Dan Mar-Molinero – for many years at the core of Southampton’s music scene and music education has finally released an album of his own music. ‘Taproot’ came out on Bandcamp today (March 3). It’s a big band, lockdown-created, Ivor Novello award-nominated jazz project.
It’s Dan’s work from start to finish – composer, bandleader, sound engineer and producer, and cover artist. It features a jazz orchestra that he assembled especially.
Following a performance of the music at Turner Sims Concert Hall last March, one piece was nominated for a Ivor Novello composer award for jazz ensemble. The prestigious awards go to the cream of serious music creation and Dan’s work was judged in the company of leading classical composer Judith Weir, the King’s Master of Music, and composer, table player and innovator Talvin Singh.
Normally super-busy as a musician and teacher, in lockdown as he saw gigging disappear overnight, he took the opportunity and time to write and record. The first time of composing, arranging and directing big band music he recorded any of his work. He turned musical ideas that had floated around for years into a score, and then he patched together a demo using ‘MIDI and a terrible track of me on drums – basically a jazz karaoke track’.
He contacted former members of the Southampton Youth Jazz Orchestra, local pro musicians and ‘co-conspirators’ asking them if they would collaborate, and also reached out to jazz luminaries sax-player Julian Arguelles and bassist Japer Hoiby. He sent each person the demo, and they each recorded their part. Probably the first remote big band ever, and the first big band remote recording.
Foolishly I ask Dan, who I know mainly as a sax-player, about bringing it all together. Who did the mixing and engineering? “Me”, he answers, “I’m a fairly typical pro-musician in the sense that I don’t actually have one thing that I’m really good at. I have a portfolio of many things I’m sort of mediocre at” – typically reluctant to switch to blowing his own trumpet.
Dan is Southampton hometown boy through and through. Most often you can see seen him now outside St Marys on a Saturday leading Saints Brass, which he help form in 2016. He went to Cantell School then Tauntons College.
Dan is quick to point out the importance of music teachers in schools and colleges to help people develop – particularly in light of the recent City of Culture bid which highlighted the importance of talent development and opportunities for young people.
“There were two teachers there – Ian Townsend and John Hall – they weren’t modern in the sense of being prescriptive. The only thing that mattered was the music, and students understanding and being able to be creative about music.”
He was playing mostly jazz, but saw other “really cool” people from the city go off in other directions – many also through Cantell and Tauntons college. He was at Cantell with Will Champion who went on to drum in Coldplay. Will was recently brought in to the University by Dan to give a talk to music students and was also presented with an honorary doctorate. Jack Wylie – another sax player – who has gone on to solo work and play in the innovative jazz group the Portico Quartet was also at Cantell, as well as members of award-winning band Alt-J.
It was the same at Tauntons, where the Head of Music was Jane Higgins,whose name crops up in any conversation about Southampton’s music education: “an amazing lady. She encouraged and facilitated so many people to just go and be music people.”
Sally Mathews, the opera singer and winner of the prestigious Kathleen Ferrier Award was also a Taunton’s student brought on with Jane’s encouragement.
“We had the freedom to learn and develop and there wasn’t any pressure on us,” says Dan. “It was before league tables. I did want I wanted, I played Charlie Parker tunes for my performance exams because I wanted to, and no-one told me it wasn’t a thing.”
Taking a leaf out of his teaching mentors’ books, he set up the Southampton Youth Jazz Orchestra for young musicians in the city, a major platform for musicians to develop, and the source of many members of the Taproot album big band. Through that he’s met great jazz musicians, like Julian Joseph, and ended up playing with them himself.
While he was at college he started gigging locally. In the city’s lively music scene of the 80s and 90s he was playing venues like the Talking Heads when it was in Portswood, and the Maple Leaf in the Polygon. He came across others still on the scene – sax player Paul Young, pianist and film composer Andy Daniels – but he also was able to play and learn the game from older people. “Lots of original music, great venue support, people getting paid – it was a wonderful vibe.”
He also found his way to Mark Hill’s studio at Ocean Village – in the days before the Artful Dodger, and met up with Craig David, Aaron Soul and other local musicians. His writing skills developed through a Contemporary Music Degree at Brighton. Expecting to learn jazz, he soon discovered it was a classical music course.
“The first assignment was to write a pastiche of the Rites of Spring, and I thought my world had caved in. But it was an amazing education, writing music and being assessed by some of the best composers in the country.”
Drawn to London to gig, he went on to do a Masters degree at the Guildhall School of Music, where he again was with people who have developed their careers all over the world in jazz and other musical genres.
“What do you do when you have a jazz degree?” Dan smiles, “……you sign on.”
So it was then that the portfolio career developed – writing and producing, and he found his way back to Mark Hill and Craig David. Hill had set up his music writing and publishing company, which eventually was in the Manor in Eling, and Dan spent five years writing for that, gathering some hits – “some with that missing consonant” he jokingly throws in – for Craig, Gareth Gates, Lamar and others.
He lived the lifestyle for a while before things changed and he wanted to move on, picking up teaching gigs that eventually led to working at the University.
“So I’m a pretty damned lucky person,” he says. “I’ve had opportunities(hashtag privilege), but I’ve worked really hard.”
Dan’s too cool to say he’s paid his dues, but he certainly has, and his album Taproot is a testimony to that.
You can preview and purchase the album here:
Top photo: Ash Sealey
Album artwork: Dan Mar-Molinero
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