Dave Cliff would be the first to admit that he isn’t exactly the ‘new boy on the block’, but he’s paid his dues and garnered an enviable reputation among his fellow musicians as a superlative lyrical and emotive player who can just as easily string a wild bebop line together as tear your heart apart.
Cliff grew up in a musical household with a father who was an amateur musician who played guitar and double bass in the local dance bands. “It was dad who made me my first guitar,” says Cliff. “But unfortunately the neck deteriorated and became badly bent and when it needed fixing, sadly he wasn’t around to fix it, as he died when I was just 14. Lessons? No, I didn’t have any – I just taught myself. And I didn’t practise seriously until I was 19. So I wasted a few years being a “three-chord’ merchant.” When he did finally string more than three chords together, Cliff joined a couple of skiffle and rock bands. “By then I was playing a Rosetti Lucky 7 (bass) and a Gretsch Tennessean and then later a Gibson G62.”
But the real musical moment arrived when at the age of 23 he secured a place at Leeds College of Music. “It was the very first and the only full time jazz course in the country at that time. I spent four years in Leeds: three at college and one unemployed. Then I moved down to London in 1971.”
As far as guitars go, Cliff brought what he had with him and anyway, as he says, he doesn’t like the idea of changing a guitar just because it might provide him with the sound that he’s looking for. “It’s the way you set up an instrument that’s important, the action, the strings, it doesn’t matter whether it’s a ‘jazz’ guitar or not. If you go out and buy a new guitar, it’s like starting a relationship. You might get on well together on the first night, but a month later things may not be going so well!”
Cliff currently owns four tried and tested instruments, a Fender Squier ‘Bullet’, a Takamine, a Tanglewood and a Gibson 175 which isn’t seeing much action. “I haven’t played my 175 in a while because it’s got a different-shaped neck and the strings seem to be further apart and it takes two or three hours of playing in to get used to it again – so I’m insecure about taking it out. It’s a top class guitar but when I play it again, it feels like hard work.”
When it comes to strings, Cliff is a D’Addario fan. “The 175 is loaded with 12 – 52 smooth wounds. I’ve also got 12 – 52 smooth wounds on the Tanglewood and 10 – 50 standards on the Squier ‘Bullet’. I change my strings on my guitars about every five years – I like them nicely played in. And I’m lucky because my palms don’t sweat and I have dry hands.”
“My amplifier? Well, I started out with a Burns many years ago, then moved on to the smooth sounds of the Polytone. Now I use an AER acoustic amp which a lot of jazz guys use these days, because they have an excellent volume/ weight ratio and as I don’t drive and I’m not getting any younger, that’s a very important consideration. In fact, I like them so much I have three of them. I have a 60-watt and two 40-watts. The 40 is for small jazz gigs and the 60 is for when I need a bit more power – festivals and the like.”
Although Cliff listens to the likes of Parker, Konitz, Lester Young, Wes Montgomery and Jim Hall, he grew up with the sounds of the big bands and Rhythm & Blues. This background proved to be good preparation for spending a lot of the 1990s playing with Georgie Fame, both in the Big Band and Fame’s small combos. Of his time with Fame he comments: “It was great, because I was actually earning a full time living from playing music”.
Today Cliff works with a nucleus of players and is in about three to four small bands. “I love the group experience. To me it’s much more important than virtuosity.” He goes on to say: “I also teach at the Birmingham Conservatoire once a month and also at the Royal Welsh College of Music and Drama in Cardiff. I also occasionally go into Trinity.” Philosophical about the current state of the music business, Cliff says: “Music’s a commodity now and things are different to what they used to be whether you like it or not”. And then returning for a final take on new guitars: “Getting a new instrument has never been the answer, it’s just down to me playing it right.”
Interview – David Gallant
Williams might have been a doctor. Then again he might have been an English teacher. “But I wouldn’t have been any good at either,” he says. “Playing the piano was the only thing I had left.”
Music was in the blood. “My grandfather was a professional singer, mostly in the Welsh language. But he thought he’d do better with an English-sounding name, so he called himself Harcourt Meadows, after the names of two streets in Llandudno.” Williams also sang when he was younger. “I was in two school choirs and sang in the church choir four times a week. I think that’s where I got my real musical education.”
