In the two days prior to our departure, we had the pleasure of working with Malcolm Earle-Smith in two group mentoring sessions. Malcolm is a multi-faceted musician with ample experience and expertise in playing (and singing) traditional jazz, among other disciplines.
We began the mentoring session by playing some of our best known songs, looking to Malcolm for advice and inspiration. He gave us the following tips to pursue a more authentic sound:
- Don’t get too attached to the melody – Malcolm pointed out that once the instrumental head has been played, the singer does not necessarily have to adhere to the exact melody of the song, even in their first chorus. The role of a singer in a traditional jazz ensemble is quite different to that of a contemporary jazz singer, and the voice should be viewed more along the lines of a horn. You need to project to be heard unamplified over a large ensemble so must be economical with note choices and focus on rhythm and energy.
- Slow down – Many of the tempos that we are comfortable with as contemporary jazz musicians would be considered unnecessarily fast in traditional or second line jazz. Does it swing better 20bpm slower? Probably!
- Play more collectively – After four years of essentially studying Bebop and post-bop, we have become acclimatised to the idea of soloing and queuing up for solos; in traditional jazz, the music is largely about the more collective aspect. Riffing and interacting as an ensemble throughout a song is key.
- Include other influences – No matter how hard we try to create an authentic sound, we have all grown up in 21st century Great Britain. This isn’t necessarily a bad thing – it just means that we will all inevitably have had other influences throughout our musical (and non-musical) lives. Malcolm suggested not to shy away from these and to try to be open to include other influences in our music.
- Just let go! – Traditional jazz and second line music is all about the feeling and the joy of playing music with your friends, peers and contemporaries, so don’t be afraid to mess it up. Just let loose and play!
Our mentoring left us feeling much more comfortable in the genre and excited to have the opportunity to submerge ourselves in the real thing down in the Crescent City – Thank you, Malcolm!
Have a listen to our final moments of mentoring below.