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Popular & Contemporary Programme

Study Leader: James Birkett

The Popular & Contemporary Programme is designed for those young musicians who wish to explore and develop their interest in a wide range of performance styles including jazz, rock, funk, blues and fusion music.

For those who are considering music as a career choice, the curriculum covers all of the aspects of musicianship that are required for progression to study at diploma or degree level, and which ultimately lie at the heart of professional work. In this respect it is significant to note that the acclaimed degree programme – the BMus (Hons): Jazz, Popular and Commercial Music – is now based at Sage Gateshead.

We also encourage our players to apply for an audition for Jambone which runs fortnightly throughout the year. More information is available on Jambone here.

For further information on the Centre for Advanced Training, including on dates and content of auditions, please click on Information for Students

Popular and Contemporary Team

Study Leader: James Birkett – Ph.D., BMus(Hons), GDPLM, Cert. Ed., FHEA
James has worked as a professional guitarist since the 1970s, undertaking the full range of freelance work, including TV/Radio, concerts, backing artists, theatre orchestras and musicals; as a jazz guitarist he continues to work with a variety of ensembles for concerts, recordings, broadcasts and festivals. A Fellow of the Higher Education Academy, James has been at the forefront of the development of qualification pathways for musicians who wish to study jazz, popular and contemporary music. From developing and leading the Graduate Diploma and BMus (Hons) in Jazz, Popular and Commercial music (now delivered at Sage Gateshead) he has taken up the posts of Artistic Advisor and Director of Jazz and related music for the Young Musicians Programme at Sage Gateshead. His specialist teaching areas are performance and improvisation, and he has delivered seminars and papers on teaching and learning issues at national and international conferences, universities and conservatoires. Publications include Jazz Guitar Vols. 1 and 2 (International Music Publications), various articles (The Music Teacher, Popular Music Journal) and the development of jazz study and teaching materials for all levels and ages.

Paul Edis – PhD MA BMus (Hons)
Recently described as a ‘brilliant young pianist’ (Alyn Shipton, The Guardian) Paul was awarded a scholarship to study at the London College of Music in 2003, where he graduated in 2006 with a First Class Bmus (Hons) Degree. Since moving back to the North East, he has quickly become established as a familiar figure on the North East Jazz circuit, playing in several groups and often supporting touring soloists. He has toured nationally and performed at some of the most prestigious venues in the UK, and he is in high demand as a sight reader, accompanist and MD. In 2012 Paul completed a PhD in Composition at the University of York. In the same year his sextet released their debut album ‘There Will Be Time’ which has since gone on to receive critical acclaim, making the Jazzwise Album of the Year list 2012 and been played on Radio 3 and in the USA. In addition to his work as a peripatetic woodwind and keyboard tutor for Sunderland City Council, Paul has been teaching at the Sage since 2009. He lectures on the Bmus Course, works on the Open Studio and Centre for Advanced Training programme and has taught at Durham University and the University of York.

Roger Hempsall – Dip.Mus.
As a professional drummer, Roger has worked with music ‘legends’ such as Jimmy Page, Jeff Beck, Eartha Kitt and Matt Munro, Cleo Laine and Kiki Dee, among many others. He has also worked with major jazz artists, such as Barbara Thompson, Peter King and Digby Fairweather. Since 1998 he has been a member of the North East-based jazz trio The Bicycle Thieves. Roger has many years of experience as a specialist drum and percussion tutor, being a founding member of the BMus degree team and Percussion Studies Leader at the Centre of Advanced Training. He has also delivered workshops and masterclasses at Northumbria and Sunderland universities. Over the years he has taught many of the country’s brightest percussion stars, including the jazz drummers Cheryl Alleyne (who has worked with US3 and Courtney Pine) and Seb Rochford (acclaimed as one of the most exciting new talents in jazz). His publications include Jazz Drums 1 and Jazz Drums 2 (International Music Publishers), an analysis of the playing styles of the great jazz percussionists from Baby Dodds to Steve Gadd. For many years he wrote an influential column on rhythm for Keyboard Player magazine.

Adam Sinclair: (Production) has performed and recorded in a wide range of genres, with acts such as Therapy?, The Unthanks, Nitin Sawhney, Paul Edis Sextet, RJ Thompson, Graeme Wilson Quartet, Northern Monkey Brass Band and Gerry Richardson’s Big Idea to name a few. These performances have seen Adam perform at large festivals, including Glastonbury, and some of the world’s top venues such as the O2 Arena. As well as drumming, Adam is a highly experienced recording engineer and producer, having produced many international releases which have received global radio play and TV appearances (including a high profile IKEA advertising campaign).