Iain Ballamy

iain ballamy

I first heard Iain on a recording of Loose Tubes when I was a teenager and I think I was about 18 when I had my first lesson with him. I have quite a few memories of Iain playing – here are a couple I’d like to share:

Django Bates was touring with his Quiet Nights band and I went to hear them in Birmingham. They were playing “Somewhere Over the Rainbow” and there was this incredible moment where the voice of Josefine Cronholm merged into the sound of Iain’s tenor and that memory has stayed with me for life (you can hear it on the album too). In fact it inspired me to mimic that effect in my own band Tangent, but blending sax into cello instead.

Another great memory was hearing Iain play with Kenny Werner at the Wigmore Hall. Iain only played a few tunes but it made such a huge impression on me – they called a few tunes on the spot – one of them was Giant Steps… I don’t think I’ve ever heard anyone else reinvent that tune so successfully.

To see Iain’s full biography click here

So, to the interview…

What’s your favourite kind of jam?

– Blackcurrant


I was asked to ask you ‘Why did you pose as a caveman on the cover of All Men Amen?’

– It was a holiday photo taken in Italy – not a posed photo. The city background was added by a designer. I just liked it (unlike my mum who was horrified!)


I understand you like going to auctions, what was the most recent one you went to? And what did you bid on?

– It was a Gorgona Anchovy paste pot at an auction in Chelsea – I was out bid!


How many saxophones do you own?

– I have quite a few but some of them don’t work – they’re like rescue donkeys that I felt sorry for and gave a home – obsolete, redundant or with bits missing (retirement projects)


Can you talk a little about your introduction to music? I believe your father knows quite a considerable number of tunes!

– My father Mark is a semi pro jazz pianist. He can’t read a note but knows about 1500 tunes and is into Herbie, Brad, Bill Evans, John Taylor etc


If you could bring back one musician, who would it be?

– Art Tatum or Jaco


What’s your favourite folk song?

-There are so many – I love one I picked up a devotional song called a Bhajan in Kerela a few years ago which I am very fond of but I like Danny boy as well!


Do you feel your music has ever been mis-understood? Is there anything you’d like to clear up?

– Not really – its more about what other people make of it than what is supposed to “mean” I think…


Or is it good to create a bit of confusion?

– Not something I strive to create, perhaps it’s a by-product?


So you’re in Norway right now, what are you up to?

– Choosing material for our next Food CD from concert performances last year and studio sessions at Rainbow


And when can we expect it to be released on ECM?

– Hopefully in the autumn!


Has Manfred bought you a drink yet?

– No but he gave me a beautiful book of Arvo Part scores from Tabula Rasa for Christmas and that was better than any sherry!


So could you see yourself recording some Arvo Part at some point in the future?

– That would be a dream come true – and I believe they can!


People are always telling us to think outside the box, should we ever be looking inside?

– Assuming there is a box at all, then I’d say yes


Iain will be playing at the Forge on March 28th with Thomas Stronen

‘Food’ on ECM

Iain’s website