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Interview with swing band leader Jimmy Cannon of The Jazz Cannons

This as a recent interview with Jimmy Cannon, The Jazz Cannons band leader. While the quality isn't perfection the content is fantastic. Jimmy answers numerous questions that we get asked frequently by clients looking to book the band for their event. If you have a list of questions then the answers are likely to be here. We've tried to cram in as much info as possible so it's worth watching the full 15 mins. Enjoy...

 

A transcription of the video is below:

Brad: I have Jimmy Cannon here, who is band leader, lead singer and sax player for the wonderful swing band The Jazz Cannons, how are you Jimmy? 

Jimmy Cannon: Very well, Brad. Very Well indeed, thank you.
 
Brad: Good stuff, thanks for letting us have some of your time here, we are going to ask you a few questions, just to get to know you a little bit, get to understand a little bit more about what the band has to offer. So, let's kick off! Jimmy, how long have you been a musician for?
 
Jimmy Cannon: I've been a musician for a good 25 years. I started off when I was 16, what does that make me?
 
Brad: Makes you nearly 40.
 
Jimmy Cannon: Nearly 40. A bit scary, playing saxophone in swing bands and jazz bands for many years.
 
Brad: That's good, that is some good grounding. Have you had much formal, kind of music education in that sense, or just comes from the streets, so to speak?
 
Jimmy Cannon: Yeah,I was predominantly self-thought and cut my teeth on the street, "Down with the kids" was the name of the game butIdecidedIwant to go to music college and did a post grad in jazz performance and big band composition.
 
Brad: Ok, so how many years is that?
 
Jimmy Cannon: 3 years all together.
 
Brad: Ok, ok so that gives us a nice interesting background so you have a little grounding in very much the style of swing jazz music which you now perform for a living, right?
 
Jimmy Cannon: Yes, pretty much. I've always been into Jazz and particularly swing so the big band era, that classic 60s sound for me with the big bands and Frank Sinatra and that could come, it's always been a passion to me to listen to and really dig that sound. So, the whole big band thing was a good option at college to play in.
 
Brad: Great, so when did the Jazz Cannons swing band form?
 
Jimmy Cannon: Well,I finished around 2002, 2003 at Trinity. Then I started my own swing big band, I ran that for 2 or 3 years , I then decided that it was a lot of hard work to keep a 17 piece big band going. I thought it would be much easier to get a smaller swing band and then match with the saxophone player, my partner andI are in the band. We got together the band, we got together Jazz Cannons.
 
Brad: So what year was that?
 
Jimmy Cannon: I suppose that would be about 2005, 2006. We have been together for how long then?
 
Brad: That's 6 years or so.
 
Jimmy Cannon: Six years, yeah.
 
Brad: Right, great. Presumably you work full time and you are a professional musician with that band then aren't you, is that the case?
 
Jimmy Cannon: Well, yeah, that is probably my main source of income, is the band. We are quite prolific, we do a lot of different areas, we are playing...
 
Brad: Carry on.
 
Jimmy Cannon: We play all over the place, different types of functions, a lot of weddings, a lot of corporate gigs that we do, in various guises. Well so I did a lot of gigs as a trio so that's with just the piano and the bass and myself singing, playing saxophone as well obviously. So we can do the trio, and we recently got the 9-piece together aswell.
 
Brad: Ok so primarily, really what the Jazz Cannon offer really is the 7-piece is that right? What's that made of?
 
Jimmy Cannon: The 7-piece is our main line-up, that is three horns, that is trumpet, trombone, saxophone and myself singing with a rhythm section. Well, the rhythm section consists of piano bass drums.
 
Brad: Ok, and primarily what kind of styles do you play as a band?
 
Jimmy Cannon: We do swing, the rat pack type of swing, as in all the Dean Martin Frank Sinatra, Nat King Cole, even thought Nat King Cole isn't really about that but, that classic 60s swing. Over the years we've realized that it was a good idea to diversify stylistically into something a little bit more accessible to a party, you know one that you can dance to. So we didn't want to go down the normal function band road and do whatever every band does and just do sort of hits, 60, 70 hits, pop hits, we also wanted to do the tunes that we love playing and really respect as classic songs but do them in our way.
 
Brad: Can you give some examples of those?
 
Jimmy Cannon: Yeah, so we do some Andy Williams, we do some Tom Jones, so we do "It's not unusual"- Tom Jones, it's very showy, very kind of up tempo, Las Vegas show big band, that is kind of what we are into, we just have a really good time.
 
Brad: How would an average kind of performance go? Obviously there is no such average performance with Jazz Cannons but how would a normal kind of performance schedule go? What would you normally start with and how would that progress through, then?
 
Jimmy Cannon: Well, let's just say if we’re a swing band for weddings we generally have a first dance, that is either one we we know, anyway that they have chosen from the repertoire on the website and sometimes they request a song but we got range, we do what is suitable to start music that we generally do. We start normally with something like "Bossa Nova Baby" which is an obvious tune which is quite up, very twisty, we want people to just get up and dance straight away. Normally, there would be a little bit of a slow so that would be one song there people just want to have a slow dance with.
 
Brad: No, no it's fine, I was going to ask you, you find people do very much kind of get on the dance floor right from the get-go, that is what you want, right?
 
