Phil Dawson is about to embark on what he admits is probably the scariest venture of his life. He will not be alone as he will be with the three other members of the Swingers Jazz Quartet who have been working extremely hard for the past year in studios and each other's homes. But this coming Friday (19 May), they play their first live concert as they embark on stage two of their adventure with the quartet.
Phil has been playing music nearly all of his life. He trained as a bass player at the Royal Academy of Music, but he was already playing live before he left school.
"I was in the sixth form at school and every Tuesday and Thursday I used to play with a large jazz and swing band at tea dances at the Royal Spa Hotel in Royal Tunbridge Wells. It was great, we were all dressed up and all of the guys in the wind section, for example, had all fought in the war. I doubt any other member of the band is still alive now. But, and I guess I never really realised it at the time, playing the likes of Glenn Miller and his contemporaries really got me hooked on jazz. But it was the '90s and I was also a fan of the Happy Mondays and Oasis, etc. and never really appreciated what great music I was playing. So I guess now I’ve gone full circle and what we are doing with the jazz quartet is a homecoming for me.
"I’ve been in rock and roll bands while playing with the orchestra, but it’s always been a hobby. In 2013, for example, as The Volcanoes, we won the Battle of the Bands in Es Gremi and used to tour the island in our spare time. This time however, the hobby has become a bit more serious and after a year of rehearsals, we’re going to take the big leap and, fingers crossed it’s going to work."
During the interview Phil played me some of the band’s music and, apart from the fact vocalist and songwriter Phil sounds just like Michael Buble only better, the overall musical experience is of the highest quality. Accompanying Phil is Sergi Selles, who is still studying music and is half Colombian, on piano, Wojtek Sobolewski from Poland on bass and Spaniard Alvaro Bogajo on drums and percussion.
"We are like one big family which really helps. Bands come and go in a millisecond today but when we rehearse I always bake bread before. Afterwards, we all sit down, break the bread and drink wine. That companionship is important, it gives us a strong bond which keeps us together and also helps us to work together better. With jazz, apart from being timeless, some of the best songs and pieces of music go back the best part of a 100 years. It is the basics of all music and is always different. So, everything we rehearse, we record because each song you play never sounds the same because there are no boundaries. Apart from the piano and timing, that’s it, we can improvise and innovate as we feel, how the mood takes us and that is the challenge which makes jazz so exciting, not only for the musicians but also for the audience.
"Jazz is all about telling a story and for the moment, this summer, we have three concerts arranged and the first is a dinner jazz night in S’Estanc Vell in Vilafranca. It is what we call a ‘teaser concert’: two sets of 45 minutes and we’ll be playing Frank Sinatra, Cole Porter, Nat King Cole, Henry Mancini, George Michael, David Bowie, Sting and a host of the great jazz tracks of all time. We’ll be suited and booted and we’re looking forward to getting out there with the public. Sometimes with the 80-piece orchestra you are so far away from the crowd. But this way, we’re amongst the audience and get immediate feedback and can adjust our rhythm to that of the public.
"We’re going to be taking people on a journey, one that everybody needs to go on for their own sanity. What jazz does is take people into their subconscious and that’s healthy. The song list I prepare begins by taking the audience on a descent into their subconscious. That’s our engine room that makes us tick, where it’s all sweaty and cluttered. But we need to go there in order to be happy and once we’ve taken the audience down into their inner self we then end with the ascent to our consciousness.
"In short, and I know many musicians are saying this nowadays, in this day of technology and instant access to everything at the swish of a screen, constant mobile telephone calls and emails etc., I want people to quite simply come to our concerts, shut up, switch their phones off, sit back and listen. I want them to come with us on the musical journey we have prepared for them and enjoy.
"Most of the tracks we play have decades, a century of history and heritage and they need to be listened to, and I've learnt that over the past year. I go to concerts now, whatever style of music, and listen to it in a different way. I shut up, listen and allow myself to slip in to my subconsciousness, live the experience and it really makes a difference. It can be music, dreaming, watching your favourite film or TV soap or reading a book, something you really enjoy but whatever it is, let that experience take you away, down to the engine room."
He is extremely proud and passionate of what the band has achieved over the past year and in July will be performing a corporate event at the yacht club in Arenal before the ‘big one’ on the lawn at La Residencia Hotel on 8 September. In the meantime, any other offers will be more than welcome as they find their feet as entertainers.
"I’ve always been a musician but now I have to be an entertainer as well. I’ve had to learn how to use a microphone and the different expressions for the varying moods of the songs. It’s been a lot of hard work and that’s why I’m scared. I don’t want us to suddenly drop off a cliff edge into oblivion. I honestly think we’ve got something really good here.
"We’re live, we’re authentic, we’re the real deal and once the summer is over, we’re going to spend the winter writing and putting together our own material so we can start entering festivals. I’ve also been having to get my voice right and finding the songs which suit my range. I am also the songwriter and I write the songs first and then put the music to the rhythm of the words. So I am writing poems and tracks all the time; we’re all putting in a lot of hard work.
"We are interpreters as well as entertainers, we’re musical journeymen, just like the traditional jazz musicians used to be a hundred years ago, and we want people to come and join us on our adventure and our journey. Every concert, every song will never be played the same way again. Jazz is not repeatable, it comes from the heart, the emotion of the moment, the flicker of candles on the tables, the low lighting, the clink of the glasses, the laughter of people having fun and we want to share that. We really want to show people just how original and authentic we are. Like I said we are the real deal."
For further information, or if you are a songwriter and would like to give Phil a hand visit: www.jazzmallorca.com.
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