Composer, pianist, arranger and musical director Alex Webb released an album of his own songs – “Call Me Lucky” on Friday – after many years of other artists recording his material. He talked to Peter Jones about the project:
London Jazz News: What was the thinking behind the format of using lots of different singers? You’ve got a different one on every track, apart from China Moses and Vimala Rowe, who get two tunes each.
Alex Webb: Well vocal jazz is a particular interest of mine, so I really wanted to work with singers. And meanwhile I’ve had a lot of tracks on other people’s albums, but never done my own. So I asked 11 singers if they’d be interested in taking part, expecting to get maybe four of them. In the end, all 11 said yes! So the format wasn’t originally planned like that. It made the whole thing more complicated, but I’m very pleased with the end result.
LJN: The album cover looks strangely familiar [note to readers: it’s a pastiche of The Beatles’ “A Hard Day’s Night”.
AW: I’ve got an old copy of A Hard Day’s Night, which I’ve had for years. There was also a practical reason – with all the singers, as well as 16 musicians, it meant you could get everyone’s picture in. But also I thought it would make people smile. I’ve always loved both jazz and pop. I mean, I like long Coltrane improvisations as much as I like The Beatles. And although my songs are essentially jazz-based, there’s also a sort of parallel with pop albums, in the sense that this album’s got 13 three-minute tracks. And let’s not forget that although we think of Billie Holiday as jazz, she was the pop music of her day.
LJN: Speaking of Billie Holiday, you created a successful stage show about the New York nightclub that helped launch her career, Café Society. How did you first get into musical theatre?
AW: I came to it relatively late. I’d started out playing the usual restaurant gigs, then moved into jazz clubs. The scene was very crowded, and I soon realized I needed to theme what I was doing in order to get gigs – tribute shows and so on. So I pitched ideas built around Billy Strayhorn and Charlie Parker and so on. And of course the stories about these people are great, so I became interested in the narrative side as well. I read Billie Holiday’s ghosted autobiography Lady Sings The Blues, and saw how Café Society was very important to her, so my show Café Society Swing came out of that: the story of a particular club.
LJN: Do you have a favourite track on the album?
AW: That’s a bit like asking which of your children is your favourite! I like them all. But in terms of getting exposure for the album, I think The End of the Affair, the bossa nova tune sung by Jo Harrop, has some crossover potential, and I’m keen to push that one on radio. One other track I’ll mention is Winters. It had a slightly classical feel in its original form, but as well as Ayanna Witter-Johnson’s great vocal interpretation, Sophie Alloway [drums] and Miles Danso [bass] really went the extra mile to make it work as a jazz number.
LJN: Do you feel lucky?
AW: Absolutely! I feel very lucky this came off. You always need a bit of luck on your side to make things work in this business.(pp)
Call Me Lucky by Alex Webb and the Copasetics was released on 3rd June 2016.
The live version of the album will be performed at Pizza Express in Dean Street on 7th June.