Described by the late Humphrey Lyttelton as "formidable," Simon Spillett is a British jazz saxophonist who leads his own quartet featuring John Critchinson (piano), Alec Dankworth (bass) and Clark Tracey (drums). He has won several awards for his music, including the tenor saxophone category of the British Jazz Awards (2011), Jazz Journal magazine's Critic's Choice CD of the Year (2009) Rising Star in the BBC Jazz Awards (2007) and most recently the Services to British Jazz Award in the 2016 British Jazz Awards. Other celebrated jazz leaders and bands with whom he has worked have included Sir John Dankworth, Stan Tracey, Peter King and The Ronnie Scott's Jazz Orchestra. He has recorded three albums, Introducing Simon Spillett (Woodville Records, 2007), Sienna Red (Woodville Records, 2008) and Square One (Gearbox Records, 2013), all of which have received highly favourable reviews in both the specialist and national press. His festival, concert and club appearances across the UK have included sold-out gigs at Ronnie Scott's and the Brecon Jazz Festival and he has broadcast on BBC Radio 3's Jazz-Line Up with his own band. In 2016, Simon was appointed to the board of patrons of The Jazz Centre UK, alongside Sir Michael Parkinson, Dame Cleo Laine, Jools Holland and Van Morrison.
Steve began studying the clarinet at the age of 10, first with Cyril Chapman (clarinetist with the Royal Philharmonia Orchestra) and later with Colin Courtney (clarinet professor at the Royal College of Music). He was a member of the Bromley Symphony Orchestra from ages 14 to 18 playing anything from Haydn and Mozart to Stravinsky and Shostakovich. At 16 he took up the saxophone with a pile of Charlie Parker 78’s as his main guide and inspiration. He completed an Earth Sciences degree at Leeds University before deciding to become a professional musician.
He was a key member of Loose Tubes (the highly acclaimed 21 piece jazz orchestra that became the focal point of the British jazz renaissance of the 80s). During this time, he was closely associated with the London African and Latin American scenes, playing with bands such as Taxi Pata Pata (a top Zairean Soukous outfit) , Bosco D’Olivera’s Grupo Folia and Roberto Pla’s Latin Jazz Ensemble. His own projects included Orchestra Rafiki, co-led by long-time associate Chris Batchelor and featuring Kenyan Nyatiti player Ayub Ogada and Ghanaian drummer Nana Appiah, and also the Pigs Head Sons, another Buckley/Batchelor collaboration. He toured and recorded with Ashley Slater’s Microgroove, Norman Cook’s Beats International and the contemporary classical ensemble Jeremy Peyton-Jones’ Regular Music.
He has played and recorded with several Django Bates’ projects including The Third Policeman, Human Chain and Delightful Precipice.
His continued connections with African music led him to travel to Ghana to work with The Pan African Orchestra and with Kakatsitsi in the UK. He has also played and recorded with Massukos from Mozambique.
Steve’s main area of work has always been within the contemporary jazz scene, playing and recording with artists such as John Taylor, Julian Arguelles, Steve Arguelles, Eddie Parker, Iain Ballamy, Steve Noble, Billy Jenkins, Huw Warren, Christine Tobin, Phil Robson, Colin Towns, Seb Roachford, Mark Lockheart, Mike Outram, Joseph Jarman, Jonathan Joseph, Mark Sanders, Kit Downes and Leroy Jenkins. Steve’s close association with Chris Batchelor has continued with projects such as the internationally acclaimed Big Air, featuring Myra Melford, Jim Black and Oren Marshall. In 2006 Steve and Chris received the BBC Jazz on 3 award for best new work with “Ten Tall Tales”.
More recently he has played and recorded with the legendary South African pianist Tete Mbambisa and also with the newly re-united Loose Tubes.
Amy, from near Penzance, is a multi award-winning flautist, clarinettist and saxophonist now based in Northamptonshire. Voted winner of the Miscellaneous Category in the 2015 British Jazz Awards, and the Rising Star Category in the British Jazz Awards in both 2009 and 2011, Amy has earned an enviable reputation throughout not only the UK but also abroad. She has worked in prestigious venues and festivals all over the UK and across Europe and has become known on the jazz circuit as a charismatic performer. In 2011 she became the first woman in history to join the Big Chris Barber Band and spent four years touring with them throughout some of the most prestigious venues in Europe. Amy currently leads several bands which feature some of the most exciting musicians on the jazz scene. She also regularly makes guest appearances with other highly acclaimed ensembles and internationally celebrated orchestras.
