Stan Sulzmann - Saxophone

David Gallant talks to the saxophonist about how he got started, the instruments he has played over the years and his all-time favourite choice

“Jazz was extremely un-cool when I started out,” says Sulzmann. “It was the time of rock and pop – the Beatles and the Stones. And it was only when I joined the original NYJO, then called the London Youth Jazz Orchestra, and met other likeminded young people who loved jazz that I thought, well, I’m not that odd after all!”

Sulzmann started his playing career when he was just 16. “I joined the Palais Band at Wimbledon Palais as one of Mike Rabin’s Demons. We played on Fridays, Saturdays and Sundays opposite the ‘stars’. It was considered to be a big venue in those days, holding about 1,500 people. It was also a rough place and there were a lot of mods and rocker punch ups. Then when I was 17 I started playing with rhythm and blues bands at the Flamingo club in Wardour Street. Georgie Fame had a great band, as did Graham Bond, Brian Auger and of course John Mayall.”

Sulzmann clearly got an early start in music. “I guess so. My dad was a semi-pro pianist and accordionist in the 1940s in Islington playing in pubs and parties and doing coach trips, so he kind of encouraged me. When I was a kid I had a recorder and a melodica and then when I was 13, my dad bought me my first sax. I remember going into the Selmer shop on Charing Cross Road and coming out the proud owner of a Selmer Super Action Tenor.”

At school Sulzmann wanted to play the French horn. “But there weren’t enough instruments to go round. So as a consequence, I wasn’t allowed to take music at school. I actually got on very well with the music teacher Ed Semmons, who helped me post-school to learn enough theory to get me into music college as a mature student when I was 20. [Sulzmann went to the Royal Academy.] The only practical sax lessons that I had were on a private basis from a pro player called Terry Porter, who taught me for three years.”

So is Sulzmann still playing his Super Action? “Sadly not. I was foolish enough to trade it in during my early teens for a new Mk6 with a bright blue S

on the crook – just like on the record sleeves. My teacher Terry got me a Boosey and Hawkes 926 clarinet, but I never ever got to grips with that. I tried loads of mouthpieces and reeds, but I could only play well enough to get by and in truth, it was a great relief to hang it up some years ago after years of torture. I think it’s such a beautiful instrument, it just has to be played well. I had more luck with the flute. My first ‘good’ flute was one of the first Muramatsus brought in from Japan – and I still have it. I bought a great hand- made Jack Moore later in life, but sold it to pay for my Big Band CD Birthdays Birthdays on Village Life. I’ve had a Mk6 Soprano and a Series 2 and my present Soprano is a Selmer 80 series 3 which works just fine.

“I’ve had quite a few Selmer tenors, mostly Mk6s. One very good one got trashed in a car accident along with me about 25 yrs ago. Now I have a 1960s Mk6 with silver keywork that makes such a beautiful sound. A very close friend and wonderful player found it for me. I also have a wonderful ‘bastardised’ alto flute that I bought from Keith Bird. It’s an Armstrong silver plated with a head joint made by Albert Cooper and right hand tone holes redrawn by Cooper. It looks a total mess, but plays wonderfully.”

As for mouthpieces and reeds for the tenor Sulzmann now uses a copy of his “very old 7-star Rubber Link” made for him by Ed Pillinger as the original was wearing out. He has, he says, “an old-style Selmer soloist opened up to around F/G on the soprano. As for reeds, I now use 2H Rico Jazz Select on both, as I’ve had to make adjustments because of dental work.” There’s little doubt that Sulzmann himself now influences the style of younger players, but who influenced him? “Just a few,” he chirps. “Getz, Sims, Stitt, Rollins, Desmond . . . how many more do you want? But I really loved Stanley Turrentine’s playing, and I still do.”

Ralph Salmins - Drums

Running through Salmins’ working CV is akin to dropping in on a who’s who of contemporary music: Bacharach, Elton John, Madonna as well as a raft of jazz greats including Hank Crawford, Herb Ellis and James Moody – the list goes on. Salmins says: “I’ve always been into a wide variety of music and I thrive off a challenge.”

Salmins’ musical education started early. “I was playing the violin at school when I was five, which was great fun. Sadly, not long after I’d started my teacher left and I turned to learning the piano until I finally took up the drums when I was 12.”

