Its our brand new blog page folks. Here we have conversations, thoughts and ramblings from all those concerned with putting SJP events together. We start with a conversation/interview between David Lyttle and Eddie Lee, SJP director, requested by Jazz Services UK.
Story of SJP: A blog/interview with Eddie Lee by David Lyttle
D.L: Ed, tell me how SJP started. Did you have a vision and was it as SJP is now?

EL : SJP started in 2005 when myself and three Sligo musician colleagues decided the only response to the dearth of jazz performance and educational activity in the Northwest of Ireland was to bring some people here to teach and perform. In the knowledge that, with such a small population here, and consequently a small jazz audience, nobody else would start such an initiative so we set up SJP and with the aid of a small local authority grant hosted a pilot event over a wet weekend in October, with five tutors giving masterclasses, workshops and concerts. The vision was very simple: to bring world-class musicians to teach and perform and help the attendees develop their musicianship skills. The event attracted about 35 participants, had good concert attendances and exceeded our expectations on every level. We saw that there is a hunger for this type of event, which provides the soul food and brain food a musician needs to grow: namely information on theory, practice techniques, exercises, technique, and of most importantly the inspiration to leave the event and take your musicianship to a higher level. We also saw that the event also provided a unique entertainment event for the public who attended too.
Spurred on by this success we decided to run a summer school in August 2006, successfully applied for funding to the Arts Council and other bodies, with a more international faculty which included Rufus Reid, Italian guitarist Sandro Gibellini, Italian based US pianist Greg Burk and previous tutors Steve Davis (N Ireland), Michael Buckley and Mike Nielsen (Ireland), along with Swiss singer Veronika Stalder. This 5-day long event attracted 70 participants and we soon realised we had created a monster!
In those days it was pretty much divided responsibilities, but the ever growing workload and other pressures meant some of my colleagues had to withdraw over the years. Strange, but as the event grew in size and stature, the organisation became more compact, and this year, with a major international faculty of sixteen tutors, I’m almost running it on my own, with a bit of help from volunteers. This year I believe we have the best faculty of any jazz summer school ever held in Europe.
DL: Its got to be tough running that single handed?

EL: Its very difficult, since there is a summer school, which in itself is pretty much a full time job, and on top of that a full blown jazz festival programme to do. Fundraising is a huge part of the workload, as is the event management – main event programming, negotiating and booking acts, speaking to venues, then of course there is a very strong and ever increasing jazz trail around local venues, hostelries, cafes and hotels, which is a whole programming job on its own. They say you have to be crazy to organise something like this on a volunteer basis, but most of my friends will tell you I should have been certified a good while back. Some things have gotten easier, though, the faculty for this year almost picked itself, its the biggest we have had to date, a mixture of tutors from previous years but with a more ambitious programme and for the first time, four drum/percussion tutors, two double bass and one electric bass tutor and doubled up on all the other instruments bar trombone and vocal. Since we develop more contacts as the years go by, and we treat the tutors very well when they are here, this I think the main reason the faculty is easier to assemble now, and of course its such a special week for all concerned, that they are almost queuing up to come back! We do like to vary the faculty members each year, but recognise that some continuity is good too.

DL: Any notable additions to the faculty this year?
EL: US bass legend Rufus Reid returns for the first time since 2007, this year he is joined by John Goldsby, with whom he teaches just prior to our event in Kentucky at the massive Jamey Aebersold summer school. I think they have sixty odd tutors and 400 plus participants, now thats a major event!

DL: This is a jazz master who had played with Thad Jones/Mel Lewis, Dizzy, Dexter, Getz, Lee Konitz and a list as long as your arm. How did you manage to get Rufus Reid to come to Ireland to teach back in 2006, on what was then an unknown pilot project?
A: Its something I remember every detail of. In spring 2006 I returned from a family trip to USA, still without a bass tutor for the summer school. Fortuitously, in the mail was an instructional bass DVD by Rufus Reid that I had ordered online sometime before. I put it into the computer and it had a web link, so I thought I’d chance my arm. I sent an email which opened “Dear Rufus, I know this is a long shot, but a silent priest never got a parish… this is what we are putting together, these are the dates, and this is how much money we’ve got…” And he replied ten minutes later with “Dear Eddie, its just as well you are not a silent priest, as I am available on those dates and I would love to be part of your project”. I think the word is serendipity!

