An Interview with Andrew Oliver

The Dime Notes & their blues-drenched sounds of clarinet-driven 1920’s New Orleans jazz are returning to Scotland this June for an extensive tour. The Mumble managed to grab a wee chat with pianist, Andrew Oliver

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Hi Andrew, so where ya from & where ya at, geographically speaking?

I’m from Portland, Oregon in the Northwest USA. Now I live in Muswell Hill in North London. I moved to London in 2013 after my wife got a job in the UK and have been immersed in the music scene in London since then.

How did you first get into music?
I played classical piano and cello as a kid. I was always interested in music and there was a piano in the house which I used to play all the time. I started lessons when I was about 4. I played classical music until I was in my teens, when I discovered the music of Jelly Roll Morton and other early jazz and ragtime which was really inspirational. I started playing early jazz and later went to University in New Orleans and studied and played a lot of modern jazz as well. Now I do a bit of everything, a lot of old jazz and swing, some tango piano and the occasional modern jazz project as well.

What are your instruments?
I play piano pretty much exclusively now. I used to play cello when I was younger and a bit of trumpet and drums but not much anymore, there’s too much to work on just on piano! In the Dime Notes we have me on piano, Dave Kelbie on rhythm guitar, David Horniblow on clarinet and Tom Wheatley on bass.

Can you tell us about the origins of the Dime Notes?
When I moved to London, I met Dave Horniblow, our clarinetist, when I was watching a gig he was playing. He had just returned to London from a year in Australia, so we both had free time and we got together to work on some duets, discovered we shared a lot of musical tastes and felt that our styles meshed well together. We landed a weekly duo residency at a bar in east London for about a year which was great for working on a bunch of interesting tunes. I had met Dave Kelbie at another gig and was immediately struck by his powerful and swinging rhythm guitar playing, and so he was a natural addition to the duo when we felt like expanding to a larger band. We rounded it out with the exceptional slap bass playing of Tom Wheatley, who has an amazingly huge sound and has mastered the nearly lost art of 20s style slap bass, in addition to having a unique perspective from playing a lot of free improvised music as well.

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How do you select suitable tunes for your repertoire?
One of the main focuses of the band is to play a wide variety of 20s and 30s repertoire outside of the most commonly played tunes. Very often in traditional jazz circles one hears the same tunes a lot of the time. With the Dime Notes we’ve made a point to delve into the 20s and 30s recordings carefully and comprehensively to find really interesting and unusual pieces, especially ones with a variety of sections and textures within the tune, rather than more standard short-form tunes. We perform a lot of Jelly Roll Morton’s music – he was one of the great pioneers of the style and a true compositional innovator as well. We have re-arranged a lot of his piano solo pieces for band which is texturally really interesting. We also have drawn from the repertoire of some of Dave’s favourite clarinetists including Sidney Bechet, Johnny Dodds, and Omer Simeon – the New Orleans creole clarinet pioneers. We’re always listening to old records, on the lookout for new pieces to play and interesting tunes which we feel we can adapt to our instrumentation and style. We tend to subtly rearrange the compositions as well, tailoring them to the way we play individually and as a band, rather than attempting to copy the original recordings exactly.

How do you find the audience reacts to music almost a century old?
We have found that modern day audiences have a very positive reaction to our music. I believe strongly that the style has a universal appeal, with a really strong groove that people can feel and understand, harmonic forms which are still related closely to rock and pop, and generally accessible melodies. The complexities lie in the subtlety of the grooves and improvisations and in the formal structure of the compositions. We play regularly for a wide variety of audiences, from older audiences who are very familiar with the style right down to young hipsters in East London bars. I think they can all find something in what we’re playing, as the general energy level and swing seems to come across very well. Finally, I think the fact that we are presenting the repertoire in a fresh but well developed framework, rather than as a relic or recreation, has certainly helped to project an exciting image to our audiences.

What do you do when you’re not jazzin’ it up?
My wife and I love to travel and be outdoors, hiking, canoeing, etc (though canoeing is more difficult now since we left our canoe in Oregon as it was too big to ship over!). I am slowly but enthusiastically learning to play tennis and also enjoy cooking. I try to avail myself of London’s great museums theatres and concerts when I’m not gigging as well!

You are just about to take your music on a major tour of Scotland. Are you excited?
Yes definitely. We did a short tour in Scotland in 2016 and it was really great, wonderful venues and people. I have done a bit of travelling in the Highlands last year as well and really enjoyed the landscapes and vibe. We’re really looking forward to exploring many parts of the country and playing for a wide variety of audiences, as well as enjoying the scenery and hospitality!

Where will you be sleeping each night?
Hotels and B&Bs I imagine – Dave Kelbie our guitarist is the booking master so he’ll have sorted most of that out. Some of the venues will be providing accommodation themselves as well.

What does the rest of 2017 hold in store for the band?
We are always playing at least a few times a month in London at bars and clubs as well as increasingly for swing dancers, which is always a blast. We’re playing in October for a swing dance festival in the Netherlands and at a number of UK jazz festivals this summer (Swanage, Upton, Ludlow Fringe). We might make it over to Ireland this year as well, if all goes well. In 2018 we’ll be touring Europe a couple of times as well as a trip to Canada!

Check out The Dime Notes Scottish itinerary here

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