Salmins laughs as he remembers his first drum kit. “My parents bought me a Maxwin snare drum with a little arm and a splash cymbal. It had a sort of red textured finish, reminiscent of the flock wall paper found in Indian restaurants. Then when they realised that I was enjoying the drums, they bought me a whole set – same make and finish. I had a 22”, a 16” and a 12”, one cymbal and a tiny set of Krut hi-hats. When I was 14 I joined the Ernest Read Youth Orchestra and played in a rehearsal big band which was when my parents bought me a new Rogers kit. It was the nicest looking and sounding kit we could afford and it seemed solid... which the Maxwin certainly wasn’t.”

“Who was I listening to? I started off listening to Count Basie and it was Sonny Payne who really influenced me in that style. Also Buddy Rich of course, who I saw many times at Ronnie’s. But it was Steve Gadd who really turned my world around, working on all those funky things with Quincy Jones and Grover Washington.”

It wasn’t long before Salmins was once again upgrading his kit. “Listening to Steve Gadd made me want to get a kit with a really contemporary sound. So I bought a Yamaha 9000 series Recording Kit just like Gadd’s, with hanging floor toms. Then when I was in my mid-twenties, I bought a beautiful Gretsch bop set from Brian Abrahams, a 16”, a 12”, a 13” and a 14” in Cherry Wood. As soon as I heard it, I immediately fell in love with it and that’s when my love affair with Gretsch began.”

Salmins subsequently sold this kit, but has since had various sets ranging from a 1938 Broadkaster set that he used in the show Crazy For You, to a number of 1960s round badge sets of various sizes and 1970s sets of all sizes. “And I’m now proud to be a Gretsch endorser,” he says.

“I’m playing the new USA Series drums and I love them. I have a studio set which comprises a 22”, a 10”, a 12”, a 13” and 15”. Then I have a gig set: a 20”,

a 10”, a 12”, a 15” and a 16” and I also have a bop set with an 18”, a 12” and a 14”. They are all in white marine pearl and sound absolutely stunning.”

For cymbals Salmins struck up a relationship with Sabian (he’s an endorsee of the brand) when he was working with Everything But The Girl circa 1989 and has been playing Sabian ever since. “I owned some wonderful old Sabians that had a hand-hammered texture and sounded retro and esoteric, which I loved, so to endorse these cymbals was a natural choice. I use a range of cymbals, depending on the musical situation. For studio work I use a 21” Groove Ride or a 21” Vintage Ride alongside a 22” Artisan Light Ride. I have 14” HHX Stage Hats or Vault Hats, and an 18” HHX Crash or an 18” Legacy Crash. For jazz and big band, I use either 14” Legacy Hats or 14” Artisan Hats, a 21” Legacy Ride, a 21” Fierce Ride and 20” plus 22” Artisan light and Medium Rides. I’m also using HHX Chinese cymbals, a crasher and Jack DeJohnette bells. I’m looking forward to trying one of Jack’s new 3 point rides, which I know is going to blow me away!”

When it comes to sticks and brushes, it’s Vic Firth all the way. “They are simply the best,” says Salmins. “I have been using some models that have changed my sound completely. The AJ6, which has a very small tip, is great for small group jazz. Also the AJ3 is a great all-round stick with a very clean stick definition. I also use the Steve Gadd model and the Weckl Evolutions, which are great for pop and studio. For brushes, I use the Heritage – they’re phenomenal – and I’m using the Steve Smith Tala Wands a lot, and they sound gorgeous.”

Salmins is quick to remind me that muffling and tuning are vital when it comes to head choice. “I use Remo Ambassador coated heads all round except on my floor toms, which have coated Emperors on top for fatness. Using muffling, I can get any sound from wide-open jazz to very dry 1970s funky. Underside I have clear Ambassadors. On the bass drums I have Powerstroke 3s either clear (studio) or coated. Snare drums are very important, and I’m using a variety of drums, generally with a coated Ambassador on top.”

Salmins uses Hardcase cases for the drums when he’s touring, because, as he says: “They’re incredibly rugged and will protect the drums in transit.” For one-off gigs he uses Protection Racket cases. “They protect the drums and the inside of my car. They are very practical and hardwearing and, most importantly, they’re funky.”

