Sam Eastmond, jazz trumpeter: Something Else! Interview

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Sam Eastmond is a trumpet player with an eclectic and diverse musical taste and is involved with several projects. He is a musician who writes from his own particular sound world of sources and inspiration. He is a natural improviser but also composes pieces with a depth and breadth of color, which encompass the ideas of composers and reflect his life experiences.

Eastmond is influenced by jazz, klezmer (the musical tradition of the Ashkenazi Jews of Eastern Europe), contemporary classical and cartoon and works in small ensembles – as well as with the larger Spike Orchestra, where the eclectic manner of his composition and musical interpretation is drawn together to create a harmonious whole. Sam Eastmond then draws these eclectic styles together in conjunction with more improvised styles.

I asked Sam about his background and he told me. “I was lucky enough to grow up in a loving, creative atmosphere,” he said. “Both my parents value the arts and expression and were always supportive of any creative endeavor I was drawn to. On the day of my first trumpet lesson, my father came home with Louis Armstrong, and Miles Davis’ Kind of Blue on vinyl. I can pretty much pinpoint that as the day I started hearing possibilities in sound flying round my head. I’ve pretty much spent the rest of my life trying to pin those ideas down long enough to get them out.”

On who inspired Sam Eastmond to play, and the instruments he was drawn to: “That first exposure to Armstrong pretty much did it; the clarity of sound and beauty of expression – the innate ‘Louis-ness,’ instantly recognizable – followed by the almost dichotomous diffused sound juxtaposition of Miles’ playing really blew my mind with the possibilities of the trumpet. Much more recently, Alexander Hawkins turned me on to Bill Dixon. His quote, ‘Don’t believe people like Walter Piston (he was a music theorist at Harvard) when they tell you what the trumpet can do. The trumpet can do anything.’ That pretty much encapsulates my feelings about the horn. Whilst I admire the pyrotechnic approach to trumpet players, I’ve never really wanted to play high or pretty.”

Interestingly, Sam says he had always felt drawn to those who perhaps don’t follow the expected pathways. “I’ve always been drawn to outsiders, to musicians whose identity is defined by what they say, not the instrument they use to say it,” Eastmond said. “The axe to me is just a tool to communicate with other musicians. I never really decided to be a professional; music has just always been my life. It seemed inconceivable to do anything else.”

On his historical and more recent performances: “I put my first big band together when I was 14, writing charts and compositions for friends and cajoling them into playing,” Eastmond said. “I’ve been doing pretty much the same thing ever since. My real joy is in working with musicians turning ideas into music. I’m at my happiest, directing the flow of the music, shaping the sound, rehearsing with bands and watching ideas grow into something else.”

Sam Eastmond has been involved with John Zorn’s Masada music, and is a Tzadik label musician. Masada – the name comes from a fortress in Isreal – is a songbook of short compositions, each constrained by rules governing the playing and able to be played by small groups of musicians. Zorn has written some 300 tunes for his Masada project and Book 2: The Book of Angels, Vol. 26 was released under the title Cerberus. It was well received and put the Spike Orchestra on the musical map as both intriguing and interesting in their musical stance, showing their flair for age old references along with innovative musical exploration.

“In 2012, I started the Spike Orchestra with Nikki Franklin,” said Eastmond, who is co-director with Nikki Franklin. “After meeting on a scratch big band gig playing stock charts in the rain, we found a shared sense of humour and a desire to stretch the idea of what a big band could be. Over copious amounts of coffee, we shared ideas and music. That first meeting I introduced Nikki to Naked City (a group led by John Zorn), and conceptually and sonically that had a real impact on how we approached trying to put this together. We workshopped our early material after hours in a boxing ring attached to a pub on the outskirts of London with a large and fluid cast of musicians, some of whom bought into our shared insanity and stuck around to see where we were going. Out of those initial sessions, the group and the writing began to form itself into something cohesive.”

