Jazz and Drugs

‘Doctor Jazz ‘ Words – Walter Melrose, Music – Joe ‘King’ Oliver http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=MfaDuNc-oLY

Jazz and drugs, from reefers to benzedrine inhalers to smack and coke, have quite a history in common. There’s no point in being prudish or judgemental about it. Think of those Ravers dancing all night to Barber or Mick Mulligan. Just break that inhaler you bought over the counter and that strip inside will keep you going for hours. Then there was grass and hash – not for nothing did it come to be known as the ‘jazz woodbine’. All kinds of dope could be bought over the counter, scored from mates of found in the medicine cabinet at home – GPs back then prescribed barbiturates when your dad couldn’t sleep and amphetamines when your mum needed to shed a few pounds. Nobody really thought that much about it and even when it came to harder stuff there was a lot of naivety around.

James Lincoln Collier wrote in The Making of Jazz (1981) that between 50-75% of bop players in America had some experience with hard drugs, that between 25-33% were seriously addicted and that as many as 20% were killed by it. Heroin never cut quite such a swathe through British jazz in the 50s and 60s but quite a few got hooked and a few of those gave their lives for it. Then there were those who, maybe, never took Heroin – Ronnie Scott tried it once but it made him sick and that put him off – but liked a line of coke or ‘Peruvian marching powder’ as Ronnie sometimes called it.

And before we start getting prissy, let’s not forget that this scene has always run on booze. Think of the Speakeasy’s in the States or the clubs and pubs at home where most of us first heard this music. There was something magical about sitting there, a beer in front of you – legal or underage – watching and hearing those guys on stage seen through a blue haze of cigarette smoke. There’s lots of things we know better now and a whole lot more we don’t. But from the 30s through to the 60s, part of the appeal of jazz was its sense of danger and the forbidden.

On 15th April 1950, forty police officers raided Club 11 in Carnaby Street. This was, of course, the birthplace of British modern jazz. They found about 200 men and women, black and white, aged between 17-30. Ten were in possession of Hashish, two other had a small amount of Cocaine each and one a similar amount of Morphine. In addition, another 23 wraps of Hash, a number of joints, another packet of Cocaine, some Opium and an empty morphine ampoule were picked up by officers from the club floor. The club closed and these miscreants, including Ronnie Scott, walked away with heavy fines. Ronnie was probably quite lucky. After all, he already had a conviction for possessing Cocaine.

Those readers old enough to remember will recall all that stuff in the 60s about drug-influenced rock music and ‘experts’ on ‘serious’ news programmes waffling about how this or that related to Marijuana or LSD. There was some truth in that waffle, however. Some rock musicians certainly might have tried to convey what it was like to be stoned on some really heavy gear or how a trip might sound if you could just put it to music. Others, who didn’t inhale, maybe didn’t want to seem unhip and jumped on the wagon as it passed by. But it is hard to hear in most British jazz of the 60s any such drug influences, unless it’s the obvious one of cider upon Acker and his Paramount Jazzband.

To understand drug use in jazz back then, you don’t need a degree in Sociology. In one sense, it kind of goes with the territory of late nights, long journeys by road to get back from a gig, lengthy recording sessions that pay the rent and a certain amount of scuffling just to get by. It’s a way of life where you meet all sorts – John McVicar was a Scott Club regular when he wasn’t doing time, whilst the famous Regency Club was owned by the Kray twins. Jazz brought people together across cultures, sometimes those where use of certain drugs was perhaps more culturally acceptable than it was within the mainstream. This was not a ‘9-5, mortgage, pipe and slippers, Sunday roast’ kind of life. It was marginal and at the margins, different rules sometimes apply.

I think we also need to understand that often people do not try a drug because they or their lives are deficient in some way. They might do it out of peer pressure or simply out of curiosity and, if it were to prove a pleasurable experience, they might begin to use more regularly. Drugs – including alcohol – can be fun, can be nice, can be pleasurable. Depressant drugs like alcohol, Heroin, Morphine, Opium, Barbiturates and Cannabis – Cannabis is a bit of a hybrid, also having potentially psychedelic effects – can relax you and make you feel at peace with yourself and the world. Psychedelics like LSD, Mescaline and Peyote offer distortions of reality through the senses that some find exciting and even profound. Take Aldous Huxley, for example. Then there are the stimulants like Cocaine and Amphetamine – coffee and tobacco also contain stimulants in caffeine and nicotine. These drugs offered heightened sensations. People feel very powerful, excited, in control and vibrant under their influence and they provide a sometimes incredible rush through the central nervous system that some find addictive in itself. And different drugs serve different situations and mood states. I hate to state the obvious but we – including those of us who drink tea, coffee and alcohol and smoke tobacco – use drugs because of what they do for us. The differences lie as much in differential levels of harm and in their legal/illegal status.

