Meet Down for the Count's Musicians: Laci Olah
How/when did you first get involved with Down for the Count?
I got involved last December and I was depping for someone. My first gig was in Canterbury!
What was your first experience of jazz and swing music?
I am a seventh generation musician, in my family everybody was a musician and my father was a jazz pianist and also a singer. So I grew up with jazz really.
Me and my dad played together all my life, so I had my first gig with him when I was seven. It’s like a tradition in Hungary: you start and then after two or three months you learn two or three songs so that you can gig and earn money. We have a saying that you learn how to play in the bars and in the cafés - we literally say that you learn ‘in the filth of life’.
For my whole life I have been surrounded by more jazz, even now, than classical music - even though I have my masters in classical performance. I probably listen to 80% jazz and 20% other stuff.
Laci often gets involved in our "Blues Jams" - here is a chorus of his C Jam Blues at Cadogan Hall!
What other musical projects are you involved with outside of Down for the Count?
I am leading and am the main arranger for a guy called Okiem. We are playing a lot of his music and doing a lot of gigs and travels with him as well. I arranged all of his music, I recorded with him and I’ve played with him and Burna Boy. I have arranged for the Kingdom Choir and recorded with them too.
I am also the music supervisor for a company called Vox Vanguard. We put on custom designed experiences - not only with music but with sound and visuals. For example I did a project with them that was like a big fashion show in Hong Kong, so I wrote and arranged the music for it and it was all fashion-style - there was a lot going on. We also did a private dinner party for a diamond company…so this project takes up a big chunk of my time.
I did a gig with Gregory Porter which was really cool. It’s a newly formed orchestra called the Kingdom Orchestra which I hope will do some more stuff! It is with Troy Miller, who is arranging and producing with big names such as Gregory Porter.
I also have a violin school called School of Strings in East Dulwich. I also teach in Dartford, and lead two orchestras and string ensembles.
What is your favourite jazz album/song/recording?
That’s a hard one! You are never the same person everyday - so I go through different periods.
I have periods where I listen to lots of Ella Fitzgerald - but I always listen to her. But then I might hear a song by Sarah Vaughn and decide to listen to more of her. A couple months ago I saw this Aretha Franklin movie, so I was obsessed and was listening to only Aretha Franklin!
However, if I really have to pick one, it would have to be Oscar Peterson’s Tristeza album with the Oscar Peterson trio. I am always going back to it because my dad used to listen to him, so it’s like a childhood memory.
What’s the best gig you’ve ever played?
That’s a tough question - because what is ‘best’?
The Gregory Porter gig was obviously great because you are at the Royal Albert Hall and there are all these people around. But then you do a jazz gig with six tables and everyone is literally on your lips and it’s an entirely different experience.
I loved playing at Cadogan Hall with Down for the Count, I really loved that! But then I also love the smaller gigs - there is something about literally playing at a table. In Belgium, which is where I grew up, we had the French-style of playing in restaurants, which included serenading people or asking what you could play for them. So there is also something about playing for just one person. And then you do a bigger gig, like I played at the O2 with Burna Boy in front of 80,000 people which is also just a completely different experience.
So to be honest, I can’t really pick.
Who are your musical influences?
Certainly Ella Fitzgerald, she is at the top of my list. It starts and ends with her, always. I would also include Oscar Peterson and Nat ‘King’ Cole.
Because I am arranging a lot I also listen to a lot of Michel Legrand, Ennio Morricone, Nelson Riddle, and John Williams, of course.
And in terms of violin players, I listen to the big ones like Heifetz and Oistrakh - I always go back to them.
For me I have three categories really: the jazz side, the classical side and then the film music/arranging/orchestrating - the rethinking and revamping of a song. It is always these three categories for me.
What are your hobbies outside of performing?
I just got into photography. So I have quite a professional camera now and am doing a lot of photography.
I also do a lot of Photoshop, so I design a lot of my own logos, as well as logos for my girlfriend and CD covers for my friends.
I am also an avid gamer, so I am often playing PlayStation and Nintendo!
What’s your favourite song to play with Down for the Count?
I have one that always brings a tear to my eye because my grandmother was also a piano player and a singer and she would always listen to Ella Fitzgerald. I remember my dad telling me that he has an early childhood memory of my grandmother listening to the radio whilst he was playing outside and she was listening to Mr. Paganini.
So every time we play, and it is the Ella Fitzgerald arrangement as well, it just brings a tear to my eye. It has everything - it has the soul, it has the blues, it has the swing, it has the improv. That’s my sweet spot, Mr. Paganini.
What’s your favourite part of being involved with Down for the Count?
For me it is the fact that the first time I played with Down for the Count it was like I was literally playing along with my playlist. I think the music is basically 90% of what I have listened to my whole life - it’s scary because it’s literally the same songs and even the same arrangements sometimes. A lot of Nelson Riddle, Ella Fitzgerald and Nat King Cole.
I think Mike has a very similar taste to me.