Part 2 – Jazz musicians moving to London

    This is Part 2 of the Blog series about Musicians in London. This blog series focuses on mainly on jazz musicians who were not born here. Some of them have left London and the UK already. And some of them still live in the UK and have no intention of leaving.

Musicians featured in this blog post are American bass player Shane Allessio,  Austrian guitarist Hannes Riepler and bass player Jose Canha from Portugal.

    The initial idea was to write about experiences of moving to another country/city ( not particularly London) , however, this blog is shaping more and more into a blog about London ( and the London jazz scene)… which makes sense as that’s where myself – the author of this blog and webpage is based. And that’s where I have met the largest number of fellow jazz musicians. I am so excited for this Part 2, as it’s featuring some musicians I have great respect for. I was both inspired and depressed by reading some of their answers. My intention isn’t to make anyone depressed though! I’m hoping to just showcase the ‘real’ thing as well as inspire people and give people who don’t live here more of an insight into what’s happening here in London as well as in near by cities. Ups and downs are part of any profession that is artistic and/or entrepreneurial ( music is business after all ). Jazz can be a hard life where often it feels like a ‘dog eat dog’ kind of world… ( if you get too comfortable… ) But dogs don’t actually eat dogs! So that little saying is a bit strange really! So at the very base of it, it is possibly the wrong way of looking at things. However, it really depends on what your intentions and goals are as well as your priorities. A competitive mindset might help many people to get ahead. There is a quote that isn’t actually connected to these interviews, however it crosses my mind on the competitiveness and art subject …

The truth is that competition is the opposite of creativity.

( That quote is from the book “Tribe of Mentors’ By Tim Ferriss, the quote is from one of the ‘mentors’ who is a highly achieved individual Terry Crews – actor, artist – painter and NFL player. If you are more interested in him , here is a link to this readable interview. And here is another link to a different video interview  I connect this quote more to his experiences as an artist.)
Despite of all the ups and downs musicians experience in their careers and also in the connection to moving to a New place, it’s important to keep your sanity!

” You’re yourself responsible to keep this music thing fun, take care of that. ” 
 ( from interview with Hannes Riepler)

I also wanted to add something that inspired me recently.
It’s taken from the Herbie Hancock and Wayne Shorter open letter to the next generation of artists.

UNDERSTAND THE TRUE NATURE OF OBSTACLES

We have this idea of failure, but it’s not real; it’s an illusion. There is no such thing as failure. What you perceive as failure is really a new opportunity, a new hand of cards, or a new canvas to create upon. In life there are unlimited opportunities. The words, “success” and “failure”, themselves, are nothing more than labels. Every moment is an opportunity. You, as a human being, have no limits; therefore infinite possibilities exist in any circumstance.

https://nesthq.com/wayne-shorter-herbie-hancock-open-letter/


And of course, after checking this blog post that is Part 2, you may be interested to also have a read of Part 1 of this blog series.

I will start ( and finish ) with the Bass players. As bassists are the ones who are always holding the music together and giving the ground to it. But often they don’t get as much recognition as ‘soloists’ and all the ‘front people’, when bassists are the ones who should deserve the attention the most!

And I am very honoured to feature –

 American Bass Player Shane Allessio from Boston, USA

 Short bio
I’m Shane Allessio and I was born in Springfield, Massachusetts. I went to Berklee College of Music, lived in Boston, and spent my early career mostly playing around New England. When I got married my wife and I decided to live somewhere different for a while, starting anew and all that, and London popped up as an opportunity. It was a fantastic experience. Now that back in New England I’ve opened a music school in Brookline, MA, and I’m raising some kids, playing jazz and working hard. I can be heard and seen at shaneallessio.com 

1 – How long did you live in London? Where did you come from?

I lived in London for six years and I came from Boston, Massachusetts.

2 – Name one or a few of your biggest musical idols, or your latest discovery/favourite. ( and if you want tell the reasons why the particular musician is your idol) ?

