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Meet Jonah Falco; a Toronto born London resident, Jonah is a familiar face to those involved in underground music having played in an array of Hardcore Punk bands, ranging from the prolific F*cked Up to Mad Men, as well as recently turning his talents to the Madchester- inspired pop sensibilities of Jade Hairpins. With such an extensive repertoire of aggressive music under his belt, it may come as a surprise to some that Jonah’s musical roots lie in Jazz. A regular customer of the store, we recently teamed up with Jonah to produce a number of mid-century inspired Jazz compositions. We sat down with Jonah to pick his brains as to what might tie together the seemingly disparate genres of Hardcore Punk and Modern Jazz, and why the Natural Shoulder Ivy League Style so appeals to him.
At what age did you begin playing music, what was your first instrument and what motivated you to pick it up?
To the best of my memory I started playing music around the age of four. My first instrument was violin, which I can very firmly remember hating. I was in some sort of enforced practice scenario with my mother and I impulsively bleated the words “I don’t want to do this anymore!” Her response was to accept that, but insist that I picked up another instrument. I chose piano and the rest just escalated from there. Both of my parents are jazz musicians (now jazz educators, retired) so it never occurred to me that I wouldn’t be playing an instrument. I just assumed everyone did!
What was your introduction to Jazz and how do you feel that Jazz remains relevant in the 21st century?
With musicians as parents music was always in the house and I got an early education in the greats. “Blue Monk” from the Monk Trio LP is the first song I have a memory of hearing at all beyond the sort of things a parent would hum to their child. From there, I was introduced to a lot of Bebop, Swing, and Latin Jazz. I think to this day the most culturally confused things I have ever done was at the age of six, to ask a children’s entertainer playing popular songs on a keyboard at a birthday party, if he knew how to play “Bahia” by John Coltrane.
The relevance of Jazz in the 21st century is the modernisation of harmony. It feels as though so often the consideration of Jazz is relegated to comedic extremes in popular imagination, and has also fallen victim to poor production and stylistic trends over the years. This ends up diminishing the weight of what the music has really given to contemporary composition. Jazz, at least as a compositional legacy, remains relevant to temper the hasty simplicity of so many other popular styles. With its perceived minimalism housed within great experimentation, you can almost guarantee anyone who takes composition, or even songwriting, somewhat seriously will benefit from that studious and heightened focus on harmony and arranging.
We have recently worked together on a series of modern-jazz compositions; what was the inspiration and impetus behind these pieces?
I received a call from the guys at John Simons who suggested getting together and writing some mid-century style Jazz songs for the shop to use online. The all too familiar “…and then covid hit” scenario unfolded and I wound up doing all the playing and recording on my own instead. I thought about how the shop had placed itself in real time within the visual culture of the late 1950’s and 60’s — modernism, minimalism, high functioning and stylish clothing within deceptively austere and modest shapes — and wanted to try and make retroactively avant-garde sorts of compositions. I thought about the songs “Oleo” by Sonny Rollins, “Joy Spring” by Clifford Brown, Monk’s version of “Don’t Blame Me,” and “Lydiot” by George Russell to create this kind of pastiche.
The version of “Oleo” from the “Cookin and Relaxin’ with Miles Davis” LP stood out as a particular point of inspiration because it most closely resembles an early Futurist or Modernist painting. The arrangement of that song takes familiar elements – instrumentation, “rhythm” changes, and structure and completely extends them into abstract elements which are sparingly used in space as though it were shocks of bright paint on an empty canvas. My pieces are not nearly as abstract or compositional, but the goal was to channel the spirit of this re-iterating of canonical styles and tropes in new scenarios, places, and contexts. This, I think, deeply resonates within the culture and legacy of the shop.
Some of our readers may be familiar with your work in Hardcore punk bands such as F*cked Up, Career Suicide and Mad Men, to name but a few. Do you feel that Jazz and Punk are at odds with one another, or rather, are these genres natural bedfellows?
I don’t feel they are at odds with one another, but that they most comfortably exist independent of one another.
A simplistic reading of Punk and Hardcore could be that they are about the legitimisation of “No” or maybe even “nihilism” as an artistic expression in youth culture. “No” in the case of Punk might have meant autonomy from the constraints of ability, and of the traditional economics of, making, distributing, and producing music. In my estimation, Jazz at its various inceptions has also forged new territory in terms of its autonomy from the established practices of the music industry and performance, but has always had a closer connection to the continuum of traditional explorations of written and performed music.
The two most easily cross over, though, in terms of pushing people’s understanding of music. Especially as the 20th century progresses and great jazz musicians become more experimental and innovative, the willingness to deviate from the “page” (for example improvisation and ‘feel,’ and learning to play by ear) could definitely find a parallel home in the punk world, however, I feel ultimately that the legacy of jazz within what the world of punk “is,” is more latent than active.
Selfishly putting myself in the picture as the child of jazz musicians who ended up playing punk music, there are a few great moments (and surely more I’m not remembering) of seemingly coincidental intersection: Djini Brown (son of Marion Brown), and Noah Evans (son of Gil Evans) are Hardcore Punk luminaries and are of course the children of some of the greatest musicians in Jazz history. Presumably they had a very present influence of Jazz in their lives while forming their relationships with music and freedom of expression, and went on to make indelible marks in the punk and hardcore world. Perhaps there’s more to it…
The Mid-Century Ivy League style is not the uniform which one typically associates with Punk; what was your introduction to Ivy style? Do you view your musical and sartorial interests as wholly separate, or, in some way intertwined?
I was most likely introduced to Ivy style through cinema and then through various subcultures. I always gravitated toward vintage clothing when I was growing up and the idea of looking smart. That mostly flew out the window when I got more and more into punk but I did have this turning point in wanting to combine the two things after seeing an image in the printed anthology of the punk magazine “Search and Destroy.” I don’t remember who the person was, but the image was of one of the S&D writers, mid-interview, holding a notebook and pencil talking to whomever. Short hair, shetland jumper, dark denim trousers, white socks, and dark leather shoes. Simple but versatile and looked equally at home with the affectations of punk as it does in a lecture hall or the stage.
What motivated you to first visit our store and what were you first impressions?
I was aware of the shop through its reputation as the place to buy mid century clothes via some wiser friends from London. It was a somewhat daunting experience because unlike the more modern anonymous shopping experiences you get in the high street or rootling through second hand clothing, the shop was small and dense and conversational. I loved the way it looked and it’s simultaneous informality and cohesiveness kept me coming back. I appreciate it now more than ever as a very unique experience especially in light of the aggressively dwindling personalities of London’s retail.
Over the years patronising our store, has there been a certain product that has stood out, and if so, why?
Of all the things I’ve brought home with me, my two favourites have been my John Simons dark green Cord Suit, and my navy blue Alan Paine mock neck.
Photography: Alex Natt
Jonah is photographed wearing a number of items from our new Spring/Summer range.
“Shop the Look” below to browse the collection.
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