60 second interview with: Beats & Pieces

Each week we will be posting exclusive 60 second interviews with our 2018 Festival bands and artists. This week we are in conversation with Beats & Pieces, to find out when Beats & Pieces are playing mjf 2018 click here. 

Name: Ben Cottrell

Name of the Band (if you’re in a band): Beats & Pieces Big Band

Where are you/the band from? Manchester


How did you get into music?

I got a little toy keyboard for Christmas one year when I must have been 6 or 7, from there I nagged my parents for piano lessons during which I was always encouraged to write my own music – then my primary school offered instrumental lessons so I started playing clarinet too, then saxophone when I went to secondary school and onto RNCM studying saxophone after that. Music was always playing around the house when I was a kid, so I guess that must have influenced me showing an interest in it

*Why did you form the band?

I was playing in big bands at RNCM and University of Manchester but a lot of the programmes were the classic repertoire stuff, which is obviously great music and fun to play but I was interested in more contemporary things. I was going to lots of rock/indie gigs in Manchester at the time, then discovered Acoustic Ladyland who were doing similar things to the rock/punk bands I was into, but with a saxophone at the front and with more sophisticated harmonic/rhythmic ideas. So then I realised that all sorts of music could be influences on a jazz composer, and decided to try writing things myself; decided that a big band would be my vehicle of choice (I figured there was loads of potential in using big band instruments but in rock band ways – horn section at 100% to sound like a Marshall stack for example). Got some of my favourite musicians together who I thought would get along musically and socially, initially just to play through my first two charts – 10 years later here we are…

What are the most enjoyable aspects of being a musician? 

Touring and gigs – nothing like going out on the road with your friends, then standing in front of them on stage night after night while they put all their effort into playing your music. Makes all of the admin faff worth it

What is the least enjoyable part of being a musician?

All the admin faff… Certainly running a big band, there’s lots of emailing/calling/texting round musicians, writing funding applications, doing budgets (and trying somehow to make things add up) which can very easily distract from actually doing artistic things

Who is your favourite band or artist?

If I had to name one, it’s a massive cliché but probably Radiohead. Could also mention Bowie, Beach Boys, Björk…

What’s the best piece of musical advice you’ve ever been given?

Figure out what it is you want to do and then do it

What does it mean to you to play at manchester jazz festival?

mjf has always been a special festival to me and the band. Steve and the team have been incredibly kind to us collectively and individually over the years in terms of offering their time and expertise whenever we’ve needed advice, as well as opportunities to perform and do things that we wouldn’t be able to do without their involvement – for example Beats & Pieces’ first ever gig at mjf 2008, and mjf originals commissions for myself in 2016 and our guitarist Anton Hunter in 2014

What advice would you give to the new generation of musicians that would like to follow in your steps?

Work hard, don’t stop

What has been the most notable highlight of your career so far?

I think winning the European Young Artists’ Jazz Award in Burghausen, Germany in 2011 made us all realise that people outside of our friendship group and outside of Manchester like and value what we’re doing, which gave us loads of confidence. Then in terms of gigs, our sold-out gig at the Bimhuis in Amsterdam in November 2017 at the end of biggest UK/EU tour to date was very special.

Other than yourself, who are you looking forward to seeing at mjf 2018?

Esther Swift – she’s an amazing musician and I’m really looking forward to hearing her new project! The mjf originals commissions are always highlights of the festival for me, I think mjf’s emphasis on commissioning and enabling new projects is vital to the Manchester/NW/UK scene and is one of the reasons why it’s such a special festival

Would you like to add anything?

Think that’s it!

For the full Festival Programme click here.