Williams was about four years old when he started piano lessons and then when he was about 10 he started “fooling around on guitar”. “I had a mixture of peripatetic and private lessons on the piano, but I also did a lot of playing by ear and working things out for myself. I didn’t have guitar lessons and enjoyed it much more as a result. However, I couldn’t have progressed as easily on the guitar without all the knowledge that I gained from piano and theory studies. I played percussion a few times in the school orchestra “because I could read music” and had a band called Satan’s Claw. “That just about says it all,” he says with a laugh.
After going up to Cambridge to study medicine and then English, Williams’ musical education continued at the Guildhall, where he joined the one-year jazz course – “because that was all there was in those days. I went as a guitarist but took my final exams on piano.” Although Williams is known for his piano playing, it seems that his real affections lie with the guitar. “I love guitars and you can relate to them in a very personal way. With pianos, you play what’s there or buy a makeshift electronic alternative that you don‘t bond with because it’s by definition disappointing.”
His first guitar was a £12 Spanish guitar with a huge split in it. But because he played it so much, his parents decided to buy him an electric guitar and an amp. “I still have that guitar and the receipt for £125. It’s a Maya, made in Japan in 1981.” Williams continues. “When my jazz leanings were really established, my dad went out and bought me an Aria Pro 2 ‘Herb Ellis’. I remember having trouble with the neck and the machine heads were rubbish. In actual fact it wasn’t a particularly good guitar and I never got the sound or setup I was looking for. It was only when I started playing guitar after an eight year layoff that I bought myself a really good guitar. It’s a Heritage Golden Eagle, handmade in the old Gibson Kalamazoo factory. It has a wafer thin carved top and as such can be played with real dynamics. You have to watch the feedback though and the floating pickup has a ridiculously low output.” Then as an afterthought “I also have an old Japanese Ibanez Artist. That’s a real alternative to a Les Paul and I use that instrument for my fantasy blues and rock alter ego!”
Williams uses flatwound 12s on the Heritage for the fat jazz sound. “You can still bend the odd note with this set-up. On my solid (Ibanez Artist) I use 10s, as I like to bend by a tone and use across the frets vibrato. When I was actually a budding guitarist I was always chasing the Holy Grail setup, which would allow me to do everything I wanted. Unfortunately, that was never going to work for me. I love string bending but also adore the Pat Martino ‘fat’ sound. You need two mindsets and two guitars. As far as pianos go, I have a Bechstein upright piano (thanks to my ever generous mother), which I love and a Nord Stage keyboard which I use a lot. I love the Rhodes/Wurlitzer sounds and the real time effects editing. I used to have a real Rhodes, but I sold it to pay off my osteopath!”
Williams pairs his Heritage and Ibanez instruments with a Polytone “for portability with jazz credentials”, but says that Fender valve amps would always be his first choice. “My keyboard monitor is an AER, which once again I use for its portability and its clean sound.”
Williams has an eclectic taste in music. “I spent my early teens listening to the Beatles and the blues with a smattering of Bix Beiderbecke, Rachmaninov and Chopin. Later on it was Coltrane, Jarrett, Coltrane, Bill Evans, Coltrane, McCoy Tyner, Coltrane and Coltrane. Later still it was Mahler, Welsh tenor David Lloyd, Italian tenor Franco Corelli, Schoenberg, Free, Thin Lizzy, and I was greatly influenced by Gareth Edwards,” he says finally tongue in cheek. A recent big influence has been Freddie King, the blues guitarist.”
Interview by David Gallant
"That was a snare drum my family used to keep behind the couch, and every once in a while as a treat they would let me play it with a piece of material over it, because it was pretty loud.”
Rochester in New York state was where Gadd grew up. He lived with his uncle and grandparents there until he was three. “Uncle was a drummer and he inspired me, but my whole family were very supportive and very encouraging. When they realised that I was leaning towards the drums, they started to nurture it. One birthday they bought me a proper snare drum and a little white bass drum. Then for another birthday I got a tom-tom that you could clamp on to the top of the bass drum. And then for another birthday I got a hi-hat.” Gadd used his first snare drum as a little floor tom, “I stripped it of its snares,” he says. “I guess I must have been about six or seven – that was my first kit.”
