Sultan Stevenson | Interview | New Album, ‘Faithful One’

Uncategorized April 17, 2024

Sultan Stevenson | Interview | New Album, ‘Faithful One’

The ‘Faithful One’ album stands as a testament to Sultan’s artistic maturity and originality, embodying his profound awareness of heritage and innovative spirit.

Sultan, a Londoner with Caribbean roots, melds his Christian faith with a diverse musical palette, drawing inspiration from jazz greats like McCoy Tyner and Herbie Hancock. Through compositions like ‘Guilty by Association,’ he communicates with a quiet intensity, eschewing bombast for meaningful musical dialogue, while Denys Baptiste’s contribution underscores the intergenerational legacy of Tomorrow’s Warriors, enriching Sultan’s musical narrative.

Among the stellar lineup at the Cheltenham Jazz Festival this spring, British jazz pianist Sultan Stevenson will grace the stage, showcasing his innovative talent alongside other renowned musicians from around the world.

“I want to evoke the spirit of dance also”

Could you tell us about your journey into jazz music? How have your musical tastes and influences evolved over the years, and how do they manifest in your current work?

Sultan Stevenson: Some of my earliest musical experiences came from my dad, John Stevenson. He used to host a jazz radio show in Barbados, where my family originates from. He received numerous CD releases, ranging from Wynton Marsalis to Vijay Iyer. I absorbed a lot of this music, which inspired me to start taking piano lessons.

Are you excited about the Cheltenham Jazz Festival? What can audiences expect from your performance this year?

I’ve known about the Cheltenham Jazz Festival for quite a while now. I first heard about it through my love for Gregory Porter. I remember watching videos of him singing when I was in my early teens. This will actually be my third appearance at the festival, and I’m very excited about it this time as I’ll be performing at the Parabola Arts Centre. Audiences can expect to leave the concert feeling uplifted and truly blessed.

Your music often blends elements of traditional jazz with more contemporary sounds. Your roots in the Caribbean and your London upbringing seem to have deeply influenced your musical style. How do you navigate this balance in your compositions?

I try to integrate these inspirations in a way that brings joy to the audience and offers insight into my world. I want to evoke the spirit of dance also.

Walk us through your creative process when composing new music. How do you typically begin a piece, and how does it evolve from there?

There are many ways I approach it – usually through a harmonic theme, what some might call a vamp. From there, I flesh out the melody and sub-themes. I strive for each composition to be a different world, allowing the listener to experience the many facets of it.

On that note, what are some of the most memorable moments working on your debut album, ‘Faithful One’?

Definitely working with Denys Baptiste who’s been a great mentor and teacher to me.

“To explore the middle ground between gospel music and jazz”

Can you elaborate on the concept behind the album and how these diverse elements come together?

The concept is reasonably simple – to explore the middle ground between gospel music and jazz. It’s also to present a series of compositions that are like a book or narrative.

Can you discuss the dynamic between you and your bandmates and how it contributes to the overall sound of ‘Faithful One’?

Joel Waters the drummer of the band has always had a great understanding of unity and drama. My work is often very rhythmic, so he does a great job at realizing this! Jacob Gryn is comfortable with grounding the band. He provides a great balance to the chaos that often takes place.

The presence of saxophonist Denys Baptiste on the album seems significant. How did his involvement impact the recording process and the overall vibe of the album?

Denys was one of my teachers at Tomorrow’s Warriors. He was one of Tomorrow’s Warriors’ first students. Having him on the record is a privilege as he is a well-known and experienced tenor player within the London Jazz Scene. He is also my way of honoring the legacy of Tomorrow’s Warriors.

What are some of the most important players that influenced your own style and what in particular did they employ in their playing that you liked?

Heavily influenced by McCoy Tyner and Kenny Kirkland, though for my approach to composition, I take a lot of inspiration from Geri Allen, she is very important to me. The way she can inject a sense of freedom into her pieces. It allows the players to come to their own conclusions.

I recognize I’m still very young. My style and sound are constantly developing. I have a lot of work to do still. I hope to be a more rounded player, to absorb more of the vast canon of jazz piano. I’d like to think there’s a humility to my playing. I don’t like to be flashy; I rely a lot on instigating drama within my trio whereas other pianists may use complex academic musical concepts. For me, the most important thing is the narrative I’m creating through my composition or improvisation.

Looking ahead, what are your aspirations for the future of your music career, and how do you envision your sound evolving in the years to come?

Actually, we recorded the second album back in February 2023! I won’t say too much on it now, but I can say I really love it! I think of albums a bit like TV shows, they all have different seasons to them. The second album is a bit like a season 2 of the same show. It has elements of ‘Faithful One’ but in my opinion is deeper, more implicit, and more condensed. You can expect it in 2025.

Have you found something new lately you would like to recommend to our readers?

Yes! The genius of Marcus Roberts. The album ‘The Truth Is Spoken Here’

Klemen Breznikar

Sultan Stevenson Official Website / Instagram
Whirlwind Recordings Official Website / Facebook / Instagram / Twitter / Bandcamp / YouTube

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