PortraitJazz#3: Thelonious Monk at the Blackhawk

For the 3rd edition of Portrait Jazz we would like to explore ‘Thelonious Monk at the Blackhawk’, recorded in San Francisco in 1960. By this time, Monk was well renowned as a band leader and composer. For much of the 50’s he had been unable to work in clubs due to his refusal to testify against his friend and fellow pianist Bud Powell in a narcotics case. By 1957 however he was able to play again and this album, although not among he best known, features some of his most memorable compositions. IT was recorded for Riverside Records only two years before Monk moved to Columbia. He was no longer an underrated genius dwindling in obscurity, but on his way to being recognized as one of the giants of jazz.

Portrait Jazz is a jam session every other Tuesday at Unit31. At every edition the house band plays a classic Jazz album from start to finish, after which we will open up for anyone who wants to join and play over various bebop/hard bop standards.


The night will go from 7pm til 11, get down early so you can catch the house set and have enough time to jam aswell. See you there!

House Band

Jackson Mathod – trumpet
Theo Erskine – tenor
Raffy Bushman – piano
Edoardo Bombace – bass
Samuel Michnik – drums

Entry: £5
Free for musicians

INTERVIEW: Piers James

I wanted to start from your motto. Can you tell me something about it? Where did it come from?

I don’t even know where actually it came from. It’s just sort of manifested as I believe, because I’m an artist, I’m used to making statements, like rapping statements. ”Born Artistic To Achieve” resonates with me, because I played piano from a young age. I was always around music: My cousin is a singer, my other cousin is a singer, my boy cousin introduce me to the rap scene, he’s a DJ, my uncle is a DJ, my mum used to play guitar and sing stuff. I was destined to be in music. I feel like anything you want to do, especially in music scene, you can do it as long you believe that you can achieve what you want. So we have — born artistic to achieve. 

Do you think your family wanted you to make music? 

Yeah, definitely. My mum wanted to push the artistic flare into me. When I was younger…

My uncle’s music, for example, has a soul vibe, while my cousin did drum’n’bass, and my other cousin was a part of group called Hectic Squad which was the first Grime Crew based in Ipswich, she was the singer in that group and my other cousin is an actress. I feel like my life has always been based on creative as the norm. 

Do they like your music? 

Yeah, of course. They’re my biggest supporters. My mum listens to my music and always says „your music is so much better than a lot of the crap out there” but is also very critical of the music I make and even says you should do more pop songs n stuff.

Do you really change your music because of these reactions? 

If it’s a personal track I’ve just made for myself, then it doesn’t really matter, but ultimately, I like to just make music that is relatable to people. So, if you feel you can relate to an experience in my songs, then I’ve done my job.

Yeah, this is what is quite interesting for me — how you treat the role of being an artist. Do you really see it as a job? When you create music do you think more about people, or about what you like and feel?

It often depends on my mood. 

Sometimes I just want to make something because I’ve been listening to some Pharrell and Tribe Called Quest and then I just want to make a vibe like that. But, then I produce it and it’s not gonna sound like anything that they’ve made, but it has a base point. I would say I create the music and its sounding maybe like the way it makes me feel — like a „feel good” track — so I would make some major chords, like some piano and have some smooth guitar with it. But then, for example, if I wanna get on my trap shit  then I’m gonna go with some darker or heavier beat, and just do some weird shit. But, ultimately it’s Piers James that comes out in what you hear— and obviously you have to take some inspiration from some places. 

When did you start produce music? 

When I started producing I was really young. I was around 16, but then when I went to uni in London that was the time when I started to use logic properly. Back then, I had this housemate, and he liked hip-hop and was producing music using logic who showed me the ropes but there was this other guy called Miguel Ricoy who was doing a music tech course so he really helped me to understand like EQ. I began to understand how to make beats with my other housemate Chris and then from there we started to make tunes, writing and recording them from a laptop recording, not even from a mic. I remember I had this feeling that this isn’t anything like that in the UK. I felt like I can really do something here … but at the same time it was just Piers James vibe. 

Your music is really eclectic. You called it as a „Piers James” sound, but also you define yourself as a rapper and others have done that. Do you really think that you can put your music in that genre? 

I’m not a rapper, I’m an artist. I just produce, rap, and I sing and therefore I create art. That’s it. People can call me a rapper because I rap thats fine. People can call me singer when I sing. People can call me a beat-maker when I produce a song. When you put all them together and you put a creative a concept over it then you become an artist.

I know you come from small town — does that make things any harder? 

