Monday, April 25, 2011

Interview: Julian Nicholas

If you went to see the Emil Viklický Trio in April you may have noticed that there were in fact four musicians on stage. This was because Emil had a special guest with him, saxophonist Julian Nicholas. Julian kindly took the time to tell Prague Jazz a little about his experiences with Emil and the Czech jazz scene. We started by asking him how he first met one of the legends of Central European jazz...

“I met Emil in Wales. We were both teaching on a Jazz Summer School and played in the 'club' in the evenings, finding a mutuality in our music that could be said to emerge from 'folk'-ish expression, and perhaps a Jarret-Gabarek ECM background. Emil invited the drummer David Wickins and myself to come and teach on the Frydlant Jazz School and play some gigs.

“My greatest regret over the years is that I haven't been able to reciprocate with engagements in the UK the kind of situations that Emil has set  up for so many of us in the Czech Republic, but next year I will be freer to promote myself in the UK and work towards making things happen for us there too. Last year we recorded a duo concert in Leipzig, and I believe the promoter may be open to the idea of us forming an international quartet there next time, but generally the plans are improvised like the music. Opportunity provides...

The Czech jazz scene not only has a significant heritage of world class artists, but continues to produce them through inspiring young players to go to college and gig a wide range of styles. However, it would be foolish to pretend that it doesn't suffer from all the same syndromes as every jazz scene the world over: clubs with a reputation and tourist interest not paying enough or knowing or caring enough, no real media coverage or airtime, no record company or publisher business development support, and film and television companies not distinguishing between the real thing and potted clichés. Therefore musicians are forced to exist in cliques or sub-scenes, often pressured to compete with one another instead of pooling resources and working together to combat the anti-jazz exploitative capitalism of the media, some clubs, and the so-called “commercial music scene”. But the upside is that there is, deep down, in most of Europe, Scandinavia, Japan and the United States, a culture of respect for the artistic endeavours and heritage of the Jazz Artist that hasn't survived in mainstream culture in the UK. It still exists in the Czech Republic.

“For example, on Friday we played at the festival in Polička, a small town that has hosted jazz musicians annually for 15 years, and has consequently enriched its local people with a greater understanding of the wide range of music under the jazz umbrella, bringing them together in a unique and very different atmosphere than 'pop' and classical musics can achieve.

“My memories of playing in the Czech Republic are rich with magic moments, like recording our album Food Of Love in the atmospheric orchestral [Český rozhlas] broadcasting Studio A in Karlín, all the times Emil has brought together truly individual players from the Czech scene and internationals like Steve Houben and Scott Robinson for tours or the gig at the Castle, and playing Emil's home town gig Olomouc and feeling 'spoilt' by the level of attention. Many more to come, I'm sure...”

Many thanks to Julian for his time and thoughts, and we look forward to seeing him in Prague again soon. For those of you who didn't get to see him play here's a treat – an “official bootleg” video of him in action recorded from the top of Emil's piano at the Polička Jazz Festival. The band are playing one of Julian's own pieces, "1000 Ships".

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