Paul Clarvis - Percussion

“I like old drums because they go pong rather than ping”, says Paul Clarvis. “I look for the warmness rather than just the top end.”


Clarvis remembers being completely mesmerised and obsessed by music and drumming from the age of eight. “I did things like taking a radio to the playground to listen to the Top 20. My parents weren’t musical – but they really encouraged me to do music and took my kit around to friends’ houses to rehearse. Looking back on it, it was a really important part of my development.”

A combined Christmas and birthday present presented Clarvis with his first kit. “It was a white Woolworths kit that had been damaged in a fire and it came from the Houndsditch warehouse. I think they were £40 at the time and father managed to get it for half price. It was a small bass drum, tom-tom and small cymbal. For another birthday a few years later they bought me a hi-hat. But I didn’t get my first ‘real’ cymbal until I was 14 or 15. Mum and dad bought me a Zildjian cymbal and I remember my mother wrapped it in cotton wool and then when I was 20-odd and went to buy my own cymbals, I was disappointed because I thought that they were all wrapped in cotton wool!”

His next kit was a second hand Premier in red. “I’d worked in the Matchbox Toy factory – the only proper job I’ve ever had – over a school holiday and earned £80. So my father matched that and we went up to Denmark Street. The chap in the shop was really helpful and threw in a very good cymbal which I had until recently.”

After playing in the Boy’s Brigade, the Silver Band and his school’s Dixieland jazz band as well as the Enfield Young Symphony Orchestra as a tympanist, he finally won a scholarship to the Royal College of Music. “But it was very difficult to get teachers who related to what the drums did to the music,” he says.

“You could get technical teachers, but I was always trying to get the right feeling when I was playing – the right sound. I remember going to a lesson with Dave Hassell who was the guy who really showed me the way. He was creating that feeling that I wanted – ‘the sound’ – and he was very relaxed when he was playing. He pushed a lot of music on to me. You should listen to this or that. He created a way in for me. I felt I could listen to what he was suggesting.”

At 18, Clarvis progressed on to a Gretsch kit. “It wasn’t a Round Badge, but had the same shells, with a brass snare drum”. Like many drummers, Clarvis then went through a lot of kit. “I had a Ludwig stainless steel, some Round Badge and some WFL ones – so much so that I had to start getting rid of them. I also had a Ludwig Black Beauty. I’ve now paired it down to about four. I have a Ludwig Club Date that Dave Mattocks got for me. Then there’s the Gretsch Round Badge that I’ve kept – a very rare one and then a Radio King kit from the 1940s. But my favourite is the one with the Woolworths bass drum.

About 15 years ago, I managed to purchase another Woolworths 16-inch Audition bass drum with just a couple of good heads on it which sounds great, because it’s old wood. I managed to pick up the tom-toms for it from James Blades’ estate, which a friend of mine was looking after. They were used in the BBC dot-dot-ditty morse code that was broadcast to encourage the resistance in Europe in World War II.”

Clarvis owns at least 40 snare drums. “The one I take out most is an old Leedy from the 1920s. Like the bass drum, it has Evans heads, because I find that they’re very reliable. The toms have calf heads.”

Zildjian A cymbals are Clarvis’ favoured fare. “I find that the Ks can get into the area of pianos, congas and guitars – they can be quite low. I like cymbals to be thin, but also bright and silvery – like the very thin 13” hi-hats that Dave Hassell gave me. Obviously I’ve got Ks, but there’s something I’ve always liked about A Zildjians. An A Zildjian will take up less space and will sit there in the top register – it will create space rather than take space up. I have to say that the people at Zildjian have been really good to me and have copied a lot of my cymbals for me, customising them. Usually it’s making the factory models thinner. That’s the other important thing I’m looking for in drums and cymbals – they need to blend with each other and the musicians that I’m playing with. Warm, fat and mellow is what I’m looking for and it’s important that everything works over extreme dynamics because I like to play both quiet and loud so the sound is of limitless possibilities. It’s wide and open rather than cluttered. I also like the drums to sound real and honest.”

