Photo credit – Greg Sanders
Can you tell us about your new album?
Recorded as a surprise for my mum Penny whilst she was terminally ill, the album features a specially formed chamber jazz group, Grande Familia, both as a 12 piece ensemble and in smaller combinations, interspersed with solo guitar vignettes. It includes one of my cousins Jonas on bass (the person who first got me into jazz), my first cousin once removed Dijan on flute and my girlfriend Teresa on viola, alongside eight musicians special to me (Mike Soper, Olli Martin, Anna Drysdale, Angus Bayley, Chris Williams, Gustavo Clayton Marrucci, Tom Ridout and Greg Sanders, who co-produced the album and played shaker on one track!)
In March 2023 my mum was diagnosed with terminal pancreatic cancer. Myself, Teresa my cousins Dijan and Jonas performed for her at a family gathering in over the Easter weekend. She loved it, so I decided to make this charity album as a surprise for her, generously supported by friends and family. She was able to hear and watch videos of six of the tracks, but four solo guitar pieces were recorded two weeks after her death in August. Penny realised how fortunate she was to have access to such good cancer care, compared to others around the world, so we chose to raise money for World Child Cancer, a charity that helps children to beat cancer in developing countries. So far we’ve raised £3,500 thanks to people’s generosity and help spreading the word. Penny was an artist, and the album and single artworks feature her striking paintings. There are also videos of us recording some of the pieces available on YouTube, which were beautifully shot by Ted Smith. The album launch gig, with the full 12 piece Grande Família ensemble, is at the Pizza Express Jazz Club Soho on the 13th May, where we’ll also be joined by the incredible drummer Tom Potter.
What other projects are you currently involved with?
Huw V Williams Di-Cysgodion – double guitar band with Mike De Souza and Jay Davis. – Patchwork Jazz Orchestra (you can hear my composition Genmaicha on their latest record, The Light That Shines).
Taraanga – project led by Jack Perry-Cockings combining jazz with Sabar, recording debut album in March. – Billy Marrows Big Band, recently played our first gig at the Vortex in the 2023 London Jazz Festival.
Billy Marrows Band – with Chris Williams, Huw V Williams and Jay Davis, recently played with a trio version of this band for the Vortex’s new Jazz und Wine series. We also have an album in the pipeline.
What are you currently listening to and what was the last CD or download you bought?
Last CD purchase: Brooklyn Babylon and Dynamic Maximum Tension, both by New York based big band Darcy James Argue’s Secret Society. I bought them at their gig at the Jazz Gallery in New York when I was there in January. I first heard Brooklyn Babylon about 6 years ago. It’s a suite of thematically connected pieces that accompanies a silent animation, which is beautifully written, played and recorded. It was very inspiring to me and led me to analyse the score (which is freely available on Darcy’s website) and have some composition lessons with Darcy funded by Help Musicians. It was great to finally see the band live and get a physical copy of this album and Darcy’s latest release too. Currently listening to View With A Room by Julian Lage and the new singles from his upcoming album Speak To Me. Olympians by Vince Mendoza and Metropole Orkest, Laugh Ash – the new Ches Smith record and Different Trains by Steve Reich.
What is your all-time favourite album and why?
That’s a hard question but I’m going to say Heavy Weather by Weather Report – I have a distinct memory of listening to this on repeat as a 17/18 year old whilst walking round the streets of the village I grew up, after dark. It has such strong compositions, melodies and is so well produced. I also love the outro to ‘Birdland’ when Joe Zawinul solos over the fade out.
Who has caught your attention recently that we should be listening out for?
Pedro Martins – not that he’s particularly new, and I’ve loved his playing and music for a while, but I was totally blow away by his band at the New York Winter Jazz Festival in January – and it was also really cool to see them play one of my favourite Weather Report tunes ‘Young and Fine’ (I was in NY with my cousin Jonas, who’s playing bass on my album – he befriended Jaco’s son Felix Pastorius, and they sang along to this tune together!). Pedro also played some unbelievable solos on Genevieve Artardi’s set. I love his 2019 record VOX, as well as his newer releases – I find he has depth to his sound and melodies/solos that really touches me emotionally and I think he’s going to be one of the jazz guitar greats.
Click here to buy a copy of Penelope by Billy Marrows + Grande Família and support World Child Cancer