You can make music anywhere. Today, you can use your laptop and I did and some sounds to work on it. Where you are from is not a reason why your music doesn’t pop. But, if the core comes from London and the people that you meet are the opportunities you have. They are much more beneficial than me having a conversation in Ipswich with someone who isn’t in a scene or in the industry. I like to be very open minded and speak to people, to get perspective on things. 

Do you think that you are strongly influenced by the UK music scene?

Of course I am, that’s what I grew up on. When I was 16 that was the first music influence that I had, but ultimately, I think about the UK as just a country. There so many different countries in the world why would I not want my music to sound international. I think sometimes the UK get so rapped up in trying to create the UK sound people forget that we can be a lot bigger if you just put some thought into being yourself whether different from the normal concepts. Now people keep saying that music sounds the same, but I hope what you hear in my music is not stereotypical music. I hope it is deeper, it makes everything better in life.


Wiley  /  Skepta  / The Mitchell Brothers  /  Kano  /  The Choon Family  /  The Streets  /  Swiss  /  Jammer  /   Dizzie Rascal

Is it any difference between you as a person and you as an artist? 

No. I’m exactly the same. Anyone would tell you that the way I’m on a stage and what I’m sticking to my raps and what I do in my life it’s just me. I don’t need to front anybody, I don’t need to prove anything to anybody. I just do what I do. I produce good music. 

The word „achieve” implies reaching a goal. What is your goal? What made you decide that you are „successful” or not as an artist? 

That’s a tough one. Everyone has their own definition of what they consider to be a success, but for me my dream would just be to be able to earn enough money to support the whole fam and be able to just do what I love: go touring, have hundred of thousands people singing my tune with me and just make this feel good vibe around the world. all it takes is for me to put my music out and whatever happens will be. 

Can you decide what is the most important thing? Is it more about the sound, the vibe, or lyrics? 

It’s all about energy . For me, as an artist, there is no better feeling than being on stage and just having people there enjoying what you’re doing because when we’re connecting and you know music is a form of language and it is very expressive. And if they’re having a vibe then it makes me enjoy it even more because it makes me vibes more,.  When you have music as a such a massive thing in your life, especially when you’re at  like a festival or a stadium.  it just feels right. I felt like I was where I needed to be in life. I just wanna be an entertainer. 


Mac Miller – Objects in the Mirror  / A tribe Called Quest – Stressed Out  / 2pac – Do for Love

So, your music is more about entertaining people? Or is there some important message behind your sound beyond entertainment? 

I have different styles to be honest. Sometimes I challenge myself to create a better sound, but, at the same time, if more people like this music that obviously is a good thing, too. When I make music I make it to the best of my ability and then once it’s public, they’re entitled to their own opinions about it. Of course, naturally, you still want people to respect your work. 

But what about your ideology? Often artists create an album to raise some important issue for them because they think that they can change something, that music has power. Sometimes, music aims to solve problems. You said that you used to make statements so my question is if there is a bigger idea behind it? Do you think about your music as a concept? 

I just live through my experiences and what I’ve been through; like friends, family, and stories. Just uplifting stuff, but at the same time keeping them real like, for example, I did one about… you know death tune I would say (‚Lost Ones’) . It was when my cousin’s partner passed away because of cancer when I felt like I needed to put it out there and express the way that I was feeling at that moment and how I can imagine other people would feel going through those sorts of emotions, too.

Everything I’ve been through. Everything I watched, everything I’ve read, everything I’ve seen works as an inspiration for what I’m gonna write about. If all I did was sit and read music that didn’t mean anything and that didn’t say anything, it just would be a two-minute track.

Do you try to avoid making „just” a two-minute track that doesn’t mean something to you?

I wanna make stuff that’s timeless. You know exactly where I was at that point at my life. You know when you have that old school track and you always remember it because of where you were at that place of your life? I wanna make these types of tracks. You were playing this summer track down in LA cruising on the street and just enjoying life. This is like capturing that moment and enjoying that sound. That’s why things are previously so much more special than they are now, because there don’t have as much thought put into the music itself, so when you hear it you think „yeah it’s cool, it’s catchy, but it doesn’t really get me properly. That’s what I wanna bring back to music as a whole I feel like is missing something.


Nas – The World is Yours   /  Jay-Z – So Ambitous   /  Pharrell – Frontin

Do you have any advice for young artists? 

Just be yourself, be patient, and remember not everything is going to go as planned but remained focused, positive and pure and you’ll be successful in the end.