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"In Conversation with Allison Neale"

Alto saxophonist, Allison Neale talk's to Northants Jazz
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“I suppose I was really introduced to jazz as a child, by my father,” explains Allison Neale, alto saxophonist, most frequently associated with her similarity in tone to Paul Desmond, so long Dave Brubeck’s alto player.

“He’d buy jazz records and we’d listen to them together, even though he himself had no particular association with the music.  At first, when I was about seven or eight, I was interested in the piano, and I liked Bill Evans among others.”

At fourteen or fifteen, she became interested in flute and alto sax and took lessons in classical music - but, she says, “I didn’t take any lessons in jazz. I just picked it up by ear through playing along with jazz records.”

Her main influences were, as might be expected, Paul Desmond, of whom she describes herself as “a disciple”, but there were others. “Stan Getz and Art Pepper were also special favourites,” she remembers.

“I didn’t reach any conscious decision to make a career of jazz, though. I simply developed a love of the music and wanted to explore it more.” She went on to obtain a BA (Hons) in Performing Arts at De Montfort University, and then a Postgraduate Diploma in Jazz and Studio Music at the Guildhall School of Music and Drama.

“I suppose playing jazz was something I felt I had to do,” she says. Somehow, along the way, I managed to find ways of financing it and I’ve been performing professionally for about eighteen years now.”

Her career is well-established. Following a spell in the 1990s as flute chair with NYJO, she’s performed with numerous leading artistes both in the UK and beyond, and gone on to establish her own quartet and more recently a quintet.  Her quartet released a CD, Melody Express, in 2004, and her quintet with trumpeter, Gary Kavanagh, released Blue Concept in June 2010.

Looking back, she doesn’t feel that, as some jazz musicians have suggested, a classical training is essential for a proper grounding in jazz. “If an individual has the talent for playing and expressing themselves in this type of music, it will inevitably show itself.” She explains. “It’s important, though, that individuals express themselves in a recognisable way. Like anything else, jazz has its own sub-genres, trends and fads - and sometimes there’s a natural tendency for players to follow these so religiously that they lose any identifiable sound of their own.  An individual style is essential (although by its' nature it is bound to reflect your own influences). Jazz should be an extension of yourself.

“In the same way, jazz can become over-complex - that may be fine, but I think it has to engage the audience, I agree with Paul Desmond’s  remark that complex jazz can sometimes be more interesting to play than to hear.”

One of the most frequent questions she is asked concerns the similarity of her sound to that of Paul Desmond. “I certainly didn’t set out to sound like him,” she explains emphatically, “although I’m keen on his melodic lines and I like his sound. I started on the flute and he was originally a clarinettist. I sort of crossed over to alto sax later. But I liked the fact that he didn’t follow the trend, which at that time was one of emulating Charlie Parker. He was different.

“I’ve had lots of influences, though - Stan Getz and Art Pepper are just two, and I’ve also been influenced by a number of the great pianists. I’ve developed my style from a combination of their thoughts and ideas and I’ve added my own interpretations - I think that’s the model for many jazz players.”

Looking to the future, there’s no grand plan at the moment. “I’m just keeping going. I just feel it’s something I have to do - a path that I have to follow - as my friend, guitarist, Dave Cliff says, ‘be a slow burner’.

“I’ve no real plans to move into composition - I like the standards and I both enjoy and prefer playing them. I’m quite happy to keep on going as I am and to just see what happens.”
October 2010
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