Anton Hunter interview


We’re delighted to welcome Anton Hunter back to Lancaster after many previous appearances over the years. This year Anton is creating a special commission as part of the Evolve series of commissions in collaboration with school jazz bands from Lancaster.

We caught up with Anton about his upcoming commission at this year’s festival, as well as the free-improvisation jam session he’s running at the Golden Lion.

You’ve played at Lancaster Jazz Festival in many different guises over the years – how does it feel to be coming back this year? Any favourite memories of past festivals?

I’m really excited! Getting to stick around for the whole weekend is a rare treat when it comes to playing festivals. I think my favourite memories would be the year that Cath’s Favourite Animals band was brought into being when she was Artist in Residence, having the time to work on new music together, in a lovely city, and then be surrounded by excellent gigs to go to was fantastic.

We’re really looking forward to seeing your commission with the school bands of Lancaster – can you tell us about this piece and how it came together?

The idea is, hopefully, that there is enough room in the piece for each band to make it their own. There are three movements, but these can be played in any order, and put together however the band sees fit, keeping it interesting for them from performance to performance. The music also began with some of the young musicians from these bands; I made some backing tracks and asked people to record themselves improvising over them. A lot of the melodic material used in the piece was taken from those improvisations, so you’ll be hearing music that is woven together from some of the creative voices of Lancaster.

You’ve worked on other commissions in the past, is there anything different about the way you’ve approached this piece?

Most of the time, I write music for my own bands (my large ensemble Article XI, for example) . This is the first time I’ve written music like this when I’ve not also been there in the rehearsals, and playing in the band myself. I’m really looking forward to hearing how each of the different bands has shaped the piece to fit themselves, I’m sure everyone’s going to have put their own unique stamp on it.

As well as your commission, you’re also putting on a jam session at the Golden Lion as part of the festival – can you tell us a bit about that?

For around 13 years (before the Covid pandemic), I’ve been co-running The Noise Upstairs jam night in Manchester. We’ve paused it for a while now, but the basic idea is anyone can turn up, put their name in the hat, and we create free-improvising trios, putting people alongside musicians they’ve often never met, let alone played with. The excitement that comes from that first meeting can lead to some truly special moments, and that’s what I’ll be hosting at the Golden Lion. And interestingly, The Noise Upstairs runs once a month in the Golden Lion Pub in Todmorden too, it must be fate!

Do you have any advice for young musicians who want to get into improvisation?

Just do it! Well, that’s easier said than done, of course. Improvisation comes in many forms, in many styles of music. I’ve been improvising since before I knew what jazz was, my brother and I in our teenage rock band would improvise for hours. The key important thing for me is to find people to play with, if you’re fortunate enough to have a talented younger sibling, then start there, or friends, or the school jazz band or whatever. Improvisation is best when it’s shared with others, and you can learn a lot by figuring out things together too. “What sort of sound does this make?” is always a good place to start.
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