The idol question is always a tricky one, and probably my favourite player just for the sake of his playing is Paul Chambers, but I have to go with Mingus as my number one because of what he accomplished as a bandleader and composer as well as a bassist. As for guys who are around now, the longer I play, the more and more I come back to tradition and just swinging like hell, so Wynton Marsalis is high up on the list. But I’m still always keeping my toe dipped in the pool on “outness”, so Lionel Loueke and Lucia Cadotsch are up there.

3 – Why did you decide to move to London?

What did you expect and how did your expectations differ from real life?

How is London different from Boston?

I moved to London with my wife because we just wanted something new for a while. I expected a more appreciative audience at gigs in the UK compared to the US, and for the most part that was true. I also expected similar gigs to pay better in the UK than the US, and that was also mostly true. The scene in London is totally different than Boston. As a jazz fan, the amount of quality music I could go see any night of the week (and late into the night) in London is just amazing. Boston doesn’t compare in that way. In Boston there are a ton of fantastic jazz musicians, and you wouldn’t have to search high and low to put together a good band, but the scene doesn’t have the same energy.

4 – How have your thinking patterns or your personality changed in relation to the move? What are the lessons learned?

Having to break into a completely new scene in a foreign country was incredibly difficult. You have to have thick skin and truly enjoy what you do. So that was an adventure. Just having to really rise to new levels and break out of the mold that formed from playing gigs with my same old Berklee friends for years was one of the best things I could have done for myself musically. I learned a lot about being a better businessman as well. In a way I felt like I was really getting into a groove and I wish I had another six years to have a crack at London. I really had the time of my life though.

5 – What is your advice for an aspiring musician who is thinking of moving to the ‘big city” from a smaller country or a smaller town? You can talk about Berklee experience too…

If you’re moving to the “big city” from a smaller town (or even if you’re from a big city and you’re just trying to step up your game) and looking to make a living as a musician, I would say a couple things. The obvious one is practice like hell and be on the scene. People have to know you and you have to be able to deliver when you’re on stage. Just as important though is learn how to run a business. Whether you’re playing gigs, making and selling albums, booking tours, teaching and/or all of the above, you are running a business. 99% of musicians (myself included for the entirety of my twenties) are just SHIT at doing it. Work as hard at your business as you do at your instrument and eventually you’ll do just fine.

  • ( Note from Nora –  few extra questions was added as a choice. As I didn’t want to exhaust people… but Shane end up replying to them all 🙂 ) 

6 – Favorite ‘failure’ of yours that turned out to be the best lesson in the bigger picture.

I don’t have one failure that sticks out above the rest, but I’ve organized a lot of gigs that had just girlfriends turning up, someone who worked for me essentially stole £7,000/month worth of business from me, I’ve been ripped off by promoters and fellow musicians countless times, and I was unprepared for a gig once (second worst night of my life). Those are all things I try my best to learn from and do better the next time around. Tracking is the key. Nowadays I have a lot of spreadsheets tracking practicing, advertising, bookings, personal goals etc, and I do a lot of testing. Black Box Thinking by Matthew Syed is the book to read on this subject.

7 – What is your practice routine, what practice advice can you give to young musicians.

My practice routine has varied throughout the years, but the key focuses are repertoire/standards, transcription, general technique, reading and some classical repertoire. Now that I have kids I have to get a little more efficient than my old routine of getting up at the crack of noon, practicing until 5 or 6pm then heading out. So I’ve learned to prioritize. I ask myself what one thing is most important for me to improve and/or what one thing can I work on that will make everything else on the list easier or obsolete.

8 – What is one of your most memorable moments from your New Place experience. ( maybe even more so , back in Berklee and early musician experiences…)

The most memorable moment of moving to England was driving on the left side of the road for the first time with the car salesman in the passenger sweating bullets.

9 – Did you miss the States and what did you miss about the States when you lived here?

I didn’t miss a lot about the States while I was in England, but I did miss my family.

