Pianist Euan Stevenson and saxophonist Konrad Wiszniewski to play Nairn Community and Arts Centre in April.
The Glasgow-based musicians are best known on the jazz scene for playing their own compositions with the acclaimed New Focus.
For their Nairn visit, however, Stevenson and Wiszniewski will be returning to their roots in the jazz mainstream and concentrating on their interpretations of popular tunes by Duke Ellington and other well-known jazz composers.
“We both love the older jazz style of jazz,” says Stevenson. “That’s what drew us to the music in the first place. It’s really just the way of jazz – and other styles of music as well – that you learn from the masters and then begin to develop your own way of playing and composing.”
New Focus is an example of this. The project was originally commissioned by Edinburgh Jazz & Blues Festival to mark the fiftieth anniversary of the great saxophonist Stan Getz’s orchestral album Focus, which he recorded in 1961.
While working on Getz’s music in a jazz quartet with a string quartet and pedal harpist, Stevenson and Wiszniewski thought that some of their own ideas would work well with the same instrumentation.
Critics and audiences agreed. Their first album, simply called New Focus, was “longlisted” for the 2013 Scottish Album of the Year award. The follow-up, New Focus on Song was greeted on release last year with four-star reviews and led to the group appearing live from London’s Southbank Centre as part of BBC Radio 3’s 70th birthday celebrations in September.
“We’re aware that people don’t always want to listen to new music and that some audiences prefer familiar tunes,” says Wiszniewski who will be known to audiences in the Nairn and Inverness area through his appearances with the Scottish National Jazz Orchestra and drummer Ken Mathieson’s Classic Jazz Orchestra. “So we decided that when we play as a duo we should include one or two standards, slightly updated, for those who want to hear tunes they know.”
They enjoyed playing these older tunes so much that they expanded the idea so they could play concerts under their own names as a duo playing mostly jazz standards.
The tunes Stevenson and Wiszniewski will play in Nairn will include jazz favourites such as Love for Sale, Take the A Train and Cherokee, although they might not play the last named tune at the tempo jazz fans have come to expect.
“Cherokee is one of those tunes that musicians often use to show how fast they can play,” says Stevenson. “We can play it fast but we tried it at a much slower pace – one that wasn’t trying to break the land speed record – and found we liked playing it so much more that way.”
Audiences have been responding to the different approach very positively too.
“So we’ve kept it slow,” says Stevenson. “And that more melodic approach is more in keeping with the way we play generally.”
Pianist Euan Stevenson and saxophonist Konrad Wiszniewski play the Nairn Community and Arts Centre on April the 8 th.
Tickets are £15, Students £3 from the venue – Nairn Community & Arts Centre 01667 453476 (or at the door on the night)