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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 a chance to update us with what they are doing.

Fraser Smith (Saxophone) - January 2018



Fraser Smith



Saxophonist and bandleader Fraser Smith was born in Birmingham, grew up in Wales and now lives in London. He left the Royal Welsh College of Music and Drama with a first class degree and then went on to finish a Masters Degree at Trinity Conservatoire. Influenced by the big tenor saxophonists of the last century such as Illinois Jacquet, Dexter Gordon, Lester Young and Hank Mobley, Fraser stays stylistically close to those jazz influences and his original compositions channel the energy of hard-bop.

His band, Fraser and the Alibis, are Fraser on tenor sax, Joe Webb (organ), Harry Sankey (guitar) and Gethin Jones (drums). The four originally met at the Royal Welsh College in Cardiff and have been together for a number of years playing their own inspired compositions. They ‘channel the intensity and feel good effect of the swing and jive music of the dance hall era, combined with the intricacies and virtuosities of later jazz movements’. 

After playing approximately 400 gigs together over the last decade and with various bands at Ronnie Scott’s Club, Brecon, Birmingham, London, Cheltenham and Swansea jazz festivals, they released their debut album in 2017 (reviewed on the website this month).

We caught up with Fraser for a Tea Break.



Hi  Fraser, tea or coffee?

Tea, every time, in the biggest cup you can find!


Milk and sugar?

Just milk.


So, you have a new album coming out. You and the Alibis have been going for a while – I think you met at college - how come you decided to bring it out now?

The world wasn't ready. No I'm joking!! Two main reasons: Firstly we needed to wait until we had the rep together as for most of that time we were playing standards and then in more recent years, more specific arrangements and covers of artists and classic organ quartets we love such as Baby Face Wilette, Jack McDuff, George Benson, etc. This period of learning informed all of our current rep, now most of our tunes are loosely based on classic organ quartet material, just with different melodies or slight alterations to the groove. The other thing was our just not feeling ready. Maybe it's a good thing, but I'm constantly comparing myself to the greats and didn't feel ready to commit anything to record. I still don't, but maybe that's all part of the self-critical nature that all musicians need to have regarding their playing. It got to a point though where to take the next step as a band, we needed something to promote!


Fraser and the Alibis



‘Fraser and the Alibis’ is an intriguing name for the band! Where did that come from? I don’t think you have alibis – or are those not your real names? 

Ah, that's an easy one. Its quite a new name. We were called the Applejacks for years and then I discovered after trying to show my friend our website that you couldn't find us online! There were about 6 other bands called the Applejacks, 20 restaurants, a My Little Pony, a cosmetic care company, a vets and just about every other kind of business on google search. We were on page 73 or something silly, so we renamed ...


Listen a live performance of The Applejacks playing Sonny Rollins' Pent Up House two years ago with Fraser Smith, Joe Webb and Gethin Jones and Artie Zaitz on guitar.




Our mate Adrian actually came up with the name 'The Alibis' and I thought it was perfect. Sam Buterra (Louis Prima's sax player) is one of my favourites, and he ran a band called Sam Buterra and the Witnesses. I think the accessibility of their music for audiences, and the visible joy that comes across when they're performing is something that we strive for. They were best mates and had a lot of fun making the music they loved, whilst not taking themselves too seriously.


Here is a video of Fraser and the Alibis playing On The Green at Sofar, London on March 31st, 2017.





I see. Although I guess the association with 'My Little Pony' could work if you wanted to encourage a young audience! Did you know there is a 'jazz theme' for MLP (click here)? Still, I agree, the Alibis is a great, memorable name. Speaking of names, if you could ask two past jazz musicians to join the band for a gig, who would you invite?

