Tina started exploring and developing her jazz sensibilities at University College, Cardiff. She attended vocal studies with Eilleen Price in the music dept. and almost immediately teamed up with other musicians to form small bands. She joined the Welsh Jazz Soc. run by Jed Williams and was soon a regular listening to Sweets Edison, Eddie ‘Lockjaw’ Davies, Al Cohn and many, many more at The Lions Den’ in the Great Western Hotel in Cardiff. As a student of French, Tina knew she would have the opportunity of living in France for a year as part of her degree course. She chose to study in Paris and began her apprenticeship in Jazz when, by chance, she met up with some aspiring young music students, who invited her to ‘faire un boeuf’ – have a jam with them. These musicians were Pascal Gaubert and Patrick Villanueva – who recorded with Tina on the ‘Live in Paris’ album nearly twenty years later!
Very soon Tina was performing at Le Slow Club with the Roger Guerin Big Band with special guest Kenny Clarke – such a great drummer and sweet man. Le Caveau de la Huchette became another regular gig for Tina and the band. Tina formed a quartet with Patrick Villanueva, Renaud Garcia-Fons, Alain Richard and they performed all over Paris. At that time Tina was also involved in theatre and especially comedy review – something she felt a great affinity with. She met up with another talented thespian, Rory Bremner who was already writing sketches and performing his hilarious monologues and skits on politics. Together Tina and Rory performed ‘You are Eiffel but I like You (!)’ – a review show which they took from Paris to the Edinburgh Fringe, re-naming it ‘Midnight Excess’. Tina was singing some amusing jazz songs like ‘I’m hip’ and doing some bi-lingual and ‘Franglais’ originals as well as acting alongside Rory. Happy times!
Let’s skip a few years – theatre companies, tours. Tina loved to collaborate with her first real musical soulmate, Dylan Fowler, great guitarist and composer from south Wales. Together they played in quartet, quintet and then nonet – which became Frevo – the band led by Dylan with brazilian rhythma but original compositions – and lyrics by Tina. This band performed at Bath Festival (where Tina was invited to sing by Egberto Gismonti’s trio), Edinburgh Fest. and Cork as well as touring the UK .
Tina decided it was time to move to London to further her musical aspirations. At first she was acting in a French-speaking theatre co. called Bac to Bac (as in le Bac) – which was a great experience – working with actors Tom Ray, Freddie Rostand and Jackie Robinson. Life was action-packed for Tina would be doing performances and workshops by day and gigging by night. Early musical friends were Robin Aspland (who plays on ‘I’ll take Romance’), Johnny Gee, Mornington Locket, Mick Hutton, Don Weller and many others who frequented the legendary 606 Club in Fulham. This was the late night hang and place to jam ’til dawn. Tina also at that time would go and listen to her heroes at Ronnie Scott’s Club – listening to Art Blakey, Cedar Walton, Irakere, Flora Purim and many others night after night. Tina did not renew her contract with Bac to Bac and went freelance – singing jazz for a living.
A lot can happen by accident – serendipity is a great way of describing it. It means a happy accident. When Tina sent a demo CD to 33 Arts Centre in Luton – she thought she was applying for a gig. Paul Jolly rang her up and asked if she was recording for anyone at that time. He offered her a recording – which took place at the famous Abbey Road studios that winter of ’91 for 33 Records, the beginning of a long association with Paul at 33. Tina had given birth to her first child in August ’89, Ben, and so she was no stranger to the ‘juggling’ of roles required to be a working mum with her teaching, workshops and masterclasses alongside performances. The quartet was an all-star one: David Newton, recently down from Scotland, on piano, Dave Green on double bass, Clark Tracey on drums and Don Weller on tenor saxophone. What a band!
At this time Tina was a soloist in The Ellington Sacred Concert, performed at Durham Cathedral with the Stan Tracey Big Band – which had within it stellar players: Peter King, Guy Barker, Jamie Talbot, Art Themen and many more. On this occasion there was the vintage tap-dancer Will Gaines who danced to ‘David danced before the Lord’ – a wonderful moment – especially when Will led the choristers off the stage skipping and dancing like the Pied Piper! Tina performed this work many times with Stan’s band and also with The Echoes of Ellington Orchestra in San Sebastien with their famous San Sebastien choir. The work was recorded by 33 Records entitled the Durham Connection.
Tina continued to appear in festivals, broadcast with the BBC Big Band and record with her group. The following album, entitled ‘Fun’ was a more hard-swinging affair with the title track Tina’s vocalese dedicated to Cannonball Adderley’s band. The tune was written by Nat, his brother, and he was delighted that Tina should pay tribute to his late brother in this way (Nat was extremely fond of Cannonball). Another connection at this time which went back to Tina’s days in Paris was with ‘The Paris Reunion Band’, which featured Nat Adderley, Joe Henderson, Curtis Fuller and Nathan Davis. This brought back memories of Kenny Clarke who was also a great friend of Nathan Davis and Mike Hennessey, who like Tina, had all played with Kenny and lived in Paris as young ‘cats’. Nathan has been a great family friend ever since.
Tina started winning awards as well as friends through her singing. In 1993 she was awarded a silver medal by The Worshipful Company of Musicians. This was the first of it’s kind to a young musician and she was thrilled to receive it. This also coincided with Tina’s first week at Ronnie Scotts with her own band.
Tina toured Australia with the ‘Fun’ album and also appeared at the award winning Hong Kong Jazz Club – Tina’s first trip to the Far East. Ben came too and enjoyed unusual breakfasts of Dim Sum and walks alongside wallabies in Melbourne Zoo. Nice times.
Back home and in Europe – more festivals Prerov in Czech Republic, Munich and Augsburg. Albums ‘It Ain’t Necessarily So’– which featured the Britten String quartet with arrangements by Colin Towns. Tina enjoyed this combination of voice and string that in the follow-up album ‘Time Will Tell’ – the quartet was joined by the string quartet on some tracks. This time the string quartet was required to groove a little more with arrangements by Clark Tracey and they were the wonderful Lochrian String Quartet led by Levine Andrade. Tina felt she wanted to change the line-up of the band a little… Gemma, Tina’s second child was now on the scene!
Tina worked with Nikki Iles and Nikki’s trio for the first time when she was guesting in Halifax and Hull. It was obvious to them both that there was a great musical affinity between them. Nikki was, at that time, based in Leeds and on that first occasion working together Tina’s dad baby-sat Gemma at the hotel while they did the concert. Tina invited Nikki to join the band and a great musical partnership was born.
First came the duo album ‘Change of Sky’ with Tina and Nikki performing some unusual material like Donald Fagan’s ‘On the Dunes’ as well as Phil Springer’s ‘Change of Sky’ – a forgotten classic. All the while Tina and Nikki and the quartet continued to tour, teach and masterclass their way up and down the country. Both Tina and Nikki have a firm commitment to teaching and enabling young and old to get more involved in the making of jazz music – which leads to more enjoyment of the whole experience.
In between times Tina wanted to try a new sound within the ensemble- more of a chamber concept. This resulted in Nikki and Tina being joined by none other than Alan Barnes who on ‘One Fine Day’ plays all horns (baritone, bass clarinet, alto, tenor…) This was also the first time Tina recorded Ray Bryant’s tune Cubano Chant with lyrics by Linda Aziza Miller. Ray knew of Tina’s work and had sent her this song. He was happy with the result and when later they met up in (of course) Paris and talked about a joint project of his music and her lyrics – another musical friendship was born.
In 1998 Tina was presented with the vocal jazz award at the BT Jazz Awards having topped the critics choice for several years prior to that. This was, indeed, a fun event as the award was presented to Tina by her old friend, Rory Bremner. Another coincidence from Paris came the booking at the famous ‘Club Lionel Hampton’ at the Meridien Hotel, Paris. To her absolute delight Tina was able to team up with old student friends (now professionals) Patrick Villanueva and Pascal Gaubert. The rest of the band were Pierre Maingourd and Daniel Garcia. This was a happy reunion and was repeated a year and a half later with a recording made at the same club ‘Live In Paris’ – also on 33Records.
