A group of professional musicians hope to encourage new talent with regular jazz, soul, Latin and funk jams in Shaftesbury. The organisers told Alfred that the monthly Father’s House sessions should appeal to both performers and the public.
Rich Atkinson and Paul Francis are highly experienced musicians. They are launching this new event to encourage the next generation of performers to improve their playing techniques by joining in with professionals. “It’s a night where we’re going to have a house band and we’re going to enable people to come and sit in with the house band. It’s an opportunity for people to raise skills, to get involved and for us to try and create a community of musicians that can help each other out, meet up and play different stuff. We can stretch ourselves as well,” said Rich.
Rich understands how to create a successful community-led music event. He already hosts sessions at Father’s House. “I run an acoustic café here and that works well. We’ve been doing that for the last ten years,” he said.
Paul is jointly organising these new nights and he also has experience of encouraging new musicians to take part in making music. “I started the first jam a few years ago in Blandford and have built a community, which is how I met Richard. Everybody connects with each other,” said Paul, who has impressive professional credentials. He has worked with acts like the James Taylor Quartet and Paul Weller. And he has travelled with his musicianship. “Pretty much all over the world. The furthest would be Russia. That was my job for a little while,” he explained.
Paul has been in Dorset for five years and his fusion band, Capricorn One, has been well-received when they have performed locally. The men have assembled a team of top-flight musicians who will coach and encourage anyone who joins in these Shaftesbury jams.
“We’ve got the drummer extraordinaire, Dave Wallace. He is an amazing musician and he’s worked with a variety of contemporary pop, rock and jazz artists. His two main gigs are with The Osmonds and David Essex. He’s been dealing with him for twenty years now. We’ve also got a guitar player called Charlie Mason,” said Paul.
“He’s a fantastic jazz guitar player from Sherborne,” Rich added. “One of the things that surprise me continually about this area is who is ‘in the undergrowth’. They come out and I say, ‘Where have you been hiding?’”
Paul says a supportive environment is important for nurturing new musicians and people joining in should not be worried about making mistakes. “There are no bum notes in jazz,” he laughed. “I come from London and a lot of the jam sessions there were quite intimidating. I was intimidated. I don’t want to be like that. I want to be encouraging, to help people develop their skills,” Paul said
He has taught at contemporary music colleges, but when he was starting his career, there were fewer opportunities. He hasn’t forgotten how hard it was for him to learn to play the sort of music he loves. “It was just the Royal Academy then. They wouldn’t take me on because I didn’t play the bassoon or violin,” he laughed.
Rich had to travel to America to improve his skills playing his type of music. He attended The Guitar Institute in Hollywood. “When I came back, I started putting jams together like this. It was mainly blues jams. It was a backing band and I put my students into the band, and I could see them grow,” said Rich.
The teaching methods in LA were revolutionary and Rich wants to apply their approach in supporting local talent. “The guys were interested in me as a person and interested in me growing. Top LA session guys were teaching me. They were humble because, in LA, if you had an attitude, your name went around the studios quicker than a forest fire and that was the end of your career,” said Rich
The men are also aware that not all young people living in the Shaftesbury area have the same opportunities to learn music. When education budgets are cut, often the arts and music are sacrificed first. “Where I have taught, the tuition fees have been quite high, so there is a specific group of people that can afford to do that. Some people are missing out on it, which is where I think we fit in,” said Paul. “The emphasis in the curriculum is not on the arts and that is ridiculous to me. The arts are a form of communication, as is the English language.”
“I watch the slow decline of teaching in schools,” added Rich. “The tragedy was that often the academic students were really good musicians as well, but when it came to the options, because of the way the education system is stacked towards academia, the parents wanted them to do academic subjects.”
Rich says that learning music teaches many additional skills. “You learn how to work together, create and you learn writing skills and thinking. We do want to counteract it,” he said.
The men believe that Father’s House offers advantages as a venue over pubs and licenced premises, where most local music is played. “Younger members who are in school can’t go into a pub in the evening,” said Rich. “You have got an audience here that is going to listen. If you go to a pub, you’ve got guys talking about last night’s football and it is a battle to try and win the audience over. I know that the artists who come here love it because we have a really good PA system and they feel welcomed. It helps them give the best performance they possibly can. It’s an important part of the evening.”
Paul says the professional band will start off the evening. “We are going to ease into it by playing a couple of tunes and then we will ask around if people feel comfortable about doing something. Rich will do a couple of tunes. When you have a vocalist, somebody singing, that eases tension,” said Paul.
Rich says if any performers have requests for tracks that they can play or sing along with, they should search for ‘Shaftesbury Jazz, Soul, Latin, Funk’ on Facebook and send a message. “If you want to sing ‘Fly Me To The Moon’ we have the music for that. Let us know what key you want to do it in and these guys will cover it because they are ace,” said Rich.
The first of the ‘Shaftesbury Jazz, Soul, Latin, Funk Nights’ at Father’s House is on Wednesday 12th February. Doors open at 7.30pm and the music starts at 8pm. The men hope to run these events on the 2nd Wednesday of every month.