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The monthly Tea Break is a series of short, fun items in What's New Magazine that also
gives jazz musicians and others an opportunity to update us with what they are doing.

Josephine Davies (Saxophone) - February 2018


Josephine Davies


Josephine Davies is an accomplished musician with a background that cannot help but enrich her approach to composition and playing. Born in the remote Scottish Shetland Islands that lie about 110 miles off the northern coast of Scotland, Josephine’s family moved to England where her interest in music grew and she trained as a classical flautist, and then an alto saxophonist at the Guildhall School of Music and Drama in London.

In her second year she discovered John Coltrane’s album A Love Supreme. She changed her alto for a tenor and her focus to jazz. Not that she has neglected classical music, in fact she has widened her experience touring with classical saxophone quartets, trad-jazz bands and hard-bop combos. She has been awarded the Perrier Young Musician Award for best small jazz combo; she is resident tenor player and composer for the London Jazz Orchestra; she continues to be an ensemble and workshop leader at the Guildhall School and in 2016 was featured soloist on veteran saxophonist and composer Pete Hurt’s big band album A New Start. The album came second in the British Jazz Awards ‘Best New CD’ category. Josephine also holds a doctorate in existential philosophy and psychotherapy.

In 2017, her trio Satori with Dave Whitford (double bass) and Paul Clarvis (drums) released a much praised album which we reviewed here, and another album is in the pipeline.


Here is a video of Josephine and Satori playing Cry live in December 2017. The composition was inspired by John Coltrane's protest song Alabama.





Josephine stopped by for a Tea Break:


Hi Josephine, tea or coffee?

Tea please. Any chance of an Earl Grey? 


Absolutely, Earl Grey, Lapsang Souchong ...... Milk and sugar?

Splash of milk, thanks.


I know we only reviewed your Satori album recently, but it came out a few months ago on the Whirlwind label. Have you been pleased with the response?

Yes, it’s been fantastic. Reviewers seem to have listened very closely to how we play as individuals and as a trio. Some have also recognized influences that I didn’t realize were there, in particular Albert Ayler and Ornette Coleman, whom I listened to extensively through college but not much at all since. They both have this really joyful, wailing, melodic sense, even when the music gets pretty out there. It’s interesting that more than one reviewer has heard those influences in my playing even though I wouldn’t have consciously listed them as such – evidently something was captured for me way back then and stuck!





I like the idea of using the Buddhist word ‘Satori’ for the Trio – ‘a moment of enlightening presence and inner spaciousness away from the clutter of thought’, but I also think you pointed out in one interview that it really only comes out of a period of concentrated preparation or focus. I read too that Satori preparation uses ‘Koans’ - short anecdotes of verbal exchanges between teachers and students – perhaps that works in relation to the interaction in music too? How far have people picked up on the idea?

I came across the word Satori in ‘Free Play’, a book by Nachmanovitch that every musician and artist should have on their shelves. It’s in part about the interplay between craft and creativity and how one cannot exist without the other, so the disciplined practice, the craft, is essential in order that free expressive improvisation, the magic (or indeed enlightenment), can take place. You make an interesting connection between koans and musical interaction – it’s not something I’ve really thought about, but I’d argue both for and against linking the two, (which nicely reflects the paradoxical nature of a koan). They are intended to move the student from an analytic mind-set to an intuitive one, and this could be understood musically in terms of prefacing an improvisation with a written composition in order to drop into the unknown through the known. Conversely, there is a teacherly aspect to a koan that opposes the ethos of collaborative music making, so the analogy isn’t wholly fitting.

Yes - I guess I was thinking that musicians 'learn' and respond subconsciously within collaborative music making, but I don't know how far that constitues 'teaching' each other. I'm probably stretching the analogy a bit.



Listen to Satori playing Paradoxy from the 2017 album





Hob Nob, Bourbon or Ginger Nut biscuit, or I think I have some Christmas cake left if you fancy that?

Oh cake please, I haven’t had any this Christmas (though I can’t say the same about mince pies).


I believe you come originally from the Shetland Islands. Did you get into music there and what opportunities were there that led you to London and the Guildhall School of Music and Drama?

