Interview With Saxophonist Dionne SambrookInterview
Dionne is a musician in demand, she's in two busy bands and regularly participates in Stratford's Jazz Jams as we'll as working for Live and Local. This I see one of my my favouite interviews so far as she gives great insight into the passion needed along with the challenges and realities of committing to performing.
Why did you decide to play sax?
I play sax because I simply like being noisy. As I small child, I would go and muck about for hours on the piano at my grandparent's house whenever we were visiting. I did teach myself to play piano and I didn't get to the sax until quite late (via clarinet and flute). I was at college in Coventry studying music and needed to choose a second woodwind instrument. I had ended up playing flute to grade 8 because it was the only instrument taught at my secondary school. When I could choose any instrument, I chose the sax. I love the sound – it is so versatile and can sing softly and gently or really scream out and it works in so many different genres and is visually a beautiful instrument.
Tell us about your key musical influences.
My main influences are people I know and have performed with rather than famous musicians. I am much more interested in people's attitude to music, how they perform or their role or contribution to a band, than the sound they make or how successful they may be. I think you can learn something from everyone.
If you twisted my arm to make me narrow the massive list of influences, I would say: my stepdad who is a musician and the fact that I grew up in a house with lots of music and where making a noise on an instrument was supported and encouraged by my parents; my O-level music teacher at Aylesford School (Warwick) in the mid-1980s, Caroline Bentham – a super teacher who happened to be a concert pianist and shared her passion for music; and lastly my dear friend Jay Riley who I blame entirely for introducing me to jazz. I was recommended Jay almost ten years ago, when I wanted help with improvising and technique after I'd had a very long break from the sax (c.17 years – career and children get the blame for that) and I'd started playing in a band again. Jay introduced me to loads of new music and shared lots of great advice about how to be a musician. He certainly helped me get the confidence to just go and do it.
You are so busy, tell us about your musical projects.
My band The Lounge Club came out of my desire to work on jazz tunes, having been a fairly recent convert. I came across a pretty decent jazz guitarist, Nick, in another band, so asked him if he fancied playing together regularly. We started off working on jazz standards in his sitting room -hence the band name- but now we gig regularly as a jazz quartet (sax, guitar, bass and percussion) and more often than not with the wonderful vocalist Rosie Harris. We play any tunes we like – jazz standards, funk, blues, Latin, pop and soul. Very occasionally we throw in some mad hardcore jazz tune – usually to stunned silence, so not often! Or a bit of Madness.
I've been involved in Stratford Jazz (www.stratfordjazz.org.uk) for a couple of years now. Officially I am the Secretary and Finance officer (Jay is El Presidente), but I also book some of the artists and help with promotion. The club has been going since the early 1980s and Jay took over running the club at my suggestion, so I offered to help him. We constituted the club as a not-for-profit organisation and we hold gigs on the 2nd and 4th Wednesday of each month at Stratford Playhouse and a jazz jam on the 3rd Thursday at RSC's The Other Place. We tend to book modern jazz and we do mix in some new up and coming musicians, local performers and international artists. The club is run on a shoe-string and it's hard to make it work financially, but we have a wonderful group of regular supporters who attend the gigs. And the quality of the performers and music makes it worthwhile - the musicianship is often impressive. I've learnt a lot from attending the gigs (and "borrowed" a few ideas for my own band).
This summer I joined a well-established ska outfit: The SKAlectrics (www.theskalectrics.com). I spotted an add on facebook and I had always enjoyed ska and 2-tone music, so went to a gig and thought, "blimey, there's a lot of drunk people dancing in here – that looks dangerous". But it is such fun. I've now played a good few gigs with them, but every one has been packed out, with people dancing and enjoying themselves. The band has a good following and we've had some fabulous gigs including at The Two-Tone Village in Coventry and recently supporting Bad Manners at The Assembly in Leamington.
What do you find to be the best and most Challenging things about being in bands?
The thing I love most, is that you get together with people from all different backgrounds and interests and you come together with this common purpose: to make music. If you do it well, you can bring loads of people along with you. I really enjoy it when people are dancing or singing along, because it means they are enjoying the music so much that it is having a physical effect on them. I get a massive high from a good gig or performing with amazing musicians and the buzz can last for days!
