Sunday, 20 June 2010
Interview with Starpoint Radio's Jazz Presener Phil Levene
Hi back to some interviews with some relevant U.K. dj's. On this occassion I have chosen one of London's greatest undiscovered "secrets" the Jazz Collector and d.j Phil Levene.I can highly recommend his show on Starpoint Radio which goes out on a Thursday evening at 11.00p.m. until 1.00a.m. and is well worth your time.Phil has the ability and knowledge to presnt a very open minded Jazz Show aptly entitled "Eclectic Jazz". He alaso has the talent to mix new jazz with old exploring many avenues of the past and future of this genre.He champions newer jazz labels like Freestyle,Wah Wah,Ricky Tik etc alongside the classics such as Blue Note,Prestige,Atlantic et all.
I recently caught up with him to catch up and fill in some of the gaps of how he got to where he is at today !!
When did all this start for you ?
At the age of 6 my uncle bought me the soundtrack to Disney’s ‘Jungle Book’
Louis Prima performing ‘I wanna Be Like you’ ignited something in me, which as yet has not diminished.
Where were you born and raised?
What were your early musical influences ?
Blues, Rhythm & Blues, Soul (mainly Motown) and Funk
Were you influenced by live acts or dj's ?
Initially my brothers record collection, then live acts.
When did you start dj'ing and who with and where ?
About 1972/3 at my youth club we had one of those big old school
wooden record players, just one of course, we all brought LP’s along to play,
The older kids would chuck off ever who’s was on, and I was told to play, as they liked my selection. I didn’t consider it DJing at the time, but I guess the writing was on the wall.
Skipping ahed a few years I started doing uni' parties that my friend organized, also did the odd thing in the west end. But it wasn’t until the early / mid eighties when I met Gary Dennis
that Djing started to be a regular part of my life, Gary was asked to run a jazz room in the small back bar at the Goldmine on Canvey Island, he asked me to help him out,
That was the main start that put me on DJ path.
The Jazz scene, music, clubbing and live is a labour of love for sure, tell me what it all means to you !
Music has an effect on me like nothing else, I can’t explain
what it is, it creates a myriad emotional reaction that is extremely enlightening.
It’s a journey of discovery that has no ending and I find that’s exciting.
I just want to share that positive feeling and help other to take the journey.
Jazz is a great art form and I love art, it’s inspiring and energizes me.
As for clubbing I like to think keeps me youthful !
Tell us about the jazz club development down south from your perspective the whole 9 yards Chris Hill, Showstopper, Electric ballroom, Horshoe etc !
I think it’s a stroke of incredible luck and good fortune that we had in Essex the likes of Chris Hill and Bob Jones, being as they were from a generation where it was all about a pure love and passion for quality black music and supporting live acts, It was not about being a DJ as we think of it now.
When they were Djing in the early days, there was no rule book or preconceptions,
I think they were running on instinct without knowing the outcome, and as such had a great influence on those that were in attendance and a scene emerged.
I see it as a simple journey from Disco to Jazz. many clubbers loved the percussion breaks in Disco records which were often in a samba style, while straight ahead Jazz musicians turning to a more commercial sound were making what they thought of as Disco, which became know to us as Jazz-funk, so those two elements alone had planted the seeds of a club orientated Jazz scene, Latin to Bebop, so the whole transition was that much easier for your average punter.
So it eventually got to the point where you could here a Bebop tune played along side some dirty funk, Bob Jones stepped it up a notch by dropping John Coltrane at Caister !
Dancing was also keeping pace with these developments, with more creative music came more creative expression through dance which became integral to the scene.
In London, with it’s vast number of venues as compared with that of the suburbs, would allow for more specialist sessions to start playing just Jazz.
Heavier more intense sounds would get an airing and the dancers would always rise to the challenge and eventually in some cases dictating the direction of the music that got played.
Was the Giles Peterson / Acid Jazz explosion a good thing ?
Yeah for sure, it gave form and meaning to a lot of new people that hadn’t necessarily
come up through the jazz funk and soul scene. every generation likes to feel part of a scene that they can claim as their own.
A lot music being produced now comes from those people who were a part of and inspired
by Acid Jazz.
For the rest of us the term ‘Acid Jazz‘ was fairly meaningless, it was just an extension of an existing scene which we had grown with.
What did you perceive as the differences between jazz being played in the south and that played in clubs up north ?
I never had any reason to travel north for my clubbing, I had everything on my door step and was spoilt for choice. But from what I could gather through reading and chatting to various people was that there was very little difference, of Jazz at least being played. But I had no first hand experience.
Tell me a little about the following guys from your perspective Giles Peterson, Snowboy,Bob Jones, Mark Webster, Paul Murphy, Kev Beadle, Seymour Nurse and any other people you think relevant !
I think Gilles is a great communicator, every now and then someone comes along who has that certain something, people respect and take note of, Gilles is that person, In the early days when he was exploring jazz, you could follow him each week on radio and make the discoveries with him. He still continue to have that presence and remains committed
to the music through his Brownswood label and radio show.
