Andy Scott

John Robert Brown

Football has taken over the hotel. Tonight, AC Milan play Manchester United. The Italians, both players and supporters, are staying here. Security men in ill-fitting suits, curly wires trailing from ear to collar, stand awkwardly inside the hotel, protecting guests from pests. On the way to breakfast, much Italian is heard in the lifts and coffee shop. Out on Dean Street, beyond the Hilton's revolving doors, small groups of fans and TV cameramen wait and watch.

Andy Scott has agreed to meet me here in the centre of Manchester before beginning a day's teaching at the Royal Northern College of Music. After locating a sport-free corner of the restaurant, in keeping with the prevailing atmosphere we order a cappuccino and a latte, and Andy tells me about his musical beginnings.

"Most of my relatives and parents have been to music colleges themselves," he says. "So it was expected from an early age. Not that early; I only started the saxophone when I was eleven or twelve. I played the cello and piano from eight or nine. The whole reason for starting the saxophone was, I guess, to do with rebelling. My dad went to the Royal College. He was a clarinettist and pianist. He used to give me piano lessons." Andy admits that he was asking for trouble by being a rebel, even at that age. "What would my dad know? It's amazing how much he learned as I grew up!

"We agreed, when I was around eleven and starting secondary school, that I would learn a different instrument. I chose the saxophone. I don't know why. At high school, as they call it now, the head of music was a real big-band fan, so the main thing there was a big band, as opposed to orchestra or wind band. This was at Poole Grammar School in Bournemouth. My teacher in secondary school was Bill Brown, who used to play baritone saxophone with Joe Loss and Syd Lawrence. I was very fortunate. He had moved down to Bournemouth, and just happened to teach in this school. With the combination of Bill, and Bob Hayden-Gilbert who was the music teacher there, I was exposed to a lot of big-band playing. When I was about 15 or 16 Bill would come round to my house on a Sunday night and take me to a gig he was doing. On one of those evenings he asked me to bring my alto. He made me get up in the middle of the gig and play a couple of numbers. He threw me in at the deep end. I didn't have a clue. I was just fumbling my way along at that point; it wasn't deadly serious. Eventually, after sixth form, I needed to take a year out to concentrate on the music and make a decision.

"The cello and the piano both stopped. I wish I had carried on with the piano. My parents tried to persuade me to take up another instrument besides the saxophone. It's bizarre, but I started playing the bassoon. So I had lessons with Eric Butts, who was principal with the Bournemouth Symphony. I got my Grade VIII in about eighteen months. When I auditioned for the Royal Northern College, here in Manchester, I played my bassoon as well as the sax. I think that was what helped to secure a place. I didn't audition anywhere else, just the RNCM. Looking back, that was foolish. They offered two places that year. One was for me; the other was for Rob Buckland!

"The first album I ever bought was Breakfast in America, by Supertramp, featuring John Helliwell. Now of course, John plays in Sax Assault. I was born in 1966. I was about twelve, so that came out in 1978. I was listening to groups like Spyrogyra at that age, and Barbara Thompson, some of her albums. Again, I've worked with Barbara for the last four or five years, with the Apollo Quartet, and got to know her and arrange some of her music. She's written a whole album for the Apollo. So it's been lovely building those connections from some of the earliest things I was listening to.

"My first week at the RNCM, in September 1985, there were only two first-study saxophone players. There were also two first-study clarinet players who played saxophone as well. They decided on that first Friday of that first term to throw us in a room together, saying 'Right, you're a saxophone quartet'. That was the Apollo quartet! Pure luck. They threw us in a room together. Tim Redpath played soprano, Rob played alto, and I played tenor. Jon Rebbeck played baritone. For a number of years that was the Apollo quartet. During our second year, all four of us in the Apollo started going to London to have additional lessons with John Harle. [As well as with Neville Duckworth at the RNCM]. Now, Rob and I teach at the RNCM, and Mike Hall teaches jazz saxophone. A number of visiting saxophonists give masterclasses, so there are lots of choices for the students. I think there's a danger nowadays of students being supplied with too much information.

"I teach one day a week, five or six students, and I give a class. I tend to teach individuals during the day. From six until eight in the evening I give a class. There are 17 saxophone players this year at the RNCM. Three are postgraduates. I really enjoy teaching there. I think that Rob and I work well as a team; you can bounce ideas off someone else. We started the RNCM Saxophone Day. The sixth year is coming up in November.

