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Our Special Interest music holidays hit all the right notes

If you want to learn more about jazz whilst relaxing in Dorset or soak up the sights of the Douro on a Gilbert and Sullivan-themed river cruise, our carefully-designed music holidays include everything you need to further your interest.

Each holiday features a thrilling programme, which includes concerts, live performances at your hotel or screenings of musical productions. Your knowledgeable host, who will have a rich musical background, will also give enlightening talks to further enhance your holiday.

Music host, Peter Grevatt

quote marckWhat do you think sparked your interest in music? Have you always been interested?

One of the first things that sparked my interest in music was watching the film The Great Caruso, with Mario Lanza.

Where did you learn about music and acquire the knowledge you convey to guests?

I had a great learning experience going to the Florence Opera Music Festival aged 23, where I was lucky enough to work with Pavarotti.

Which music pieces are you most inspired by, and why?

Rigoletto, one of the greatest baritone roles has been particularly inspirational to me. I have never accepted it yet, I have too much respect for it!

Do any of the Saga music holidays that you host particularly stand out to you as being firm customer favourites and if so, why?

The Verona Opera Festival is particularly great because from my point of view, as an opera singer, they have some of the best singers in the world.

What can a customer expect from one of your music holidays, and why should they choose Saga?

I’ve never seen any other hosts do my job, but from what my guests tell me, my presentations tend to be both lively and entertaining.

What do you think is the most interesting or exciting part of your job?

I love spending time with the guests. The energy that they give back is fantastic, with all of the discussions and reminiscing about singers and performers from the past."

A little more about Peter...

After studying Theology and Philosophy at King's College London, Peter studied voice with Jean Austin Dodson and Derek Hammond-Stroud of the Royal Academy of Music. He went on to train with Michael Maurel before singing with the Maggio Musicale Fiorentino in Florence and touring with the British Youth Opera.

Peter's professional debut was as the title character in Mozart's 'Marriage of Figaro' with the London Opera Players, and other roles included Malatesta in Donizetti's 'Don Pasquale' at Holland Park, and Pish-Tush in 'The Mikado' with D'Oyly Carte. To date, he has among 60 operatic roles and thirty oratorios under his belt!

Jazz host, John Shillito

quote marckWhat do you think sparked your interest in jazz? Have you always been interested?

As a child, I always enjoyed music, singing, and listening to and watching bands. Without knowing what it was, I’d heard jazz on the radio, and found it exciting.

However, it was my older cousin, Brian, who first really introduced me to the music, playing some of his 78 jazz records on a wind-up gramophone. I was 11 or 12 at the time, and, from that moment, I guess the direction of my life was set! I thought “Gosh, that’s something different! That’s good!” Brian told me where I could get some more of this music and where I could go to hear it played live.

From then on I spent all of my pocket money (from doing several newspaper rounds) on jazz records and I soon decided that listening was not enough - I had to start playing as well. Several of my uncles played in silver bands, and one of them loaned me a cornet and taught me the fingering of the scale of C. The rest I have taught myself over the past 70 years.

Where did you learn about jazz and acquire the knowledge you convey to guests?

Whilst still at school I would spend my evenings finding places where I could listen to jazz being played live. Under age, I often persuaded musicians, or their wives and girlfriends to smuggle me into pubs and clubs. My parents thought that I wasn't concentrating enough on my school work, and so my father said that if I passed all my O-Level exams he would buy me a brand new trumpet. I did - Dad was as good as his word - and a brand new Boosey and Hawkes Regent trumpet (£24 at the time) became my very own and replaced the borrowed cornet. I’m a natural enthusiast, and, ever since experiencing the irresistibility of jazz music, I’ve always sought to discover more about it, the origins, the history, and the musicians who have developed its different forms. Similarly, I continually try to improve my own musical ability. I’ve never had formal music lessons, but I continue to learn more about music through listening, reading and speaking to other musicians.

Tell us a bit about your career outside of Saga and your achievement.

My career outside of Saga has not been only confined to music. From 1958 I worked in London, and travelled widely as professional musician; but I moved to Devon in 1973, where I trained and became involved in special education, as a cognitive behaviour therapist and carer. I continued to work as a musician, but, in my day job I had the privilege of working in special schools, with some very special professionals and some extra special kids. I helped to create, set up and implement individual programmes to support and assist the development of some young people whose behavioural deficits and disorders had placed them in special education. I was, of course, also able to use music to help to engage many of my young clients; and I followed this equally rewarding aspect of my career for 30 years whilst all the time continuing to work actively as a musician.

Which jazz pieces are you most inspired by, and why? And where is your favourite place in the world to play jazz?

