say that music theory is equally important. If a youngster is interested in saxophone, however, I would suggest they start on clarinet first, because that instrument takes longer to master and it makes saxophone playing easier!

R: In the realm of your ‘day-job-vu’, are you accepting students or are you associated with a university or college at this time?

N: I am teaching one day a week at a middle school in Mill Valley, Mt Tamalpais School. I’m just an adjunct teacher and am working with a few kids (individually) from age 9 thru 12. You might ask what’s a jazz musician doing teaching beginners? My answer is: get ‘em early before they have developed and preconceptions about what music is and you might be able to get them on to something (good) that they might not get until much later. I am NOT teaching Jazz however...I’m teaching them basics and instrumental control and some simple theory that they can use in any form of instrumental music. The kids are great and I really enjoy helping them!

The school has a wonderful performing arts curriculum in band, dance & drama and is privately funded by the soccer moms & dads of Marin!

 

RECENT RECORDINGS

R: Can we get your latest CD release here?

N; Well, probably not as it is not really my gig here (It’s Norris’s gig and I don’t feel right about pushing my stuff in front of his stuff) But...you can CALL ME AT: (415) 945-9016 or 786-6894 and I’ll be happy to send you some. I have been making some albums (me on piano and saxes with Mike Hallesy, bass & Ben Randall, drums + Tommy Kesecker,vibes) under the name of the “Junqueyarde Jazz Catts”)...( I have a studio in Greenbrae where we record my compositions and arrangements...got a nice old ‘38 Baldwin 6’3” Grand and some good recording equipment) Also you can check my website at: www.noeljewkes.com for more on me and some albums I am on as a sideman for a lot of different groups & singers.

R: Well there’s Norris calling you back to the stand; so we regretfully conclude this interesting chat. I have learned a lot, and i am sure the readers will be more enlightened as to the workings of a successful jazz artist.

Thank You, Noel.

Thank you Richard...my pleasure!

 

You can reach Noel at: jewkesjazz@sbcglobal.net Tel. (415) 945-9016 or 786-6894 website: www.noeljewkes.com

...and that’s a take.

Musical questions, comments, suggestions? Send them over to: rcherry@nuvoicenotb.com

To link to the Nuvoice: www.nuvoicenotb.com