At high school Gadd took drum lessons and played in the drum corps. College followed where he studied all the percussion family including timpani, marimba and all the orchestra stuff, he says. “At one point I had to make a decision, as I wasn’t going to be able to keep on playing all those instruments. I decided that there was nothing I could play as well as a kit of drums. These are the scary decisions that you have to make along the way.”
Gadd’s influences came initially from listening and playing to the records his uncle bought. “I remember he bought me some Gene Krupa and Louie Bellson. Then I heard about Philly Joe Jones and started listening to all those kinds of guys. My dad would take me to hear different live music which he loved. There were a couple of great clubs in Rochester. The one at the rich end of town brought in all the big guys like Oscar Peterson and Dizzy Gillespie. I used to sit at the very front and remember watching Gene Krupa play.
“Then there was the other club in another part of town where they brought in organ groups like Jack McDuff who would play there regularly – sometimes they would let me sit in. So I was constantly hearing different bands, and at one point I was playing with Chuck Mangione, who also came from Rochester. What I did was follow my heart in terms of where my passion was. The goal was never to get to a financial place, the goal was just to play good music.
“My uncle bought me a Gretsch drum kit when I was 12 that I still have. When I got out of the army I bought another set of Gretsch drums with a small bass drum and small toms. A couple of years after that I built a set of drums, putting different combinations of things together when I started doing some recording in New York and I needed a more ‘all around’ sound.
“Then in 1975-76 I got a deal from Yamaha. They approached me to become an endorsee and I’ve been with them ever since. I helped them design the Recording Custom series, sizes and everything. They were aware that I played and was connected at a certain level in terms of advertisements. But I wasn’t paid anything to do it but in return for my ideas I got drums. I have 12, 13, 14, and 16inch toms and I use a 22x14 bass drum, although sometimes I’ll use a 20x16, it just depends which one sounds good with whoever is doing the sound.”
Gadd keeps his own personal kit in New York, otherwise Yamaha supplies his every need for the smaller jazz tours. “For big tours I have a kit that goes with me.”
Even though Gadd has been playing the same basic kit for some 35 years he says he has changed from a birch bass drum to a maple bass drum. “It gives a fatter sound,” he says, “and when I first went with Yamaha, they were only making birch drums. I always use Remo heads. Coated Ambassador on the top and clear on the bottom although sometimes, depending on the situation I’ll use clear Pinstripe heads on top. Years ago I was trying Evans sets, which were great for recording, but then when the endorsement came along I found that I could cover everything that I needed with Remo.”
Gadd has always played Zildjian cymbals; it was a Zildjian cymbal that his uncle bought him that time 58 years ago. “I use a combination of all of them,” he says.
“One of the orchestra rides I’ve got is an A. Actually, it’s not an orchestra ride, but an orchestra cymbal that I use as a ride. I also have a Constantinople: both are 20s. I have an 18inch dark K crash and an old K heavy hi-hat which is worn out, because it’s one I bought back in the 1960s. But I use that on top with an A, with rivets in it on the bottom. It had holes in it originally, but the fact that it lets some of the air go through, means that when you’re playing it with your foot it sounds really good and helps me get the sound that I want.” Gadd plays his own model of Vic Firth sticks and brushes,. “We just came up with what we’d like them to be.”
Interview by David Gallant
“I’ve got my younger brother to thank for being a bass player,” says Andrew Cleyndert. “I happened to be away from primary school the day the opportunity arose to join a new initiative to start younger children on bass using half size instruments. He signed me up in my absence.”
Cleyndert remembers his earlier musical experiences as one of six children. “We were all made to learn an instrument by our highly musical, enthusiastic mother at an early age”, he says. “I was sent to the local church choir and put on the violin using the Suzuki method. That didn’t last, and piano followed; but I didn’t really like that either. However, I did come second or third in a piano competition at the Much Hadham Festival [in Hertfordshire] with my legs swaying back and forth because I couldn’t reach the pedals.”
