With a “knack for pushing boundaries”, jazz group Empirical are making waves on the scene with their unique live performance style and fresh take on the genre. We spoke to the group about their Nimmo Artist Residency here at WMC, their concerts with Gwilym Simcock and WYJO, and asked them for some top tips for aspiring jazzers...


What inspired you to get into music?

The great strength of Empirical is that we had such different backgrounds and paths into the music. What continues to inspire us in music is playing together - sharing a unique moment with each other and an audience.


Who would be included in your dream collaboration?

We often discuss which of our heroes we would like to work with! Something that is missing from the modern jazz tradition is the idea of apprenticeship. In the past, organisations like The Jazz Messengers, or Miles Davis' band, or Thad Jones Mel Lewis Orchestra would be a platform for high level performance alongside master musicians. A Collaboration along those lines would be amazing learning process - Joe Lovano, Branford Marsalis, Jack DeJohnette...

Also, we are recently fascinated by the classical music tradition - we would love to exchange ideas and collaborate with open minded masters from the classical world - Yoyo Ma for example.

Who inspires you?

We take inspiration from many musicians and thinkers! Too many to mention! In the 12 years of playing together we have studied the music of Eric Dolphy, Andrew Hill, Steve Coleman, Vijay Iyer, Steve Lehman. We are also inspired currently by the great ensembles of our time - The Wayne Shorter Quartet, the LSO - groups where the sum is greater than the parts. We also talk about sport a lot - inspired by boxers, rugby players and tennis players!


What or who have you been listening to recently?

We have a staple listening diet based on the jazz tradition, but recently have been enjoying Craig Taborn's Solo project, Kit Downes (former Empirical member) Dreamlife of Debris and loads of others.


One of the skills a young jazz player needs to develop is improvisation. What would you say is the key to successful improvisation?

Define 'success'. The ultimate goal of any serious improviser is the same as any artist - to express something to an audience. We would encourage a young jazz player to listen, transcribe and play the solos of the masters. This is how we develop the language and emotional communication needed to express ourselves through improvisation.

What makes live music so special, and what do you enjoy about the live experience?

Live music is about sharing a moment - with each other and with the audience. What makes jazz music special, and in particular our take on it, is the true uniqueness of the moment. We increasingly strive to create something different every time so that the audience have a one-off experience. This is different to listening to an album, which is the moment frozen in time for repeated listening.


What is some advice you would give to young musicians hoping to start a career in the industry?

  • Practice loads - on your own and with a group.
  • Be honest with yourself - try not to play music you don't like or don't have an emotional connection with.
  • Have high standards - every gig, every recording, every email, should represent you at your best.


How would you describe your upcoming concert with Gwilym Simcock in February?

This is something we've been looking to do for a while. Gwilym was an inspiration to us when we started out on the London Jazz scene, and he is one of the best pianist-composers we have produced in this country. We have worked with piano before, so have some music that can feature Gwilym and bring a larger dimension to the Empirical sound. Exploring what is possible in this ensemble with a firm root in the jazz tradition.


We increasingly strive to create something different every time so that the audience have a one-off experience.


Empirical will be performing with Gwilym Simcock on Saturday 8th February, and later in the season with the Wiltshire Youth Jazz Orchestra. Steve Vick International are delighted to be supporting EMPIRICAL as major sponsors of their WMC Nimmo Artists in Residence Programme for 2020 and as supporters of the Wiltshire Youth Jazz Orchestra (WYJO). The Residency includes two performances and the creation of a new commission through a three-day writing workshop at the Centre.

Use the links below to book for the upcoming concerts.