When it comes to sticks and brushes Clarvis uses a lot by Vic Firth. “But I like the old Ludwig brushes from the 1960s for the thinness of the wire although of course these are now like gold dust.” He also likes old drummers such as Zutty Singleton from the Louis Armstrong band “because he made such a lovely warm, dark sound”. Like Singleton, Clarvis doesn’t use many drums. “I generally just take out the bass drum, snare, one tom-tom, one cymbal and a hi-hat, so it’s important that everything I use does more than one job. It’s also important that a cymbal isn’t just a crash cymbal. I need to be able to do anything on it – ride, crash, whatever’s needed. You know I almost forgot to mention Dave Payne, he calls me the Antiques Roadshow with all this old gear but he keeps me on the road with all his little modifications, things to stop the drums moving like bass drum spurs. The old Ludwig stands from the 1960s that I use because they are so light but so solid Dave replaces the wing nuts when they go. Without him I think I’d be back in the garage spending my life trying to mend things.”

Derek Nash - Saxophone

“A combination of listening to a Sonny Stitt record that I had been lent by a friend of my dad’s and watching and listening to sax player Gary Cox recording ‘The Pink Panther Theme’ with the BBC NDO Big Band was what got me hooked on the sax.”

Nash’s father was a full time professional musician and an arranger for the BBC Northern Dance Orchestra. “My dad is essentially a piano player,” says Nash.

“He taught me all my arranging and sat down with me and went through scores and showed me what was wrong with what I’d done – that’s the best lesson you can have really.”

Nash junior’s musical experiences had started with piano lessons when he was six. “Then that sax really got to me and I started badgering my parents when I was about 10 or 11 – I finally got an instrument when I was 12.” His first alto was a Selmer Super Action, which is post-Balanced Action and pre Mk6. “My dad paid 50 quid for it”, he says excitedly.

Nash then sold that to buy what was then the top of the range Super 80 – one of the first and non-engraved, the one after the Mk 7. “What did I know, I just thought the latest has got to be the best. I wish I still had that Super Action.” However, he stuck with the Super 80 for quite some time, but needless to say, in the end it got sold.

“I bought a Mk6 off Snake Davis and also have a Grafton acrylic which was given to me by a Sax Appeal (one of Nash’s bands) fan who had it, but never played it and said that he would like to see it played every now and then. It comes out every so often on little bebop gigs – where you don’t have to play too loud – and it’s beautiful. Then there’s the old Conn “Chuberry” – 1930s/40s signature model – with its strange micro-tuning bit on the crook which you spin and it takes the mouthpiece in and out. I used that recently at a classical concert, because it produces such a lovely warm, round sound.”

Nash’s most recent acquisition is the Steve Goodson Sax Gourmet. “It’s really big and bright”, he enthuses, “but there’s a new Goodson coming out in the next couple of months called the Voodoo Rex, which is an all copper body. I shall be very interested in trying that – it could be the ultimate all-round horn.”

As for other horns that aren’t altos. “My first soprano was a really dodgy Borgani,” says Nash. “That didn’t last very long because it was so horribly out of tune! But I guess my first real soprano was a 21st birthday present from my parents, which was a Yamaha 62 – a straight soprano; I still have that and still play it. I also have a lovely little curly Buescher “truetone” from the 1920s. It has a fixed crook, so the saxophone is one bit of metal – it sounds like a high, warm alto – I bought that off Tim Garland.” Nash came to the tenor late.
“I got my first tenor when I was about 24 when I broke my leg. The tenor was lent to me just to keep me occupied, while I was stuck at home with my leg in plaster. That got me into the instrument and I went out and bought a Yamaha 62 to match my soprano.” As a result he started looking at more tenors. “There’s this great saxophone shop called Sounds Great in Heald Green where my parents live and I always drop in when I go up there. On this particular occasion there was this clapped-out old tenor sitting in the corner and I just thought, I’ll have a look at that. It hardly worked, but the notes that did work sounded fabulous. So I bought it. It’s an early Super Action with a wider neck.”

