Ipswich: I wasn’t a very good child prodigy says Regent-bound violin virtuoso Nigel Kennedy

Nigel Kennedy comes to Ipswich soon. Picture: Rankin

Nigel Kennedy comes to Ipswich soon. Picture: Rankin - Credit: Archant

Nigel Kennedy returns to Ipswich later this year with a typically maverick musical mix celebrating the music of both Bach and Fats Waller. Entertainment writer WAYNE SAVAGE talks music, and football, with the violin virtuoso.

Nigel Kennedy has fond memories of watching his beloved Villa play Ipswich. Picture: Paul Marc Mitch

Nigel Kennedy has fond memories of watching his beloved Villa play Ipswich. Picture: Paul Marc Mitchell - Credit: Archant

“I wasn’t a very good child prodigy, even if I was one,” laughs Kennedy, “but I do think that is something,” he says when I ask if he feels a special connection with Waller, also regarded as a prodigy and who, like Kennedy, also enjoyed critical and commercial success.

“I love harmony right and there’s a warmth in his playing. I’ve always loved those players, ones where you can tell just from two notes that it’s ‘that guy’.

“This is probably my most personal concert and it’s the quietest… I’ve never played so quietly in my life. It’s quite a laugh because sometimes people have been concerned by volumes of other types of gigs I’ve done because they’re not expecting a violinist to be playing that loud through Marshall amps and everything,” he laughs.

His fondest for Waller dates back to listening to his stepfather’s jazz collection as a child. So why wait so long to highlight his music?

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“Good question. I was more concerned with writing my own stuff in the last few years, so it never occurred to me to do what is some relatively quite old fashioned music.

“As a musician you’re quite often wanting to show who you are; maybe it’s the first time in my life I’ve arrived at this point I can say ‘look I owe so much to these other guys who were a big influence on me’. When you’re a bit younger you don’t want to have influences, you just want to prove who you are to yourself.”

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Natural improviser Kennedy is no stranger to mixing it up, bringing fresh perspectives to the classical and contemporary repertoire courtesy of landmark recordings of leading works from the classical world and exploring the music of Jimi Hendrix, The Doors, klezmer and jazz standards.

“I think there’s so much beautiful music within the genre of classical music it would be a shame if people went through their lives without having a bit of it.

“One thing about classical musical is the composers really didn’t compromise. They were making music purely for music’s sake, even if they were writing for the church or some aristocratic family they still managed to write at the highest level.”

Bach and Waller are quite a mix though.

“I love doing concerts which portray two different idioms or genres and you can see the similarities between them as well as the differences,” says the best-selling classical violinist of all time.

The decision to mix the two was the result of being ready personally and timing.

“In the past I’ve done things like Bartok and Hendrix in the same show and there was another where I did Bartok and Duke Ellington on an album, ages ago when I was a right prat,” he laughs.

“So I’ve always enjoyed giving people something which they might not otherwise find in one situation.”

Both Bach and Waller, he points out, were superb practitioners at the keyboard and masters of melody and harmony, adding Waller was known on occasion to perform organ pieces by Bach.

“In that respect both were great improvisers; Bach was one of the last great improvisers in classical music and jazz is synonymous with improvisations so they’ve got that in common.

“The thing which is different about Waller is there was good time associated with his music whereas maybe Bach was a bit more philosophical.”

The show, and new album Recital, also pay tribute to the two most influential musical figures in his life - Yehudi Menuhin and Stéphane Grappelli.

“At a young age I was very fortunate in being able to play classical music with one of the great classical violinists in the world and jazz with possibly the greatest jazz violinist in the world; from that time onward I’ve really been equally enthusiastic about both genres.

“The other things I like about this particular show is Menuhin was synonymous with Bach and the style we’re presenting is somewhat similar to like what the hot club might have done with Stefan (‘the great man who put the violin into jazz’, says Kennedy) in as much as there’s no piano involved - it’s just acoustic guitar, acoustic bass and drum with brushes.”

The album includes Kennedy’s own versions of two pieces by Bach and arrangements of music made famous by the great jazz pianists and composers Waller and Dave Brubeck. It also features his own compositions New Dawn and Dusk, his arrangement of a Brazilian hit by Ze Gomez, Por do Sol and the traditional Irish track Out in the Ocean.

Despite three decades in the business, he’s still doing it on his own terms.

“The way I’ve always looked at it, with like record companies or whatever, is without any noise on the bit of plastic or on the download they’ve got nothing to sell,” says Kennedy, detouring into the beauty of vinyl.

“Digital distortion is a horrible, ugly noise whereas analogue distortion is a really warm attractive one. I just bought an album by Charles Mingus on CD but I also got given it for Christmas on vinyl. It’s just remarkable how much worse it sounds on CD; I dread to think what it would sound like on download.

“(But) I do see music as more important than business. The musician might as well be in charge of what they’re doing because otherwise…”

Back to the tour, he hopes people are in for a more intimate evening than ever before.

“The proof is in the pudding and the only thing that’s really going to count for anything is the music. But having played this concert a few times before with my friends in different places, what I think we really achieve is that members of the audience feel like there’s only them and us in quite a small room even if the concert hall’s quite large. It’s that thing that brings people in rather than pushing people out.”

He’s looking forward to the Ipswich Regent gig on May 7.

“The last concert I in Ipswich, the audience were so warm and we got off on a bit of champagne after the gig but I had to leave on the night which is a shame because it’s a beautiful part of the world.

“This time I’m definitely going to stay in Ipswich and, on a more basic level, I’ve had so many good afternoons seeing the Villa play at Portman Road. There have been some great matches in the past.

“I remember that season where Ipswich finished second and we finished first by losing at Arsenal but it was a matter of goal difference or one point or something. So there are a lot of quality times I associate with the area and I’m really looking forward to trying to give something special on the night.”

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