Meet Sammy Stein

AAJ Staff By

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I currently live in: London, actually about 70 miles away but London is the nearest big city.

I joined All About Jazz in: 2012

What made you decide to contribute to All About Jazz? I am interested in free form jazz but also many other genres. I had written books and articles for many publications but never on music. I decided tentatively to give music writing a go as it has always been a passion and had a few things published on small sites. When I approached AAJ they showed an immediate interest. They checked out my past work first though, which was reassuring. My first pieces were accepted and well received and encouragement ensued.

How do you contribute to All About Jazz? I have a free form column, Scumbles and I also review concerts, albums and sometimes I just get what might be a good idea which is agreed upon and we go with it. I have profiled a couple of people as well and definitely want to do more of that.

What is your musical background? I play clarinet (well, I call it that anyhow), sing and have been in two rock and one folk bands as well as shows and operas. I joined Camden Jazz Club and was inspired by a guy who had just left the group King Crimson at the time who encouraged me to use my voice like another instrument. Currently, I dabble on clarinet and voice. I am no musical expert.

What was the first record you bought that you would still listen to today? I bought many but the one I would still listen to today is Sex and Drugs and Rock and Roll by Ian Dury and The Blockheads—it hit all the right buttons at the time and later came Rhythm Stick, followed by The Pistols, The Stranglers and then back to jazz which has always been there.

What type of jazz do you enjoy listening to the most? Free form but not just free jazz because all jazz has hints of other genres in it so you cannot categorize too much. I like music of any sort that touches your soul and sometimes it is from the most unexpected source, not jazz alone. John Adam's Dharma at Big Sur surprised me and Schoenberg's depths and messages are amazing. I am not averse to Gershwin on occasion either.

Aside from jazz, what styles of music do you enjoy? Punk, rock, blues, spiritual and some classical.

What are you listening to right now? Peter Brotzmann's Machine Gun and PIL's This is PIL. Also Madness's Oui Oui, Si SI, Ya YA Da Da and Mr. Lovepants. I am looking for a recent John Adams recording too.

Which five recent releases would you recommend to readers who share your musical taste? Not necessarily recent, and I hate recommending but here goes with 4:

PIL—This is PIL

Madness—Oui Oui Si Si Ya Ya Da Da


Master MCs Deep Down and Dirty

Anything by Albert Ayler

What inspired you to write about jazz? I like it—simple as that and the more I found out, the more interested I became. Then, when I realized there was genuine support for writers wanting to write about jazz of all genres I thought, 'Why not'? I never expected such good reactions or that I would stick with it and write for several publications because I have limited good background knowledge in jazz itself. This has changed through the people I have met and discussed jazz with. I am learning so much and enjoying it—just goes to show however old you are, there is always more to learn.

What do you like to do in your free time? Any hobbies? I am a botanist by qualification and writer and horticulturalist by occupation. I have written books on garden design and plants and take part in RHS work. I support disadvantaged people getting into areas which are often closed to them like horticulture and this combines interest and work. Family and friends feature strongly in any spare time of course. My ideal day away from home is maybe going to London, visiting old haunts, at some point ending up on Hampstead Heath, checking the plant life there (there are some rarities), going for a swim in the mixed lake with the ducks, some drinks maybe and then going to a good gig.

What role does jazz music play in your life? A large part—it is my let-out, my way out of conforming which I have to do for work and it frees my soul to travel in directions it wants to. It is my release and a lynch-pin. Jazz as traditional jazz is not perhaps what I would describe as my taste but jazz which breaks the doors down is. Having said that, every genre has something for everyone I think and it does seem to attract people who I can connect with. Jazz just hits the right buttons.

How does writing about jazz contribute to the music itself? A lot—I see people at gigs because I have written about the band. I meet people at gigs who are there because I wrote about the gig or the artist. I meet musicians who know my name but not my face and that is always interesting. I think writing about jazz keeps the genre in people's minds and is as important, perhaps, as people playing the music. As a writer, you have the possibility to bring back people who may have slipped from the public's conscience into the light again—many of whom have never actually stopped playing. Good writing, done with care, attention and with every word earning its place, is another way to people's hearts. You will never change a person's mind with your writing but you might encourage them to try something different and make their own mind up.

What do you like most about All About Jazz? The freedom I get with having my own column, the encouragement I have had from feedback and editors and the positive responses I am getting to my articles from musicians, readers and bands. The reception I got when I started doing it. In my other writing I am limited to word counts and the publisher's rules and style but with AAJ I have more freedom and even if I sometimes break a rule or two, the editors are supportive and comments from readers are good. For a writer, that makes a lot of difference. Musicians ask if I will listen to their material and perhaps review it. If I like it, it opens up new avenues in music for me. For my next project I would love to work with a musician on a book as I think that would be a fascinating complete project. AAJ does not allow itself to become stale or to be put in a box but is as changing as the jazz scene itself.

Sammy Stein at All About Jazz.


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