Agh! not so easy. It'd have to be Charlie Parker. I know that's so obvious but throughout my adult life he's the constant that I always return to and each time I'm even more blown away, mesmerised, moved. I read the new(ish) biography 'Kansas City Lightning: The Rise and Times of Charlie Parker' by Stanley Crouch recently and finished it in two days. He just lived an unbelievable life, worked his ass off and sacrificed everything for his music. There is just so much musical information and language in his playing but it pours out of him so naturally, without ever feeling contrived.

Second, I'm not sure there are any jazz clubs left in the country that have a budget for a sextet and I haven't got enough ink in my printer to make charts, but .... Dexter Gordon. The band would be bored as hell, waiting for three saxes to take turns on every tune, but I'd probably just sit out Grant Greenand listen to those guys go at it. Same reasons for this wish, and also I've heard that Dexter was cool as hell. I'd love to soak up some of that energy. If for whatever reason Dexter was busy, it'd be Grant Green. Wow man, unbelievably beautiful music. Listen to him on Ike Quebec's Blue and Sentimental, the guitar solo is my favourite Grant Green at the moment (click here).


Grant Green
Picture from Wikipedia.


Great choice. I don't think Grant Green gets much of a mention these days. What would you get them to play? 

We'd play a set of Parker's bebop heads with a couple of standards thrown in, just so I could hear how its meant to be done and try and absorb some of that inspiration, excitement and musical intricacy that they seemed to have had limitless amounts of. I play these tunes every day of my life so to experience hearing it from the source would just be a dream come true. I actually get sad sometimes that I'll never hear those guys play live.



This video of guitarist Grant Green in 1969 comes from unbroadcast footage recorded for French TV
with Larry Ridley on bass and Don Lamond on drums.





Hob Nob, Bourbon, Garibaldi or Ginger  Biscuit?

Ginger Biscuit. come to think of it, I don't eat those often enough! 


Me too. Best dunking biscuit. Looking back over the past ten years or so, if I asked you ‘What one thing do you know now that you wished you knew then?’ What would you say?

Probably just 'chill out a bit'. I'm quite an anxious person, which is good in that I'm not lazy, but sometimes take things a bit seriously when actually everything is fine. 



Fraser and the Alibis


What gigs have you played recently?

We did a little launch tour of London/Bristol/Wales which was great fun. We visited our old music college, where the band was formed and gave a little workshop to the current students. It was nice being on the road if only for a few days, to sample what it must have been like back in the day. Except I guess now we have M&S services, Premier Inn and Starbucks, so I guess its a little different. 

I guess - whatever happened to the hard life on the road? What have you got coming up in 2018?

There are a few great little spots, some of them slightly off the beaten jazz track, but all attract great audiences and people of all ages dancing and digging the music. Hopefully another tour will come to fruition, if I can find some time to get to the computer! We've just lost a couple of our residencies in London - Servant Jazz Quarters are having DJs now on a Friday ... brings more people in, and Cable Café has had noise complaints, no drums allowed any more. So it’s back to the drawing board! These were our regular haunts but it will work out fine, just a period of transition, I need to get my sales hat back on and source some new venues!


From correspondence I've had, that seems to have happened to a few bands in the past couple of months. Who else have you heard recently that we should listen out for?

I saw two great gigs at the Ronnie's late show this week. Tuesday was Osian Robert's quintet, which did exactly what it said on the tin. They swung their asses off and brought the vibe ....


Here is a video of saxophonist Osian Roberts in 2016,
on this occasion with Najponk (piano); Jan Feco (bass); Martin Schulze (drums)





Rachel Cohen



... and last night I saw Rachel Cohen's quartet. They were sounding incredible ....

Rachel Cohen








...... Oh and also the QCBA quartet. I caught them at Kansas Smitty's bar last month and was blown away. 

Click here to listen to QCBA (Quentin Collins / Brandon Allen) playing Oscar's Lullaby.





Another biscuit?

I think I've eaten them all!


Fraser and the Alibis album



You can listen to the complete debut album from Fraser and the Alibis here:




Click here for Fraser and the Alibis' website


Fraser Smith at Ronnie Scott's club


Utah Teapot


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