Interview - David Gallant

James Taylor - Hammond Organ

“You can’t beat the Hammond for reaching an audience,” says James Taylor. Then with a twist of irony... “maybe it’s because it’s a church instrument – I don’t know.”

Taylor grew up around music. “My mother was a pianist who played the classical repertoire, Chopin and Beethoven, and my grandmother was also a pianist. She was a professional musician and she and my grandfather, who used to play the violin, always had a house full of musicians playing various classical pieces.” It was Taylor’s grandmother who bought him his first piano when he was just six. Taylor continues. “My father was an engineer, but he also paints, he has a great aesthetic. I guess art’s in the genes.”

Understandably Taylor initially took piano lessons with his grandmother, but was this, I wondered, followed up with further piano lessons at school. Taylor laughs. “I went to one of those schools where they set their sights on turning out mathematicians and scientists – although you were also popular if you could kick a rugby ball around! When I told my teacher that I wanted to play music, he responded with a rather dismissive ‘we’ll see about it’. But the school did have a number of music rooms with some really good pianos and a friend of mine (who is now a famous musician) and I used to spend our lunchtimes playing tunes on these pianos.”

By the age of 14 Taylor was already in love with the sound of the Hammond. “I’d heard Booker T and the MGs and it was so electrifying . . . that’s when I decided that this is what I wanted to do with my life. I wanted to find out more about that sound and to achieve that sound. I was intrigued by how the sound was produced and that rotary Leslie speaker. I’d also been listening to Brian Auger and Keith Emerson of Emerson, Lake and Palmer and I was really into the beefy 60s psychedelic stuff, but I was also aware of this thing called Hammond Jazz and I wanted to go down that route and that’s how I got into jazz.”

Taylor acquired his first keyboard when he was 15. “I bought a keyboard that I could get a Hammond-like sound from – a Casio 202. That’s also when I joined a rock band and decided that I’d better take a second bout of piano lessons!” Then it was a case of saving up to buy the real thing. “I bought my first Hammond locally from a lady who had it in her front room and I’ve made several albums with it. It’s an M100 with a transistor Leslie 760.”

Taylor currently has five Hammonds including the M100. “I’ve got two C3s, an A100 and an early 70s X5 transistor model. When I started out I had a Hammond C3. Then I augmented my arsenal with a Fender Rhodes 88 suitcase model, on top of which I put a Clavinet D6. I also had a synthesiser on top of the Hammond. I had that set-up for around 10 years, before getting really purist about it and just gigging with the Hammond.” His current Hammond is the same C3 that he bought in 1998 when his purist streak struck. “It’s been played around with quite a bit over the years. Apart from being split, it’s had a special pre-amp fitted to it which I got from America. It just sounds so much better with this unit and it’s much more powerful. It’s very difficult to describe, but it gives a really good, rich Hammond sound. A friend of mine has set up his Hammond to get the optimum sound, but it’s still not as good as mine. Sound is so important – I’d always go that extra 10 miles to get that extra 1 per cent better sound.” I question Taylor about his preference, or otherwise, for augmenting his band.

“For me the quartet was always the ideal. That’s the setup that originally really fascinated me – bass, drums, guitar and Hammond. Having said that, bringing a horn section and vocalist onto the bandstand during a performance gives the music an added dimension and allows me to build up the intensity and heighten the connection with an audience over 90 minutes – and I tell you there’s no better feelin’.”

Hammonds aren’t exactly a lightweight instrument and I was wondering how Taylor organises his transport arrangements. “I always keep one of the Hammonds in the van . . . and try to remember to lock the doors after a gig.” I’m clearly curious. Taylor explains. “We were on our way to a gig up north when we heard this almighty crash as we were going up the M1. The Hammond and the Leslie had fallen out of the back of the van at 70mph! Everybody had their hazard lights on and there we were, running back down the carriageway. Eventually we loaded them both back into the van with bits hanging off here, there and everywhere. We got to the gig. Set up. Played the gig and everything was fine. That’s the great thing about a Hammond. They’re built like a tank. Incredibly over-engineered . . . and they’re reliable.”

Interview by David Gallant

Nikki Iles - Piano

“The piano has it all,” says Nikki Iles. “I love harmony and the process of writing is a big thing for me. In effect, you’ve got the whole orchestra right there . . . at your fingertips.”

