Steve Fishwick is a busy man, but I managed to catch him for a chat between tour dates to ask him about his life as a trumpet player and playing jazz for a living.
Steve began his trumpet career at age 8 but he didn’t develop his passion for jazz until a few years later. At the time, jazz was enjoying a resurgence with figures like Wynton Marsalis and Courtney Pine appearing regularly on the television and jazz groups enjoying a much broader media coverage than they do now. At this time, Steve had received no formal training in jazz. He began to buy records and play along with Aebersold backing tracks. After meeting Steve Waterman, who showed him how to make transcriptions of solos, he began to improve quickly and his jazz career was off to a promising start.
Today, Steve is at the forefront of jazz in the UK, running many of his own projects as a leader and sideman as well as acquiring some impressive credentials including Sir John Dankworth, the BBC Big Band, Stan Tracey, Peter King and Mike Carr. He also teaches on the faculties at Leeds College of Music, Guildhall School of Music and Drama and London City University.
The style of Steve’s playing has been influenced by Kenny Dorham, who was the first trumpet player he got heavily into, feeling he had a natural affinity for the sound and time feel. Steve has also cited Lee Morgan, Art Farmer and Freddie Hubbard as influences and experimented extensively with inventing his own licks and patterns, giving him his distinctive sound.
Steve has performed numerous times in America and has released two albums with Welsh saxophonist Osian Roberts which were recorded in NYC. There are some differences in the attitudes of musicians in the UK and USA, Steve says. In the UK, jazz is often seen as something to be done for fun, for the players’ own satisfaction, or art for art’s sake that the musicians must fund themselves while playing other gigs to make a living. Many American musicians take a more serious point of view towards making a living off jazz alone. Their outlook is ‘I’m going to do this, I’m going to play jazz. I’m going to seriously focus on it’, says Steve. Some things are more difficult for European musicians, such as getting European festival slots, and the same opportunities simply don’t exist here as in America. Jazz doesn’t get nearly as much press in Europe for example and there are still big record labels in the USA signing jazz musicians. That isn’t to say that it’s easy to make it as a jazz musician in New York, however. ‘There are a lot of things [there] that make it extremely difficult that are easier over here. It’s tit for tat really’, Steve comments. Nevertheless, a lot of promising young jazz musicians are coming out of college seeking commercial gigs: shows, weddings, pop bands etc. to make a living, leaving their jazz playing to fall by the wayside. ‘You see promising young players coming out of college and you think “wow these guys can really play! I wonder what they’ll sound like in ten years” but in ten years time they sound the same’.
Steve is currently preparing new music to record in New York with the Steve Fishwick/Osian Roberts/Frank Basile Sextet. He is also working on setting up a new quartet project with sax player Alex Garnett. Meanwhile, Steve has an intensive daily trumpet routine. His practice involves technique work in the morning, including lip flexibilities, multiple tonguing exercises and long tones out of the Laurie Frink/Chicowitz school of playing, followed by classical etudes from the Goldman and Charlier books. Steve believes the discipline of classical etudes is good for improving technique and sound. ‘If you have something on a page that has to be played in a specific way, in a certain style and with a particular sound, you have to play the trumpet technically well to do it. With jazz you can get a away with a lot more’ Steve explains. His jazz work comes later on in the day. This practice varies greatly, but at the moment usually includes transcriptions of Woody Shaw, patterns in various keys and voice leading and chord arpeggios through standards.
Steve’s advice to young musicians wishing to pursue careers in jazz is to stay focussed. ‘I think a lot of young musicians lose sight of their passion and get sucked into a world of work’, he says. It’s important to understand that if you want to play jazz, you have to take the initiative yourself. Steve’s opinion is that a lot of young guys are waiting for someone to offer them a gig. The reality is that this doesn’t really happen and you have to do it off your own back, find some guys you like to play with and keep plugging away, even if the rewards aren’t obvious to begin with. Patience is also key. ‘Don’t expect to be playing the main set at Ronnie Scott’s after two years, even three, five or ten years. You’ll get there, but it takes time.’
All images and videos courtesy of Steve Fishwick. Used with permission.