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The Five Foot Twos: They're On The Jazz

Jazz is cool. The impact of the movement’s pioneers – Miles Davis, Duke Ellington, Louis Armstrong, Dizzy Gillespie – seems beyond debate, their sound beyond criticism, their status as legends set in stone.

Despite this, jazz is not popular. It is music that many people like to think they can appreciate, but in reality have never picked up a Herbie Hancock or Randy Brecker recording.

In terms of commercial success, jazz in the UK barely registers on the radar. Yet remarkably, a group of five teenagers have come together to form their own jazz band. In true jazz spirit, The Five Foot Twos are learning on the job – giving improvised renditions of jazz and swing numbers and developing their musical abilities in front of a live and very supportive audience.

The Five Foot Twos may be just starting out, and in terms of ability are merely beginners – as they themselves confess. But they are a dynamic outfit with great potential.

On double bass is Tom Holder, and then there is Dan Mannion on Saxophone, George Murrell on drums, Alex Bland on trombone, Nick Machin on keyboards and vocalist Sybie Ross-Talbot brings some grace to the proceedings.

The band started when Alex, looking to raise money for charity as part of a fundraising drive by Tanbridge School, contacted Dan about putting a jazz band together for a one-off gig. Dan said: “I knew George already through music, and Nick was recommended to us by one of our piano teachers. We desperately needed someone to play the next day and so I called Nick and sent him over some sheet music!”

Nick had been trained as a classical pianist but enjoyed his first experience of jazz music as the band debuted at The Coot pub on Merryfield Drive in Horsham and raised £115 for good causes. There were just four in the band on the first night – Dan on sax, Alex on trombone, Nick on keyboards and George on the snare drum.

They called themselves The Four Foot Twos, taken from a famous song called ‘Four Foot Two, Eyes a Blue’ and they went on to play a few more times at The Coot. They also tumbled upon a black and maroon colour scheme which has stuck.

Whilst they looked the part, playing in front of a knowledgeable audience meant that the band had to sound the part too. Dan had only recently picked up the saxophone, but helped along by Andy Walker, who leads his own jazz quartet and also plays with the Freddy Woods Band, he learnt quickly.

“I’ve been quite lucky as I’ve had the opportunity to play in Andy’s quartet and learn how proper jazz bands operate,” said Dan. “I like to chuck myself in at the deep end so I’ve gone on to join the National Youth Jazz Orchestra, which is a big step for me.”

Alex was primarily a classical trombone player and hadn’t played jazz before, but as the gigs have come he has gained confidence.George’s drumming skills increased as he because influenced by the music of jazz drummers including Peter Erskine and Steve Gadd. But the four-piece band felt the need to expand their sound.

They invited Tom Holder, a double bass player, to join. Tom is the son of Gary Holder, who for many years has been the go-to man for any local band needing a double bass player. Growing up in a musical family, Tom could have taken his pick of instruments but he always wanted to play bass.

“Obviously because of my dad, it was the one instrument I had to take on. It’s such a groovy instrument. I’ve grown up with it, and, it’s always been in the house. There are not many other double bass players who are my
age. I know of one other who lives around Petworth!”

Tom joined the band even though Dan had caused his dad a serious injury at a karate lesson. Tom said: “My dad decided to get back into karate 15 years after he decided to quit. He was a black belt when he gave it up. Dan is a
black belt now and on dad’s first night back Dan broke his ribs! But I agreed to join the band anyway!”

The band needed a vocalist to complete the line-up. Sybie said: “I was singing by myself and playing a little
bit of guitar – just accompanying myself so I could record a few things and put them up online. I got more confident and the band came around at just the right time for me.

“I’ve definitely grown in confidence since I’ve been singing with them. I don’t think I’ve really developed my voice properly. Jazz suits my voice but I like acoustic covers and ballads too.”

The Five Foot Twos now have a monthly Friday night slot at the Boars Head pub, where they perform a variety of jazz and swing classics by the likes of Thelonious Monk and Sonny Rollins. They’ve hit the ground running and already attract good support.

Dan said: “With jazz you could play the sort of music that George listens to, which is a bit obscure but is technically fantastic and you have to be very skilled to be able to play it. The problem with that is it is not easy listening and it wouldn’t be well received in local pubs even if we could play it. The only real place for those sounds is at jazz clubs such as Ronnie Scott’s in London, which is for the very best.

"In Horsham there is a good jazz following and people will listen to the less well known material. But if you want to make a bit of money and get into pubs, you are going to have to play a bit more Frank Sinatra and swing songs. Our shows are quite improvised. You see us during the night shouting over to each other and giving hand signals as we don’t all know the structure of all of the songs. It gives an extra dimension to the performance as it’s not strictly laid out. The audience enjoys seeing that too and working out what we are doing.

“At the moment we are just doing it because we enjoy it but we are getting better because it’s a supportive group. That’s the thing with music – everyone is friendly. If some people are at different levels we work to bring them on for the good of the band. Everybody’s ability to play in a jazz quartet over the last six months has improved tremendously.”

They have recently recorded an album too. ‘I Mean You’ was organised for Dan’s 18th birthday and was recorded at Eversfield Studios in Lower Beeding and recorded for seven hours.

George said: “We scribbled down seven or eight tracks that we wanted to do but we eventually did eleven, seven of which had vocals. A lot of the tracks we recorded in just one take. There is a good mix on there – we start off with the title track by Thelonious Monk and then it’s ‘Don’t Know Why’ by Norah Jones. Then comes ‘Doxy’ and then ‘Fever’, which is just vocals and double bass, and ‘Come Fly With Me’, which is rhythm section and vocals.

“We also have a couple of Latin-inspired numbers and ‘The Day is Done’ by Nick Drake. It finishes with the Rainbow Connection’ (from Muppets the Movie) and ‘Moon Dance’ by Van Morrison.We’re really pleased with it as it is representative of where we are at the moment.

“Part of it is online but we want to put it onto a format we can pass on to people. It may be that there is a brief life span for The Five Foot Twos. Next year, three of the band are likely to be heading off to University. But wherever they go, the band members will be spreading the word of jazz. For me, this is what contemporary music is really all about,” said George.

"It might not be that popular amongst teenagers in general but everywhere you go there are young people who are interested in jazz and want to play it. We live in a society where the media doesn’t promote it, so it needs to come from individuals like us.”

To listen to the band’s music and for more details about live shows visit http://soundcloud.com/fivefoottwos or  http://facebook.com/fivefoottwos

The Five Foot Twos

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