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The British Jazz Maestro On Life, Opera and Regrets


Monday, September 24, 2007.


Interview By Shola Adenekan


Julian Joseph is arguably the heir to the global house of jazz. He grew up amongst a strong crop of British jazz musicians, spending two years as a teenager attending jazz workshops at the Weekend Arts College in London before taking up a scholarship in 1985 at the Berklee School of Music in Boston, Massachusetts.


It was whilst he was at Berklee that he met the Marsalis Brothers and enjoyed an international 'coming of age' as pianist in Branford's Quartet, touring the US and Canada in the company of such artists as Wynton Marsalis, Bobby McFerrin and Joe Williams. 


Over the past two decades, Julian has developed and expanded his musical capabilities in a staggering array of formats. In 1990, Julian returned to a thriving jazz scene  in the UK, with artists such as Courtney Pine, Jason Rebello, Cleveland Watkiss, Steve Williamson and Orphy Robinson.


He presents the programme Jazz Legends on BBC Radio 3. He has performed in several major international festivals, has toured the globe with his Trio and Quartet, Electric Band and Forum Project band, and directed and performed with his All-Star Big Band at some of the grandest venues in the UK to audiences of thousands.



His current project, Bridgetower, is a newly commissioned opera, which he co-wrote with the writer Mike Philips to commemorate the bicentenary of the abolition of the slave trade. 


It opened to sold out audiences at this summer's City of London Festival and now is due to bepresented throughout the U.K. on English Touring Opera's autumn 2007 tour.


Bridgetower tells the remarkable story of George Bridgetower, the Polish son of a former slave and a local domestic servant who was taken to London as a child, settled here, and became one one of the leading violinists of his time and befriended Beethoven, with whom he gave his the first performance in Vienna of his 'Kreutzer' Sonata (which was originally dedicated to him). 


The autumn tour will open at The Arts Theatre Cambridge on Tuesday, October 23 and then tours throughout the UK including one performance in London at  The Hackney Empire on Thursday, October 25. 


This November, the Bridgetower tour continues at Warwick Arts Centre (2nd); Hall for Cornwall, Truro (7th); Exeter Corn Exchange (9th); Malvern Festival Theatre (13th); Sheffield Lyceum Theatre (17th); De La Warr Pavilion, Bexhill-on-Sea (24th) and Bridgewater Hall, Manchester (28th).





1) What is your earliest childhood memory?

My earliest childhood memory is of a trip the family took to Morocco where I had my 4th birthday.


2) What makes you happy?

My family, friends and playing, listening to and writing music.


3) Who is your hero and why?

I have many heroes and they are all people who conduct themselves well with kindness and dignity and know what's important in life.


4) What is the trait you most deplore in yourself?

There is nothing I deplore about myself, but I do consider myself a 'work in progress' and try to improve on aspects of my character which fundamentally 'I like'.


5) What is your most embarrassing moment?

I don't remember being embarrassed too much, but once in Boston for my 21st birthday, the bandleader I played with got the audience to sing happy birthday. I then got a cream pie in my face which I then took off and sloshed into the face of the instigator - kind of embarrassing!


6) What traits do you most deplore in other people? Selfishness, wickedness and lies.


7) Where will you like to live when your turn 65?

UK, USA, Caribbean, Italy, Africa, Australia and China.


8) What is your favourite city and why?

Remote area of southern Italy because people are friendly, helpful, life is simple and uncomplicated. Also the beaches are great and the sun shines!


9) What will be on your desert island disc?

Some of many kinds of music but a high percentage of West Indian, classical, funk and mostly Jazz.


10) Why Jazz opera?

Drama and storytelling with great music. I love stories and I love Jazz. Jazz has flexibility and abundance that I know can thoroughly depict a multitude of dramatic situations and emotional permutations.


11) Who is your favourite author?

Mike Philips


12) What is the worst thing anyone has said to you?

I don't remember - bad words don't stay with me for long.


13) Will race still matter in 20 years time?

Where all of one race the human race. If the question is about skin colour - I don't know - it's never mattered to me.


14) What do you owe your parents?

I owe them who I am.


15) To whom would you like to say sorry, and why?



16) Who would you invite to your dream dinner party?

My family and friends.


17) Arts or science?

At one time before the 19th century they weren't separate, for me they're still intertwined.


18) Aside from property, what's the most expensive thing you've bought?

My piano.


19) What is the biggest misconception people hold about you?

I've heard that some people are afraid of me, owing to a misconception that I'm scary - it can't be true!


20) What or who is the greatest love of your life?



21) How often do you have sex?

As often as I like.


22) Which words or phrases do you use the most?

You'll have to ask those closest to me.


23) What has been your greatest disappointment?

If I’ve had any disappointments, thankfully I’ve been quickly able to see that the positives far outweigh the negatives.


24) What is the closest you've come to death?

When at 9 years old I almost swallowed a marble - thanks mum, for saving my life yet again!


25) What single thing will improve the quality of your life?

Bringing more smiles and happiness to those around me.


26) What is your biggest achievement to date?

Being a good human being - I hope!


27) What song would you like played at your funeral?

Something 'Hard Swinging' as we say in Jazz music and full of the joy of life - perhaps something from Louis Armstrong in the 1920's, Duke Ellington from Blues In Orbit, Miles Davis or Charles Mingus in the 60's - I don't know, when the time comes my family will know!


28) When did you last cry and why?

Quite a while ago but I was almost moved to tears at the Proms this year when Semyon Bychkov conducted the BBC Symphony playing Rachmaninov's 2nd Symphony - Gorgeous, Moving, Brilliant - and Magnus Lindberg's dazzling clarinet concerto, the whole evening was stunning!


29) Which actor will you like to play you in the story of your life?

Adrian Lester.


30) What is the most important lesson life has taught you?

 Work hard and appreciate those you care about and who care about you.


Tickets for Bridgetower can be booked via the English Touring Opera's website - www.englishtouringopera.org.uk.


For tickets, call 020 7730 4500


Please e-mail comments to comments@thenewblackmagazine.com



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