As a youngster Iles always had plenty of encouragement. “Father was a semi-pro drummer who played in a skiffle band “but loved jazz” and mother played the piano really well.” Initially Iles’s first instrument was the clarinet with the piano as a second instrument. “When I was 11, I got a scholarship to attend the Royal Academy on Saturdays to study both the clarinet and the piano and so I spent my Saturdays at the Royal Academy until I was 18. But during that period, while I was at secondary school we had a wonderful music teacher called Brian Willoughby who started a swing band and I transferred from the clarinet to the alto saxophone.”

We momentarily return to the piano. “My first piano was a Yamaha upright which I shall always remember,” says Iles, noticeably amused. I ask the obvious question. “…Because I scratched my name on it with a compass! Now I want to tell you about my first saxophone. I picked it up in a junk shop for £25 and was attracted to it by the lovely gold lacquer. It was a ‘Radio Improved’ Selmer alto. Of course, at that age I had no idea what I had!” Iles went up to Leeds College of Music as a saxophone player. “But by the second year the piano had taken over because I was more interested in the writing and composition.”

When Iles went up to Leeds, she had to buy another piano and so acquired another Yamaha which she still has. “It fits into our cottage – I don’t think we could house a grand.” She continues. “I have a Steinway fund but it’s moving very slowly. I prefer the German Steinways. Sometimes the American ones can be quite bright up top and I do quite like a dark sound. I like the way the Steinway responds. But I also like the Fazioli, that’s a great instrument – they’re warm and they ‘speak’ fantastically. They have a nice one at the Wigmore Hall.”

Iles keeps a mental map of drawing pins dotted around the country pinpointing beautiful pianos. “There is a beautiful Fazioli at Dean Clough in Halifax. The venue is part of a gallery environment that includes an art and sculpture gallery. Sir Ernest Hall and his son Jeremy who run the complex are great supporters of music and it’s Sir Ernest’s own Fazioli that’s in the venue.” Iles is clearly on a roll. “Then there’s The Crucible in Sheffield which has an amazing Steinway – you don’t have to try, you put one note down and it resonates. And partly I think because it’s a theatre in the round, the sound is wonderful. Sometimes you can get some wonderful surprises when you go into a theatre and they have a piano that’s only been used for classical purposes. One that’s never had jazz played on it. The Rosehill Theatre in Whitehaven is a case in point, where they have a lovely big, concert grand Steinway. Then of course there are the occasions when you go to a venue and the people say we’ve got a lovely grand piano – and it turns out to be a ‘boudoir’.” I’m clearly looking confused. Iles explains. “They’ve actually got smaller strings than a decent upright, the bottom end’s non-existent.” She continues. “I’d rather have a good upright than one of those kind of pianos.”

Iles has always been a great educator. “I love teaching – it keeps you on your mettle. I only teach a couple of days a week, but it does allow me to play the gigs that I really want to play, rather than playing gigs that could be soul destroying. I’ve learnt more with that kind of balance and the educational establishments that I work with encourage me to go out and tour. I’m also involved with writing the Associated Boards Jazz Grades.”

The conversation turns to the blurring of the boundaries between classical and jazz. “I’ve been working with the group Renga,” says Iles. “They’re a pool of players from the Royal Philharmonic Orchestra. Scott Stroman leads the group and is a great facilitator of ideas and I’ve been working with Stan Sulzmann and Rufus Reid on the project. I’ve always been interested in that sort of mix – after all, I had a cello and bass clarinet in my first band. The difficulty though with this sort of thing is not to overwrite. You have to get the balance right between improvising and what is written. That’s the challenge – getting them to be freer without the music.” Iles clearly enjoys collaborating on diverse projects with other musicians. “I’m off to New York this coming September to work on an album with Rufus and that great American drummer Jeff Williams. I’m not a natural front person, but I want to get my music out there.

Iles speaks of her jazz career as a ‘long fantastic journey’. As she says, “with jazz you’re always learning new stuff. Different things evolve over time – you don’t have that feeling that you have to play the game. You can be truly true to your art.”

David Gallant

John Parricelli - Guitar

“I’m always aiming to make playing my instrument sound the same as if I was singing,” says John Parricelli. “You know, the phrasing, the tone.”