10 – Why did you decide to move back to Boston?

My wife and I had our first kid in London and while we seriously considered staying much more long term, we decided to move back to New England to be closer to family.

( Authors note: I know I was placing Bassists on the pedestal earlier. But I am guitarist, so I’m allowed to put guitar on the side a bit. However, I am honoured to have Hannes featured here, as he is one of the true movers of this city. His early jam night at Charlie Wright’s was one of my early London experiences as a newcomer.) 


Austrian Guitarist Hannes Riepler

He is currently holding a position as tutor in Jazz Guitar at Trinity Laban Conservatoire of Music and also at the Jazz Programme at Middlesex University London. He has released two critically acclaimed albums under his name and several as sideman internationally, most recently with Jim Hart’s Cloudmakers Five (Travelling Pulse) on Whirlwind Recordings. He also has been running one of the most successful Jazz Jam Nights in London (Charlie Wrights & Vortex) for almost a decade. More info under www.hannesriepler.com

 

1 – How long have you lived in London? Where did you move from? Short info about ‘before London’.
I’ve been in London for almost 12 years now. I’m originally from Austria, where I lived throughout my musical childhood and teenage years. After one year of studying a mix of Philosophy\Musicology + a jazz course at the Innsbruck Conservatory I moved to Amsterdam to do a BMus degree at the Conservatorium van Amsterdam. Since 2006 I live in London, via a MMus at Guildhall School of Music.
2 – Name one or a few of your biggest musical idols, or your latest discovery/favourite. ( and if you want tell the reasons why the particular musician is your idol)
I’ve been listening to a vast range of great music over the years, therefore I find this not an easy one to answer.. I can tell you about some recent favourites though. I’m totally in love with the album ‘Django’ by the Danish guitarist Jacob Fischer. I went to play at Copenhagen Jazz Festival and somehow ended up watching this guitar Duo (Fischer/Bro) in an Elefant house inside the Zoo. Fischer’s playing was totally amazing, I had never heard of him before and I walked away with that album. I really enjoy it and it must also be one of the best recorded albums there are. It sounds amazing.
I also really love Jesse van Ruller’s album ‘Phantom’ (the music of Joe Henderson) and Jochen Rueckert’s ‘We Make the Rules’ with Lage Lund. It appeared on Whirlwind Recordings, and the label CEO Michael Janisch must be the hardest working man in Jazz. Big respect here.
I always enjoy listening to a band called Latin Playboys. I discovered it hanging and playing with the French Saxophone colossus Julien Lourau, whose music and career is totally incredible too.

3 – Why did you decide to move to a bigger city/country? What lessons has this taught you ?
What did you expect and how did your expectations differ from real life?
 Before I moved to London I lived in Amsterdam for a few years. I knew I didn’t wanna stay there, the music scene is incredible for the city’s size, but somehow I felt like change would be a good thing. An old school friend who had been in the UK for a while talked very encouraging about the London scene, of which I hadn’t really heard much about.
I didn’t really give myself the option that this could turn out be a tricky move and maybe move again. I really wanted to make this work. I found the musicians on the scene I encountered to be very encouraging and it’s great to see people of sometimes quite different levels making music together on a professional basis. That’s a great way to learn. I had and still have many of these opportunities.
What i didn’t expect to see was so many dysfunctional or struggling music venues, especially thinking that the general output of music from the UK to the world is massive. Also, the general treatment of musicians in the U.K. I found to be quite below the standard of the hospitality I experienced  growing up on the continent. But maybe that’s a byproduct of a money driven society. There are good venues too, and generous kind people. I can’t really generalise that too much.
4 – How have your thinking patterns or your personality changed since you have moved to London?
One of the hard lessons to learn when I arrived was to realise that i had to work much harder on my basics, and on the music i was playing on a deeper level. I believe everyone gets their chance to play with some more accomplished payers every now and then, but what you take away from it is up to you alone. I also adopted a more open attitude towards what it actually means to be a musician and what can be brought to the community to live in, it’s a lot bigger than just getting your fingers going at the right time.
5 – What is your advice for an aspiring musician who is thinking of moving to the ‘big city” from a smaller country or a smaller town?
To never take things personally, stay open, go to gigs, learn who your contemporaries are. Find people at a similar level to grow together and find the greats in your area to learn from.
Put an emphasis on getting things right, otherwise it’s a waste of time, you’d have to come back and do it again anyhow.
And finally, you’re yourself responsible to keep this music thing fun, take care of that.
( note from author –  I added one extra question focusing on the guitar, as Hannes also teaches at conservatory and university. )
6 –  What is your practice routine, what practice advice can you give to young guitarists
Learn the language (whatever direction you’re going for), also compose using that language. Study with a good teacher.
I’m quite busy these days, so there’s no routine as such, but I practice when I can. That means usually, stick with one or two things/topics/songs for a while. that way you can feel the sensation of improvement. then move on, then come back to it, etc.
Don’t get hung up in definitions like “a sax line” etc. It’s all music, put an emphasis on learning how the guitar works.

