It's a swing thing


Jazz has always 'played' a central role in Angus’ life. And it was his love of swing jazz that led him to launch his big band. Recently voted one of the top five British jazz bands by readers of The Week magazine, tracks from The Big Band’s debut album 'Now I Know Why' and the follow-up album, 'It’s a Swing Thing', have been featured on television and radio on both sides of the Atlantic.

The sixteen top-flight musicians – whose unique sound is comprised of saxophones, trumpets, trombones, bass, guitar, drums and piano – play annually at the Chelsea Flower Show. This year, the band has performed for several top companies including British Airways, Price Waterhouse Coopers and Waitrose.

An accomplished songwriter, pianist and vocalist, Angus – an Associate of the Royal College of Music – is also a highly regarded jazz educator.

Accomplished songwriter, pianist and vocalist

Behind The Beat

‘From the musicians’ perspective’ : A new series of interviews by writer Paul Deegan

Angus Murray Interview

Paul Deegan: If you could have dinner with three other contemporary musicians or composers, who would they be?
Angus Murray: I would choose Diana Krall, Wynton Marsalis and Jay Kay. I love singer Diana Krall’s voice and the way she plays with the phrases of a tune. Trumpeter Wynton Marsalis is a great ambassador for both jazz and classical music: as well as being Artistic Director for the Lincoln Centre Jazz Programme in New York, he is under contract to Sony as a classical artist. I would invite singer Jay Kay (from the band ‘Jamiroquai’) because I respect his originality and innovation.

Paul Deegan: What was the first record you ever bought?
Angus: ‘The Stranger’ by Billy Joel. I have a lot of respect for his music and songwriting. I just love ‘Scenes from an Italian Restaurant’. He has also written some great albums.

Paul Deegan: Which restaurant would you take them to?
Angus Murray: Even though I am not strictly vegetarian, we would have to visit‘Anjelica Kitchen’ in Manhattan’s East Village; a fantastic vegetarian restaurant. The atmosphere is so laid back and fun, we would have a riot. Even if you’re feeling down, you would end up having a great evening as the place has got lots of positive energy and a great vibe.

Paul Deegan: If you were forced to listen to the same album non-stop for 24 hours, what would it be?
Angus Murray: No question about it, it would have to be ‘Kind of Blue’, by Miles Davis. I’ve had it playing in my car for ages. I’m still hearing new things on it – and holding up lines of traffic in the process!

Paul Deegan: Do you think you have written your best music when you have been in or out of love?.
Angus Murray: I think my best material has been written when I have been in love, but I don’t think being in love is a pre-requisite for a good song. Strong material is borne out of emotion and that can be stirred and brought to music in any number of ways.

Paul Deegan: What is your most treasured (non-musical) possession?
Angus Murray: About five years ago, I had my garden refurbished and decided to buy a David Harber armillary. It is made of polished stainless steel, brightens up the garden and tells great time (…when the sun does actually decide to shine here in London!).

Paul Deegan: If you had to learn to play a new musical instrument, what would it be and why would you choose it?
Angus Murray: The bass. I love the sound of both the acoustic and electric bass. And the bass player gets to play those cool riffs that underpin so many great songs. Ilove ’70s jazz funk where the bass player drives the whole band.

Paul Deegan: If you could spend one week on holiday in a place you have already visited, where would you go and why?
Angus Murray: The Fujiya Hotel in Hakone, near Tokyo. I visited Japan earlier this year and loved the tranquillity and peace of the Fujiya, the oldest hotel in Japan. It is situated high in the mountains and the views are stunning. Add hot spring water piped direct from the hills, wonderful walks and fantastic Japanese food and, well, it’s heaven.

Paul Deegan: Which one word best describes how you feel when you are making music?
Angus Murray: Uplifted.

Paul Deegan: If you raised £1000 for charity, who would you give it to?
Angus Murray: Sargent Cancer Care for Children. This charity financially supports families who have children suffering from cancer. The band has recently performed several benefit concerts for Sargent Cancer Care.