The year 2000 was quite a year for Tina – one event was of special significance: a performance at Shakespeare’s Globe Theatre. This was a real celebration across generations starring Cleo Laine, John Dankworth, Stan Tracey, Mark Nightingale, Jim Watson ….as well as Tina. All past Worshipful Company of Musician medal winners performed – on a glorious summer night – a perfect evening indeed!
Later on Tina went to the IAJE conference in New York, meeting up again with Ray Bryant and arranger/producer Don Sickler to firm up plans for the Ray Bryant Songbook project. In January 2002 Tina and Nikki performed at the IAJE conference Long Beach, California. They were very happy to receive awards for ‘Outstanding services to Jazz Education’.
November 2002 Tina recorded with Ray Bryant at the Rudy Van Gelder Studio, Englewood Cliffs – the definitive ‘Ray Bryant Songbook’ produced and arranged by Don Sickler. Rudy engineered it himself, assisted by Maureen Sickler. Tina’s release ‘I’ll take Romance’ features Scott Hamilton who has worked on and off with Tina and Nikki for a few years now – especially with Tina at the Pizza Express Hogmanay party 5 years in a row!
Now, finally, they are on disc together. A wonderful musical meeting of like minds thanks to Linn Records.
During the summer of 2002 Tina presented a series of twelve programmes on BBC Wales TV, featuring performances from the 2001 Brecon Festival, entitled ‘Brecon Jazz Festival’. In 2003, this series will have a wider audience by being transmitted on BBC 4 too!
2004 was a really busy year with performances including: New York’s ‘Jazz Standard’ with The Ray Bryant Songbook – featuring Ray himself and Don Sickler among other New York luminaries, Paris ‘Le Sunset’ Club with Patrick Villanueva, London’s ‘Ronnie Scott’s’ with her regular quartet featuring Nikki Iles. Also the album ‘More Than You Know’ was released with Tony Coe on tenor sax and clarinet with Nikki Iles on piano – this marked 33Jazz label’s ‘100th release’ and was celebrated at London’s Pizza Express Jazz Club in Dean Street, Soho. Also Tina’s first Vocal Summer School in France took place in the Loire in France.
2005 performances nationally and internationally with her own group – also appearances on BBC Radio ‘Live at the Stables’ for Dame Cleo Laine and Sir John Dankworth. Also appeared on ‘Friday Night is Music Night’ as a guest soloist. A collaboration with US saxophonist Nathan Davis led to a concert at Cambridge University with Robin Aspland, Jeremy Brown and Steve Brown. Tina’s Second Vocal Jazz Summer School was a great success, once more in France.
2006 finally saw the release of ‘The Ray Bryant Songbook’ – licenced to 33Jazz by producer Don Sickler. This historic recording was well received nationally/internationally by the press (see Reviews). Also released was ‘A Wing and A Prayer’ – a live recording with Stan Sulzmann and Nikki Iles – also on 33Jazz and well reviewed. This featured an original lyric by Tina to Kenny Wheeler’s ‘Gentle Piece’ and also her lyric to Joe Henderson’s ‘Black Narcissus’. International festival performances included Ginza Jazz Festival in Tokyo, Japan, Poland, Austria, Germany, France and many more. As in previous years Tina’s Vocal Summer School was very successful in France.