Richard studied clarinet at the Royal College of Music, and is self taught on saxophone. He formed his own quartet and big band while still at college and quickly became a familiar figure on the London jazz scene, playing with a wide range of artists from the National Youth Jazz Orchestra to the Ink Spots. Richard has worked with many of the established big bands such as the Glenn Miller Orchestra (UK), the Ross Mitchell Band, the London Swing Orchestra and the Nelson Riddle Orchestra (UK). In the late 1990s Richard became a more regular name in the vintage jazz fraternity playing regularly with the Pasadena Roof Orchestra, Harry Strutter's Hot Rhythm Orchestra and the Charleston Chasers. Richard became a regular member of the Big Chris Barber Band in 2004, leaving at the end of 2014 to focus on his own career.
Andy is a prolific composer and arranger - although his own groups feature him on trumpet he also plays drums to an equal extent, and has performed with many big names in this capacity. Having grown up in Croydon, he took up a place at Bristol University to read Psychology and ended up settling in the city.
Over the past 25 years Andy has become well known in Bristol both as a performer and as organiser of weekly jazz venue The Be-Bop Club. He has released several CDs of his music, and appeared on four programmes of BBC Radio’s Jazz Notes during the 1990s. Besides his jazz activities he has played in many other settings, including the albums by Portishead, various theatre productions, TV [Waking the Dead, Cold Lazarus] and the soundtrack of the motion picture "A Good Woman" starring Helen Hunt & Scarlett Johannson.
Ben Waghorn started playing in local jazz bands in his home town of Bristol at the age of fourteen, before joining London based hard bop drummer Tommy Chase in 1989. Ben was also a member of NYJO between 1991 and 1995, touring and recording a number of albums during this period. Ben has a busy recording career playing for TV, Film and radio, and has recorded or performed with musicians and bands such as Kasabian, Portishead, Goldfrapp, Kasabian, John Matthius, Sonia, Sinita and Luke Goss. Theatre Work in London’s West End includes ‘West Side Story’, ‘Fosse’ and ‘Chicago’.
Ben is an Edition Records artist and is featured heavily with the Dave Stapleton Quartet on the album ‘The House always wins’, which was released to critical acclaim in 2007. A new album has just been recorded for release in early 2010. Ben’s Quartet album is also due for release in the same year.
He has been involved in a range of projects with pianist and composer Keith Tippett, including the ensemble ‘Tapestry’, a piece written by Keith for two saxophone quartets and the BBC singers, the Quartet ‘Work in Progress’ and The Keith Tippett Octet. Ben has toured and recorded with latin jazz group ‘Sirius B’ and been involved in many productions at Bristol’s Old Vic Theatre. He is also currently performing with the Dave Stapleton Trio and Duo, Andy Hague Quintet and Big Band, Resonation Big Band, Jim Blomfield’s band Septimbre, and Pedalmania with Hammond Organist John Paul Gard –a new album to be released very soon. He has played alongside John Critchenson, John Etheridge, Damon Brown, Andy Sheppard, Gilad Atzmon and Steve Waterman and has played at many Jazz Festivals nationally and Internationally.
Nathaniel Steele is a jazz vibraphone player and drummer based in London. Since his arrival on the scene, he has quickly gained a reputation as a talented musician to watch out for, described by Clark Tracey as "one of the best vibes players this country has ever produced." Principally self-taught, and following in the style of Milt Jackson and Cal Tjader, Nat takes a two mallet approach to improvisation, focusing on melodic interpretation and a great swing feel.
His “Nat Steele Quartet” is regularly featured at the Late, Late show at Ronnie Scott's and as a result he has recently attracted compliments for his playing from the likes of Benny Green, Joe Locke, Jason Marsalis, Harold Mabern and Eric Alexander, has studied with Mike LeDonne and had the good fortune to sit in with both Benny Green and Wynton Marsalis.
In September 2017 he launched his debut album, “Portrait of the Modern Jazz Quartet” on Trio Records, with the launch held at Ronnie Scott’s.
He’s travelled around the UK playing with his group, and alongside high-profile UK players such as Pete Long, Georgina Jackson, Allison Neale and others. He recently completed a tour of Eastern Canada, performing in Ottawa, Montreal and 3 nights at the great Jazz Bistro (formerly Top ‘o The Senator) in Toronto, as well as giving a very well received masterclass to undergraduate jazz students at the University of Toronto.
