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Interview with Ned Bennett of Nedwardo and the Rumbanauts

April 21, 2016

Nedwardo and The Rumbanauts will be performing at the Grafton Dance Hall and inviting Dulwich residents to take to the floor to dance to their first-rate foxtrots, world-class waltzes and quintessential quicksteps. There will be a demonstration of Latin American dance before the performance to allow everyone to brush up on their skills! We spoke to Ned Bennett ahead of the performance about jazz, saxophones and his favourite ever gig…

Nedwardo and the Rumbanauts are joining us at the Dulwich Festival this year – tell us a bit about how the band got together.

About three years ago some friends of mine decided to have an anniversary party for which they wanted a live band for dancing. They had been taking ballroom lessons for a while, so when they asked if I could provide the music, I took on the challenge. I could have just turned up with some other jazz musicians and busked it, but to me this felt like a cop-out. And so I wrote a whole book of arrangements with plenty of structure to helps the dancers out a bit. I recruited some excellent musicians (trumpet, trombone, drums and jazz organ) and with me on sax, flute and clarinet we became the Rumbanauts.

You will be staging a ‘Dance Extravaganza’ at the Grafton Dance School in Dulwich Village on Sunday 8 May – promising foxtrots, waltzes, quicksteps, bossa nova, the list goes on..! What would you say to someone who loves music but who may be terrified of taking to the dance floor? I’m asking for a friend..

I think even after a short class in one of the easier dances, Waltz, Cha Cha Cha or Rumba, anyone could be able to do it. Dance Extravaganza Class ahead of the main event on Sunday 8 May starts at 6pm – full details HERE. At this early stage it’s about you getting used to the steps and relaxing. Don’t worry what you look like to others: that comes later if you enter competitions! Oh, and a good teacher will always make it fun.

Many people associate the saxophone with jazz music. Is jazz the best musical genre to showcase what’s great about the saxophone?

Great music is great music, whatever the genre. It is true that the saxophone has become so tied-up with jazz. Invented in around 1850, it’s home was in military bands until the 1920s, when dance bands started using them in an almost comedic way. It was Coleman Hawkins who showed that the sax could be treated as a serious jazz instrument: his playing was virtuosic, creative and elegant, paving the way for the whole tradition of brilliant sax players who have made jazz their music. There are some fantastic classical pieces too from the 1930’s onwards, and more recently modern compositions by Mark Anthony Turnage, Graham Fitkin and others that really exploit the essence of the instrument, particularly the soprano sax.

Jazz sometimes has a reputation for being inaccessible to a mainstream musical audience. What jazz record(s) would you suggest people start with as a good way in to the genre?

I’d start with an album with a singer to ease you in. You can’t get better than Ella Fitzgerald and Louis Armstrong (1956), or Getz / Gilberto (1963) which is all Bossa Nova style jazz. For purely instrumental jazz, try Oscar Peterson’s 1962 album Night Train (a real lesson in how to swing), or Miles Davis’ Kind of Blue from 1959, more modern in concept, but wonderfully atmospheric.

After the air-guitar, I think the air-sax must come a close second in the top ten of most-played air-instruments. And just like everyone has a favourite guitar riff, everyone has their favourite sax solo too. What’s yours?

I’m sorry to say mine is NOT Baker Street. Part of a jazz musician’s education is to transcribe other musicians’ solos in order to learn the language, melodically, rhythmically and harmonically. Learning any solo is rewarding. One of my favourites is Charlie Parker’s solo on Just Friends from the Charlie Parker and strings album. The track starts off somewhat cheesily: tremolando strings, a harp and a schmaltzy cello, and then…oh boy, and then in comes Parker’s alto sax like the most beautiful ray of golden sunlight and transforms the whole thing. Magic!

What is your favourite gig you have ever played?

I love working as an arranger, where you take someone else’s music, deconstruct it and put it back together in your own special way. This involves re-harmonizing, changing the feel or timing, musically “mashing it up” if you like. Every year I am lucky enough to be commissioned by the Bristol Jazz Festival to write a large-scale choral work involving a jazz orchestra and soloists. So far we have had Celestine Walcott-Gordon, Clare Teal, Joe Stilgoe and Claire Martin involved. My favourite one of these concerts was an entire set of Gershwin songs, with an extended big band, strings, a choir of 200 and Jacqui Dankworth. Playing alto sax in the middle of this and hearing my arrangements come to life is definitely “up there”.

What would be your dream concert booking – the venue, who would support you, etc?

The same Gershwin gig…at the proms. Albert hall, LPO string section, BBC Big Band.

What advice would you give to any aspiring new musicians starting out on a career today?

I’d say it’s hard work and it can be competitive, but it can be rewarding like no other profession. Never become a slave to the music and make sure you enjoy every thing you do. It would be far better to be a good amateur and only play the gigs you want to play, rather than have to live out of a suitcase and trawl up and down the country night after night playing to people who don’t care all to help pay your mortgage.

More details and tickets for the Dance Extravaganza can be found here: