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"In Conversation with Tad Newton"

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UK jazz bandleader and trombonist, Tad Newton, talks to Northants Jazz Editor, Rupert Kendrick

Yet another day, yet another gig - for Tad Newton and his Jazz Friends. I’d caught up with him at one of his many gigs at The Castle, Wellingborough.

“My conversion to jazz happened at Southampton University when I heard the Alex Welsh Band in one of the bars in about 1965. From then on, I was hooked,” he enthuses. “Then one day, I came across an old trombone, did it up, taught myself with the help of one or two lessons, and I’ve been playing trombone ever since.”

It’s often difficult to pin down his style and that of his Jazz Friends, a tight-knit group of great versatility. “We don’t have a set style,” he explains, “I’ve always said we’re ‘Basin Street to be-bop and beyond’ so we vary during a gig depending on how we feel. People sometimes try to pigeon-hole us into ‘trad’ or ‘swing’ but we play almost any style - and that’s what we enjoy and what marks us out from other bands.”

His influences, perhaps not surprisingly, go back to the bands of Duke Ellington and Count Basie (his favourite CD is The Atomic Mr Basie), while key trombonists for him are Jack Teagarden, Kid Ory and Roy Williams.

Tad formed his Jazz Friends in 1985. “I’d been with the Fenny Stompers for some time and needed a change. I felt I needed to move on in other directions. The Fenny Stompers are a traditional jazz band and I was hankering for a wider mix, I think.

“So I formed a six-piece band, which has remained that size except for occasions when a guitarist also appeared. Our styles have been modelled on, for instance, the Benny Goodman Trio, the Louis Armstrong Hot Five, the Oliver Jackson Band, and even Frank Sinatra who I’ve always regarded as having a strong element of jazz in his singing.”

Like many contemporary players, he has some concerns over the future of jazz.  He feels strongly that the media doesn’t support jazz in the same way as other forms of art and music.

“I think the media has a lot to answer for,” he says, seriously. “There’s very little mainstream jazz on television or radio - at least, never at peak, or even convenient, listening hours. A lot of jazz is tucked away on, say, Radio 3, and apart from The Guardian, there’s precious little press coverage. ‘Why?’ I ask myself, and I can’t think of any good reason.

“The upshot is that young people are not really exposed to the music. So they begin to choose very specific types of ‘jazz’ which results in niche interests developing and this hinders the development of jazz as a whole. Jazz becomes compartmentalised into, say, ‘trad’ or ‘modern’ or ‘fusion’, and instead of enjoying the different genres of jazz, people listen to only one type.”

I wonder how he feels the jazz fraternity can address this problem. “I think one way is to make sure that jazz venues are hospitable and enjoyable places to both hear and play jazz. If people support a particular venue because they like being there, the venue has the chance to vary the programme and still entice people to come and listen to new types of jazz.

“I think, also, we need to accept that jazz is different things to different people. For instance, I’m very pleased at the success of Jamie Cullum. Jazz needs lots of ‘Jamie Cullums’ because he brings young people to the music.’

He looks back with some pride in his achievements with the Jazz Friends. “I’ve multi-tasked in jazz over the years,” he says. “I’ve been a bandleader, player, promoter and organiser. Versatility is vital both for me and for the band.

“Our guest players have included Yank Lawson, Al Casey, Alan Barnes, John Barnes and Diz Disley, to name but a few - and US sax giant, Greg Abate, will be our guest in the next few weeks.”

Tad Newton shows no sign of slowing up. Recently, he’d been unable to play after surgery to his arm, but he was itching to get back.  He combines his jazz with a full-time job as an ‘A’ level geography teacher.

I ask him if he has any thoughts of retiring from jazz. He gives me a withering look as if to say the question doesn’t dignify a reply - so he doesn’t!
June 2010
<Click to hear a sample of Tad Newton>
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