John Etheridge rightly enjoys a glowing reputation throughout the jazz world and beyond and has been described by Pat Metheny as, "One of the best guitarists". He is a prodigiously gifted and creative player whose approach to music can only be described as 'eclectic' as he refuses to accommodate or even acknowledge artificial musical boundaries. His range is well illustrated by his years of touring and recording with the iconic Stephane Grappelli while simultaneously doing likewise with the legendary jazz-fusion group, The Soft Machine. John is equally at home on acoustic and electric guitar and his willingness to engage with so many styles is matched by his ability to excel in any of them. He has played with John Williams, Yehudi Menuhin, Dizzie Gillespie, Herb Ellis, Mundell Lowe, Nigel Kennedy, Pat Metheny, Birelli Lagrene, Barney Kessel, Vic Juris and countless others. John's ability as an outstanding composer is sometimes overlooked but he is often under pressure from audiences to feature more of his own material.
John's promise was evident even during his earliest days of playing and he received recognition and encouragement from both Jimi Hendrix, whose comment was "You're great", and Eric Clapton, who told him after a gig, "You're not a great blues player but you're a great guitarist." After graduating in the History of Art in 1970 from Essex University and returning to London, John started to get seriously noticed when working in the various bands such as ex-Curved Air violinist Darryl Way's Wolf, an early jazz/rock outfit with whom he recorded three albums. Others included Icarus, Abednigo (which had a woodwind player named John Altman, later to become a famous film director), the short-lived Warhorse and the wonderfully-monikered Global Village Trucking Company. His 1975 leap into the front rank came when he was contacted by The Soft Machine after they had been given his number by the departing Allan Holdsworth.
JE: "The album 'Bundles' was just out, and I started by promoting that. Then we did this great Summer tour with Mahavishnu Orchestra, Soft Machine, Caravan, Climax Blues Band, Wishbone Ash, all together, on this Hercules transport aeroplane, flying at 80 miles an hour - took about 4 hours to fly from Stuttgart to Marseille !... Unfortunately, the whole thing went bankrupt in the middle of it".
The Soft Machine enjoyed legendary status as Europe's premier jazz-fusion exponents and John made a real impression as part of the band. This stage of his playing career is celebrated in the 2006 released DVD 'Guitar Legends' (see other cd's).
It is a measure of both the breadth of John's ability and the recognition and regard he commanded from fellow musicians that less than a year after joining The Soft Machine, the great Diz Disley suggested that he would be Diz's ideal successor to play alongside the stellar jazz violinist and ex-sparring partner of Django Rheinhardt, Stephane Grappelli. When John met up with Stephane (on a borrowed Framus acoustic guitar), he did not consider himself remotely to be a 'Django' player but he knew the repertoire and was a great improviser. He clearly made his mark because he spent the next 6 years touring the world in collaboration with Grappelli in what he describes as one of his happiest times in music; he certainly refers to this period with great affection. So John was playing and recording simultaneously in these two very different set-ups, each at the pinnacle of their very different traditions - an achievement indeed! John played on a number of recordings with Stephane including two which featured the peerless classical violinist, Yehudi Menuhin.
Incidentally, while with Grappelli, John played a vital role in helping launch the career of another noted British guitarist when he introduced a certain Martin Taylor into Stephane's band.
Through the eighties and nineties, John could be found honing his craft and extending his range even further with collaborations with the likes of Vic Juris and Dick Heckstall-Smith. In the late seventies and early eighties he played a series of solo concerts in Australia (where he was given an early Smallman acoustic guitar by its admiring maker) and went on to play duo dates in the USA with bass-player Brian Torff with whom he had worked in the Grappelli band. During 1985, Etheridge worked with fellow guitarist Gary Boyle in both duo and quartet setups. Between '89 and '93 he then toured with Whatever led by the ubiquitous ex-Pentangle bass-player Danny Thompson and joined luminaries such as Alan Skidmore, Stan Tracey and Henry Lowther on the 1990 album Elemental. Around this time John was also working frequently with Elton Dean as the Elton Dean/John Etheridge Quartet with a rhythm section comprising of Fred Baker and Mark Fletcher on bass and drums respectively. The great Manouche guitarist, Birelli Lagrene was another touring partner in what was a gypsy jazz feast for their audiences.