It wasn’t until Cleyndert reached his teens that things really started to take off for him musically. “I went to a sport-biased school, but one with a very keen music master who did the best he could with the resources and talent he had to hand. The discovery of a bass player landing in the school was a prize asset and I was roped into any musical project going. Eventually I came to the attention of John Petters, a trad drummer, who kindly gave me loads of gigs around London and was probably responsible for developing my ear, since I was dropped in at the deep end and had to busk the huge repertoire of New Orleans, Dixieland and trad. Quite often it would be a quartet with one of the early pioneers of the trad school. Cy Laurie once advised me ‘you sound great son. Whatever you do, don’t practise!’ It might have worked for him, but eventually I realised it wasn’t going to work for me. Later I met Julian Stringle and joined his Dixieland band, and finally towards the end of my school career I was disappearing to London every weekend to gig with Alan Barnes.”
Cleyndert’s first bass he bought was he says “a German swell back” which he has only just finally let go of and was set up for him by fellow bassist, and luthier, Len Skeat.
“I played a lesser Mittenwald German flat back for a time, but that was bland acoustically, although it responded well with a pick-up and was very comfortable to play. Then after a long search for something ‘ideal’, I bought a bass by Anton Jaudt. But this was recently superseded by a Hawkes which I bought a couple of years ago. It’s a special bass, since it was the late Paul Bridge’s instrument and came to me via Ken Baldock. I lent it to one of my heroes, Buster Williams, when he did a stint at Ronnie’s recently. It’s a fantastic sounding bass and despite Hawkes’ reputation for being big beasts to get around, it’s a beauty to play.”
Cleyndert talks about his influences beginning by saying “I was hooked on classical music from a very young age continually listening to Radio 3 on a little transistor radio, replaced by a grand old valve radio I inherited. My father always liked swing music, but it was two school friends who really started the ball rolling. One was a gifted stride pianist who loved Fats Waller and got me playing. With the other I became an avid record collector and by the time we were 16 we could identify all of the legends from the 1940s to Miles’ and Mingus’ bands in the 60s. The Oscar Peterson Trio was probably my first major influence. Not only did I discover Ray Brown, Niels-Henning [Ørsted Pedersen] and Sam Jones, but also all those other jazz greats that Oscar had worked with. It was easy to find avenues into the fantastic world of jazz… one record led to the next. Later influences included some of the great players that I’ve accompanied, such as Bobby Wellins, Don Weller, Bryan Spring, Ronnie Scott and Stan Tracey. I should also mention [the late] Martin Drew, who I worked with on so many gigs over the years – he will be really missed.”
Strings are a critical part of a bass player’s set up. Was Cleyndert I wondered a fan of the gut string sound? “I was brought up on steel strings, Thomastik Spirocores, and it is those I keep going back to. Having said that, the Jaudt bass is strung with Pirastro Evah Pirazzis after I mixed a recording with a great sounding Chris Hill on bass. They have more of a ‘gut’ sound and are great for arco. I’ve also just acquired a box of old La Bella strings which I loved when I was younger. If I’m not mistaken, they were responsible for Ron Carter and Buster’s long sustaining sound in the 1970s, but they’re not so fashionable now. I’m really looking forward to having a go on them again. They’re made of nylon and you had to sandpaper them to get enough friction to play arco.”
Amplification? “I favour the original piezo pick-ups, the Wilson particularly, which are often criticised for being electric-sounding. However, mixed with a Neumann KM185 they can give a far richer acoustic sound than the more recent ‘acoustic sounding’ pick-up solutions. Also the ability to vary the mix gives a wide flexibility for different performance environments. “We never ‘own’ an instrument,” Cleyndert says finally on whether he feels a bond with his basses, allowing himself a wry smile. “We’re just looking after it for a while.”