More recently Nash has been blowing a Steve Goodson tenor. “I tried one of their Sax Gourmet tenors for about three months and that was a really good ‘pop’ horn – great for my funk band territory like Protect the Beat. It had a lovely smooth jazz sound – Richard Elliot, Grover Washington Jnr thing. Unfortunately, it was the last one in the country and I had to give it back. So I’m waiting for another one of those to experiment with.” Nash also owns two Conn crossbar baritones.

“My soprano mouthpiece is a D star Selmer. It’s the one they gave me in the shop on the day I bought the instrument and I’ve never changed it. I use Rico Royal 3s and La-voz mediums. For the alto I use a Beechler S8S. Sadly they don’t make that model any more. It’s a cheap student mouthpiece which was given to me by an American player, and I love it. It allows me to play funk, bebop and ballads all on the same mouthpiece; it’s a 50 dollar plastic mouthpiece and I’m biting through it. Judy Beechler who now runs the company has had some sent over, but because they don’t make the S8S any more, they have sent 8s and I don’t like them. I’ve even had Bill Rothwell try to make a replacement copy in ebonite but that didn’t work either.

“Reedwise, I’ve been using Vandoren Javas as they are warmer and darker. I was initially using 31/2s, but when I started using the Sax Gourmet, I had to retreat to 21/2s. I never had that happen before with a horn. The Tenor has an Otto Link 7 star – it’s an old one once owned by Duncan Lamont. It’s been tinkered
with and opened up a bit inside, so it’s probably bigger than a 7 star but it just works. I use Vandoren Java 3 with 31/2s. For the baritone it’s an old Berg Larsen mouthpiece modelled on the Ronnie Ross mouthpiece on which I use Rico Royal 3s.”

When not playing in Sax Appeal or Protect the Beat, Nash is part of the Jools Holland band. “I’ve been with Jools for five years now. It’s like the old Basie band,” he enthuses. “About 70 per cent is charts and for the rest, the riffs have been developed by the band over the years and that’s what we play. He never tells you what you are going to play – he just starts playing something. We also get to play with some great artists. We did ‘Knock on Wood’ with Eddie Floyd – just unbelievable. I have to tell you, I’m very lucky. I have a wonderful life and it’s huge fun.”

Neil Yates - Trumpet and flugelhorn

“When I was about four years old, my parents shoved a trumpet in my mouth. I never objected to it but I don’t think I had a lot of choice.” I’m thinking… strange. But then when you learn that Yates’ parents had met when they were both playing trumpet in an amateur dance band and he was an only child, perhaps it doesn’t seem that odd. Although Yates had been taught the rudimentary aspects of the instrument by his parents, he didn’t have ‘proper’ lessons until he was 11. “My first teacher was a guy called Brom Harvey, who taught the trumpet at my school. There was a really good music department, which supported an orchestra, a big band and being up north of course – a brass ensemble.”

Yates “dabbled” on the euphonium and other brass, but the trumpet was the only one that he says he cared about. “When I was in my mid-teens I nearly gave up. The usual teenager things, but I was into science fiction in a big way. Clearly my parents were concerned, so my father found an album with Maynard Ferguson playing the theme from Star Wars and the theme from Star Trek, so I became interested again.

“I guess my first experience of jazz was when I was 13 or 14, when my parents took me to a local pub where they allowed me to sit in with the band and do some improvising. Then I got into Freddie Hubbard. There was a thing on Channel 4 about him making an album and I watched that again and again and again and subsequently bought the record. Then Miles Davis was on TV being interviewed by Jools Holland and I went out and bought a lot of Miles Davis records and through that I found Chet Baker. They’re the three who have influenced me the most.”