Paul Deegan: If music did not exist in any form, what job do you think you would do?
Angus Murray: I would like to be a psychologist. I am by nature fairly analytical, and so find the workings of the mind and soul very interesting. The power and influence of the subconscious mind is truly amazing.
Paul Mason Interview

PD: If you weren't able to be a paid musician, what job would you like to have?
PM: Something similar to what I’m doing at the moment. About a year ago my wife, Yvonne, and I left London to live and work in mid-Wales for the churches there, as worship musicians and tutors. Funnily enough, this hasn’t got in the way of being a ‘paid’ musician very much at all. The only problem I now have is trying to find the time to be creative and write/arrange music, as we now have a 17th century house to renovate and live in and a five month old daughter thrown in for good measure!

Paul Deegan: Why Big Band music?
Paul Mason: I had an active interest in music from an early age. When I was six, I was recording Mozart off the radio, and later trying to play along by ear with records of clarinet concertos that didn’t play at the right speed on our old Hitachi music centre. I mucked around on the recorder and the harmonica and drove my parents mad for a while. I studied clarinet at school under the tutelage of a well known British jazz saxophonist called Don Rendall. Whilst there, I also met one of those people who leaves a lifelong impression on you with their enthusiasm and passion for the subject. His name was Brian Booth. He was a peri drum teacher and jazz was his love. Booth ran after-school classes and a Saturday youth big band. By the time I was 14, I had played concert tours in Canada (playing Avant Guarde [AKA Squeaky Gate] music), and also in Germany, where big band music was a much loved form - even among fellow students. I guess that was where it all started.

PD: Why did you team up with Angus?
PM: I met Angus at the Royal College of Music sometime around 1987, when we were both doing other things. Angus was studying classical voice and piano, and I was doing a joint first study on classical clarinet and saxophone. At the Royal College of Music at that time the singing and woodwind fraternities didn’t mix a great deal, but I vaguely remember Angus being a well mannered and polite chap, without the stand-offishness of some of the other ‘singer types’ there! A few years later, after leaving college, Angus invited me to join him on a local gig, and whilst trying to place each other from college, we found that we enjoyed working together. Over time, we began to discover that we had complimentary abilities – the sort that helped the other person to strengthen their weaker areas. During the years that we have worked together I’ve gained a lot of respect for Angus, because he’s made the decision not to follow the ‘I’m a band leader’ mentality, where eventually almost anything goes to get the job done. But Angus has kept his integrity and ideals and actually wants to bring a real ray of happiness into the lives of the people he plays with and for, a very rare thing indeed in this day and age.

PD: You're billed as being the band’s Musical Director. How does your role differ from that of Angus?
PM: Angus looks good out front and I do all the donkey work. No, that's not quite right, hang on. Let me see… Angus works on preparing and setting up a concert, the venue, the advertising, the marketing, writing half of the music, booking the band, setting up the sound system, and then being right there on the night where the audience needs him to be, as the teller of the story, the communicator. Then the band and myself work our butts off (in a fun sort of way). Jesting apart, I guess the serious answer would be that Angus’ role is directed towards the audience and my role is aimed at the band. I make sure everything runs as intended and I also ensure that the musicians are having a good time too, allowing Angus to put all his attention into the job of looking after the audience.

PD: Do you find it frustrating that you have a significant input into the direction of the band, but that Angus is the ‘showman’, and naturally draws much of the attention and credit?
PM: The short answer is ‘horses for courses’. You don’t put an Olympic weightlifter in for a 26 mile marathon run. Angus and I have different strengths in what we do musically. So no, I find no frustration whatsoever that Angus draws the attention and credit: in fact I seem to produce better results (and enjoy myself more) when I’m not worrying about being in the spotlight! Also, as a strange twist to things, I’ve found in the arranging of several of the band charts and in the musical directing role, that I’ve received a level of credit and respect from folks that I wouldn’t have expected. PD: What attracted you to the Saxophone? PM: I think it was my mother who wanted me to play the clarinet when I went to comprehensive school and I guess it was only a short hop (in the jazz and big band worlds at least) across to the saxophone, and so here I am! I often thought that if I were to do it again, I might try jazz trombone, who knows!