Clip of Reefer Madness http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=sbjHOBJzhb0

In August 1960, Stan Tracey was gaoled for six months for possession of Cannabis with intent to supply. He had bought the dope from a Nigerian acquaintance, who had agreed to send him ‘Indian hemp’ for £25 per pound but the shipment was intercepted. There is a kind of almost period charm to the Melody Maker account. Stan’s solicitor told the court in mitigation that six months ago, “Tracey was tempted to try an Indian hemp cigarette and he found it gave him a ‘fine feeling of well-being and inspiration’.” Unfortunately, however, his solicitor continued, “he did not have the strength of will to tell the Nigerian to stop further supplies.” Maybe at the time, this might have seemed shocking even to fans of the music. Now, the feeling is more one of ‘so what’ and ‘tough break, man!’. After all, long before Bob Dylan introduced The Beatles to the delights of Mary Jane, smoking pot was commonplace on the jazz scene.

Stan has always been upfront about his past drug use. His use of Cocaine and Heroin isn’t something he is proud of but neither is it something that requires penance of any kind. His story tells in an intriguing way how he started doing Heroin.

“Because before I started using heroin I was into cocaine and I got hooked on the mechanics of snorting, the chopping up and snorting.  One night, the guy I used to get the coke from didn’t have any but he had some heroin – I never did inject.  He said, ‘You just crush it up the same as you do with coke and away you go.’  So, I did and I liked the effect.  So, I used it for a few nights or maybe a week and then suddenly I discovered I was very pooped out and tired in the afternoon – I didn’t realise I was having withdrawals.”

The pattern Tracey describes is not unusual.  Quite a lot of cocaine users slide into using heroin either out of curiosity or in the absence of their drug of choice or as a means of coming down from the high of cocaine.  Bobby Wellins’ addiction followed a similar pattern to Tracey’s and for him, as with Tubby Hayes, one factor seems to have been a dissatisfaction with his art.  In Hayes’ case, this focused on doubts about his own playing.  In Bobby Wellins’ case, as we noted earlier, his frustrations lay in a perceived sense that British musicians were seen as second-rate, even within their own country.

“I didn’t even drink.  I can only speak for myself when I say that I became disillusioned with the fact that British jazz musicians – as far as I was concerned – were third- class citizens and everyone else who came either from Europe or America were like the ‘bees’ knees’.  The sudden shock of a young man, who at my age was very sensitive anyway and who was working hard to be a better and better musician but who didn’t have a great deal of confidence, I suppose you could say I was disillusioned and I just found solace.  It was nothing to do with playing better I can assure you of that.  It didn’t do anything to make one play better.”

He continues,

“Others from the community at the time suddenly get hooked and I think it was for the same reasons that I’ve been talking about.  The American Federation of Musicians had made an agreement with the British Musicians’ Union and, as soon as the Americans started coming in, the floodgates were open and we were in our little corner trying to get work.  And as much as we were delighted that we were hearing all of our idols in the flesh, we suddenly realised that they were doing all the tours around the country, so our work suffered very badly.”

Ironically, it was Tubby Hayes who first gave Wellins some cocaine, as he tells me, “‘Try a bit of this, old boy,’ he said.  ‘That will cheer you up.  That was the start of it.”  He was then introduced to heroin by another musician, whom he declined to name, saying, “Yes, there was no cocaine available and the person in question said, ‘I’ve got a bit of this, if you want to try it.’ and so I did.”

Clip from Cocaine Fiends http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=JIcUYVZTG3c

There’s a certain innocence to these stories that nowadays seems quite astounding. When Ginger Baker first tried Heroin, it was as if his playing had reached a whole new level, as he told me in an interview in 2009. “The first time I used it, I was working with the Johnny Scott Quintet.  It was a gig in Brighton and all the band turned round to me afterwards, ‘You played fucking amazing tonight’ and I thought I’d found the answer.  I wasn’t aware at that time that it was habit-forming.  I thought it was just like smoking dope.  That is how I got into it.”

As he explained, it took many years to get off drugs despite its impact on his personal and professional life.

“I was a registered addict by 1961.  That cost me a lot of work.  It cost me the Dankworth job.  I did the audition for the Dankworth band and all the band were raving about it and somebody told John I was using smack and Ronnie Stephenson got the gig and became a bigger junkie than me, which was really quite funny.”