So, what about that first trumpet? “It was my dad’s old bronze lacquered and beautifully-battered Rudy Mück. Then, when I began to get really interested, they bought me a shiny silver Getzen”.

Yates didn’t change horns again until he began his studies at Salford university. “I was 18, and it was a really lucky find.” Yates takes up the story. “It’s a Jerome Callet Soloist handmade by the man himself in New York. He didn’t make that many, it was one of eight instruments that was imported into the UK by the jazz promoter Ernie Garside who was UK agent for ‘Sweets’ Edison and Clark Terry. He sold one of these instruments on to a local bandleader up here in Manchester, who for one reason or another didn’t get on with the horn. So he sold it to me for what was effectively half price and it was brand new. I still play it today – it’s the horn I use all the time. It’s wonderful and has a really fat, rich sound but

right now it’s starting to fall to pieces ’cause it’s so old. I’ve got patches on it where I have worn holes in it but I can’t find anything else quite like it. It has a large bell, large bore and thick metal – it’s got all my notes in it. It’s the way I want to sound.

“If I play somebody else’s horn it just doesn’t sound right to me. You can still get Callet horns but they’re now made on a production line – he doesn’t hand make them any more. The ones that he hand made were all slightly different as well. I have seen a few over the years and they were nothing like the one I have, I was just damn lucky!” Yates also plays the flugelhorn but what’s the story there?

“I first got interested in the flugelhorn when I was about 15. I really wanted one but I didn’t get one until I was at Salford uni. I bought it off my teacher, Dave Browning, whose claim to fame was that he played the Coronation Street theme. It’s a Getzen Eterna and I’m still playing that as well. It’s a little bit green – in fact it’s very green! I’m not a lot of good at looking after my instruments.”

As for mouthpieces, he says. He started with a Rudy Mück 17C but was only on that for a couple of years. “Then somebody gave me a Zottola 64B and I’ve been on that ever since. I also use a 64FL on my flugel.” Yates has occasionally “dabbled” with other mouthpieces, but says that it’s a real trap for horn players. “You try a new mouthpiece and for three weeks you can do incredible things on it that you could never do before. Then after three weeks, you can’t do anything. I once did it – I don’t remember what make of mouthpiece it was, but I got all the high notes and everything, and thought, wow, this is it. Then I went back to my old mouthpiece and it took me three to four months to get back to where I was – I’ve never done it again.”

There’s a momentary lapse in conversation. “You know, I almost forgot,” he says, clearly surprising himself. “I also use two Line 6 delay modellers in a loop to create whole brass sections behind me. In a trio situation that works really well, as I can create soundscapes through layering, so that the guitarist for instance doesn’t feel that the music is too empty. Then there’s my copper Original Harmon mute. It’s a replacement for the first one I lost on a British Council tour of Bosnia 10 years ago. That had an awesome sound – somebody somewhere has got a real peach. I’ve also developed a little device to make the Harmon mute into a practice mute – to make it even quieter. It’s a bung-to-bung the bung so to speak.” But perhaps the most important piece of equipment that Yates owns is his Mazda ‘Bongo’ camper van. “No hotel bills – no hassle and I can practise all night if I want.”

Annie Whitehead - Trombone

One of Whitehead’s fondest memories is “tripping alongside the trombone players on the Whitsunday marches and being fascinated by the slide going in and out.”

“I’m a girl from the north country – Oldham. It’s the heart of brass band land and I wanted to play music from quite a young age, all part of the process of growing up.” When the young Whitehead was offered music lessons at school, there was only one instrument that she wanted to play. “But I wasn’t allowed to,” she says. “I was too small. So instead they gave me a tenor horn and I played that for a year or so and I also tried the euphonium. After a while they realised that I was prepared to work hard and practise and so they let me have a trombone. My teacher, Ron Ibbotson, was a trombone player and so that was really helpful.”