John's theme of working with the cream of violinists was to continue when he played with Didier Lockwood, featuring on his first album, New World, as part of an all-star line-up including Gordon Beck (piano), Tony Williams (drums) and Niels-Henning Ørsted-Pedersen (bass). With Ric Sanders he then formed the band Second Vision and recorded the eponymous album. From 1993 John toured extensively with Nigel Kennedy and was featured on the 1996 album 'Kafka'. 1994 saw John joining his long-time friend and ex-Police guitarist Andy Summers for a world tour and they released the album 'Invisible Threads' as a duo. Here is a great quote from an ex-colleague of Andy's: - "I never wanted to be a star, just a highly respected musician like John Etheridge" Sting (The Guardian 1981)
The Etheridge schedule is busy, some would say frenetic, and it includes work with a number of regular accomplices; his 'hot club' style band 'Sweet Chorus', is a personal homage to Grappelli and takes the gypsy jazz form to new and inspiring places – a superb rhythm section of Dave Kelbie (guitar) and Malcolm Creese (bass) with JE and the sublime violinist Christian Garrick swapping solos make this a band not to be missed. The Soft Machine Legacy was made up of members of the original band (John Marshall, Hugh Hopper - John himself was with the band from 1975) until the unfortunate passing in 2006 of Elton Dean who has been succeeded by Theo Travis. The new band retain all that made The Soft Machine one of the most important fusion bands ever while bringing a freshness and new vitality that just adds to the legacy. Then there is 'The Zappatistas', an exhilarating eight-piece line-up playing the music of the irreplaceable Frank Zappa with John excelling in the great man's role and co-leading the band. There are regular performances with innumerable fellow 'greats' of the jazz world, with other noted guitarists from a range of genres, with Pete Whittaker, Mike Pickering and Julian Siegal in 'Blue Spirits'; the list just goes on...
In July 2006, John began touring a great new programme in a duo set-up with John Williams, the most celebrated classical guitarist of this generation. The two Johns have worked together before, most notably on their interpretations of African music with Francis Bebey, Richard Harvey, Chris Laurence and Paul Clarvis and documented on the CD 'The Magic Box'. John Williams had always retained a desire to explore further the enticing combination of classical and steel-string guitar and got back in contact with John to realise this ambition. The result is stunning! John Williams rightly describes this pairing of classical and steel-string as a 'first' even though he hates that term. Musically, the project dips again into the wellspring of the great African influences but it offers so much more including a sensational and technically demanding suite, newly composed for the two Johns by the American composer and guitarist, Benjamin Verdery. The programme was recorded live at the Dublin International Guitar Festival and is scheduled for release by Sony in October 2006. The tour continues into 2007 with dates across the US and elsewhere.
The coming together of these two great players is a genuine musical milestone, not just in their performance but also in their instruments. When John was looking for the 'right' acoustic guitar, the legendary Oregon-based luthier and dyed-in-the-wool Etheridge fan, Charles Fox, offered him the 'ergo noir', an innovative and groundbreaking instrument that was described in the prestigious Vintage Guitar magazine as 'a guitar that has redefined the acoustic steel-string…….one of the first notable lutherie achievements of the new millennium'. Fitting then, that the European debut of the ergo should be onstage alongside the equally revolutionary Smallman classical guitar that John Williams adopted in the early eighties. Williams' fellow-Australian Greg Smallman had then devised and constructed an epoch-defining instrument which changed the design paradigm for classical guitars. Now, with John Etheridge's enthusiastic adoption of the ergo, its steel-string equivalent has found its way to this meeting of guitar greats.
A measure of the universal respect for John's accomplishment and skill was his nomination as one of just three finalists for the highly prestigious award for the 2006 Jazz Musician of the Year, presented on May 10th at the Parliamentary Jazz Awards ceremony at the House of Commons.
In 2007 Williams and Etheridge undertook a months tour of the USA ,which was followed in 2008 by a tour of Australia and New Zealand. The duo continue to play concerts in England and Europe and another U S tour is mooted for 2013.
Last year saw John appear- alongside Richard Thompson, James Burton and others at a guitar night at the South Bank as part of the Meltdown Festival, play 2 nights at the Edinburgh International Festival (the first time Jazz had been included in the main Festival),and perform 5 times at the London Jazz Festival, in various formats, as part of a celebration of his 40 years in "Showbiz".
A yearly highlight is a week's engagement at the Pizza Express - featuring a stellar cast of guests.