Avelia Moisey pours her talents into her horn and her lyrics; in each, with spice, humor and bravado. Her CD “From the Shadows” is a duet with pianist Bruce Boardman. Nine tracks (one composed as a bet: “ConeWorld,” see below) with a clear tone, sass and character. “On the Way” feels like Nawlins; “Just Contented” peals out with a stellar hook with great accompaniment; and the socially pointed “Luton Airport” shows her flair for melody.
When and why did you start trumpet?
I started trumpet at the age of 12 … mainly because I wanted to play in the school orchestra and they needed a trumpet player. But the story initially began many years before, when I was probably around 4 or 5. We were visiting someone with Mum, and I heard music in another part of the house. I asked Mum what it was. She told me “It’s a trumpet … but you won’t be able to get a note out of it because I can’t.” I really, really wanted to play the trumpet after that. Ironically, by the time I laid my hands on a trumpet I had decided I wanted to play oboe but when Mum was talking to the school music department she didn’t know that, so trumpet it was. And I am so glad, because trumpet is such a versatile instrument – I can play with so many different types of ensembles, and in so many genres.
Do you remember the first time you heard jazz?
I remember being impressed on an overnight boat ride from Europe when some guys from the classical music course we’d been on started jamming together on deck. But I didn’t start getting into jazz, and listening to the great players, until after I left music college, when I landed a job in a group that was heavily into jazz, and particularly improvisation.
Where was your formal music training and what was the most important takeaway?
I spent four years at the Royal Academy of Music (in London) which I adored – lots of playing in orchestras and ensembles and camaraderie.
However, I believe I have learned far more about playing trumpet since I left. On one tour a few of us visited a local music shop and I discovered a book that I thought looked quite good but seemed expensive to me at the time – “Systematic Approach to Daily Practice” by Claude Gordon. Another musician asked if I was going to buy it. I replied that there was really nothing there I couldn’t just do myself anyway. He said “Yes, but will you?” I looked at him and bought the book. It turned out to be an amazing resource that kept me going for years and significantly helped me increase my high range, as well as massively improving my finger technique (clarity and speed) and general approach to practice. I finally learned, totally and absolutely, how beneficial slow practice is … having ignored my piano teacher’s pleas to do exactly that through my teens.
Probably the most important takeaway I can offer is that there is always more to learn. In my early 20s I would have thought that statement depressing, but actually it’s exciting. I have had occasional lessons over the years with many trumpet players – John Wallace, Arturo Sandoval, Bobby Shew; and learned from many more by listening to their playing and/or attending masterclasses – Laurie Frink, Allen Vizzutti, to name just a couple. I have learned more about different aspects of playing from each of them, and every nugget of knowledge has fed into my own playing.
What was the biggest challenge in starting your career?
For me, it was often feeling that I was not being taken seriously as a female trumpet player, at least initially. Things have improved a lot over the years, fortunately, but I always felt that I needed to prove myself far more than many of the guys ever did.
While I was at music college I used to get quite a lot of work through them … but that stopped the minute I left (as the current students would now be getting access to that work). It was hard to get work in the first few years, and certainly most of it was not at all well-paid; indeed almost none of it was in the classical field, in which I’d trained.
When I was trying to do my own thing, i.e. running my band or playing as a classical duo with my brother, Alvin, I think it was much harder then. Demos were on tape, which cost to duplicate; all communication was by phone or letter; publicizing events was so much harder than now. It will never be easy – there are always more musicians than work available – but with all that can be done online and with social media now, I think we all have more potential to make things happen for ourselves.
Your favorite collaborations?
Writing and subsequently performing and touring (2012-2015) my (co-written) 2-woman show “Ifs, Buts & Babies” with my friend, Jill Neenan. We met when our oldest children were four years old, and one day were talking about something when we said “someone should write a song about that” … we looked at each other and decided to give it a go. It took us years (between 2008 and 2012) to write the whole show around childcare, teaching and gigging. I’m so delighted we did it.
Working with pianist Bruce Boardman, who would often spend hours absorbed in re-harmonizing everything I wrote and subsequently played piano for both “Ifs, Buts & Babies” (all tour dates, plus CD recording) and my debut solo album “From the Shadows.”
Before this, working with composer Ian Hughes. I met him when I started doing music copying work. He would give me a score he’d composed and I’d write out all the parts by hand. (At the time all West End show parts were written by hand, as was all session music.) There was usually a crazy deadline and accuracy was expected to be 100%. I’d often work for 2 or 3 days and nights with barely any sleep so that the parts were ready to be recorded (a set-in-stone deadline). Over time I got to know him better, and when he was MD for a touring show he included me in the band. This led to more tours and many new connections, West End show work, etc.
During conversations, I discovered that Ian had written a trumpet sonata that had never actually been performed. I worked on it with my brother, Alvin Moisey (a concert pianist and stunning accompanist), and we gave the world premiere performance at the International Trumpet Guild Conference in 2002. We also recorded the work. I have never released it but hope to do so at some point, along with other pieces I recorded with my brother.
And earlier still, my first songwriting collaborations were with my friend, sax player Anita Carmichael. We had fun writing, although I had no idea what I was doing at the time and Anita still plays a song we wrote called “You & Me.” For a time I played in her band, a highlight of which was playing for a week at Ronnie Scott’s.
When did you form No Problem and talk about what the personnel bring to the overall vibe.