Although I was born in Shetland, my parents moved back to England when I was very young so I didn’t start my musical life up there. But the members of my family and our friends who stayed in Shetland and Scotland are heavily involved in the traditional music scene, and I see lots of connections between this style of music and jazz. Improvisation is an important part of both forms, but there’s also a rhythmic element in common that’s hard to define. Apparently Dizzy Gillespie mistook the Scottish influence for African in some of Bobby Wellins’ work, and they had a wee disagreement about it!



Lil Hardin


I am guessing that if you could ask two past jazz musicians to join us for the tea break, you might invite John Coltrane and Sonny Rollins – or would you invite someone else?

I’d love to have met John Coltrane – there is so little interview footage of him that he remains a bit of a mystery. Obviously his music speaks for itself, but I wonder how he thought and felt about the different directions his playing took, and how his spiritual beliefs influenced his music. Given that Rollins shows every sign of lasting forever, I’d like to also invite Lilian Hardin Armstrong – she was an incredible pianist, vocalist, composer, not to mention being responsible for her husband Louis’ dress sense! I’d want to ask her about her experience of being a woman, being black, and playing jazz in 1920s America.

That would would be a fascinating conversation. It seems that she was a strong character and 'an astute business woman' and in this brief biography (click here) it says two things, it describes her as 'A woman who, despite the constraints of racial tension and sexism, made a career for herself out of her awesome musicianship' but it also points out that she 'often reportedly said she imagined herself standing out of sight, at the bottom of a ladder, holding it steady for Louis as he rose to stardom'.

Yes, she is one of many remarkable women whose stories aren't part of mainstream culture, and jazz is certainly guilty of promoting the view that it has been more male dominated than history proves. We need to start paying attention to herstory too.



Looking back, if I asked you ‘What do you know now that you wish you knew then,’ what would you say?

That’s a big question. So many things, but mainly I wish I’d known how to listen to my instincts about sound, style and taste. I was so focused on learning how to play over functional harmony that I forgot about the creative aspect, and didn’t develop my own sound until very recently. Although I believe that understanding the fundamentals of jazz is crucial to depth and ability, I know now that one’s own voice is also crucial, which is what the spirit of jazz is all about.


What have you got coming up in 2018? I see you are planning to record a second album with Dave and Paul – will it be very different to the last one?

Yes, and in fact it will be James Maddren on drums which will automatically change the sound quite a lot. I’ve wanted to do a project with him for a while, and thought this next album would be a good opportunity (though I’m still considering the idea of both Paul and James together – Brigitte Berahawhat a sound that would be!) I think the music I’ve been writing for the second album has moved further along the path of unstructured trio interaction, and I hope that the Coltrane influence will be evident to listeners. We’re doing a small tour in February then recording in March, and I’m currently organizing an autumn tour to coincide with the release of the new album. I’m also writing for a new band with pianist Alcyona Mick and vocalist Brigitte Beraha. I’m setting some poems to music, some of which are by Shetland poets and use the Shetland dialect which really is a wholly different language. There’s a lovely lyricism to these poems that has influenced my writing and a folk element seems to have emerged organically, so it’s a nice contrast to Satori.

That's an interesting, varied programme. James is one of my favourite drummers, ever since I first heard him with Kit Downes' trio and I like the idea of Paul and James playing together. The poems set to music with Brigitte's voice sounds intriguing; I really enjoyed the Solstice album and she is on Challenger Deep, the new Riff Raff album.


Brigitte Beraha
Photograph courtesy of Brian O'Connor (ImagesOfJazz




Helena Kay


Helena Kay

Rachel Cohen


Who else have you heard recently that we should listen out for?


Rachel Cohen and Helena Kay are both wonderful saxophonists I’ve heard recently, and would you believe that Rachel is also from the Shetland Islands!


Rachel Cohen
Photograph by Tom Sankey



(Click on the pictures for videos of Helena and Rachel playing live)


Another biscuit?

I’m afraid I’ve eaten too much cake.


Here is another a video of Satori, this time playing Wabi-Sabi (the beauty of imperfection and impermanence) live in December 2017.




Click here to listen to other tracks on the first Satori album.

Click here for Josephine's website.


Josephine Davies


Utah Teapot


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