It’s funny I’ve probably DJ with Snowboy more than any other DJ but still think of him primarily as a musician. I have a huge amount of respect for Bob Jones, incredibly knowledgeable and with an attitude to the music that I have always and still do find inspiring. Mark Webster is a great character, intelligent, funny and great taste in music.
I think the tunes Murphy was dropping during the ballroom days were spot on for that moment in time, totally fired up and energetic fusion / cuban / bebop and paralleled my
journey at that time. Kev’s totally committed to promoting new sounds now and made a worthy contribution back in the day. There are very few people who I talk about music with, just music and nothing do to with any part of the scene, Seymour is one of those people. we have long conversation discussing certain solos, phrasing, rhythms, he very knowledgeable and articulate and really feels the music. I would like to give a mention to DJ Sylvester, he has the most amazing collection of afro-cuban and latin jazz records I’ve come across, all originals. He would play great sets upstairs at the WAGG, I so desperately wanted those records !
Talk a little about some of your favourite artists and labels/ styles ie BeBop,Latin,Fusion,Batucada,Vocals,HardBop,Swing,Broken Beat etc
I like artists who create new sounds, Miles Davis did that and had a phenomenal
output during the sixties and seventies and all of that stuff now still sounds amazing and so fresh. Think about what came out of the Miles Davis camp of that period; Herbie and the head hunters, Wayne Shorter formed Weather Report along with the late great Joe Zawinul. Tony Williams Lifetime, Chick Corea’s Return To Forever, John McLaughlin's The Mahavishnu Orchestra. And there were great solo albums form Airto, Keith Jarrett, George Benson. An incredible period of creativity stemming from the genius of MIles. And still continue to give so much fulfillment.
I’m a huge fan of fusion; Barry Miles, Ursula Dudziak, Jeff Lorber Fusion, Garlos Garnett, Luis Gasca, all producing music with depth and fire.
Thelonius Monk had a great and unique sound, Horace Silver also has had amazing output of high quality over the years, Art Blakey and his various messengers, Coltrane, Pharoah... there’s so many I could on and on. Away from jazz; Fela Kuti’s afro beat continues to freshen up many a tune, it’s such an infectious sound I’m surprised it’s not popular than it is. Cal Tjader is another of my favs. I think there was a lot more going on with him than is first apparent, The way he arranged some of his tunes, bring you into a tune under force pretenses with a light and breezy intro and before you know there’s an a real intensity building - love it ! Candido, Mongo Santamaria, Herbie Mann all making some fine Afro-Latin-Funk-Jazz. Vocal wise; Sarah Vaughan, Dinah Washinton, Onita O’day, Ella, Jonn Hendricks, Leon Thomas, Jon Lucien, Cassandra Wilson, Eddie Jefferson, mark Murphy.
The in accurately named ‘Broken Beat’ genre has produced some great sounds from the likes IG Culture, Afronaught, Kadi Tatham, Mark De Clive-lowe, all making modern day fusion.
Labels; Inner City, Strata East, Blue Note, Muse, Milestones, Prestige, Pacific Jazz, Biiet Sweet, Wah Wah 45, TruThoughts, Freestyle, Brownswood....
Obviously Phil you are a collector tell us something of your collection and some stories how you have come across some pieces in your collection ?
The collection is my pride and joy, I’ve dedicated so much time, effort and money from an early age. It encompasses the full range of black music along with rock, classical and world music. But the biggest genre is Jazz, everything from Jelly Roll Morton to Albert Ayler. I love having the history of jazz at my finger tips, It’s like one giant reference book complete with audio samples !
The most fun collecting came from boot-fairs and charity shops, flicking through boxes of crap and then finding one original Blue Note albums for 50p or a sixties soundtrack records for 20p which would sell for hundreds in a London shops
I remember one time walking out of a local ‘Low Price’ store and spotted a pile of albums
holding the door open, These were original People pressings of The JB’s ‘Breakin’ Bread’ album, which at the time were very rare, at 50p each I got the lot and had some good trades going on. I used to take days of work just to go record hunting, I’d pick an area of London I wasn’t familiar with and go searching, I’d always end up with something interesting. Other times I would be Djing with Gary Dennis we would leave the club about 2.30 am drive through the night and park outside some junk shop until it opened, before on going on to a weekender. It was all fairly obsessive !
When and how did you start your Eclectic Jazz Radio Show on Starpoint ?
Eclectic Jazz originally started on Soul24-7.com in 1999 and run until it’s demise in 2004.
I then started the Eclectic Jazz website as the station closed in order to develop and start producing shows with out a station. It was during the later part of 2006 I was occasionally
covering shows for a friend on Starpoint, when eventually station boss Carl offered me my own show, which I agreed as long as I could carry on with Eclectic Jazz and have complete freedom to play whatever I see fit, which thankfully wasn’t a problem, so since July 2007 I’ve been doing a weekly show live every Thursday.
You manage to allow new and old styles of jazz to blend together on your show effortlessly are you as enthusiastic about new jazz as much as you were back in the day ?
Yes, but I think the enthusiasm is shorter lived now.