- David Gallant
“I went to one of those schools where taking music up as a profession was frowned upon by some of the staff and regarded as a bit ‘sissy’ by some boys,” says Armstrong. “Don’t misunderstand me though, there was a great music department with an inspirational head and I had a wonderful time singing in the choir, playing in the orchestra, fiddling with very early MIDI [musical instrument digital interface] sequencers and even forming a blues band. I knew I wanted to do music and thought they can’t moan if I do it at ‘Oxbridge’. It turned out to be the best decision I ever made, as I don’t think I would have got in to music college on the trumpet at 18 anyway.”
In musical terms Armstrong was quite a late starter. “I think I must have been around 10 years old when I began having lessons on the piano. I remember picking out tunes in C and then trying them on different white notes and being amazed at just how different they sounded. Then about a year later, I took up the tenor horn at school.” Private piano lessons and peripatetic horn lessons only lasted a short while, however. and Armstrong ended up going to Amersham Music Centre in Buckinghamshire and then the Royal College of Music junior department, and having lessons on Saturday mornings.
So what was the horn that Armstrong started out on? “My dad hired me a trumpet about six months after I took up the tenor horn. It was one of those eastern European ones with a fake-leather box with piping on the edge and came with the smelliest valve oil I’ve ever come across.” As Armstrong progressed though his grades, he clearly needed a better instrument.
“My first serious trumpet was a Bach Stradivarius 43G ML, which was the sort of standard professional instrument that I needed when I was working towards my Grade Eight. I’ve still got it, though it needs some replating and patches to be playable. It’s got a brass-gold bell that gives it a lovely full tone. Having said that, it can be hard work in a big band section.”
Five years on, Armstrong was looking for an instrument that would be ideal for the kind of music that he was beginning to have a passion for. “I bought a Schilke S22, because it felt light and flexible and was great for small group jazz,” he says. “The valve action was really quick – the best I’ve ever had. Unfortunately it got damaged and could not be repaired, which was a great shame.”
Like most musicians, Armstrong is always on the look out for that unique instrument with its own very personal sound. “I found a 1920s H. N. White trumpet in an antique shop in Greenwich,” he remembers. “Alex Garnett refurbished it for me and it plays really well with a very characteristic tone. I love trying unusual instruments and finding their sound, and this is great for
1930s gigs and Gillespiana. Only problem is though, it has dicky valves which on occasions have been known not to work – not good on [Dizzy’s] ‘Things to Come’!”
Armstrong currently plays a Yamaha Bobby Shew 8310z. “As I do a mixture of small group, big band and commercial music, this is a great all-round instrument for these tasks, as it responds well playing lead but also has a focussed warm core to the sound. The first one got stolen from a train and I was fortunate that I managed to get a replacement that had been opened out a little by Bobby himself. Flugelwise, I’ve only ever had one, a Couesnon, which could be the Star model. Couesnon seems to be a rather mysterious French company and this appears to be a ‘pre-fire Couesnon’, according to flugelspotters. Whether that’s good or not, I’m not sure. But in any case it plays great even if the intonation is wobbly.”
Armstrong uses Warburton trumpet mouthpieces because he can use different cup sizes to suit different gigs, “and I have a Parker flugel mouthpiece for the Couesnon because it seems to work fine,” he says. “I used to have a custom flugel mouthpiece but it was in the bag with the stolen trumpet – arrrghhh!”
Who were Armstrong’s early influences? “I guess it has to be what, as well as who. When I was younger the thing that really turned me on to jazz was Kind of Blue which has stuck with me, and I branched out from there via Gil Evans and Bill Evans.
“Now I suppose the main influences on my improvising language are hard bop players and Dizzy, but I want to get a bit more Woody Shaw and Freddie Hubbard in there as well. As a writer and player Kenny Wheeler remains a powerful influence on my approach to music, and I think it’s really important to have a European perspective on the music as well as knowledge and respect for the great American tradition.”
Does Armstrong feel that he’s currently playing his ‘perfect’ horn? “Every player is always on the search for the ideal instrument, but playing conditions and personal technical considerations make much more of a difference than we often acknowledge. I’m happy to stick with something that works and improve my facility, stamina, range, tone and so on rather than wish for something that will make life suddenly easier, particularly when it may not be out there. I think it’s possible to find a voice and sound on most quality instruments – none will ever be perfect though.”