The firm stature of contemporary jazz and improvisation in the musical spectrum is as much due to an onward passing of the baton by today’s prominent influencers as it is the ongoing legacy of the historic greats such as Charlie Parker, Ornette Coleman and John Coltrane. So when renowned saxophonist Mornington Lockett saw the potential in encouraging the early glimmers of talent in London-based Samuel Eagles, it indeed kindled something very special.
A formative grounding in classical piano (from international pianist, répétiteur and teacher Gillian Ford), along with a fascination for the recordings of Kenny Garrett, were pivotal in bringing Samuel Eagles to the alto saxophone; and the academic opportunities of big bands and other ensembles led initially to a position in an amateur ten-piece funk/fusion band. All the while, the young hopeful was being mentored by Mornington Lockett, who would regularly invite him to sit in on his own gigs. Notably, Samuel gained a place in the Royal Academy of Music’s Junior Jazz band, directed by respected educator Nick Smart – and whilst there, he was further inspired by classes from artists such as John Paricelli and Perfect Houseplants, enhanced by the first thrill of performing at the famed London venues of Ronnie Scott’s and Pizza Express Jazz Club. So the pathways of Eagles’ musical career had begun to be mapped out, soon to be ratified by the award of a BMus (Hons) in Jazz Performance from Trinity College of Music. There, he was tutored by Grammy Award-winning, US-born saxophonist and former Jazz Messenger, Jean Toussaint, as well as studying under other jazz luminaries including Russell van den Berg, Jason Yarde, Mark Lockheart and Simon Purcell.
Eagles’ 2014 quartet album, Next Beginning, was hailed a promising and engaging debut by Jazzwise and The Guardian (“His deftly swerving post - bop inventiveness illuminates” – John Fordham); and, still in his twenties, he now flourishes as a professional saxophonist and composer displaying both natural artistry and assertiveness. Also becoming established as a popular sideman on the UK’s live scene, a significant contribution to Philip Clouts’ latest album release and tour, Umoya, saw the maturity of his playing enthusiastically praised. He has also performed and recorded with both the Gero Schipmann UK Quintet and Nomad Soul Collective, and is a member of Emeka Elendu’s dynamic afrobeat line-up Kalakuta.
With the world at his feet and increasingly garnering international interest – chiefly in the areas of contemporary jazz, funk and world music – Eagles has worked with Moses Boyd, Ant Law, Ollie Howell, Fergus Ireland, Derek Nash, Eric Ford, Nubya Garcia, Chris Draper, Theon Cross, Ed Riches, Laurie Lowe, Louie Palmer, Daniel Casimir, Tim Thornton, Mansur Brown, Yussef Dayes, Dave Ingamells, Andy Davis, Saleem Rahmin, Manorma, Andy Highmore, Henry Lawrey and Nick Ereaut. He has appeared at London, Marlborough, Lancaster, Thames, Barga and Oldenburg jazz festivals, and continues to perform at UK jazz clubs and major venues in the capital such as The Vortex, Southbank Centre, Kings Place and The Spice of Life.
Now, surrounding himself with some of British jazz’s present-day torch bearers – Sam Leak (piano), Ralph Wyld (vibes), Duncan Eagles (tenor sax), Max Luthert (double bass) and Dave Hamblett (drums) – the saxophonist has set out with exciting new sextet project Spirit, whose debut album of original material – Ask Seek Knock – is due for release on the Whirlwind label in June 2017, with longtime supporter Jean Toussaint guesting. This groove-laden recording – inspired by Eagles’ explorations of spirituality, sacrifice and beliefs – is being supported with a UK live tour, with plans to also take it out to China and South Korea. And so the journey continues.