POP / The Joseph master-plan: Julian is a pianist; James, who was a drummer, is now his manager; their elder brother John is a trumpeter who produces; and Ursula, their mother, keeps an eye on the cash. Phil Johnson on the jazz family Joseph

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The Independent Online
When the jazz pianist Julian Joseph was a sixth- former at Spencer Park Comprehensive in Wandsworth, London he was spending his evenings playing pubs and clubs with Courtney Pine, hammering out hard bop at ridiculously fast tempos, because, he says, 'that's how we thought it was done'. His brother James, two years behind him at school, sometimes drummed for the group but was mainly kept busy on his home computer, bashing out artist biogs and publicity material for the rising group of young black jazz musicians the Josephs were associated with. After Julian's A-levels, Ilea, the London education authority, gave him an award to go off to Berklee College of Music in Boston, while James continued to act as a negotiator and business manager to his friends, helping to sign Cleveland Watkiss to Polydor and Jason Rebello to RCA. By the time Julian completed his degree, James - by now studying law at UCL - had representatives of every major record company waiting to offer him a contract.

After nine months of negotiation, the one they eventually signed, with Warner Brothers, was a remarkable, two-tier affair - James's masterwork thus far. Julian would record jazz for the company's East West subsidiary and, eventually, 'serious' music for Warner Classics, despite having almost no track record in this field. Five years later, the classical ambitions are beginning to be realised; this weekend Julian performs Jazz Meets Classical, a double concert at the Barbican Hall: on Saturday he's with the Royal Philharmonic Concert Orchestra conducted by John Adams, playing Gershwin's Piano Concerto in F, arrangements of his own compositions and an improvised duet with the classical pianist Joanna MacGregor. On Sunday, he returns to a jazz repertoire with a concert by his trio and big band. And in October he headlines the first jazz series ever to be held at London's premier classical recital venue, the Wigmore Hall.

Julian's career has continued as a family affair. His two albums have been produced by himself, James (who remains his manager), and his eldest brother, John, a trumpeter. Each disc was dedicated to their mother, Ursula, an accountant, who also helps keep an eye on the family business. The whole family lives together in a terraced house in Wandsworth that also acts as the headquarters of James's management company. Julian has his studio in a downstairs front-room crammed with furniture, school photographs of the brothers jostling for space on the mantelpiece with basketball trophies and family knick-nacks.

As Julian's and James's accomplishments have progressed, so have their hairstyles. At the time of the first album they both had long hair tied back in pony-tails, which seemed to shift about their heads from gig to gig: here a top- knot, there a slinky slicked-back twine. Then there were the crops, severe skinhead shaves that they practised on each other and which have since grown back into longer but still congruent styles. They even dress similarly. 'We have a lot of the same tastes,' James says, 'maybe because when we were little our mum used to dress us the same, not exactly the same, but similarly.' Julian looks up from his manuscript paper: 'It looked good, too,' he says, quietly. 'It really did.'

Julian is 28, the more placid of the two, thick-set and serious, feeling the pressure of the coming concerts as he sits over a sheaf of orchestrations. James is a year and a bit younger, thinner and more extrovert. He drives a smart red Audi and, as a result, gets stopped frequently by the police. James likes clubs while Julian likes television. 'I've never been Mr Party- goer,' he says. 'I like to sit down and listen to music, to talk to people. I like good food and I like to admire beauty.' Together, though, they have a kind of master-plan, a vision of Julian's career that spools out into the decades ahead, mixing jazz with classics, performing with composing, film soundtracks with song writing. 'We do tend to plan in three-year cycles,' James says. 'And we're both working for the greater good of the career; we're dealing with the next 50 years, not an 18-month turnover.' They deny any fraternal conflict over their roles. 'We have an understanding about our likes and dislikes,' says Julian. 'Because he's studied music he makes insights and observations that are very helpful. Everybody needs to hear, like, 'How did it sound to you?' '

The two albums so far have sounded fine; solid, unpretentious, real jazz sets that haven't exactly set the world alight but represent excellent statements of intent. Julian's gigs with his quartet or trio are reliably good; hard, swinging music, dense with internal rhythms and perfectly presented: while some jazz musicians struggle to speak to the audience, mumbling into their horns instead, Julian is a star, communicating easily. In the recession which has inevitably followed the jazz boom of the late Eighties, Julian Joseph is probably sitting prettier than any of his peers. But the move into the classical world is one that is unlikely to impress curmudgeonly jazz fans. Too many musicians, from Artie Shaw to Tommy Smith, have gone out looking for cultural respectability from the straight music world and found their credibility compromised on both fronts. The very idea of Jazz Meets Classical is replete with images of fancy tuxedos, theatrical curtain calls and concert halls filled with the smell of expensive perfume. And Gershwin, with all those opportunities for high- handed bravura flourishes, might not be the best place to start. Julian, however, denies that he's flirting: 'I see jazz as the great absorber; you can pull every influence from every type of music into it. My own vision of jazz and classical music is that jazz now is what classical music once was; in terms of, say, the greatest composer-players - like Beethoven, Mozart, Prokofiev, Bartok - those guys all composed and they all played and they all improvised. And I think that is more clearly exemplified in jazz these days.'

As he warms to his theme the manuscript paper is abandoned, and James looks on admiringly. 'It's just like Duke Ellington: he exemplifies jazz but he is greater than any label, so much so that when I was at school and studying music the teachers used to say, 'Listen to Radio 3, they have a featured composer every week.' And one of the weeks I was listening Duke Ellington was the featured composer. So what does that tell you? He crossed the boundaries of music, and that is something to inspire you, and to aspire to.'

It's hard to suppress the thought that the institutions that helped make Julian Joseph what he is - like Radio 3's revolutionary innovation of making Ellington composer of the week; like BBC2, which introduced him to jazz as a child through Oscar Peterson's television series; and like the defunct Ilea, which sent him to Berklee - aren't up to the job any more, and that today his chances of success would be that much slimmer. At Spencer Park there were dedicated part-time music teachers like Trevor Tompkins, who brought him tapes by Keith Jarrett and Chick Corea.

The powerful group support network of the young black jazz stars of the Eighties has suffered, too. 'When you achieve a bit of success the tendency is to relax, to say 'I'm the man now, call me when you want me,' and stuff like that,' Julian says. 'But in general people are still pretty good-spirited, like they used to be. In the old days we just wanted to play for all we were worth, it was frantic. Music was never a struggle for me, but it does get harder; people hear you and they like you, and the pressure is greater, especially when they like you.' He turns back to the score for Sunday's concert and gets his head down. It looks like very hard work indeed.

'Jazz Meets Classical': Sat, Sun 7.30pm Barbican Hall, London EC2 (071-638 8891)

(Photograph omitted)

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