“The violin that I have right now,” says Puente, holding a well-used instrument with a striking patina, “is the same violin that provided food for three generations. This violin is part of my family and I will never let it go; it’s priceless”. Puente grew up in Santiago de Cuba. “My grandfather,” he says, “was a carpenter who used to work for a rich family who bought a violin for their child. But the boy showed no interest, so they offered it to my grandfather. My father was given the violin and he had lessons and started to play the instrument. In the end, playing the violin allowed my father to pay for his career as a medical doctor.”
Byron Wallen will always remember his first trumpet teacher. He takes up the story. “In the very beginning I was having difficulty playing the trumpet, so I went to see my teacher. He told me that that my lips were too big and maybe I wasn’t meant for playing the trumpet,” Wallen says, laughing. “But you know, in a way I have to thank him, because that really motivated me to have a go at it.”
“I’ve got this room upstairs in my house,” says Cawley. “It’s sort of like the culmination of all my childhood dreams, just full of keyboards and pianos.” Music’s always been at the heart of his life. “Dad’s an amateur flautist, and also collects musical ephemera, a sort of one man band. I guess it’s in the genes.” Piano lessons started when Cawley was six, and from there he attended Chetham’s music school in Manchester from the age of eight to 13, “all classical,” he says.
“I was writing music before I was playing it,” Tim Garland says. “I used to get so incredibly impatient writing everything down. Then when I was about 16, I found there were people who actually specialised in making it up. That’s when I fell totally in love with jazz.”
Garland started playing the piano aged six. “I went through all the grades,” he says, his tone reflecting his clear lack of interest. “Then when I was 14 I started playing the clarinet.” He ploughed through all those grades as well, “then I got a D in A level music,” he says, laughing, “but I still got offered places at the Royal Academy and the Guildhall. In the end I chose the Guildhall, because it seemed at that time to be more interested in jazz and I was veering towards that freedom and spontaneity.” He stayed there for four years, majoring in composition.
Having finished a world tour with Jamie Cullum at the end of last year, Geoff Gascoyne is as busy as ever. “I’ve been doing a lot of different things this year”, he muses. “Jazz gigs, pop gigs – you name it, I’ve done it. And the best part of it is I get to use all my instruments at different volumes and different levels!"