Bristol Jam: An Interview with Charles Hazlewood

Having conducted at the closing ceremony of the Paralympics this summer, Charles Hazlewood is now touring Norway before embarking on a series of dates ranging from Newcastle to Chicago. To say he is a man in demand is rather an understatement. Which is why we’re delighted to welcome him back for another performance with his All Star Collective. We collared him between flights to ask him about Bristol Jam and improvisation.


What will you be doing at Jam?
We are doing a sequence of free musical responses to Christopher Logue’s epic retelling of the first part of the Iliad, ‘Kings’. As the words unfold, we will respond to the rhythms of the text, underscore or amplify the narrative, create musical dimensions to it, drive it in new, even unexpected directions.
This long-standing, but largely forgotten tradition is called Mélodrame, where music acts as equal partner to dramatic text.

With my long term collaborator Will Gregory (Goldfrapp) and his Gas Giants, plus virtuoso clarinettist Lloyd Coleman from the British Paraorchestra and the stunning early music soprano Sophie Daneman, starting points musically will be as wide-ranging as John Dowland’s exquisite sixteenth century ballads, psychedelia, proto-minimalism and the Radiophonic Workshop.

Jam is about improvisation and the unexpected. What do you hope might happen?
I hope we will discover a whole new, implicit drama in Logue’s stunning texts. And where better than in the intimate vortex which is Bristol Old Vic’s auditorium?

What moments in your life have caused you to deal with the unexpected or have forced you to improvise?
The first time I conducted a major new work, when I was a student. Some bright spark thought it would be fun to swap the pages of my score around, between dress rehearsal and gig. The performance began. Page 1. Then page 64. Then page 39. Nightmare. Not an easy piece. Luckily I knew it well, and that coupled with young-man’s-furious-determination meant we did a very exciting performance.

Have you been to Jam before?
Yes, we played a set based around Terry Riley’s A Rainbow in Curved Air two years ago.

Why are you a committed improviser?
Because improvisation lies at the heart of life! Sadly all too few musicians see this, that it is often beyond the established story that real revelations occur! I am sure it is good for you, like horror films and vindaloo they get the blood pumping. Improvisation is actually as freeing (and potentially disastrous) as sky diving. 

Charles Hazlewood’s All Star Collective will be performing on Sat 10 Nov at Bristol Old Vic. Tickets can be booked through our box office (0117 987 7877) or on our website:




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