There was no dramatic epiphany jazz moment for saxophonist Cath Roberts. Sorry about that, dear expectant reader. She did not discover a John Coltrane album tucked away in a relativeâ€™s collection of LPs; she did not go by chance to a gig and get swept away by a life changing performance, nor was there a double-shot espresso blinding light on the road to the Monmouth Coffee Company where she works. So how come this young musician is involved in running jazz nights at London venues, playing impressive alto and baritone saxophone, composing good original music and leading a seven-piece band? Good question. Cath Roberts was born in Leicester and then moved to Northamptonshire with her family. Her parents are not musicians, although her mother loves music, and there are several instrumentalists/teachers on her side of the family. The first inkling of an answer to our question comes when Cath was nine. She decided she wanted to play the saxophone. Her teacher suggested that she should try the clarinet â€“ easier to handle for a nine-year old. Cath dug in her heels and insisted on the saxophone. She took lessons part time from a teacher who at one point introduced her to Charlie Parkerâ€™s music, but there was no particular focus on jazz. She worked her way up to grade 8 in classical saxophone and oboe. She no longer has the oboe, but it raises an interesting idea about the role of the instrument in a jazz setting. â€˜There is an amazing county music service in Northamptonshire,â€™ says Cath. â€˜At fourteen or so I joined the county music groups, but I wasn't listening to jazz, it was more rock, metal and hip hop. It was at the music service that I first became involved in big bands, and I continued to pursue playing with a big band at Warwick University while studying English Literature. At Warwick I also got into playing in small jazz groups connected with the Uni. big band.â€™ Leaving Warwick, Cath took a place at Goldsmithâ€™s College to read Cultural Studies for her MA. During her time at Goldsmithâ€™s she continued to play for function gigs with soul bands and some jazz groups, and by the time her course finished, she knew that she wanted to pursue music and so applied to the Guildhall School of Music and Drama. Prompt the second clue to the answer to our earlier question about Cath: â€˜I wanted to get in to Guildhall,â€™ she says. â€˜I was living in North London, and so I went to as many gigs as I could and practised intensively for a year. I didnâ€™t have a teacher.â€™ As a result of this determination, she was accepted on the Guildhall MMus jazz course as a part-time student in 2009. â€˜Although I had a part scholarship, I also had to work to fund the place,â€™ she explains. â€˜I did admin and accounts work part-time for The Monmouth Coffee Company. They were extremely supportive and flexible all the way through. â€™ From 2008, Cath was also co-running, writing music for and playing with the Hackney Colliery Band, a live ensemble that plays marching tunes with drums, horns and sousaphone. â€˜I was interested in how hip hop could be translated onto a live brass band,â€™ she says. The band has had radio play from Gilles Peterson on Radio 1, Jamie Cullum on Radio 2 and Huey Morgan on BBC 6Music. The Observer newspaper wrote about them: â€œI canâ€™t imagine any of this lot down a mine, butâ€¦this is the most enjoyable, fun, live music I know of.â€ Cath left HCB in 2011 as she moved on from her Guildhall course and decided to focus on new projects.
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