"I've always written music, from an early age. Going back to Bill Brown taking me to gigs, that encouraged me to start groups of my own, and arrange and transcribe music. So when I was 16 or 17 I was transcribing Spyro Gyra or Al Jarreau charts, getting a band together and getting gigs. That mentality has stayed with me. Then, when I was in music college, I started doing a bit of composing, as well as arranging. After music college, when I was 22 or 23, I had a jazz quintet, and would be writing originals for that instead of arrangements. Via that group, which ran for seven or eight years, various other musicians started commissioning me. Gradually more and more compositions have come in. They can be from big bands, jazz groups, classical or contemporary musicians. What has helped has been the recent two-saxophone concerto, Dark Rain, that was commissioned by BASBWE Consortium of seven or eight music colleges and conservatories. The piece won the British Composer award in November, in the wind and brass category, which was a nice endorsement.

"I've never had a composition lesson. With studying the saxophone it's all been lessons, conservatoires and intensive analysis. What I like about composition is that it's totally the opposite. I've done it through listening, and having experiences like sitting in the Hallé Orchestra, hearing the voicings and scorings, trying to get something from it. The scariest thing is still Romeo and Juliet, that tenor part. It's the build up before it. You've got five or six minutes, then the flute plays this beautiful arpeggio, the strings are amazing - and you're in! You have a choice: you can read the newspaper, or you can listen and get something from it."

Andy names Vince Mendoza as one of his favourite composers. "His orchestral writing, his knowledge of jazz, of improvising, and how to provide the springboard for improvising musicians working with musicians who are reading. It's that versatility that I'm interested in. In my Dark Rain there's a big band within a wind band. If I'm writing swing, I'm going to write it for the instruments that will be more comfortable playing that style. So I'm not going to write swing quavers for oboes and bassoons. There has to be an appreciation for other musicians and the fields that they normally work in. I've worked with the Liverpool Phil and the BBC Scottish, but the orchestra I've worked with most is the Hallé. I can hear it when they do West Side Story: there are some musicians who aren't comfortable when it's just marked 'swing'. And why should they be? Ninety-nine per cent of the time they are not asked to play in that style. There have been a couple of times when Jim Muirhead, the bass clarinet in the Hallé, has had to tap a visiting principal flute on the shoulder, and say: 'Make it tripletty!'. So, while not assuming that every oboist and bassoonist can't swing, I take it into consideration when I'm writing. I want musicians to be comfortable.

"We - the Apollo - have commissioned over a 100 saxophone quartet works. Now much of it is standard repertoire: July, by Michael Torke; Songs for Tony, by Michael Nyman; Django Bates' pieces. Saxophone orchestras - with or without rhythm section - are a great outlet for saxophonists, and it's important that people are writing to expand the repertoire for the large groups. My Mountain Top is a CD of world premières of music for tenor saxophone, including Concerto for Stan Getz, by Richard Rodney Bennett. Chester Novello are going to re-publish that piece. Instead of having a reduced score it will have a piano part. With Richard Rodney Bennett I have written some solos for the outer movements. People can still have the chord symbols, but if they are uncomfortable with those there is an alternative notated solo. I played Concerto for Stan Getz in Richard Rodney Bennett's 70th birthday concert at the South Bank last March, with the BBC Concert Orchestra. In the mid-90s he wrote a piece for the Apollo Quartet. He's phenomenal, whether with classical, contemporary or jazz.

"With the Apollo we've been to Japan seven or eight times. We won a chamber music competition in Tokyo in 1989. As a result we got an agent over there. Last July Sax Assault were invited by Selmer to the World Sax Congress to do a shared gig with the Yellow Jackets. It took seven months of really hard work to make that happen, for no money, raising the air fares and hotel fees for thirteen musicians, with sponsors pulling out. We were out of pocket, but I was really pleased that it happened. I know that we all do our own thing, but there is - or should be - a collective sense of looking out for each other.

"I wanted to form a consortium of tenor sax players to commission a composer, so as not to rely on Arts Council funding. Thirteen of us from all around the world, players that I know mainly from travelling with the Apollo, put money in and commissioned Graham Fitkin to write a piece for solo tenor sax with CD, Passing. We premièred it on the same night, 26th April 2005. I'd like to do that again. It takes up a lot of time, but we are creating new repertoire so that everyone can play it. That's why I'm doing the Richard Rodney Bennett arrangements, and the Stan Getz concerto - so that people can play them."

We finish our coffees. I take some photos. Andy Scott weaves his way out through the soccer enthusiasts. They are unaware, alas, that here is another great player, albeit in an art very different from football.

That evening Manchester United won the match.


Andy Scott plays on a silver Selmer Mark VI tenor, 1955, and a silver Selmer Mark VI soprano. "I use different set-ups for jazz and classical. My main instrument is tenor. I use a Selmer S80 mouthpiece, an E. I'm still not happy with it. For jazz I use a metal Otto Link mouthpiece, one of the new ones, a seven. I use Alexander reeds, the Classique, strength three for the classical set up, and strength three for the Alexander DC reeds, on the Otto Link. If I had the money, I'd have two saxes, and use something different for the classical playing."

First published in Clarinet and Saxophone Magazine, June 2007. Used by kind permission.
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