Jazz alumni reunite for ‘Mike Gibbs at 85’ concert


Four Jazz graduates have come together for a special concert celebrating one of the Royal Birmingham Conservatoire’s most esteemed Fellows, Michael Gibbs.

In a concert at the Eastside Jazz Club at the Conservatoire earlier this month, Mike Gibbs was celebrated in honour of his 85th birthday.

‘MIKE GIBBS 85’ gave the opportunity to four Jazz alumni to come back to where it all began. They were commissioned to write new arrangements of Mike’s distinctive compositions to be performed by a 14-piece student ensemble, alongside guest saxophone soloist and RBC Fellow Julian Arguelles.

Alumni included Charlie Bates and Olivia Murphy, as well as Alcyona Mick and Liam Brennan. The graduates were all commissioned to write new arrangements of a selection of Mike’s distinctive compositions.

Charlie, who since graduating from Jazz Piano back in 2017 has established himself as a multi award-winning composer, arranger, orchestrator, jazz pianist and an educator, said: “Michael is a legend in a very niche line of work. I’ve played quite a lot of his music and seen him in concert many times too.

“I’ve always been an admirer of his and have been inspired by him too, seeing him always shows a very high standard of musicianship.

“His albums and various songs, as well as his presence in the jazz world, has been impactful because there is not a huge amount of jazz musicians who have had such a successful and long career. It is nice to be here today to pay respect to his work.

“I chose to write a new arrangement of Mike’s ‘Tis As It Should Be’, which he originally performed with the NDR Bigband. I’ve had an album of his for years, and it was always a track that I’d liked, so it was a clear choice for me.”

Olivia, who graduated from Jazz Saxophone in 2019, is now a multi-award-winning composer, conductor and multi-instrumentalist.

She said: “It is hard in the UK to make a living off jazz composition, it is a niche genre, so it is great to see the amount of work that he has done. His compositions are just a huge lesson in music, so it’s great to have been involved in this project.

“My new arrangement is of ‘The Time Has Come’, which is actually a quote from Alice Through the Looking Glass. I chose mine because when Mike came to RBC in 2018 for a masterclass, we played it in the jazz orchestra, and I loved playing it. It was so enjoyable and fun. It just stuck in my mind since then, so I have a real soft spot for it.”

Pictured left to right: Julian Arguelles, Olivia Murphy, Mike Gibbs, Ben Partridge, Ed Puddick, Charlie Bates, Liam Brennan and Tony Dudley-Evans. Credit: John Watson.

For Charlie and Olivia, being back in Birmingham and where their careers started was a special experience for them both.

Charlie said: “Before RBC, I had never been to Birmingham before. I remember in the audition, just feeling really at home in the city. I just instantly pictured myself there. The course looked and felt good, and I liked the tutors, but I just felt like I’d fit in here.

“I’m really proud to be an RBC graduate. It was four massive years of my life. What I loved about being at RBC is that there was only a handful of students on my course, so you get very close with each other as well as those in the years above and below you too. It’s very intense and you form bonds instantly, so it’s a very unique place to study.”

Olivia believes that studying at the Conservatoire gave her the very best start to her career in the music industry.

She said: “I loved the atmosphere on the open day. Growing up, I didn’t have much experience of jazz beforehand. I felt like I had a lot to learn, and I also felt so welcomed on the open day. I also just loved Birmingham.

“Your time at university are transformative years, especially when you’re 18-21. Studying at RBC is like being within a music scene itself, so it’s an early example of the then greater jazz scene in the UK, which ends up being the same people you studied with.

“The tutors and the people that you meet whilst studying at RBC are the people who are still my friends and colleagues now. So, it really set me up and made it clear to me how important it is to make those connections early on, especially in this industry.”

The alumni now have top advice to share with current students, especially those also preparing to step into the music industry.

Olivia said: “Working in music can be quite turbulent and difficult at times, and you have to be quite determined to succeed.

“My advice would be to make the most out of all the facilities at RBC and make the most out of all these people around you who want to play and support your music too.

“But also remember that music is subjective, and you can’t always please everyone. You might come across people who aren’t supportive of your music, but if you’re passionate about it, that’s the most important thing.

“Remember that no one’s opinion of your work is definitive, and everyone has their own artistic voice, regardless of your background. Don’t let people rain on your parade.”

Charlie agreed, urging current students to make the most out of their time at the Conservatoire.

He said: “During my time at RBC, I was very Jazz nerdy and was very ‘in’ my course.

“But the RBC has an amazing breadth of people in all areas of music and what I’ve discovered since graduating is that I’m not just a lover of jazz, I also love lots of other aspects of music too.

“I wish I would have branched out a bit and taken advantage of all the opportunities that came my way. So, make the most out of everything here and try to get involved across the RBC as a whole.”

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