If someone asked you if you liked jazz music – and if you’re not a connoisseur of that genre – Frank Sinatra, Louis Armstrong or Michael Bublé might only come to mind. The unfortunate truth is that ‘jazz’ has gone under the radar for the younger generation, having been replaced by other popular types of music that you find at music festivals and student club nights. However, that could all be about to change. Beats & Pieces is a massive 14-piece contemporary jazz ensemble from Manchester. Consisting of 3 saxophones/reeds, 3 trombones, 3 trumpets, piano/Rhodes, guitar, bass and drums, as well as a laptop musician, it’s quite a mouthful. Musical director, Ben Cottrell, composes and arranges the music while the rest work together to bang out rousing tunes and ‘get a bit mental’.
Beats & Pieces have always been a big band and close as friends; half studied music at the University of Manchester, and the other half went to the Royal Northern College of Music. ‘It doesn’t really work with less people. You need a lot of people in the ensemble to get powerful music from all the instruments’. Having got to know the band members so well, Ben Cottrell can compose his arrangements and predict each musician’s part. ‘We’re all good mates in and out of the band, which is quite rare really, to have that connection. For us, the important thing is to have a good time on stage, and listen to each other… It’s quite hard to get people together for a rehearsal alone because there’s so many of us. Even when I compose parts for certain people, they don’t always work, so we’re always testing things out’.
Having got into jazz quite late when he was at college, Ben Cottrell is inspired by all sorts when it comes to writing music for Beats & Pieces. ‘I grew up listening to rock and pop. I’m also a fan of Loose Tubes, which was the first jazz orchestra to play at The Proms in the mid-80s, and their music still sounds awesome.’ If you have a listen to some of their audio tracks/video clips on their website, such as ‘broken’ or ‘toan’, it’s interesting to hear range of styles. Some tracks are slow but build up gradually through layers to a stirring end, whilst others are mad and bonkers with loud improvisation from the start. ‘With recent songs, we’ve been more adventurous, like messing around with complicated rhythms all at once. Since the EP we released in 2009, the band has changed quite a lot, in terms of the people and the style of music’.
2011 for Beats & Pieces has been a big year. After making their debut at the Ronnie Scott’s Club in London in January (and performing a second time in August) they soon scooped up the European Young Artist’s Jazz Award at the Burghausen International Jazz Festival in Germany. Over the next few weeks, the band will be performing two gigs at great venues; Band In The Wall in Manchester and King’s Place in London, as part of the London Jazz Festival. Then hopefully more touring will commence in 2012 along with the release of their new album.