She started playing the trombone when she was 14. “I was really into Tamla Motown and soul – people like Aretha Franklin. I used to listen out for the horn lines. I always remember that song ‘Don’t Play That Song For Me’ because it had a really great horn line. Another song I remember from that time was ‘Tap Turn On The Water’ – Alexis Korner and CCS I think, because that, too, had a really great horn line. I didn’t get into jazz until much later.”

Having done her O level music, Whitehead left school at 16 to join Ivy Benson’s band. “It was an all-girl band,” says Whitehead. “She’d run it since the war. I wrote to her when I was 16 and she gave me an audition. Then a few months later the vacancy came up for a trombone player and she sent me a telegram and that was it! I was also playing with the Manchester youth stage band, which was essentially the Manchester equivalent of NYJO. By that time I was listening to the arrangements of the big bands like Stan Kenton, Buddy Rich and Count Basie. I actually met the Count, because the band came to Manchester to play at the Free Trade Hall and I managed to catch up with him.”

As for instruments: “My first trombone was one of those ubiquitous Boosey & Hawkes student models. That didn’t last long, as my mum bought me a Yamaha YSL 651 with a red brass bell – I think it was a kind of superior student model. Anyway, it was the horn that I was playing when I started in Ivy’s band. Then when

I was 17, because I’d earned enough money in that year playing with Ivy, I bought my first King 3B. I remember going into Bill Lewington’s, trading in my Yamaha and picking up the 3B and thinking: this is me.”

Whitehead left Ivy Benson’s band in 1973 and spent a year’s sabbatical in Jersey listening to and playing some jazz, while doing the usual waitress thing “to keep myself going”. She heard and was knocked out by the Thad Jones/Mel Lewis Big Band. “There was a trombone player called Grachan Moncur III who played with them and from him I started listening to JJ Johnson and Wayne Henderson from the Crusaders and Herbie Hancock’s Headhunters of course.

When she was 21 Whitehead came to London and started playing jazz. She changed her mouthpiece from a Dennis Wick to a Vincent Bach 12C, “not for any particular reason – it just felt better”. But it wasn’t until 1985 that Whitehead decided to change her horn. “The 3B was getting worn out – it was getting less responsive and it was getting harder to hear the centre of a note and at that time I was doing a lot of session work and for that sort of thing you have to be really, really accurate. So I bought a King 2B Plus lightweight model, halfway between a 2B and a 3B. It has a slightly smaller bore and it’s a little bit more responsive. But in the end I didn’t like it. It was fine for the session work but it didn’t work for the jazz work that I was doing.” That instrument came to a rather sticky end. Whitehead takes up the story: “I was in Mozambique with Chris MacGregor’s Brotherhood of Breath and it was the last concert of the last gig. I had put the trombone on its stand and for some reason the congas fell over and crushed it.”

Whitehead was effectively forced to go back to playing her old 3B. “I picked that up and started playing it and thought – thank God – that sounds just like what I want to sound like. I had been struggling with this 2B and couldn’t really get it to sound like me. Then a year or so later I bought a new King 3B.” Sometimes, however, Whitehead still plays the old 3B if she wants a big and fat roots or reggae sound. “The old beauty’s a lovely instrument to play as the metal’s really thick. It’s quite tank-like, but I couldn’t do a whole gig on it because it’s really hard work. Right now I’m thinking of changing to one of the English makers.”

Robert Mitchell - Piano/Keyboards

“I think there is potential in a lot of different manufacturers for finding magical pianos,” says Mitchell. “Every manufacturer seems to have a time when they have a run of exceptional instruments, like the Yamaha in the studio at 33 Records that I recorded The Greater Good album on. Then there’s that amazing Steinway at the Cambridge Jazz Club at Kettle’s Yard.”

