PRS for Music Foundation: What impact do you think your involvement New Music 20×12 will have on your work?
Julian Joseph: I think it will make me expand on the dramatic narrative in my palette with movement associated with sport. Following Shadowball, the primary schools’ opera I created with Hackney Music Development Trust, about black baseball players excluded from the Major Leagues, the chance to create the story of African American celebrity Joe Louis as a dance piece, is a great opportunity to continue exploring black sporting heroes and be inspired by1930s and 40s jazz in the context of the 2012 Olympics.
PRSF: Tell us the story of how and why you joined forces with the performers you are working with on this project.
JJ: Out of respect to bring the best possible work forth and to enrich and challenge the lives and perspective of all those involved. The dancers will be drawn from a range of young people from local schools and clubs and I’m looking forward to seeing their response to the story. The band are great colleagues I’ve worked with for years.
PRSF: How are you going to approach creating your new work? What kinds of creative input will the performers and community you are working with have on your work?
JJ: The work will be formed in communion with the creatives involved from conception to the young performers through workshopping ideas to bring fresh and relevant input to the work.
PRSF: Who do you hope to reach through the creation and performance of this work and what do you hope they’ll take away with them?
JJ: I hope to communicate to all and in particular to inspire young people to dream, pursue and achieve their goals with dignity, a sense of honour and pride. We’re aiming to reach some new and different audiences through performing at dance venues, jazz clubs and even a boxing ring!
PRSF: Where do you draw your inspiration and influences? Which creator – musical or otherwise – do you most admire?
JJ: I’m inspired by ordinary people who achieve extraordinary things through hard work, determination and the drive and ambition to succeed. Family, sporting and musical greats and the history of achievement throughout the ages including Joe Louis himself, Max Schmeling and other characters in sport particularly Baseball, artists and writers from the Harlem Renaissance, thinkers and trailblazers like Jackie Robinson, Paul Robeson, W.E.B. DuBois, Josephine Baker and the great musical figures including Fletcher Henderson, George Gershwin, Sidney Bechet, Earl Fatha Hines, Willie The Lion Smith, Mary Lou Williams, Count Basie, Igor Stravinsky, Billie Holiday, Louis Armstrong and Duke Ellington to name but a few!
PRSF: Which Olympic and/or Paralympic Games will you be seeing in 2012? What was your best/favourite sport when you were growing up?
JJ: The athletics is a firm favourite, sports on the water, rowing, canoeing, sailing, swimming. I love the archery and Basketball is a huge passion.
The Brown Bomber is a new jazz dance suite by Julian Joseph based on the heroic boxing battle between American Joe Louis and German Max Schmeling in 1938, bringing to life the connection between two athletes, once adversaries in sport, whose friendship endured despite the ideological opposition by which they were both surrounded. It forms part of HMDT’S secondary school project exploring the lives of black sports heroes and their historical, cultural and sporting legacies, which includes new cross-curricular materials, dance workshops and boxing training. Virtuoso pianist, bandleader, composer, arranger and broadcaster, Julian Joseph is a leading figure on the international jazz scene. As well as four albums for small band, he has written a number of large-scale works for big band and symphony orchestra, given a series at the Wigmore Hall, recorded classical duets combined with his arrangements of jazz greats and collaborated with violinist Viktoria Mullova, cellist Matthew Barley and The Sixteen. He has premiered two operas, Bridgetower (2007) and for HMDT, Shadowball (2010).