Get to Know | Vij Prakash

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In the first of our 'Get to Know' series, we talk to trombonist and jazz educator, Vij Prakash

In this series, we’re going to ask a series of questions, to a series of people. It’s that simple really! It could be someone from within the NYJO family, someone we’ve collaborated with or just someone we think you’ll find as interesting as we do.

After graduating from the Guildhall School of Music’s Jazz Masters’ Course, trombonist Vij Prakash was then offered the Jazz Fellowship post. Through his own musical projects, which include the Brass Funkeys, Pacha Yana and the Jitter Kings, Vij has performed at an array of prestigious venues and festivals around the world, including The North Sea Jazz Festival, Glastonbury, Montreux Jazz Festival, Ronnie Scott’s, Budapest Jazz Club and Havana Jazz Club.  

As an educator, Vij has run workshops for the Barbican Centre, Spitalfields Music, London Music Masters, Cambridge Jazz Festival, Band in a Day, Share-Music Southwest and NYJO’s national L&P programme amongst others.

Get to Know | Vij Prakash

Hey Vij! Just because it’s an interview doesn’t mean we should forget our manners… How have you been?

Definitely up and down! This past year has been a very big change to my musical life and I’ve had to do some adjusting and learning along the way. Sometimes that can feel exciting and present new opportunities, which I’ve been very grateful for, such as delving into the tech side of things and learning how to mix and produce music. Other times I definitely miss being able to play music with my friends and colleagues.

We decided to talk to you first because you’ll be taking on a bigger role at NYJO’s Academy this year (and also because you’re very nice). What do you hope to get out of it?

I’m really excited about getting the opportunity to work more closely with some of the musicians involved in NYJO Academy. Education is such a big part of being in a music community and also of my own musical growth. Every time I get to work with a piece of music I thought I knew I always learn something new!

Vij performs live with the Brass Funkeys at Cambridge Junction

How did you first get involved in NYJO?

My first real contact with the NYJO team was when I was coaching on a youth project for the Lincoln Centre Jazz Orchestra at the Barbican. Towards the end of the project members of NYJO came to participate and help. I was really impressed with the attitude of the NYJO players with the other young musicians.

Why is it important for young musicians to learn how to play with others?

The sense of community and collaboration in creative music is so key. I think there’s as much to learn from each other as there is from tutors. Also the journey can be frustrating at times and it’s great to know there are other people working through it and finding their own challenges. Plus it’s a great way to make new friends!

Brass Funkeys play ‘Just a Closer Walk with Thee’ (trad) live at Love Supreme Festival 2018

Do you think jazz has specific benefits for young musicians starting their musical journey?

I believe that learning jazz music is really valuable for musicans of all levels. The ability to learn through aural methods, improvise and be creative on your instrument helps develop a close connection between you and your instrument. It can also push you to be able to play and hear things you didn’t think you were capable of.

What first attracted you to the Trombone? How old were you when you started playing?

I actually spent the first 10 years of my musical life as a trumpet player, with my main influences being Louis Armstrong, Miles Davis and Lee Morgan. After having braces on my teeth I ended up switching to the trombone. It was a tough decision at the time but I haven’t looked back and now find the way the trombone is able to mimic the voice makes it really unique.

Vij and Pacha Yama Recorded live at Guildhall School of Music & Drama

Global pandemic aside, what will you remember 2020 by?

Looking back over the year I feel lucky to have been able to spend a lot of time outdoors in the summer and with my family. I have also spent a lot of long nights sitting at my computer learning about music production so I suppose it has all balanced out!

Who is the most influential artists of your life/career?

The artist I always go back to for many reasons is John Coltrane. I think the main reason is that as soon as you hear one note you know exactly who it is. His sound is so intensely expressive there never feels like a moment he is holding anything back.

If you were going through lockdown in your teens or 20s, knowing what you know today – what advice would you give yourself?

Don’t put pressure on yourself to achieve things, there are times when you won’t feel like it but those times will pass. Embrace them and do something else when you don’t feel like being productive.

Desert island discs, you know the drill: eight tracks, a book, and a luxury. What would you take to a desert island?

John Coltrane – ‘Ballads’
Brad Mehldau – ‘Art of the Trio 4’
Radiohead – ‘Amnesiac’
Kenny Wheeler – ‘Music for Large and Small Ensembles’
Art Ensemble of Chicago – ‘Fanfare for the Warriors’
Bill Frisell – ‘Bill Frisell Quartet’
Christian Muthspiel 4 – ‘Seaven Teares’
Stevie Wonder – ‘Hotter Than July’

Book: I don’t tend to re-read books so I’d probably take The Tripitaka as I’ve always been fascinated by Buddhist philosophy.

Luxury: Can I take my trombone with me?!?

You absolutely can. Jazz, Radiohead, Buddhism and a trombone. There’ll certainly be some ups and down and it may not be for everyone, but this island sounds fantastic.

We don’t know about you guys – but that was excellent. Next week we’ll be back with another special guest interview for you to avidly consume with an almost worrying ferocity. Until then… ✌️

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