Andy Ross pop saxophone interview

Andy Ross is the saxophone player for UK funk pioneers Incognito.

In this player profile, Andy talks about how he got started in the music scene as a sax
player and shares tips on how to learn saxophone.

What have you been up to lately?

Touring with UK Jazz/Funk pioneers INCOGNITO.

I played with Incognito as a member of the horn section from 2002 – 2006 and I’ve recorded on most of their albums during and since that time. I’m lucky to be one of the guys Incognito always call back. Bluey [Jean- Paul “Bluey” Maunick] tends to call me up to record the flute parts but I also do an awful lot of the horn section stuff and I still love to play live with them.

Playing in the horn section with Incognito requires a very different approach from playing as a soloist. It’s very much about matching the lead player for phrasing and vibrato, the style can change so much. When you are playing in a brass section that’s brass – heavy, like trumpet and trombone, those guys are playing very straight, and you’re matching them for attack. You’re not using a soloist’s kind of vibrato.

In Incognito, the phrasing gets decided between us as we go – what’s long, what’s short, the dynamics, the pushes and where the cutoffs are. This band has got this very strong stylistic thing – lots of fortepiano, swells, sharp staccatos. I guess the original horn section of Fayyaz [Virji], Patrick Clahar and Kevin Robinson invented that style and we try to keep that in the section now.

Playing in Incognito is very different from if you were doing a blues gig though. I do the Blues Explosion gig sometimes down at Ronnie Scott’s, where I need to play in a different style completely.

But whatever type of section you are playing in, it’s always about the blend. Even in a big band where you would be listening and matching the lead alto player. You always need to be thinking about where you are in the chord and how your sound fits in.

Then when it’s time to solo you get a chance to do a more individual thing and add your personality into it. It’s kind of like being an actor, being part of a team – you are part of the personality of the horn section, then when you solo you bring yourself into it more and let your personality show.

Section playing is what I like to do – I wouldn’t necessarily classify myself as a soloist. I actually started off with flute and it was a natural progression to saxophone. My Dad is a musician, he played with bands in the sixties in Belfast. He knew Van Morrison, he almost joined that band – the thing that prevented it was me coming along!

I went to study in Leeds [College of Music] as a flute player with saxophone as a second study. I had no concept of saxophone sound when I got to Leeds, because I hadn’t been sat next to other saxophone players in Northern Ireland where I was from. I had grown up doing the orchestral thing.

It was my saxophone teacher at Leeds who convinced me to switch to first study on the sax and it was the best thing I could have done. It forced me to really get my sound together. I didn’t forget my flute though and was actually the only person on the Jazz Course who volunteered to play with the orchestra!

Incognito Amplified Soul

As well as recording a number of albums with Incognito, Andy has written and recorded with many artists including Blur, Mick Hucknall (Simply Red), James Morrison and UK Jazz/HipHop group The Herbaliser.

After college I moved to Manchester and was lucky to play in the band “Pocket Central” around 1991-1992. That was a big horn section learning experience for me. “Pocket Central” played a bunch of “Tower of Power” tunes and I wrote a lot of transcriptions for them. The band was fantastic and looking back, so many of the guys went on to do really big gigs. Also in the sax section was Simon Willescroft who now plays with Duran Duran, and Martin Slattery who went on to work with Robbie Williams and Amy Winehouse. The bass player was Neil Fairclough who now plays with Queen. Lots of the other guys have done great too and so it was a wonderful time to be connecting and playing with all these up and coming musicians.

I came down to London after that and got into the Acid Jazz scene with a band called “Akimbo” who were a spin-off of Brand New Heavies. I also met The Herbaliser a band which heavily features horns and which I’m a long time member of.

I played a lot with Neil Yates who’s such a fantastic trumpet player. Neil taught me a lot about blending in a section and about how the sound would really “ring” when you got the intonation and phrasing right. It wasn’t the sound of the two instruments anymore, but this other entity. I guess this was a lot like I had experienced playing in the flute section of an orchestra.

When I’m not out performing I like to work on things in my studio. I record and listen back to myself a lot which is so helpful for improving. Plus it’s great practice for a lot of the session studio work I do where you need record and revise quickly.

I have been fortunate to work with lots of great artists but I really enjoy playing with Incognito. It’s always great to see the audience reaction when we start “Still a friend of mine” or we hit the top of “Talking Loud” and the band is really pumping. It’s difficult to play with a big grin on your face.

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