The first music I heard that inspired me to play, was by the soprano sax player, Sidney Bechet. That was on my cousin’s gramophone. Bechet was probably the first great jazz virtuoso, and in my teens, I also had the privilege of hearing him at two live performances. Since then, countless musicians and bands have added to that inspiration. I’ve soaked up so much from music and musicians, and not just in the genre of jazz, that it’s really unfair and impossible to single out a few. However, I guess, among the names of people who have been particularly inspirational I must include Louis Armstrong, Henry ‘Red’ Allen, George Lewis and Billie Holiday. Their music has made a particularly emotional connection with me, although, as a player, I do not consciously model myself on anyone. I’ve always tried to be my own person, with my own style. No point in pretending to be someone else or in repainting original masterpieces!

New Orleans is one of my favourite places, of course. I like to go whenever I can and have friends who play there. It has a great atmosphere. That’s where it all began, and visiting re-affirms my connection with the roots of my music. But my favourite place is anywhere I’m playing, at the time I’m playing. There’s always the potential for it to be the most memorable time of my life.

Tell us more about the bands that you take with you.

On some Saga holidays I take my own band. It’s a six-piece sometimes referred to as the ‘Select Six’. Most of us have been together for over a quarter of a century - and we’ve known each other much longer. So, we get on pretty well. We play music in the traditional jazz idiom, understand each other and know each other’s playing inside out. We’ve got a repertoire that stretches out of sight, and I can’t remember having a session together that wasn’t enjoyable.

I also have another band that delights me equally. It’s called the Riviera Ramblers, because we play mostly in and around the Torbay area, which likes to be regarded as the English Riviera. I guess this is more of what people might call a swing band, but it also has a manouche, gypsy flavour with two guitars. Also, with a great repertoire, it swings along irresistibly and gives me (and, I hope, our audiences) many hours of pleasure.

On Saga Jazz Holidays I sometimes get the opportunity to play with other bands. These are, quite often, largely made up of friends of mine who I have met through my career in music over the years. It’s always a thrill to sit in with other musicians and to experience an uncharted musical journey in front of a live audience. The band leader counts the number in –there’s no map and I don’t know where we’re going to go for the next few minutes, but it usually passes through outstanding musical territory, and we (usually) all end up in the same place at the same time.

What can a customer expect from one of your jazz holidays, and why should they choose Saga?

Guests can expect a very sociable, relaxing and rewarding time. Because people who come on the jazz holidays are interested in the same music, there is a tremendous bond between guests. Saga Tour Managers tell me that they are some of the most sociable holidays that they experience. You don’t need to be a jazz ‘expert’, or a died-in-the-wool aficionado, because the music is always accessible, easy to listen (and dance) to. Bands are of reliable, professional quality and the musicians, as well as entertainers are sociable characters with whom to spend a holiday.

The hotels and accommodation are of dependably high Saga standard. The food, drink and environment have all the ingredients to make a holiday very relaxing. Everything is taken care of and there is no mistaking the actual quality of what is provided.

You have hosted a number of jazz holidays with Saga over the years – is there a particular one that you look forward to each year or that you know customers particularly enjoy?

I look forward to them all because they are all individual for their different reasons. As well as the UK, I’ve hosted holidays in France, Holland, Germany, Spain, Croatia, Portugal, Cyprus, Malta and the Caribbean. We’ve enjoyed great times in Devon, Dorset, Kent, Wales, Worcestershire and many other places. Jazz river cruises are always like week-long floating house parties and the Christmas Jazz Holidays are a splendid way to enjoy the Festive Season away from home.

Do you have any interesting stories or anecdotes from your time hosting Saga Jazz holidays?

Sometimes guests will bring their own instruments along. Several have brought trumpets, others have brought ukuleles and one chap even brought his washboard! At Christmas time I set up my drum kit for guests to try, and I sometimes give out tambourines and other percussion instruments – or kazoos. Many guests also like to join in and sing from time to time. Some may have had careers as singers, or perhaps it’s just an interest. But guests are never forced to participate – I’m always aware that they’ve paid to come on a Jazz Holiday to relax and enjoy music made by professional musicians. We’ve had some very honourable guests too; outstanding retired musicians from British jazz history, the founder of the National Jazz Federation, and the musician who was the pianist in the very first live jazz band – Apex Jazz Band – that I used to watch as a schoolboy in Sheffield."

A little more about John...

John left his hometown of Sheffield to pursue a music career in London. He lived there for 15 years and successfully led his own band, which included a very young Sammy Rimington. He played in Micky Ashman’s Ragtime Band and the Lounge Lizards, as well as working freelance and as a soloist. He replaced the legendary Ken Colyer when he retired and his band became John Bastable's Chosen Six. He’s played in the USA, Russia and South Africa as well as most European countries. Well known as a ‘straight down the middle’ dependable lead trumpeter in his field of jazz, he’s recently celebrated 60 years of band leading under his own name, and at 81 years of age, is still on top of his game. As full of enthusiasm as he was when he started out, his musicality, knowledge and approachability mean that John is always a popular host with Saga guests.