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Neil Cowley: A Rock and Roll Take on Jazz

By Published: April 26, 2010
As a self-declared "outsider," what is Cowley's take on the British scene? "It's difficult to have a take on the scene. I'm not sure if it's paranoia-based or what but there is this sense that we're not part of it. So I ask myself why we're not part of it, or why we don't feel part of it and I think there are a couple of reasons. Firstly, we're not part of a collective—and there are a few of those—group of musicians who work with each other a lot, or hang around at [London jazz clubs] The Vortex or the 606 a lot, and we don't do that either. But what do I think of the British jazz scene? Crikey, that's a hard question because it's difficult to be objective. I'm not in a group of musicians that constantly encourages each other to go out and conquer...It is astonishing what's been achieved in the name of jazz in this country in the last few years, that's for sure, and our presence in European jazz festivals is quite amazing. I think the only reason we don't go out and conquer North America is the cost. It needs an enormous outlay just to get over to North America once. But that's not really your question is it?"

Cowley's response to the question about the British jazz scene is not untypical. Many British jazz musicians seem to find it difficult to define it or to explain their place within it. Cowley is unsurprised by this: "Isn't that funny. I reckon my response is probably quite typical: there are probably very few people who feel that they're part of it and know what it is. I remember Zero 7 being asked 'What's life like in the chill-out scene?' and they said 'What chill-out scene?' Do you know what—the people to ask are the PR companies or the managers, the people in the industry. They're the ones to ask because they're the ones that create it, I think."

In 2007, Cowley took part in an All About Jazz Take Five With... discussion. Asked to name his ideal band the pianist included John Lee Hooker

John Lee Hooker
John Lee Hooker
1917 - 2001
on guitar and vocals and Donald "Duck" Dunn on bass. As his ideal band manager Cowley named Frank Zappa
Frank Zappa
Frank Zappa
1940 - 1993
guitar, electric
. Was his tongue firmly embedded in his cheek, or does Zappa genuinely stand out as the ideal man to take care of business? "It wasn't a joke, no. I worship Frank Zappa, and not always for musical reasons. His output is amazing—he's so prolific—but his ethic was always 'Up yours' to the record companies. He took care of his own business and after about the early '80s he got control of all his master tapes. He was a truly entrepreneurial musician. I've used that approach as my own model—I have my own record company and I've always tried to grab my masters back because the only thing I can back is myself. I don't have anything else to sell as James Brown would have said, so I really appreciate how he doggedly stuck to his guns and really took care of his business."

Neil Cowley also sounds like a musician who can take care of business. The Neil Cowley Trio is in safe hands and is creating great music.

Selected Discography

Neil Cowley Trio, Radio Silence (Naim Jazz, 2010)
Neil Cowley Trio, Loud, Louder, Stop (Cake, 2008)
Neil Cowley Trio, /php/article.php?id=25051Displaced (Hide Inside Records, 2006)
Fragile State, Voices From The Dust Bowl (Bar de Lune, 2004)
Fragile State, The Facts And The Dreams (Bar de Lune, 2002)

Photo Credits

Pages 1, 5: John Bullock

Pages 2-4: Courtesy of Neil Cowley Trio

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