PD: If you were unable to play a wind instrument, what instrument would you like to play and why?
PM: Most probably piano because of the harmonic possibilities on the instrument. Definitely not anything with strings: I’m no good with strings...

PD: What was the first record you bought with your own money? And what was the last album you purchased?
PM: My first and most noticeable album was ‘Urbie Green and his Big Beautiful Band’. It still knocks me out today when I listen to it. And the last album/CD I bought? Jamie Aebersold II-V-I playalong series, both to finally legitimise the bootleg copy I had listened to for (ahem) years and to brush up on my playing! It feels good to be legit!
Mark Doffman Interview

Paul Deegan: You’re embarking on a Master’s Degree in Music Psychology: what got you interested in this side of music and what will the Master’s involve?
Mark: This is a two year part time course at University of Sheffield. It is an attempt on my part to look more formally at the processes that go in within performance, and I hope this will be of use to both my teaching and playing.

PD: Looking back, would it have been more useful to have studied music for your first degree rather than South Asian Languages? Do you still regret not being able to take advantage of a place on a subsequent degree course at Trinity College of Music?
MD: It would have been useful to have gone on a music degree but you can do everything you want by yourself if you are sufficiently motivated. The big advantage of a music degree is giving you contacts and networking opportunities – not that I would know what a networking opportunity was if it bit me on the bottom!

PD: What effect did working with Kenny Clare have on your drumming whilst you were learning your craft?
MD: A big effect. I still have very fond memories of the man. He was one of the great jazz drummers both in the UK and the US and was a great teacher.

PD: You're the only musician - other than Angus - to play on all the tracks on ‘Now I Know Why’: is it fair to say that being a drummer secures you more work than other jazz musicians?
MD: Doesn’t seem like that to me. Look in the Musicians’ Union directory and you will see five times as many drummers listed as any other instrument.

PD: Tell us something about your involvement in ‘The Spin’ in Oxford.
MD: I set up The Spin Jazz Club with guitarist Pete Oxley about 5 years ago, more with the idea of getting a regular play in Oxford than thinking of setting up a jazz venue. Things have evolved to the point where it is full every week, we feature some of the top jazz players in the UK and the word is spreading that this is a good place to play. From a selfish point of view, it is great to work with these wonderful musicians week in, week out.

PD: What advice would you give your children if they wanted to follow in your footsteps and become musicians?
MD: Don’t! Become an accountant and keep your old man in the lifestyle he has become accustomed to.

PD: What music do you enjoy listening to?
MD: I listen mainly to jazz – great songwriters like James Taylor, Stevie Wonder, Steely Dan and lots of country and western.

PD: Which musician would you most like to play alongside and why?
MD: Frank Zappa. Boyhood hero and iconoclast of the first order. He also wrote some great toons.

PD: Angus Murray has just created a nine-piece big band to compliment his four, five and sixteen-piece bands: what size of band do you enjoy playing with most and why?
MD: I don’t have a view on the size of the band but most of my work is with small groups so I guess that must say something.

PD: If money was no object and you could go anywhere on a two-week holiday, where would you go and why?
MD: New York. For the jazz.
Frank Sebastian Interview

PD: What section process did you go through to become a national jazz finalist?
FS: The band recorded a demo at Mike Perry's, which got us through to the semi-finals. The semi final was a live concert with three judges and we were selected to represent the South of England.

Paul Deegan: What's it like to be a Radio 3 Jazz Today programme featured artist?
Frank Sebastian: We had two hour's studio time to record a half hour programme, so we were under a lot of pressure to get it right first go. Also they were my own pieces so I wanted them to go well. It was exciting work in the studio at the time. Then it was straight on to the next thing… a busy period of my life.

