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"In Conversation with Nigel Price"
Nigel Price talks to Northants Jazz Editor, Rupert Kendrick, about his influences, his love of jazz and his long-term ambitions
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“It all began with a bunch of us at school,” explains Nigel Price, a highly-acclaimed guitarist who now heads an increasingly influential and popular combo, featuring Peter Whittaker on Hammond organ, and Matt Home on drums.
“We formed a band - each of us had to pick an instrument, and I picked the guitar. I managed to teach myself by strumming along and listening to music that was popular at the time. There was never any involvement with jazz at that point. The only jazz records in the house were one by Sidney Bechet and another by Acker Bilk!”
By the time he’d left the army (he served in the infantry) aged 22, he had become “proficient” on the guitar. He began to mix with friends who were ‘into’ jazz. He started to play with other musicians in a similar genre, for instance, supporting the Skatalites on tour in Europe. This experience developed “a feeling of needing to get out there and do it,” as he puts it.
“The people I was mixing with were interested in the type of music that began to influence me. In the early days, it was jazz rock and funk. A lot of players of my generation were attracted by blues and rock for which the guitar is a natural instrument. In the main, it was John McLoughlin who attracted me to this music although there were also others. From there, I moved onto jazz.”
His main influences, naturally enough, include the renowned Wes Montgomery. It’s no coincidence that several numbers on his CDs feature Montgomery’s compositions. Other influences include Art Pepper and Julian ‘Cannonball’ Adderley. “It’s the phrasing of these musicians that draws me to their music,” he adds. “Cannonball’s swing is unparalleled and I like his style. Art Pepper dynamically varies his volume and accentuates certain notes in interesting ways. I probably have more in common with him than Wes, in fact.”
As we talked, Nigel Price’s Organ Trio had just returned from a successful appearance at the Scarborough Jazz Festival. “We’ve been playing together for about eight years now,” he explains. “I’ve always wanted to work with a Hammond organ. The first time I was consciously blown away by the power of a Hammond organ was whilst listening to Jimi Hendrix - the great shuffling track, Rainy Day, Dream Away on Electric Ladyland. That track still stands up for me as one of the most swinging grooves of all time!
“It sparks off a very powerful reaction - a very visual reaction and its sounds can vary across an unbelievably imaginative range. I’m very keen on the current format. It works because both Pete and Matt are great friends and that’s conducive to producing good jazz.
“Although the organ has always featured in jazz and there are quite number of contemporary players, it’s surprising how large a percentage of people have never heard an organ played in a jazz context. It’s re-emerging after a period in the 80s when technology, in the form of quite sophisticated keyboards, took their place. Keyboards were less complex to play and, anyway, not many players owned an organ, so they fell out of favour for a time.”
Although the group has been together for some years now, he’s anxious that it doesn’t lose its freshness and originality. Each musician is freelance. “To become exclusively tied to the Trio would be very stifling and restricting. Musicians need the freedom to pick up new external influences and bring originality back to the group,” he explains.
Unlike many jazz musicians, he’s not puzzled by the fact that live audiences seem to be in predominantly, middle or late-middle age. “ I think it’s probably that people who like jazz come to it at a later age, although younger people often have great interest in certain genres of jazz.”
His long-term ambitions at the moment are “to carry on as I am - to play swinging music for appreciative audiences.”
We were speaking after a successful gig at Peterborough Jazz Club, when highly respected tenor saxophonist, Vasilis Xenopoulous, also featured. This added another dimension to an already highly successful formula with the group developing a sound distinctly reminiscent of some of the great ‘Blue Note’ recordings of the past.
“I believe that the happiest people in the world are those who are happy with their lot. As for the future, I wouldn’t change much. I guess I’d just like to play to large audiences and to travel more widely.” The gigs schedule on his website shows his Trio to be in great demand. He may not have long to wait.