 (Authors note – the next guest is a double bass player Jose, that I have had the pleasure to play with on many occasions as a part of my trio ( written music in modern jazz) and part of the house band of a jazz jam I used to run weekly. He is a super easy guy to work with. And of course, a great bass player. I am also honoured for him to be featured here. ) 

Bass Player Jose Canha from Portugal

Back in Portugal one of his musical achievements was the band “Charlie & the BluesCats”, a blues band that, among other highlights, supported two B.B. King shows in both Lisbon and Oporto coliseums, featured at jazz festivals in Greece, and performed throughout Portugal. He has played with countless different projects covering a vast array of musical styles. Now in the UK he has been focusing his career on Jazz working all over England as a double bassist mostly on the greater London and East Anglia areas.

www.josecanha.com

 

1 – How long have you lived in London ( or England) ? Where did you come from?

It makes 4 years this month (March) that I’m living here in England, we (my wife, my son and I) came straight from Setúbal, Portugal, where I was born and raised, a beautiful city 25 miles south of Lisbon.

I don’t live in London, I’m in Hadleigh, Suffolk. I ended up here in the first place simply because my wife got a job here, the initial plan was to move to or closer to London at some point but then we found Hadleigh to be a lovely town, Suffolk is beautiful and with London revealing itself ridiculously expensive moving a family there would represent such a loss in quality of life that it got out of the equation really fast, the loss vs gain isn’t worth it for us.

I do love all that London has to offer and fortunately I’m close enough to enjoy it every time I like.

Depending exactly on where I need to be in London it will never take me more than 1 to 2 hours to get there, that’s a typical commute in the UK and fortunately I don’t have to do it everyday. It’s not uncommon for London-based musicians to take longer than me to get to the same gigs.

Most my gigs now are happening all around East Anglia namely in Cambridge, Norwich, Chelmsford, Colchester, Southend, etc. It’s great to watch a healthy Jazz scene thriving around here.

2 – Name one or a few of your biggest musical idols, or your latest discovery/favourite. ( and if you like, share the reasons why the particular musician is your idol) ?

If I keep it within the Jazz double bassists bubble the names Paul Chambers, Ray Brown, Charlie Haden, Christian McBride and Larry Grenadier tend to oftenly and stubbornly feature on the records to which I frequently gravitate towards.

I particularly like and admire the way Christian McBride as a contemporary and modern musician stays so strongly bond to tradition.

At the same time I find Ornette Coleman’s musical approach and the last years of Coltrane’s career more and more exciting.

And then there’s Frank Zappa.

I’m too eclectic, if I start a list of meaningful influences it will just get ridiculous.

3 – Why did you decide to move to a bigger city/country? What lessons has this taught you ? What did you expect and how did your expectations differ from real life?