Ghetto, the culmination of this process, was released in 2014. A 10-movement narrative suite featuring 22 musicians in three configurations, Ghetto was inspired by the events of the Warsaw Ghetto Uprising. “The record was entirely self-produced and financed and wouldn’t have been possible without the recording genius of Ben Greenslade-Stanton, who was able to capture our intent within the budgetary and logistical realities of our working situation,” Eastmond adds.

The rest of the journey is one with many ins and outs but the Spike Orchestra, after finishing Ghetto, sent the music to musicians who they felt would appreciate the music and the fact it had been achieved on what was a shoestring budget. John Zorn was one who appreciated it, and so a dialogue began. John put his trust in the musical capabilities of Sam and Nikki along with the other musicians, and because he was someone they respected deeply, they worked hard and with enormous respect to the music. Benefitting from the input of John Zorn, Cerberus eventually came into being.

Cerberus was, without a doubt, a game-changer for Sam Eastmond. Working with a musician he respected, Sam he admits it was a labor of deep commitment and that he tried to get the essence of what John Zorn created across.

“The process was possibly the most intense period of my life,” he said. “Nikki and I holed up in my apartment for three days with the Masada songs John had sent us, and wrote constantly. As well as my regular work, I was getting up and writing for two hours before work and coming home and writing until early the next morning. Nikki, Ben and I spent hours on the phone endlessly planning and working through the logistics. The recording itself was a beautiful experience working with those musicians on John’s amazing Masada music. I’ve been a long time fan of John’s work. His output, creativity and ethos have been a constant source of inspiration to me. Discovering Masada had a pivotal and life changing effect on me. The albums take up about two feet on my shelves at home, and to think that Vol. 26 is the one we made is still as magical as that first moment of realization that we were going to be a part of the series.”

Eastmond on performing: “I’m really focused on the musicians in performance. As my job is largely as director I tend to have my back to the audience for most of a performance. We’re all on stage together trying to conjure something intangible into being that didn’t exist before. Central to the concept of a large ensemble is the idea that we are all smaller parts of a greater machine serving the music.”

On his eclectic taste in music: “I listen obviously to everything John Zorn does, the endless spectrum of creativity of his music is breathtaking. Apart from that Jon Madof’s Zion80, Marc Ribot, Dave Douglas, Wadada Leo Smith, Frank London, Steven Bernstein, Michael Formanek, Mary Halvorsen, Brian Marsella, Aram Bajakian, John Medeski, Stravinsky, Schoenberg, Kagel, Carl Stalling, Mingus, Ellington, Alexander Hawkins, Ikue Mori, Ron Miles, Cyro Baptista, Uri Caine are probably the top hits on my iPod.”

On his musical influences: “I draw inspiration from the players I’m writing for, but also the life around me. Films, books, interactions, things in life that are meaningful or have impact. I don’t really think about trying to create something sonically when I start writing; more what I want to talk about or a story or emotion I want to convey. Then the people I want work with tend to shape the line up or sonic environment. Everything that happens to me influences how I write.”

On audiences: “Music makes connections. That’s what it’s all about. We’re up there talking about love.”

On the future: “I am trying to get out and play Cerberus as much as possible. It’s tough, as there’s 18-20 of us involved but we’ve got a show at Huddersfield Contemporary Music Festival on the 25th of November. Moving forward with the Spike Orchestra, Nikki and I have got about three albums we want to write, so we’ll see which of those compels us the most to bring it into being first in tandem with playing Masada. Outside of that, I have a smaller ensemble I’m writing for with Moss Freed and Chris Nickolls from Cerberus and Jeff Miller on tuba. There are some exciting sounds coming out of working with those musicians. I’m always working with Ben Greenslade-Stanton. We just wrote and recorded an album of Afrobeat, funk, groove tunes as Pressure75 (the album Meltdown was released on East Green Records in 2016), and there’s a lot else happening with us. We’ve started releasing our own music and other musicians as East Green Records. Other than that, I’m always on the outlook for opportunities and occasions to write something interesting and new.”

As to his philosophy on life and music he simply states: “Just trying to find some beauty and meaning every day.” On that note, I think Sam Eastmond pretty much has it sorted.

Sammy Stein

Sammy Stein

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Sammy Stein
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