Joe Armon-Jones pianist, composer and producer sports wild curly locks and is blessed with a seemingly laid-back demeanour-one would be forgiven for thinking that he might need tasering. But looks are deceptive and you know what they say-‘never judge a book by its cover’. Book analogy prolonged-Joe Armon-Jones is an intriguing plot of jazzified energy, with a few sub-plots to keep you engaged. Far from sedentary, he’s one of the busiest names in the London contemporary jazz scene.
While he has made the bustling city of London his home, his early years were a more sedate affair surrounded by jazz in a small town outside of London. With a mother who was a jazz singer and a father who was a jazz pianist his chosen path is perhaps no surprise.
It just felt like it was time to create these diary entries and that was a big thing for me.
“My early memories were of me watching my mum and dad performing. My mum and dad used to sneak me into the clubs, so I was able to experience that whole jazz vibe and energy. Seeing them perform undoubtedly inspired me to want a career and make a living as a musician. In truth I was never looking for a traditional 9-5 thing because my role models were not doing that. I would probably get fired in a few days. I just could not take having some boss talking to me in anyway without telling them what I thought of them.”
With his mind set on making this “jazz thing” something more it was only right that London was the obvious choice. The cries of indignation from those outside of London can be heard as they state a claim for their own musical scenes. But London (it can be argued) still has the most intense magnetic pull for those striving for the London dream. With diplomacy, Joe Armon-Jones acknowledges those outside scenes “there are other places pushing fresh music, (so I don’t want to discredit those other places)” but it’s clear that the genesis and success of his solo career began in the grey concrete environment that is London.
“When you look at the UK then and even now really it seemed to me that London was the place where the most stuff was happening. So, I figured I need to be around that. I applied to music colleges at the places that most of the people were talking to me about and got in”. While studying placed him firmly in the hub of the jazz scene Joe Armon-Jones is clear that studying to be a musician and being a musician can be “very different”. Far from the college where theory and studying was the focus, he had already made up his mind that he needed to make money from his music and live the life of a musician.
“For me the aim was always to make money doing music. I remember fucking with Bruno Mars’ covers to drunk people. Playing jazz songs to people who weren’t listening or playing my own compositions for absolutely no money in shitty venues. That is the start for most people but it’s important part of getting to where you want to be.”
Hardship has always been the way to separate those without the mettle from those with the mettle. “I think even deeper than” he states firmly when we discuss the hardships faced when starting out in music, “it sorts out those who are doing it for the love of it and those who are doing it strictly for the money. At the beginning you really do not make much money so in truth you really have to love it. In the end it is one of those ones where you find people around you with the common cause and you support and work with each other.”
Case in point is the current burgeoning contemporary jazz fraternity in London. Names like saxophonist Nubya Garcia, and Ezra Collective are pushing great music. Significantly the growing ascension of the new (ish) kids on the jazz block can (in part) be rooted in the relationships which Joe Armon-Jones and his contemporaries had prior to their current successes. Consequently, there is a real sense of individuals “supporting each other”. In terms of Joe Armon-Jones he has all the pivotal names on a speed dial “Some of my favourite musicians (who are also my friends) are on my album” flocking to add their support.
In massive co-sign his album Starting Today has been released on the pivotal Brownswood label founded by the UK’s Gilles Petersen. The album represents the culmination of Joe Armon-Jones’ years putting in the ground work.
“It just felt natural.” He states in his laid-back drawl when considering why it is only now he has decided to drop a solo project. “I had music that I was writing, and it did not feel like it would fit into the current projects I was doing. It just felt like it was time to create these diary entries and that was a big thing for me. In truth a lot of the music are diary entries. It’s stuff I can look back on and say that is what I was doing, and this is who I was hanging out with at the time. A lot of the music is about how I feel currently and what I am about right now”.
Starting Today as the lead single promoting the full project befittingly arose from an organic recording session.
“That track, those lyrics and concept that was all improvised at the time. I did not say a thing to Asherbe and the music just happened. He came to the session mad late and we had already recorded that track several times. I said at the time ok let’s just drop one more take, and I told him to do whatever he wanted to over the track. From that session he spoke about starting today and so I then named the track that. Further down the line, I began to feel that the idea regarding that statement was a good one for the album, so I went with the name.”
The full 6 track project is a slick soundscape bustling with energy, verve and nice nostalgic warming retro flushes. Joe in turn directs proceedings and caresses the keys with sublime alacrity. From the opening of the nine-minute opus Starting Today here is a project that proudly announces that Armon resides in the higher echelons of the London scene. More than that however it is an advert for his name on a global perspective. Features on the album add further weight to his credentials: names like Oscar Jerome adds vocals and strings on the cut London’s Face while Moses Boyd a name in his own right provides his unique drum riffs on a number of tracks.
Importantly from a wider perspective Joe Armon-Jones’ album adds further weight to the London jazz scene. While Kamasi Washington et al bestride the global jazz scene, Armon sets out his stall with his project Starting Today.