In recent years club jazz has been back in the spotlight due to labels like Schema, Conte, Frisina, Record Kicks and the positive vibe out of Italy, Japan and Scandinavia, how do you view this and why do you think the Americans are lagging behind in this area ?
I think the main reason is that in America the scene for club Jazz (which your references are mainly based around) is very fragmented and has little cohesion. I think the driving force there is the house scene. Where as in Europe there appears to be a tighter knit community of DJs, producers and musicians. With similar types of clubs and punters there is more focus and therefor more drive. Italy has always enjoyed a rich history with Jazz and that has also shaped the path forward.
Brazilian Music and Blue Note Records have been two huge influences for me in terms of Jazz since the sixties what are your views of these two giant phenomenas ?
Blue Note Records played such a huge part in the Jazz and my own journey, label bosses Alfred Lion and Francis Wolff were so committed and passionate, giving musicians the respect and resources they deserved, in return musicians produced music that was to become part of an intensely creative period in Jazz from the 50s through to the mid 60s.
And even after it was sold to Liberty Records it continued to push on with the likes of Donald Byrd ‘Electric Byrd’ The impact and influence can still be heard today in various forms of new music. It’s very hard to imagine a world without Blue Note.
Brazil has been blessed with some amazing composers; Milton Nascimento, Luiz Bonfa, Antonio Carlos Jobim, Moacir Santos, Egberto Gismonti, Jorge Ben, Hermeto Pascoal,
All very prolific during there time. many a Jazz musician has and still do flirt with the Brazil sound, most famously Stan Getz when he recorded an album in 1963 with Astrud Gilberto, taking the Bossa Nova to America and beyond. And like Blue Note the Brazilian sound continues to influence new music from around the world adding richness and style.
What about live jazz in london obviously Ronnie Scotts is still there who is coming through there and what other venues are relevant to live jazz in London ? Favourite memories from a live gig you attended ?
All sorts are passing through Ronnies these day, from big names like George Duke to lesser know acts like the Neil Cowley Trio, which I saw the other week, for a trio sounded amazing ! They have weekly jams sessions. The Jazz Cafe doesn’t have as many Jazz acts as they once did, but still have some interesting performances.
There are places like; Pizza Express Jazz Club, Jazz Live At The Crypt, The Vortex Jazz Club, Dover Street Restaurant & Jazz Wine Bar playing there part in show casing up and coming artists as well as those more established.
I was fortunate enough to one of the Jazz Cafe’s resident DJ during an 8 year period.
I saw some amazing shows, some of my favorites were; McCoy Tyner, Herbie Hancock, Dave Valentin, Pharoah Sanders, Fertile Ground, Eddie Palmieri, Jon Lucien, Jeff Lorber,
and so many more. I also got a chance to meet and chat to a lot of them, I had Dave Valentin going through my record box and telling me stories about some of the recoding sessions, Jeff Lorber asking me about tunes I was playing, when I was trying to ask him some questions. I had interesting conversions with Lonnie Listen Smith, Jack Costanzo, Jon Lucien, Airto... great times.
What do you feel about the nu breed of japanese jazz acts such as Quasimode, Jazztronik, Native, Studio Apartment etc ?
I think they are all producing quality material, I think some of the Japanese bands produce stuff that is a tad too technical and lack a little heart. Think how much different Quasimode sounded when they included Carmen Lundy, she really took it up a notch.
I think out of the ones you mention, Studio Apartment are the most interesting.
Bob Jones has revived his Surgery Sessions down there are you playing a part in these and how do you feel this is going ?
I’m very pleased to be one of a carefully selected bunch of no-nonsense DJs on rotation.
It’s going really well, It’s all about quality music and not egos, we’re getting just the right type of people down, who are really into there music and dancing. It’s the only place I regularly go even when I am not Djing.
What are Phil Levene's top ten Desert Island Discs ?
Always difficult... whole albums in no particular order;
Santana - Welcome
Return To Forever - Light As A Feather
Herbie Hancock - Head Hunters
Weather Report - Sweetnighter
Miles Davis - Jack Johnson
John Coltrane - Expressions
Valery Polyanski - Schntte: Choir Concerto
Talking Head - More Songs About Buildings And Food
The Rolling Stones - Sticky Fingers
Taj Mahal - Good ‘n Blues
What are your twenty current favourites across the genres new and old ?
in no particular order;
Facts Of Life - Only A Matter Of Time
Uncut - Fallin’
Fertile Ground - My Friend The Moon
Joe Henderson - El Barrio
iswhat?! - Pilgrimage
Studio Apartment - Found Him
Tettory Bad - Eternal Freedom
The Root Source - Firewalker
Quantic presents Flowering Inferno - Dub Y Gaunaco
Sharon Jones - How long
Glenn Underground - Black Action
Herbie Hancock -
Gordon Jenkins - Caravan
Emanative - Naima
Miles Davis - Orbits
Blind Willie Johnson - Motherless Children
Rezando (ft Roberto Fonseca - Michel Cleis remix) GP havana remixed
Alif Tree - Aurevoir (Mr. Windmill & Jay Soul rmx)
Dennis Jr. - Daytime Dream
Gordon Smith - Diving Duck Blues
Thanks Phil !!