Roger "Chip" Wickham is a saxophonist/flutist/producer/composer who resides in Madrid, Doha in Qatar, and the U.K. His vintage-influenced, open, warm brand of modal jazz weaves together the great expansive traditions of the ’60s and ’70s but owes its sound equally to the 21st century’s creative Manchester scene — GoGo Penguin, Matthew Halsall, Nat Birchall — as well as the marketplaces of the Middle East and the clamorous late-night barrios of Madrid. Before releasing his two acclaimed solo albums — the self-produced La Sombra in 2017 and Shamal Wind a year later — Wickham had an entirely different musical career: During the ’90s and early aughts, he was a producer and multi-instrumentalist with Grand Central Records, working and playing with Rae & Christian, the Pharcyde, Jimpster, Nightmares on Wax, and Graham Massey, among many others. He later branched out as a sideman, touring and recording with higher-profile artists such as Badly Drawn Boy and Roy Ayers before moving to Madrid in 2007 and becoming a solo artist.
Wickham was born in Brighton but raised in Manchester. His fascination with jazz began with his father’s record collection, where he encountered the music of Harold McNair, Rahsaan Roland Kirk, Yusef Lateef, Stan Getz, Thelonious Monk, and John Coltrane. He learned to play flute and then saxophone during his teens and pursued music while in secondary school. From then into his twenties, he was deeply under the sway of the U.K.’s breakbeat, hip-hop and house music scenes. Wickham got a gig working as a sideman, engineer, and producer with Manchester’s Grand Central Records. The following decade was spent writing, producing, and remixing tracks for a wide range of artists.
After moving to Madrid in 2007, he joined the explosion of the city’s soul-jazz scene as it met the world stage. He brought together his U.K. and Spanish musician friends to form the Fire Eaters. While the original idea for the group was to be a backing band for old friend Eddie Roberts (of the New Mastersounds fame), they eventually became a “proper” band, releasing a few singles and an album for Légère Recordings under the moniker Eddie Roberts & the Fire Eaters. His best-known effort from this period was Fried Samba in 2007, with his electro-Latin project Malena. He also released a couple of singles on Madrid’s Lovemonk label that melded raw funk and heavy Latin beats, which in turn directed him toward his long-desired exploration of soul-jazz and hard funk.
Wickham remained active as a musician outside Spain, too. In 2008, he played alto and tenor saxophone and flute on Matthew Halsall’s breakthrough album Sending My Love. He also played and recorded with the New Mastersounds (leading to a guest spot on their Japanese tour following the success of the single “Chocolate Chip” named for his iconic flute break). After the single’s success, he got many more calls. Soon he was writing and producing session work for groups such as Lack of Afro, Deep Street Soul, and many more, amassing dozens of production and playing credits. This activity culminated in an invitation to join the Craig Charles Fantasy Funk Band. Based on a poll from Charles’ top-rated BBC 6 radio show, Wickham was chosen to play alongside the cream of the U.K. funk & soul scene, which included James Taylor, Snowboy, the Haggis Horns, John Turrell, and Mick Talbot. That said, the experience with Halsall hadn’t left him. In fact, quite the opposite — it made Wickham yearn to play jazz full-time. He assembled a quartet with three longtime Spanish jazz scene veterans: Pianist Gabri Casanova, double bassist David Salvador, and vibraphonist/percussionist Antonio Pax. Together they cut La Sombra, a spiritual jazz album produced and mixed by Wickham featuring six of his own compositions and a fiery cover of the Federico García Lorca-and-Ricardo Pachón Capitán-penned “La Leyenda del Tiempo,” made immortal by a recording from Camaron de la Isla.
La Sombra was released by Lovemonk in 2017 to aplomb and acclaim; Wickham issued his first jazz solo album at the age of 42. The album was enthusiastically reviewed in publications all over the globe and playlisted on Jazz FM. It received voluminous support from BBC radio personalities Charles and Gilles Peterson — the latter included the album in his “Best Album of 2017” list, and the track “Red Planet” on Vol. 12 of the DJ’s Brownswood Bubblers series. An EP called La Sombra Remixes featured a new mix of “Red Planet” by Detroit house master Andrés, alongside the “La Sombra (Spaceways Radio Edit)” by Build an Ark’s Carlos Niño.
That spring, Wickham’s wife took a teaching appointment in Doha and he established another address in Qatar, though he was busy enough to continue flitting back and forth between Madrid, the U.K., and the Middle East.
Just as he had in Madrid, Wickham soaked up local sounds and influences, and researched jazz recordings that had been influenced by the region’s folk and classical music and culture — especially in the recordings of Lateef, Sahib Shihab, and bassist/oudist Ahmed Abdul-Malik. Wickham reassembled his band and a host of other contributors to record Shamal Wind. While Salvador remained on double bass, this group included a new pianist in Phil Wilkinson (though Casanova played electric piano on the cut “Rebel No. 23”). His guests included trumpeter Halsall on “The Mirage,” percussionist David "El Indio" García, and vibist Ton Risco. Wickham played all three of his instruments, and composed and produced the album. It incorporated a meld of contemplative spiritual jazz, fiery soul-jazz, and exploratory, labyrinthine hard-bop. Shamal Wind was issued in May of 2018 to greater acclaim than its predecessor, and was followed by a well-received tour in Europe and Asia.
Two years later, in May 2020, Wickham returned with Blue to Red, an album defined by soaring flute melodies, lush harp arpeggios, and glistening keys. He made the flute a central tenet in a spiritual jazz set that drew heavily on the influences of Alice Coltrane and Yusef Lateef, woven through a production tapestry of hip-hop, electronic, and club music that juxtaposes Wickham’s disparate set of production influences with his Manchester jazz education. His sessions players included harpist Amanda Whiting (Gondwana Orchestra), keyboardist Dan Goldman, and drummer Jon Scott. ~ Thom Jurek