Callum Au — The Hottest Talent In The 2022 UK Jazz Scene
Callum Au is the man of the moment in the current UK jazz scene and if you have not heard about him yet, or listened to his work, please take the time to revel in his brilliance.
Working as a trombonist, arranger, orchestrator and composer, Callum Au is one of the most exciting talents in the UK jazz scene today.
The 32-year-old trombonist who grew up in Blackpool has a CV to die for. It was as a member of the National Youth Jazz Orchestra (NYJO) in 2005 as a 15-year-old and later progressing to become principal trombonist from 2008–12 that he met his greatest influence and arguably one of the greatest influences on the UK jazz scene is the past 40 years — Bill Ashton. Under Bill’s tutelage, Callum refined his art of arranging, producing over 100 arrangements for the jazz band during this time.
Callum is now one of the busiest arrangers and orchestrator in the UK, having worked with greats such as Quincy Jones, Jamie Callum, Matthew Ford, Clare Teal and Maria Schneider. Since 2012, he has also been a member of Ronnie Scott’s Jazz Orchestra, one of the UK’s premier large jazz ensembles, where he has arranged a substantial proportion of the band’s working repertoire.
But it is his achievements in the past couple of years which have really seen his career take off, and why you really must check him out.
I first encountered Callum in 2019 when he brought his Quintet-a-Tete — a five-piece jazz ensemble — to play in the Bury St Edmunds Festival. I was working as an English teacher in the UK at the time and was not convinced that work would give me the afternoon off to attend a jazz concert, so I decided to organize a school trip and brought a whole class of 30 teenagers (most of whom had never attended such a concert before), a deputy head and a cover supervisor, to hear the quintet in the Apex, and what fun we had. After being stuck in traffic for an hour on the M11 (as so often happens!) the concert was at least 45 minutes late starting, but Callum and his trumpeter friend, James Davidson were totally engaging and highly entertaining; the teenagers returned to school with a spring in their step.
So, it has been my privilege to follow this young artist’s career since that day, and what a career he is carving out for himself.
Into the Unknown— Frozen
Lockdown, a challenging time for many musicians, was a hive of activity for Callum. An arrangement of the track Into the Unknown from the Disney film Frozen, originally conceived in 2015 with his friend and high note superstar, Louis Dowdeswell in a relatively auspicious green room in the Apex Theatre in Bury St Edmunds, brought children and brass players alike much cheer in those lonely Covid-filled days. This arrangement and other Disney tracks have amassed over 8 million views on Louis’s YouTube channel and were certainly favourites in our house at the time.
The Ultimate Big Band ToolKit
Lockdown also brought the Ultimate Big Band ToolKit, the Musicians’ Guide to the Big Band by Callum and Louis Dowdeswell: a series of pieces written and designed to help student and amateur alike to experience that big band sound from the comfort of your home while simultaneously improving sightreading and improvisation skills. A most useful aid for any budding jazz enthusiasts, keen to sharpen their craft.
Songs and Stories — Claire Martin
A collaboration with Claire Martin on her first big band album Songs and Stories (2020) followed, winning the Album of the Year in the 2021 Parliamentary Jazz Awards, and earning a stream of glowing reviews. The album features a 70-piece orchestra and big band which Callum paid for himself, as it was the easiest way to get something done if you want it done properly. Callum knew many of the players who offered their services at a reduced rate, but such was the quality of these musicians, that the album was recorded without rehearsals, on just three takes: with just two three-hour sessions on day one for the orchestra, and just one four-hour session on day two for the big band.
Only the rhythm section rehearsed before recording, to ensure they were in the groove. A phenomenal feat, and a great tribute to the amazing level of musicianship and production on display in that recording studio on those two days.
Higher — Michael Bublé
It is Callum’s collaboration with Michael Bublé on the 2022 album Higher which for me really signals a change in pace for this young UK talent. Callum worked as co-arranger on a number of tracks with a brief to breathe new life into classic standards such as A Nightingale Sang in Berkeley Square, once again aided by his long-time collaborator Louis Dowdeswell with his signature high notes at the end of the track… I will leave you to judge for yourselves if Callum fulfilled the brief!
Theatre — Joe Stilgoe and the Metropole Orkest
Collaborations with the mighty Joe Stilgoe and the Metrople Orkest on the newly released album Theatre continue this run of amazing achievements. The premiere of the album in the Barbican, London with the BBC Concert Orchestra on May 2nd, 2022, feature The King’s New Clothes, Jellicle Songs for Jellicle Cats and No More, Not While I’m Around, all arranged by Callum. And in a completely surreal twist of circumstance, the Metrople Orkest, the largest full-time jazz/pop orchestra of its kind in the world, is playing in my local theatre, the Wilminktheater, here in Enschede this evening as I sit and write, in a tribute concert to Toot Thielman on what would have been his 100th birthday. And probably the reason they were not available for the Barbican premier!
Louis Dowdeswell Big Band & The Cory Band
And as if all this were not enough, Callum also provided arrangements for the Louis Dowdeswell Big Band and the European Brass Band Champions and #1 Brass Band in the world, the Cory Band, in a fantastic concert in Birmingham Symphony Hall on Saturday 30th April and live streamed to the world. Callum even played in the concert, and you know, why not when you are as talented as he undoubtedly is.
I am exhausted just writing about all these achievements, never mind having the creativity and skill to produce music of such intellectual and emotional integrity.
I thank the day I decided to take my entire English class to listen to a five-piece jazz quintet one Friday afternoon in May and look forward to many more years of musical excellence from this most exciting UK talent.