At age 16, I turned down a career in airplanes to pursue a life in music, and joined Slithey Tove (now The Toves) the following year. I paid my way through a degree in music at Salford college working as a sound engineer. One night in 1994, I edged on stage with my sax, and within months I was playing in 12 bands. I joined the UK’s first touring samba group, Inner Sense Percussion, and toured Kazakstan, where we left country as national heroes. I started a Latin hiphop band called Nylon Jungle, and wrote the song Catfood the night before we played a headline slot at the Manchester Jazz festival in 1999.
In 2003 I moved to London and very soon spent my life savings buying a baritone sax. That was the year that Amy Winehouse’s musical director called up and asked me to play it in her band. The first day’s works was filming the Rehab video (which required miming for 17 hours!) I was with her as she became a household name, and spearheaded popular music’s return to real music made by live musicians. We toured, recorded, and appeared on TV playing for Jools Holland, Sharon Osbourne, Charlotte Church, the Brits, and the BBC’s Porchester Hall documentary.
A year later I got a horn section together and toured, recorded and did some TV with one of the greatest voices in the UK, Beverley Knight. Prince asked Beverley to play a support slot at his 21-show residency at the O2 arena. We played two nights of that tour, where I was hugely influenced by Maceo Parker and Prince himself, whose mastery was inspiring. And when Prince hushed the rhythm section to better hear the riff I’d come up with during our jam session at the Indigo it was one of the highlights of my life!
2007 brought me together with the Stargazers and Rock and Roll Society. In 08 and 09 I was invited to be sax player in residence for the Belfast Jazz & Blues Festival, appearing with with Steve Cropper. I’d joined the Shez Raja Collective in 2009 and the following year we headlined the St Petersberg Jazz Festival.
Then I got together with illustrator Alastair Graham to make an instructional book The How of Sax, and founded the Cream Horns. We joined Patrick Alan’s weekly Motown Review in Piccadilly where I occasionally subbed as musical director. And we joined Funk Affair, the monthly residency at Ronnie Scotts, where we were affectionately remembered as “The horn section with cream suits and the amazing dance moves.”
Funk Affair led to a chance meeting with Michael Henderson. In 2013 the former bass player to Aretha Franklin, Stevie Wonder and Miles Davis, asked me to be music director for his series of UK concerts. We played a sold out show at the Royal Festival Hall, earning a 4-star review by Mike Hobart in the Financial Times.
That same year I found myself recording with Bob Geldof a few days after returning from a gig in New Delhi. Geldof’s musical director pointed out that one of the tasks was extremely difficult but Bob announced, “nah *** off, Aaron can do it, he’s just come back from India, he’s great and he can do anything, give him a chance!” He was right and I nailed it on the first go.
2014, joined Sheila Tracey’s big band alongside Duncan Lamont Snr (BBC big band MD for Frank Sinatra and Ray Charles), Ronnie Hughes (trumpet soloist for Ted Heath), Barry Forgey and Bill Geldard (trombonists and prolific arrangers). We were featured in Len Goodman’s Big Band Bonanza.
April 2015 was my big introduction to Cuban music and dance with a residency at the Covent Garden Opera House with Carlos Acosta, Danza Contemporanea de Cuba and his mostly-Cuban band. Being one of the ‘gringos’ amongst master Cuban musicians was a trip and such a huge learning experience.
Three of these wonderful Cubania musicians started Aaron and the Argonauts with me, and I have been building the band and material ever since. We recently released Together Forever, the first Argonauts single and I’m working on our first album.