I used to work regularly with several fabulous musicians mostly in the London SOCA (soul of calypso) scene, and asked four of them to join my band No Problem. We had a ball, playing music we all enjoyed but didn’t often get a chance to play under the umbrella genre of jazz fusion. We came from different backgrounds so there was a mix of styles including classical, jazz, funk and soca. We recorded a couple of demos – in total six songs, three of which were covers, and three my originals. I listened to them again a couple of years ago and think they sound great, so I’m considering releasing them to the world. Tony Mason was the drummer; Wayne Nunes the bass player; Winston Delandro the guitarist; and Taiwo Hollist or Robert Bailey played keys. The guys were the vibe! I’d give them chord sheets and away they went with very little input from me. I got to sing and play my trumpet over the top of the best band. Every gig was so much fun. I loved that time.
What inspired you to write “From the Shadows” and what was the most memorable part of production?
Two of the tracks – “Thinking of You” and “Contemplating Life” – were written at the time I was running No Problem. We recorded the first as an instrumental for one of our demos. The rest of the album was inspired by “Big George” Webley, who wanted to have me on his radio program in 2006, but for that I needed original material, which I didn’t really have, aside from the tunes I’d written way earlier for No Problem. My personal life was in total chaos at that time but I really wanted to do the show, and asked how long I had to get material written. Big George gave me a month. With a deadline and virtually no time to call my own already, I somehow found my way to writing six songs and also words for “Thinking of You” which I’d always intended as a song (for my Dad who died when I was little) but had never been able to start. The final track, “ConeWorld,” was written after a challenge from another presenter at the same radio station, who said “If you can write a song about Luton Airport, you can write a song about anything.” I responded, “Challenge me.” So he did, asking me to write about the constant roadworks on the M1 (motorway). A week later I was back on his program with my new song.
So, I had these songs all sitting around and always wanted to record and release them. (For Big George’s program, we live-recorded them, but I didn’t own the rights to those recordings so couldn’t use them; and I had no chance of re-recording them myself at that point in my life.) After my lovely Mum died in late 2015, I was spurred towards making it happen. Bruce Boardman and I recorded a couple of tracks in 2016 but a few more major life events occurred, which meant the album wasn’t finished and released until 2019.
The recording was done by my friend Fayyaz Virji, a fabulous trombone player and composer with a recording studio at his house. (Fayyaz also recorded the “Ifs, Buts & Babies” album.) I love working with Fayyaz – he has great “ears” and him being a fellow brass player is always helpful. There’s a relaxed vibe with him so the whole process is fun and never stressful.
Oh … and the reason for the title … I played in the orchestra pit for shows for many years (in the shadows), and I felt this album was all about me emerging as an artist in my own right.
I’d created an image that I wanted to use for the cover several years before the music was recorded. In my previous house, in June, around 11-11.30am, when the sun was shining, the shadows of the window blinds hit the back wall of my studio really clearly. I managed to rig up my phone to take a picture of my shadow against the blinds and eventually achieved the look I was after. Unfortunately the quality wasn’t good enough for a CD cover, so after many tries in the new house we managed to re-create the image with a proper camera.
How would you describe your own sound and your style?
I really struggle with this one. I aim for a full sound on trumpet, and whenever I buy a new trumpet, the main criteria are that it obviously sounds great, but also that it is very versatile and can do whatever I “ask” it to, in terms of range, dynamics etc. Whilst I’ve sung all my life, I think my voice has pushed out in new directions, particularly over the last couple of years.
Style – I think it is hard for me to avoid producing an eclectic mix of all the music I’ve played in the past – from classical to jazz, via soca, funk, Latin, musicals and South African township. To me this implies jazz fusion, in the sense of being a fusion of various styles with jazz, but most people would recognise jazz fusion as a much more specific genre, which I don’t think quite fits the bill for me right now.
What did you do during lockdown to keep playing?
Two days after the first lockdown, in March 2020, I did my first Facebook Live gig. I knew I “should” be doing FB Lives before then, but hadn’t quite worked up the nerve. Suddenly it seemed the right thing to do. I already had countless backing tracks that I used for local solo gigs which helped. After that I went live midweek every week for the first 10 weeks of lockdown, adding various new tracks as I went which kept my interest up. I never repeated any music, except tracks from “From the Shadows.” After the first few we launched the “Coronavirus Grand Tour … of the house” and did each Live in a different room, which caused various technical problems. We eventually settled in the living room, which has enough space, but more importantly enough soft furnishings to make the sound more manageable.
After that I was forced, by the family, to take a break. I’d loved doing the Lives because it kept me busy and motivated during lockdown, and ensured I kept playing and singing, but it did become very time-consuming … adding new backing tracks, learning new songs, and updating existing tracks. Stopping for a while allowed me to catch up and spend more time with my kids.
I have continued to do occasional Lives, which I love because it is great to perform for, and interact with, an audience. Earlier this year, I decided to do some “real”, i.e. technical, practice too, as I hadn’t done any of that for ages. I thoroughly enjoyed myself – bought a couple of new books, found some new challenges, and loved it.
The other thing I have been doing to keep playing is learning to record my own songs. This has been something I’d dabbled in a little but not really considered doing for real until lockdown. It was very daunting at first, but I am progressively enjoying it more and more as I learn.
How do you see yourself growing and developing as a musician?
I’m in a songwriters’ group which has proved incredibly helpful and validating – we are given prompts every fortnight to write a song, which is then critiqued by other members of the group.
I would love to be working with other musicians again too, both on my own material and also in other groups and genres. I’ve always worked as a freelance trumpet player and love that variety – West End shows, orchestras, and all manner of bands and other music. It’s what keeps life interesting!
For more information visit https://www.avelia.co.uk/
Photos courtesy of and with permission of the artist.
© 2021 Debbie Burke