Stan Sulzmann: Neon Quartet
AAJ: Back in the 1960s, what was the nature of your musical training?
SS: It certainly wasn't academic! I grew up playing in rock and roll bands. Aged 15, I was in the Wimbledon Palais house band playing Top 20 hits and wearing a mohair suit. I used to go down the Flamingo in Soho and sit in with Georgie Fame and the Blue Flames, Geno Washington and the Ram Jam Band. A lot of jazz musicians played in those bands because it was a way to make money. Being around them, I learnt a lot.
Then I worked in bands on Atlantic passenger liners. Birdland had closed, but I got everywhere else, the Village Vanguard, plenty of clubs were still presenting jazz. That was an education too.
So by the time I came off the boats, I was pretty experienced. But a year or so later, I became a mature student here at the Royal Academy. There wasn't a jazz course, I was studying saxophone. [Saxophonist] John Dankworth was my teacher. I'd worked with some really fine older musicians over the previous few years, and one or two of them suggested that I could usefully do some formal study of the instrument.
AAJ: You've recorded some great music with big bands. Are we going to hear more of that in the near future?
SS: Keeping the big band on the road is obviously not practical. We do occasional festival gigs. But next year, I'm hoping there will be a mini-tour, four or five nice gigs in decent places. The problem with a big band is you have to have funding, and that's never easy to get.
I've got a load of new music ready, of course, I'm always writing. I've done a collection of arrangements of tunes by British jazz musicians that I'd like us to record-Nikki Iles, [saxophonist] Iain Ballamy, John Taylor, John Parricelli, [guitarist] Mike Walker, Kenny Wheeler, [guitarist] Jim Mullen, [pianist] Kate Williams. It's an ongoing project, really; there's no end to it.
AAJ: Finally, what gets you out of bed in the morning?
SS: I'm a simple person. I was a Cockney lad in Islington. I just lived to go out and play music. I still do. I get moved by the power of music. There's a Ben Webster solo on [saxophonist] Oliver Nelson's More Blues And The Abstract Truth (Impulse!, 1964) that I use for teaching. He's only played three notes and I'm in tears. I do believe there's a power in music-it could be rhythm, it could be harmony-that takes you out of yourself. You feel elevated. That's what I've always wanted, to be outside, up there, to get in that place. It's a lovely feeling.
Neon Quartet, Subjekt (Edition, 2012)
Neon Quartet, Catch Me (Edition, 2010)
Neon, Here To There (Basho, 2008)
Stan Sulzmann/Marc Copland/Larry Grenadier/Bill Stewart, Jigsaw (Basho, 2004)
Kenny Wheeler, Music For Large And Small Ensembles (ECM, 2002)
Stan Sulzmann, Birthdays, Birthdays (Village Life, 2000)
Stan Sulzmann, Treasure Trove (ASC, 1996)
Stan Sulzmann/Marc Copland, Never At All (FMR, 1992)
Stan Sulzmann, Feudal Rabbits (Ah Um, 1991)