Sometimes it's like herding cats! A mix of people with different ideas and views can mean that it's tricky to find a consensus, let alone agree the finer detail. It's almost impossible to persuade everyone to stick to the plan when we all have different priorities, interests and so many other things in life pulling us all in different directions.
I am a bit of an introvert and can get very nervous before a gig. It's all the waiting around beforehand that can be a complete killer. And, oh my God - the terror of a microphone! It's something that has not come naturally to me and I've had to work on it. But the nerves usually quickly fade when I'm playing. I also find that I can become self-critical and focus on the negative aspects of my playing – what didn't work or what I can't do very well, despite generally being a positive and optimistic person. I'm always chuffed when someone tells me that they've enjoyed my playing.
Do you have a day job? How do you strike a balance?
I work part-time for Live & Local in Warwick managing community touring schemes across the Midlands. My job is to work with community groups, village halls and small art centres across Warwickshire & Worcestershire to bring professional drama, music, poetry and family shows into non-mainstream venues. The shows are subsidised so that community groups can book the best live performances with minimum financial risk. It is a really interesting job and is supporting live drama and music. Luckily there is a system of flexible working, so I can shift my work to suit my music commitments. Plus my boss is also a musician, so is pretty understanding.
It is really difficult to strike the right balance with home, work and music. I'm not sure I have ever got it right! I'm out most evenings, plus coming home at 2am, sweaty, starving and buzzing from a gig is knackering. Luckily, my husband is also my partner – he shares all the family stuff and is wonderfully tolerant of the time demands of my music. He is not much of a fan of music himself, I think that might be my fault. Sax practice can sound like strangling cats. I have two teenage sons who have a working Mum so they have been brought up to be independent and do their share (they can cook and operate the washing machine etc.).
5. Local Music Scene
I have mixed thoughts – there are some great venues which are really struggling. There are some venues with regular music and do a fantastic job. In any of the local towns you are going to find a range of live music offerings on a weekend, which is a great thing. There are so many amazing musicians, singers, writers and bands out there, suggesting that the local scene is pretty buoyant. Although I have to say that being in a jazz outfit or a 7-piece really does cut down your options when trying to get gigs in local pubs. I think a lot of people shy away when the see something advertised as jazz (thinking of the excellent Fast Show Jazz Club spoof), but it is a massive genre with an enormous range of styles and music. Some of it I really don't like. At the last gig with The Lounge Club, a bloke said to me "I don't like jazz, so wasn't sure about coming tonight. But this music is fantastic".
Open mic nights seem to be the thing at the moment and are springing up everywhere, giving people the opportunity to have a go. And I urge anyone to go for it! A sneaky G&T beforehand might help (I often do before a jam).
I've been to gigs where fabulous talented musicians are performing to a tiny audience and it is obvious that someone is taking a financial hit. That can be really disheartening, whether you are the promotor, the venue manager, the artist or one of the audience.
Who would you collaborate with out of any one in music?
My dream is to collaborate with Michael League - the leader of Snarky Puppy. He is an award-winning composer and instrumentalist who leads a super-group of the very highest calibre, so to work with Michael would actually require me to be a world-class musician. As I said, in my dreams
Where can we see you over the next few months?
Stratford Jazz : Stratford Playhouse, Rother Street, Stratford (www.stratfordjazz.org.uk)
Wednesdays: 9th Jan, 23rd Jan etc.
Stratford Jazz Jam: The Other Place, Waterside, Stratford upon Avon (www.stratfordjazz.org.uk)
Thursdays 20th Dec etc.
The Lounge Club (Facebook @loungersjazz)
12th & 27th Dec The Bread Collection Spiga Bistro, Knowle
The SKAlectrics (www.theskalectrics.com)
8th Dec The Dublin Castle, Camden, London
15th Dec Dog & Gun Banbury
22nd Dec The Bell Bicester
16th Feb Banbury United FC
Give us 3 three tracks we should listen to
(check these out - some of my favourite sax solos!)
Tower of Power – Back On The Streets Again
Snarky Puppy – Binkyâ€‹
Skatalites - â€‹Wood and Water