Mitchell’s initial contact with the piano, however, was with a decidedly more humble instrument. “There was an old piano in the house that we were living in and I used to scratch around on that. My first music lessons were with a music/singing teacher who lived just round the corner, where from the age of six I followed the classical piano Associated Board exams. Milada Robertson was an extraordinary women who put on regular concerts at her house and at the time I thought that this was typical of all music teachers. She had this large detached house where there were at least five pianos, two of which were in the main room. So you often had lessons in front of other people! Twice a year she would hold concerts that would go through most of the pupils – from beginners to advanced – it was very intimidating but I got this thing right from the start about being comfortable performing.”

Clearly Mitchell was making progress and his parents bought a new piano. “It was a Baby Bentley – a small upright – this was my first real piano.” After doing his O and A level music and doing the odd performance at school assemblies, Mitchell moved on to the City University to study music. “It was all classical. But the best thing about the course was the connection it had with the Guildhall, so that students would be able to get conservatoire lessons which was really important. I remember that the practice rooms had Yamaha pianos, which were quite variable and you had people booking the same room because they knew that this was the piano and you had to be really on the money to book that particular room. The lecture halls had Steinways – which were of course fantastic.”

Having completed his degree, he returned to the Baby Bentley. “But that had been played to death and my father was working on his performance in Carmen Jones at the Old Vic, so he needed a good piano to keep his accompanists happy. He had had the Bentley for 18 years and by the end it had been re-felted several times. When it had to leave the house it was a very sad day – there was green felt all over the base of the piano. As the repair guy said ‘there is really nothing else we can do’.”

Mitchell’s father bought a Reid upright and Mitchell remembers the piano being played all the time. “It was good for me, because I was able to measure my own

ability against the level of these professional accompanists.” After leaving home Mitchell moved into a flat. “Being able to practice and being able to work late can become an issue with neighbours. So you start to look at keyboards and headphones.” One of Mitchell’s early acquisitions had been a Roland A80 – “I blew quite a bit of my grant on that,” he says. “It’s a very heavily weighted keyboard, with literal weighting as opposed to today’s more highly developed systems, which has no sound in it and you’d use midi to connect it to whatever. It is also quite noisy and clunky. I remember the trip it took with me to Sudan. This keyboard weighed about 25kg – and that’s not including the case. It never went anywhere else with me after that! Cramped living and serious stair issues meant that a lighter and leaner instrument became a necessity. “I changed to the Yamaha P60 which is remarkably light for what it can do. It’s also an incredibly close representation of the acoustic instrument. It doesn’t travel, and spends its life at home. When I’m playing it, I’m dreaming that I am on an acoustic piano!”

Mitchell also owns a Korg m3 synthesiser and a Nord Electro 2. “The Nord is amazing. It impersonates a Rhodes and Wurlitzer so well – it also does organ and piano. I often use it if there is no access to those classic electric keyboards.” Mitchell also has an M Audio controller and other sound making synths that you plug into a keyboard. “In my band Panacea, I use everything that is required by the music, which invariably involves these keyboards and the accompanying electronics.” Mitchell also has an acoustic trio and a duo with Cuban violinist Omar Puente.

I’d heard a story relating to Mitchell’s solo album Equinox. “It was premiered in a power station, which was quite an interesting building to say the least; not at all built for something like that and with amazing reverberation – very strange things go on in there, which combined with such a piano (around 90 grands’ worth of Steinway!) was quite magical. I had to go away and re-write various bits and pieces because there were amazing things that this piano could do. I was also removing a fair amount of writing, just to let the music breathe.”

Mitchell’s very buoyant about his trio winning an award for the best jazz album of the year ( The Greater Good) from Radio 1 DJ Gilles Peterson. He’s also very upbeat about his new living arrangements. “I now have more space and I’m looking to buy a good instrument to bring life into the house. Nothing beats getting your hands on the real thing,” he says, with the excitement of a young child on his way to the toy shop. “I’m really looking forward to the developments being made with Baby Grands and have recently been talking to both Bluthner and Steinway – I’ll keep you posted.”

This is an extract from Jazzwise Issue #130 – to read the full article click here to subscribe and receive a limited edition jazz photograph...

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