Parricelli started with piano and violin lessons when he was small. “But I didn’t really take to it,” he remembers. “Then I went on a school trip and a friend of mine brought along his guitar and showed me a few chords – I was hooked! I badgered my folks for a guitar and they eventually bought me this classical instrument.” Parricelli had a few classical guitar lessons, “but what I really wanted to do was play the blues. I was listening to Clapton and Steely Dan. So when I was about 16 I got an electric guitar – an Antoria Les Paul copy – and I started copying stuff off records and then joined a couple of rock bands.”

“My first real ‘jazz’ guitar was an Ibanez L5,” says a proud Parricelli. “That was a fantastic instrument, but because I wanted to play louder and was getting into different types of music I sold it to get a Strat’.” There’s an audible sigh! “In those days I always had to sell a guitar to buy another one.” Parricelli however clearly knew what he was doing. “I bought an early-80s Japanese Vintage Squier Strat – which most players considered to be better than the Fenders of the time. You see I’ve never had a traditional idea about a jazz sound, I just happen to play with a double bass player and a jazz type drummer.”

Parricelli used the Strat in the band Loose Tubes. “I had that Strat’ for about five of six years, but finally sold it to buy a Paul Reed Smith Custom 24. I really love the PRS. It feels great to play – it’s very positive – it doesn’t impose its personality on you. You can get the sparkly Strat sounds and the thick Gibsonesque sounds on the same instrument – and it’s got a trem’ that stays in tune! It’s a brilliant hybrid of a Gibson and a Fender and it doesn’t have a history of sounds in the way that a Strat does, with the players and sounds that are associated with the instrument. With the PRS you can create your own unique sound palette – it’s an extremely versatile guitar.”

Although Parricelli uses a solid instrument on stage most of the time, he’s got more into the acoustic guitar. “I’ve accumulated a lot of different instruments. I have a couple of very nice classical guitars made by the Spanish maker Bellido. The older one of the two is great, it kind of does everything from bossa novas to classical pieces. It’s a very romanticsounding guitar – a very good instrument. The other one I had made for me. It has a cutaway and is fitted with a B-band system and I use that for live work. Then I have an 89 Martin MC28, a shallow dreadnought type guitar with a cutaway – a very sparkly, bright guitar. And then there’s the Santa Cruz OM, which is a very warm sounding instrument. I’ve also just bought a 1936 Martin O17 which is all mahogany. It’s fantastic! It has an incredible mid-range – really warm. I’d tried one in a London Vintage guitar shop. It has a very particular sound and is incredibly comfortable to play. It’s a guitar that makes you feel that you could sit down and play it forever, it’s a very inspiring thing. The O17 was Martin’s budget guitar – very plain looking, but very underrated. I spoke to my guitar repairer about it and he agreed that it was a fine guitar and I finally found one at the Vintage Guitar shop in Norwich. Seamus, the guy who runs the place is really knowledgeable and very helpful. I went up for the day, sat down, played it and gave him my card!” Parricelli also owns a hand built Dick Knight L5, “a real beauty” and a Suhr Strat, “a very playable, modern take on the traditional instrument.”

So what’s his string choice? “The PRS is strung up with 10.5 round wound D’Addario. The classicals have D’Addario Pro Arte. I try and use Elixir phosphor bronze strings on my steel strung acoustics because I like the sound of them. They’re not quite as bright as an ordinary phosphor bronze string and the sound stays the same. You don’t have that thing where you play the guitar and three hours later the sound has completely changed. They’re very consistent and of course they last a long time. I usually use 11s with a heavier top two – a 12 and a 16. I use standard gauge Elixirs on the Suhr.”

We move on to amplification. “My ‘live’ amplifier is a 70s Deluxe Reverb with a Weber speaker – they’re like a modern version of the Jensen. That’s basically the area of sound that I like playing with, a warm, vintage-y Fender kind of sound. For studio work I use a ‘65 Amps’ set up. They’re a small American company and this baby amp has a little 12-watt head and cab with a Celestion 12. It’s very versatile and has a terrific clean sound, but it also overdrives really nicely. I also use pedals. My basic set up is a tube screamer type overdrive, a volume pedal and a delay pedal. At the moment I’m using Xotic units and I really like them, because you need to be able to sound as though you’re part of the band and not on another planet! The three guitars that I would take to my desert Island? The PRS, the classical full bodied Bellido and my 1936 Martin.”

Interview - David Gallant

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