In this series, Gilles Peterson, one of the world’s most influential DJs, hosts live sessions with innovative musicians you’ve (probably) never heard of. In this episode, it’s London-based pianist and composer, Joe Armon-Jones.
Described by Pitchfork as a “soulful, modern producer,” Joe is a virtuoso talent who is helping redefine London’s modern jazz scene.
It’s hard to capture his particular musical energy – the best way is to sit back and let it wash over you.
Gilles: What is your favorite part of experiencing music? What is it about music that you need?
Joe: This sounds a bit cheesy, like a film quote, but it’s those moments when you look at people on stage, like today, Kwake (bass) started doing this crazy thing on the cymbals and you feel this energy building and Nubya (Garcia) clocked it, and then Mutale (Chashi) clocked it and I clocked that they clocked it.
It’s those kind of human moments that you get through the music which are really beautiful. You don't even need to know the people to have those moments. Sharing those feelings with people, that's my favourite thing about music.
Gilles: When you make music, what’s your favourite part – composing, performing or listening?
Joe: They’re very different pleasures. All those things you just mentioned, I need to be happy in a day. It’s like all the different genres I listen to – I wouldn’t be able to live the rest of my life just listening to dub music, but I could spend the rest of this week listening to dub music.
While you’re performing live, it’s weirdly like drugs – when you're on it and in it, it's the most amazing thing. It’s the most incredible feeling. But it’s also a feeling that you start to chase.
It’s a very different feeling to the one you get being in a room with your friends and producing a beat. It’s not the same kind of rush. It’s not better or worse. It’s just a different kind of rush when you know you’ve created something that's going to last for a long time.
Gilles: What are you listening to at the moment?
Joe: Where Are Your Branches by Oscar Jerome. It’s a wicked EP.
Gilles: How do you discover new music?
Joe: Usually through other people rather than the internet. I trust people a lot more than playlists. I know it sounds a bit corny, but when people come round and are like, “You have to check it out,” I’ll check it out that night.
Gilles: What’s it like playing in countries where people don’t know who you are?
Joe: It takes me back to playing in jazz clubs where no-one gives a fuck who you are and you have to earn it. It changes from country to country to be fair – some people come with an open heart. But I’m equally happy playing to those countries where people are like, hmm who is this English band? Come on impress us. I like that feeling.
Gilles: If you weren’t a musician, what do you think you’d be doing?
Joe: That’s a really hard question. I’d either be a proper drop out – I wasn’t good at other subjects at school to be honest. Or I’d try to be a skydiver or something crazy like that, where you live your life for ten years and then just end it.
Gilles: Who do you thank for directing you and helping you find your place with your art?
Joe: Definitely my parents, growing up with them playing music in the house. That’s an invaluable thing, because those first ten years you can’t get back, can you? You can’t get back the formation that’s going on in your head at that time.
If people are playing you One Direction, you can’t get back those years, but I was lucky enough to be hearing Earth Wind and Fire and those sorts of things. My mum singing around the house and my dad playing piano helped my musical growth.
I’m the kind of person that probably would just be happy being ok at the piano, but they made me practice and learn the instrument. Then later on, Gary Crosby (of Tomorrow’s Warriors) who was really encouraging in a realistic way and Adam Moses from Jazz Refreshed.
Gilles: Joe, thank you so much!