PD: You started out in engineering. To an outsider that seems to be the diametric opposite of being a musician. Are there any parallels?
FS: There were enough musicians at the research centre where I worked for me to start up a music society with a recorder player, John Edwards. Together we put on a monthly concert, which touched on everything from flamenco guitar recitals to orchestral and chamber music. Music is a science as well as an art. I don't really know why so many engineers in one place should have been such accomplished musicians, but I formed an impression that the engineers I worked with were truly creative individuals and very similar perhaps temperamentally to musicians I have subsequently known.

PD: You keep your hand in on the engineering side by producing wood and metal moving sculptures and clocks. What are you currently working on?
FS: I write down all my ideas and inventions in a series of sketch books. I have for example a book of ideas for clocks and another of knot designs and so on. I have always been fascinated by automaton and from time to time one of my ideas gets translated into something in 3D.

PD: South Bank, Bass Clef, The Vortex, Ronnie Scott's. What's your favourite venue and why?
FS: A good venue and a good audience go hand in hand: full marks to all those venues and many others including The Bass Clef, The Bull's Head, Barnes, and The 606 for keeping live music going. Ronnie Scott's has to be the pinnacle. Maybe it's because Ronnie Scott was such a prominent and warm character and sax player, or maybe it's just the particularly good personal memories that I attach to the venue.

PD: If you could play in a quartet with musicians of any era, who would you invite to appear on stage with you?
FS: So many to choose from… the first thing that comes into my head is that from a sax player's point of view, what's most important is the way the trio that is backing you work as a team. There are so many famous trios, any one of which I would love to play with. Two things make up music; talent and friendship. In the end, I do believe I would be happier working with people I knew really well, or simply clicked with on the night.

PD: The government ban jazz for a week. Which artists from other music genres are you going to listen to?
FS: I'd move on to the baroque classics - Bach, Telemann, Dowland, Francesco da Milano, and other music of that period.

PD: I want to become a professional musician. What three pieces of advice would you give me?
FS: Fine-tune your technique so you can be ready for anything. You are an ambassador for the live event. Learn to respond to the audience who are as much a part of the performance as the music you are creating. Be proud. Keep going. You are a vital part of civilisation as we know it.

PD: What is your favourite musical composition that you have written, and what motivated you to write it?
FS: I have written some compositions about the places where I've lived, which I really like, and also people I have known. I am always hoping to write my favourite tune. I haven't done that yet, but I like those ones which give me the most opportunity to improvise. Anticipating the fun of playing the tunes with the people I'm writing for is what motivates me.

PD: You’re stuck on a desert island but Sue Lawley will only let you take one album. What’s it going to be?
FS: Something by Charlie Parker. He was such an amazing jazz player. 'Bird of Paradise' is a wonderful track. I went with Guy Barker to Boots when we were teenagers. I remember Guy buying a Jazz at the Philharmonic-type compilation. I bought an album by Charlie Parker, who I'd not heard play before. Bird of Paradise was my first jazz revelation.

What We Do

What we have to offer

The Big Band is available to perform in a format to match your requirements from a trio through to the full sixteen piece orchestra for maximum impact.

The Big Band also conducts business training seminars: members of your organisation are immersed as band members in order to experience a fresh, invigorating and memorable approach to working as a team.

What our clients have said

“Angus and his band have entertained us beautifully at a number of high profile events. Their professional yet friendly jazz style, combined with a sense of fun, always make for the perfect ambience.”
The Communication Group plc

“Angus’ jazz band were a great success. Our conference speakers wanted to join in with the singing and the musicians were very good at accommodating them.”
British Airways

"Great entertainment – everyone enjoyed the band and were up dancing!”

Ready to experience The Big Band for yourself?

Jazz at its most fun and infectious.

Sample the Sound

Samples of Angus Murray and his Big Band.

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