Jimmy Cannon: Definitely, especially if it's a wedding and it's the first dance, everybody is up there, and everybody feels obliged, to be honest to get up there, even though they have probably just had a big meal or they just have a little bit of pudding and the coffee and that little bit stuffed so they don't necessarily want get up from the table and dance but I always...
 
Brad: You bring them right to the dancefloor.
 
Jimmy Cannon: Yeah, get them up really, on the dancefloor and just get involved with the first dance with the couple, or even if it's a corporate event, we don't want the employer to do a show and to get people having a party and a good time so I feel very much obliged, that's half of my job - to get people up and dancing and enjoying themselves. Otherwise, you might aswell take a record or a CD, or to have, you know a DJ and they will just put some music on, just playing in the background. We are there to entertain, we are there to get people up dancing and that's it. As soon as people are dancing, your job is to keep them there. Go on.
 
Brad: Ok so you are very much kind of ticking all of those boxes in terms of making sure that you keep that dance floor full, so the kind of repertoire that does that just to kind of sum up there is very much the up-tempo, but a swing style moving into kind of some latin, up tempo latin stuff aswell and there it's a more iconic classic open for later into the evening, would that be right?
 
Jimmy Cannon: Yeah, we realize that medium swing tempos do not really work, although we have got a couple of classic ballads and swing tempos for the older generation.
 
Brad: So, you have kind of learned in all the years and you are literally hundreds of shows later, you have learned what works and what doesn't work and you put that to the test and you have obviously changed your set-list throughout the years.
 
Jimmy Cannon: Yeah, absolutely I mean we have got pretty much, we have what we call a pad of music. Everybody has the same pad and all the instruments have their own music. We start from beginning and we go through, now if it's not working for some reason we will skip a tune, we will go back we will go forward three or four tunes just to get to find what tune that is going to work for that situation, that occasion.
 
Brad: So you just got what musicians call: "reading the room", is that right?
 
Jimmy Cannon: That's right, yeah. We read the room, a lot of the time actually, we will do "The way you look tonight" [Singing] We will do that so it's a nice sort of quick step, very nice little jazzy, slow but people love that, it's very nostalgic, it's very romantic. And then, you will find that people often have done 4-5 really up tempo latin big show latin type numbers that are very straight quaivers and are really quite fast. People actually want just to have a nice dance, just to be close to one another, so we will do maybe another one, maybe we might do say, "Love" or "Let there be love" or something in that vain, like a slow, you know that might be the type of song that people want. If they leave the dancefloor then we would quickly move on to something else that is going to be a more up-tempo and change the plays. That is the most important thing, we have got to read the room.Imean there is a limit, we can't do, we are not going to do "Beyonce" because...
 
Brad: It just doesn't work with the band line-up.
 
Jimmy Cannon: It's just not fitting into the band line-up.
 
Brad: Yeah, fair enough, you have to kind of draw that line aswell where you have to do requests aswell.
 
Jimmy Cannon: Yeah, exactly,I mean we are looking to...
 
Brad: Something that might sound better on a record than you have been playing, live it like that then.
 
Jimmy Cannon: Yeah, we are always up for requests and generally we can do pretty much anything but there is a limit.I mean we don't do Beyonce,... we are not a disco band, we do party stuff but is very much in that sort of a retro 60s swing era.
 
Brad: That is a sophisticated band for a party rather than a party band.
 
Jimmy Cannon: Exactly, absolutely.
 
Brad: Ok, good stuff. Ok well listen we are kind of coming to the end here, I will just have to double check with you many prestigious clients this days want to get out see the band live before they book. You play regularly, don't you? Where do you play briefly?
 
Jimmy Cannon: We do Dower Street, Wine Bar in Mayfair, we play there every month.I play in a restaurant called Roast in Borough Market with a trio. You don’t get to see the whole band but you get to see me, which is all you need to see.
 
Brad: Great stuff, ok and anybody looking to book you can just get in touch with Brad through the contact form on the website, that is right.
 
Jimmy Cannon: Absolutely.
 
Brad: I'm refering to Brad, I am Brad, just request to go on the guest list there, there is no problem at all. What you can expect from a live show at Dover Street for example, it's pretty similar to what you can expect at a wedding, functional corporate event?
 
Jimmy Cannon: Yes, the only difference between what we do at Dover St and what we do at private or corporate events would be that is the sound is controlled generally by me, so actually I would say that the sound is better when we use our PA. I am pretty good with sound, I am very conscious about getting a really good sound that encourages the band to play well and then people to dance.
 
Brad: Sure.
 
Jimmy Cannon: So it's a better sound and also, there is a different clientele at Dover street, it's pretty watching rather than dancing.
 
Brad: So, people should just kind of think about that when they get down there and check you out, you are always willing to have a chat with people which is great aswell. Well, listen, we have come to the end of the time now.
 
Jimmy Cannon: Sure, ok.
 
Brad: Listen, thanks for your time Jimmy.
 
Jimmy Cannon: No problem Brad, lets do this again.
 
Brad: If they have any more questions, they just need to get in touch with us through the website. Thanks a lot.
 
Jimmy Cannon: Bye!