Interview With Leon Oliver From Newcastle University (5-06-16)

Interview With Leon Oliver From Newcastle University (5-06-16)

The Following transcript is from a conversation that took place between O.J. and myself. He is a student at Newcastle University in The U.K. He wanted to interview me for a project at school he’s doing about Jazz.

O.J. What had you heard about Britain (or more specifically London) in terms of jazz that made you want to come over? Were there any opportunities for you that weren’t available to you in the states?

G. I had originally heard that Europe (in particular London & Paris) was the home to a revival and explosion of jazz. Particularly since jazz was born in America naturally over time the appreciation of/for it dwindled. I believe the stories began obviously many decades ago but they still linger to this day. Europe is home to many prominent Jazz Festivals where many international artists perform. In my home town of Phoenix in particular it’s common for a jazz fest to include Keith Sweat & other old school/ R&B singers performing their old hits…. no disrespect intended but that’s NOT jazz. I was looking for and craving a place to play my own music. I could have went to NYC or California but in all honesty LONDON seemed much more prestigious and mythological.

O.J. During your time in London was there anything about the jazz scene there you would describe as British? Any characteristics (i.e musically, environmentally, socially) that gave an authentic British feel?

G. In London I quickly seen that there was something happening locally every night of the week. Lots of open mic’s & sit ins etc. I didn’t have access to those opportunities in PHX. I did however realize that a large number, (about 70%) of the musicians I met played the guitar. That was odd to me (not a negative necessarily especially since I played the piano) but I stood out more quickly. Maybe that is uniquely a British attribute? I did quickly realize that mostly every song played were jazz standards. That was disappointing because it went against the idea I had of a new movement overseas. There wasn’t a place where people were showcasing their individual creativity. Unless you were an international star. So in that respect it was the same as Phx, where a celebrity comes in town to do a concert then leaves. There was an interesting new form of music however in London, neither exclusively jazz nor mainstream. I met the producer/owner of Slowfoot Records and he introduced me to it.

O.J. Is there anything you felt influenced by during your time here? Anything you feel like you’ve taken away from Britain and will continue to develop on in future performances?

G. I think personally what influenced me in London wasn’t anything musically, instead it was a bigger cultural appreciation. Phoenix is politically a republican state so it’s not very progressive overall. It’s changing more and more but London is light-years ahead in terms of the openness and acceptance I seen. My view may be wrong since I am not a London native and don’t know about the politics. Also leaving to London opened up more opportunities because it made people take me seriously. I wasn’t in London as long as I hoped because I got offered a huge opportunity with one of the major theaters back in PHX. I do plan on coming back and spending more time in London, and hopefully also next time Paris like I had originally planned.

O.J. This all sounds great! I really like your reason for going to London, there’s something that’s fascinated me for a while now is the blend of cultures in the city, and the music that arises from the environment. Honestly, you hit the nail on the head about how open London is, I wish I could say it was a fair representation of what the rest of the UK is like but it’s not. Suppose there’s always somewhere in a nation that moves slower than the rest. In regards to the lack of expression in London, the city competes with itself, always trying to raise the bar on the standard and it does start to focus less on a persons creativity. Saying that, there a are loads of niche bars and venues that encourage creativity it’s just a case of finding them. I really appreciate the time you’ve taken to give such detailed answers, the time you spent in London has given a really nice perspective on British identity in Jazz, it’s not so much the musical content I need to think about, more the people that surround it

G. I definitely understand and believe that , I know I wasn’t able to find everything there and hope it wasn’t insulting at all.
I appreciate you allowing me this opportunity asking me those questions allowing me to reflect and to answer the questions from my perspective was actually very rewarding. It gave me a deeper appreciation for my journey and time abroad!

Thanks for reading, and until next time… Geibral-