2007 – Concerts and festivals brought, once again, work with the ‘Echoes of Ellington’ band – directed by Pete Long. Tina was a featured soloist in the Duke Ellington Sacred Concert at the Dukes Hall, at the Royal Academy of Music in London. Brecon Jazz Festival performance August ’07 followed by a change of venue for Tina’s Jazz Vocal Summer School to Certaldo in beautiful Tuscany. Other tutors on the course: Nikki Iles, Iain Mackenzie, Guillermo Rozenthuler and many top Italian Jazz Musicians. The Global Music Foundation has been organising workshops in Certaldo for many years and Tina is very happy to be working with such a creative organisation. 2007 was also pivotal year – a lot of things were about to change personally and professionally. Harry May – wonderful Dad and huge lifelong jazz fan fell ill and died summer ’07. A very sad time for the May family.
Tina worked later that summer at a festival in ‘Les Arcs’ France with director Jean Lacornerie and an entirely French cast to workshop ‘Lady In the Dark’ – a Broadway musical comedy from 1941 by Moss Hart with music by Kurt Weill and lyrics by Ira Gershwin. It had been translated almost entirely into French (new lyrics added by Stephane Laporte and script by Rene Fixe). The production was then officially created the following year with Tina singing the title role of Liza Elliot which premiered in April 2008 in Lyon, a co-production between Theatre de la Renaissance and the Opera de Lyon. The show toured to many other opera houses and theatres – to great reviews and audiences. The 23 piece orchestra of the Opera de Lyon played the original arrangements by Weill – under the ‘groovy’ baton of Scott Stroman. The tour was a sell-out and a reprise tour followed in 2009 – when the production of ‘Lady in the Dark’ was nominated for the prestigious Moliere Awards in the ‘Best Musical’ category.
The 2009 tour took the show even further afield in France – literally the show went as far as the Swiss border Annecy as well as Opera de Dijon, Opera de Rennes all the large theatres in the Region Parisienne etc… finishing in June 2009. Even then there was talk of a reprise tour – every house had been so packed!
Upon her return Tina embarked on a few dates with a new show she had created, ‘Piaf’ – Celebrating a Legend.’ This is a personal take on the songs made famous by the great chanteuse – packed with stories and anecdotes – all sung in a gently ‘jazz’ way – but in keeping with the essence of ‘Piaf’. The show has been performing to packed theatres and Arts Festivals ever since. The musicians in this band are Nikki Iles – piano; Karen Street – accordion and Julie Walkington – double bass – a wonderful ensemble who also look as good as they sound! Also recorded ‘I Never Told You’ – which was released late ’09 – featuring Tina’s regular quartet: Nikki Iles, Phil Donkin and Stephen Keogh – plus Karen Sharp on tenor sax on some tracks. We had lost the wonderful Humphrey Lyttelton in ’08 – a great supporter of the jazz scene and dear friend to both Tina and Karen Sharp. Later in 2009 we lost the wonderful Sir John Dankworth – who played so beautifully at the London Jazz Festival in November ’09 – from his wheelchair. Great musicians who will never be forgotten!
Equity – and the Equity Council as well as the Worshipful Company of Musicians – are also of particular significance to Tina – who was elected to the Equity Council as a Variety Councillor in ’06. Tina became a liveryman of the Musicians Company in ’06 and has served on the Jazz Committee alongside others like Sir John Dankworth, Martin Taylor, Tim Garland, Andy Panayi and many more ever since.
Highlights of 2010 have been recording with Dylan Fowler, Bosco d’Oliveira, Luke Carver Goss, Nathan Riki Thomson – on a long-overdue project between Dylan and Tina. Also a long awaited recording of the Tina May Paris Quintet – featuring Patrick Villanueva, Pascal Gaubert, Pierre Maingourd, Vincent Cordelette – and special guest Marcel Zanini plus vocaliste and dear friend Pauline Atlan. Performance to a great house at the Liverpool Philharmonic Hall – ‘Piaf’ – ‘Celebrating a Legend’. Also a great trip to Shanghai and a very enthusiastic crowd at the Oriental Arts Centre. On 25th April Tina took part in a very memorable ‘Celebration of Humphrey Lyttelton’ concert at the ‘Hammersmith Apollo ‘ – the ‘Clue’ team were all there and it was a fabulous evening of jazz and fun – just as Humph would have loved.