Things were pretty grim in Portugal, economy was in dire straits, gigs were drying up and I was having students quitting due to financial difficulties, extremely depressing. But I guess that my family’s future prospects become my strongest trigger, we had to try something else, the UK gathered the most appealing characteristics, language familiarity, strong economy (so far) – we as artists desperately need everyone else to have some spare money to spend, and it’s the 3rd largest music market in the world, if I couldn’t cut it here I wouldn’t cut it anywhere and might as well seriously consider a career change.

There were no expectations in particular, I was hoping it to be better in some way, for me the glass is always half full so everything have been in a way or another a string of good surprises, one of the two most noticeable ones is how vast the scene is, it feels like it never ends, there are so many musicians everywhere making things happen, after 4 years I’m still expanding my network by having the chance to work with and meet new musicians virtually every week. The other great surprise is how open minded so many musicians are, I’ve never before been called to do gigs by musicians that not only never met me before they even haven’t seen or hear me play, pure word of mouth, it’s a very exciting feeling.

Most important lesson was proving in practice that getting work is more related with your personality and your human social skills than musical competence, these days almost everyone is competent, I’ve watched people attending jam sessions playing two tunes and going away.

Getting along, hanging around and building professional relationships and friendships may do more for your career in one night than years of practice, and social media will never substitute and be as effective as human interaction.

4 – How have your thinking patterns or your personality changed since you have moved to London?

I have restored my hope in a music career again, I’ve never before felt as useful as a musician as I do now.

When I first came I knew nobody to hang to, jam sessions where the only viable and most effective way to try to put myself in the map, London is amazing to do this because it always have at least 2 to 3 jam sessions going on every night.

I had to force myself to be more sociable, to overcome my natural shyness and improve my communication skills drastically in order to engage with people I’ve never met, to present myself as an available musician and building a professional network, that was a real struggle for me at the beginning.

With a market so vast and with so many competent musicians everywhere and new ones passing by every week I’ve finally truly felt that my most fearless competition was with myself, one finding his own true voice becomes truly crucial in order to stand out, your uniqueness is your most valuable asset.

5 – What is your advice for an aspiring musician who is thinking of moving to the ‘big city” from a smaller country or a smaller town?

Bring money, loads of it, wherever you’re thinking about going the larger the place the more insanely expensive it gets, also growing a prolific professional network can take much more time than you expect so finding a dayjob to manage things till you get established should be on the cards. The instrument you play will also play a determinant role on it too, as a double bassist it’s harder to find students but it’s much easier to get gigs, a guitarist or a drummer will most often find the opposite to be true.

So far life has been good to me, but I don’t take it for granted, at any moment life can easily make everything go south and I know about some experiences that gone wrong, the grass isn’t always greener on the other side and the streets surely aren’t paved with gold anywhere, everyone struggles to make a living everywhere in the world, but if you have the will and feel the urge to do it then just go for it, first hand experience and knowledge are the only things no one will ever be able to take from you.

6 – Do you miss Portugal? What do you miss about it and would you ever consider going back?

I only miss the people I left there, family and friends is all I really miss. Then there’s the low price of great red wines and  fresh fish cooked in coal barbecues with nothing more but salt on restaurants by the river with the Atlantic Ocean on the horizon, but these are just accessory pleasures. I’m fortunate to have enough sunlight here in East Anglia to make me happy and to be less than an hour away from an airport that got 2 hours straight flights to Lisbon twice a day costing less than a Black Cab in London.

Everything can change in a blink but right now going back isn’t an option, the predominant mood is if we ever need to move again than the path is forwards not backwards.


 

Thank you guys for your inspiring, valuable answers and your time. Thank you, dear reader, for getting through the blog post until the end. I would really appreciate your thoughts in the comments section. What inspired you the most? What made you think? 

And of course, after checking this blog post that was Part 2, you may be interested to also read Part 1 of this blog series.

Thank you very much for reading. And keep an eye out for Part 3!

Advertisements

2 comments

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s