EL: Who else is onboard this year?
A: We had been trying since 2007 to get John Riley to come. He’s probably the greatest drum educator in jazz history – if I’m not mistaken, you yourself, David, have travelled “Statesward” to study with him – every jazz drummer worth his salt has at least one Riley book. We met him on a weekend in NYC at the village Vanguard where he was performing in the big band on the legendary Monday night session. My colleague Eddie McFarlane plucked up the courage to approach him and told him where we were from. “Oh I’ve heard of you guys, Rufus Reid told me all about you”, came the answer. We finally got him to Sligo – four years later, last year. He guested with Dublin City Jazz Orchestra then, and with John Taylor co-lead the complete faculty “SJP All Stars” headline concert. Like most of the guys who come here, he was happy to come back for a return visit this time when he’ll be performing with Marshall Gilkes on his show and Rufus on the All Star gig. He’s kind of like a drum god! Its amazing the reverence even seasoned drummers I know have for him.

DL: What about UK and European tutors? EL: Having secured the best in the USA we didnt rest on our laurels and have also got Paul Clarvis to teach percussion again this year. Paul is a gentleman and a great teacher, I think it was (N Ireland) drummer Steve Davis who recommended Paul, who’s played with everyone from Nina Simone to Mick Jagger, notably Kenny Wheeler, John Williams and Bernstein. I think a great testament to our event is that Paul is prepared to take a week from his busy schedule and potentially big recording dates to come to Sligo, where he teaches by day and gets involved with all the jams and pub sessions each evening too. This year he told me he would do the project again as long as I gave him a gig in Hargadons, a charming littel pub on the main street with the band stand a little bigger than a matchbox. Such is the charm of Sligo, I guess! On the European front we also have of course pianist John Taylor, his colleague Italian singer Diana Torto, two German-based Americans, WDR Big Band players John Goldsby and Marshall Gilkes, the trombonist who blew everyone away last year, he truly is a phenomenon. Closer to home we have your good self and N Ireland drum colleague Steve Davis, Irish guitar virtuoso Mike Nielsen, Italian guitarist Sandro Gibellini, BBC presenter, trumpeter and bandleader Linley Hamilton, young Berklee Presidential Scholar saxophonist Matthew Halpin and pianist and writer Brian Priestley who is based in Ireland in his semi retirement, where he also is a radio presenter and finds time to write for Jazzwise magazine too.

DL: Is it just faculty members that perform at the evening concerts? EL: No, this year more than ever we have a plethora of guest acts, both in the main concert programme and the jazz trail. Kenny Wheeler is our guest of honour this year and we are thrilled that he has agreed to come. He will give a concert and a workshop with John taylor and Diana, both of whom have been in his “Somethin’ Else Quartet” for some time. As well as Kenny, Phronesis, Zakir Hussain and Femi Temowo are amongst the festival acts, so the tutors will get a couple of nights off in what is a pretty intense week for them.

DL: What makes SJP so unique? EL: I think its that we host so many one-off events. Right from the first concert we ever hosted up to the present, SJP has been full of world-premieres, bringing together musicians from different parts of the globe, who have never performed together before and placing them on a stage together. Its the beauty of jazz that this can be done with supreme confidence, we know that the standard of musicians we bring is so world-class that they will weave magic every time. Its happened from that first summer school in 2006 when Rufus Reid performed with Steve Davis, Greg Burk and Irish sax man Michael Buckley, a truly memorable astonishing concert. It happened again in 2007 when Rufus performed with Louis Stewart and Sandro Gibellini, when Paul Wertico and Rufus shared a stage for the first time, and when we put Wertico in a trio of Mike Nielsen and Dominique DiPiazza. Its the magic of jazz. Last year when you and Michael Manring along with young Andreas Varady provided the rhythm section for the cracking festival club session with Soweto Kinch, Jean Toussaint and Cleveland Watkiss, that magic was there – that once in a lifetime feeling. I think our SJP All Stars concert each year has created that feeling every time, when every single tune is a one off, world exclusive combination of musicians.

DL: What is the hardest thing about organising an event of this magnitude? EL: Has to be finding the time to put it all together, persuading other people that its worth not having a life for a while to help run this event with me, and not going insane in the process. That and keeping hold of my family.

DL: Obviously it’s been worth it or you wouldn’t still be doing it? EL: Unbelievably so. When the event is in full flow and the participants are coming out of a once-in-a-lifetime show, every face beaming with surprise, joy and a common love of great music, I know its been worth it.