FEATURE: Getting To Know…Alexander Hawkins | NARC. | Reliably Informed | Music and Creative Arts News for Newcastle and the North East

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Musician Alexander Hawkins is set to play Sage Gateshead on Friday 6th April with the innovative pianist performing as part of Gateshead International Jazz Festival. Before that, we caught up with him to find out a little more…

Who are you and what do you do?
I’m a pianist and composer (and very occasional organist) from Oxford. I’m lucky enough to get to do a wide range of things, most, but not all, of which contain an element of improvisation…so alongside my own projects, I’m fortunate to get to play with a whole range of people, in a whole range of contexts: completely free improvisation with Evan Parker; the beautiful mayhem of the Louis Moholo-Moholo groups; Ethio-Jazz with Mulatu Astatke; and much else besides.

What’s the first record you ever bought?
Oh…I’ve no idea! I have to confess – I don’t have one of those embarassing, humorous, or otherwise unlikely answers to this question (the answer is not, for example, the box set of all the Sesame Street music – of which, however, I am the proud owner). I was lucky enough to grow up in a musical household, so I was hearing the ‘good stuff’ (to my ears/tastes, of course!) from the outset. And when I was at school, my way of being contrary was definitely not to listen to whatever everyone else was listening to. So although I don’t know the precise answer to this, it would be something like Eugen Jochum conducting Bruckner’s 9th symphony, or possibly Coleman Hawkins and Roy Eldridge Live At The Opera House – something along those lines.

What’s your guilty pleasure musically?
I don’t think I have one. It sounds a bit earnest, but if I’m into certain music or artists, I’m into them completely. I am, however, quite ruthless and blinkered as to what I don’t like(!): I suspect if something was going to make me guilty in the long run, it would get the axe before getting into my affections. (This is probably a shortcoming…for sure, I could write long essays about music I can’t stand, including some of the sacred cows…but it’s much better to be positive!)

Favourite film of all time?
Hmmm…strange – I’m not actually a big film watcher. It could be ‘Some Like It Hot’…though on a different tack, it could also be the DVD of Carlos Kleiber conducting the Concertgebouw Orchestra in Beethoven’s 4th and 7th Symphonies…some of the most urgent and joyful music ever captured.

Your guilty pleasure film?
I don’t have one. The thing is, whilst I can often be quite critical whilst listening to music, I’m a completely sucker when it comes to film. I have virtually no critical faculties. On flights, for example, I can have a whale of a time watching what is probably complete junk. I don’t think I’m enough of a film guy to know what I should be guilty about.

If you could recommend one TV series to binge watch, what would it be?
The Wire! I pretty much gave up watching TV series after this: it confirmed to me what I pretty much knew would be the case – which is that I’m sufficiently obsessive that once I start on something like this, I’ll see it through to the end, and there’s just too much other stuff to get done! I also liked Treme, especially for the music.

Your favourite book?
Don Quixote by Cervantes. But I have to mention three other works here: I adore St Exupery’s Le Petit Prince, and Melville’s Moby Dick is also pretty mindblowing. And finally, I am an obsessive reader of Peanuts, so I have a complete edition of Snoopy from 1950 right through to the end, and I’ve read and love every single strip.   

Who or what makes you laugh the most?
My cats would definitely be up there. 

Who or what makes you sad?
Difficult to answer this briefly, and without being clumsy. But essentially, people not having a sense of equality and mutual respect for one another, and lacking empathy. And especially on a corporate and/or governmental level, because of the abuse of a dominant position these situations imply. 

If you had super power, what would it be?
Oh NOW we’re talking. Ha, I’ve no idea. I mean, I love sleeping, don’t get me wrong: but if I didn’t need to, that’d also be great – there’s so much fantastic STUFF to DO and EXPERIENCE. From a practical point of view, as a working musician, I’d love to be able to teleport places. I do love travelling on the train, but so many gigs involve flying, which I find a total drag (though of course, it’s always worth it at the other end).

And finally, you get to play a board game with any three famous people from history, who do you choose and what’s the board game?
My first though was chess, but that’s a little anti-social with four; so I’m going to say Scrabble. What a choice though; so I’m going to cheat. I’m going to rule out Garrincha on the basis of not speaking any Portuguese. And though I can muddle through in German, I’m going to rule out Beethoven because he could well be grumpy, despite being one of the greatest geniuses, well, ever. And I still can’t decide, so I’m going to take you literally and understand ‘historical’ as meaning ‘no longer with us’. So I’ll say Carlos Kleiber, Arturo Benedetto Michelangeli, and Duke Ellington. If you can actually use your contacts to hook this up, though, my living three would be Martha Argerich, Anthony Braxton, and Maurizio Pollini.

Alexander Hawkins plays Sage Gateshead on Friday 6th April.

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