Socialist Worker

Young musicians breaking free

Nick Grant talked to up and coming keyboard player Sam Beste

Issue No. 1922

SAM BESTE is now old enough to drink in the places he’s been earning a fast growing reputation in. Other 18 year olds like Wayne Rooney or soul prodigy Joss Stone may be better known, but Sam’s is an equally impressive talent.

His family was famous for a day on 15 February 2003 when a BBC TV crew followed them throughout the historic anti-war march to Hyde Park.

Then in Year 12 at Fortismere School in Haringey, north London, Sam led students to Parliament Square when war broke out.

“My experiences in the lead-up to the horrific war in Iraq were extremely powerful.

“I began thinking a lot more about music’s position in the world, and where and how it can be important and necessary. It also made me listen to What’s Going On by Marvin Gaye a lot.”

Sam met up with fellow teens Pete Cochrane (bass) and Bradley Webb (drums), who are now firm partners in musical crime in the band Ko.

“I feel incredibly lucky to have stumbled across two people at such a young age who are as open-minded as Pete and Brad.

“I actually find that I’m overwhelmingly lucky, so I’ve got a lot to give back,” admits Sam.

Saxophonist Gilad Atzmon and trombonist Dennis Rollins guested with Ko.

Sam has also played regular gigs in the Rollins’ Badbone & Co outfit.

This year Amy Winehouse joined Ko for a number of performances at the North Sea Jazz Festival in Holland, a promotional tour of North America, and with Kool and the Gang and the Isley Brothers at Penshurst Castle, Kent.

Last month Ko completed a taxing four-night residency at Soho’s Pizza Express, playing their own opening set before supporting a different singer each night.

Sam has great enthusiasm for other musicians:

“Prince is my idol. He’s the most unbelievable musician. I just love the fact that he seems entirely fearless, which is why his sound is so distinctive.

“I want Ko’s show to be as exciting as Prince is live, and to write songs that make the audience go mad like he does. There’s only one way to find out!”

When it comes to his own playing Sam is at home on acoustic piano or Fender Rhodes, sometimes playing along to What’s Going On or Donny Hathaway’s live recordings for inspiration.

Avoiding music industry pigeonholing is necessary for Ko to keep their music fresh.

Echoing Duke Ellington’s dictum about there being only two kinds of music, good and bad, Sam says, “I don’t consider myself a jazz musician—just a musician.

“It’s great that some people are showing positive interest in us, like John Fordham in the Guardian.

“But in most reviews people have referred to us as jazz’s first boyband—or just as a boyband full stop!

“I don’t know what you would call Ko’s music. It’s a whole bunch of things.

“We want to grow and learn together, and develop an original exciting sound.

“I want people to go away from Ko shows feeling like they’ve seen something they’ve never seen before—that it’s been a real experience.”

A call from Lemar to do a track on his next album will help defray the costs of a lifestyle short on funds.

“I really feel like I’m on a crossroads where I have the drive and motivation to understand what’s going on in the world.

“At the moment I’m reading Howard Zinn’s A People’s History of the United States.

“The more I read, the more I begin to understand how I fit in. I feel like I should be studying history rather than music.

“At the moment it seems to make more sense to me.

“That’s one reason why I will definitely be attending the European Social Forum.”

With no recording contract yet, Ko will continue to build their reputation through live performances.

They’ll be doing a midnight shift at Dean Street Pizza Express during the London Jazz Festival on November 13, 16 and 17.

For other dates and information go to

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Sat 9 Oct 2004, 00:00 BST
Issue No. 1922
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