Author and drug worker Harry Shapiro offers a possible insight into the kinds of processes that were going on within individuals and within their milieu when he notes, “But I think it was very much part of this sense of being an outsider in society.  And, of course, they knew about Charlie Parker and people like that.  Jack Bruce said to me that they called this the Charlie Parker death wish, that somehow in order to reach the heights of somebody like Parker you had to get into the depths of heroin to look for the inspiration, which was misguided clearly.  But it had a certain sense to it in the way…. not that heroin was an inspiration to great music but that somehow it let them insulate themselves from the world.”

But there is another side to this. Not everybody on the scene used Heroin or Cocaine. Many preferred alcohol and maybe an occasional joint with speed being an occasional extra for that little lift – “Mother’s Little Helper”, as Jagger and Richards called it. At the same time, there was a degree of tolerance on the scene, certainly of those like Phil Seamen and Tubby Hayes who could still take care of business. This was a peer group of outsiders, that combined a relaxed tolerance of aberrant behaviour with cool detachment.  If this was your bag and you could still play, that was all that really mattered. Bassist Coleridge Goode describes his embarrassment when the Joe Harriott Quintet supported Dave Brubeck and Seamen, who had just shot up, vomited on stage. Brubeck was watching from the wings. As Goode says, “I wanted the stage to open up so I could just disappear.  It was horrible, really horrible.” But Seamen’s unreliability did not stop people hiring him. He was, after all, a master on his instrument.

Phil Seamen in the film ‘The Golden Disc’


Throughout the sixties, Britain operated a benevolent treatment-oriented approach to drug addiction (established in 1926 following the report of the Rolleston Committee), one that allowed for maintenance of the habit rather than ‘cure’. That system came under pressure from various quarters. Some doctors, like John Petro and Lady Frankau, writing scripts for cash and that brought the disrepute on what was with hindsight a sensible and laudable approach. It is true that the character of the drug dependant population that came under the Rolleston system had begun to change. Originally, those registered tended to be middle-class, often with injuries acquired in war or accidents and needing strong forms of pain relief. Or they were involved in medicine in some way and had become addicted through access to these kinds of medication. By the end of the fifties and certainly by the end of the sixties, the balance had shifted more in terms of recreational users, including jazz musicians. Even so, back then numbers of those addicted barely stretched into four figures. Now, a reasonable estimate of the number of users of Heroin and ‘Crack’ Cocaine would between 250 and 300 thousand. The ‘war on drugs’ will certainly not be over by Christmas.

The approach to other forms of drug use in Britain in the 60s contrasted greatly with the benign Rolleston regime. In terms of pills, Cannabis and LSD, the full weight of the law was frequently brought to bear and as attitudes to the illegal use of ‘soft’ drugs hardened, this increasing emphasis on the criminalisation of drugs and users was another factor in the eventual abandonment of the Rolleston approach.

Clip from The Man with the Golden Arm http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=0JNPS-Tyzko

Mercifully, few British musicians saw their lives were cut short by Heroin use. We would have to note here Tubby Hayes, Phil Seamen, Graham Bond, drummers Dickie Devere, Benny Goodman and Red Reece, saxophonists Glenn Hughes and John Marshall, singer Joy Marshall and multi-instrumentalist Alan Branscombe. Others like Stan Tracey, Peter King and Bobby Wellins survived and have continued to bless our scene, whilst another fine pianist, Terry Shannon, left jazz in order to escape addiction. These weren’t the only British musicians to use Heroin (and/or Cocaine) by any means but their mention is surely enough to allow us to understand something of what ‘hard’ drug use meant to British jazz in this period.

LSD use amongst British jazzers was less common. I know of a couple of players who took psychedelics a few times but only a few such as pianist Mike Taylor, saxophonist Dave Tomlin and, of course, Graham Bond used regularly. LSD certainly contributed to Taylor’s mental health problems and, perhaps, indirectly to his early death. However, most musicians I have interviewed suggested that the visual and auditory hallucinations associated with heavy end psychedelic drugs such as LSD and Mescaline would make playing a music as complex as jazz extraordinarily difficult. The other drug in fairly common use in the sixties was Amphetamine Sulphate in its various forms. Some musicians may have used it as a means of keeping going through long hours on the stand coupled often with day jobs in recording studios or at the BBC. Others may have used it because it gives confidence and seems to take the edge off stage fright. To my knowledge only two musicians developed a serious problem with Amphetamines. Stan Tracey acknowledges that he was using ‘speed’ in the late 60s and early 70s. His big band album Seven Ages Of Man (Columbia) was, in his view at least, affected negatively by his use of ‘speed’.

“Yeah, I’m not entirely happy with that one.  I was treating myself to certain substances during Seven Ages and some of the stuff I wrote came out of a place it shouldn’t have done.  It was bloody Dexedrine.  I got into it the same way I got to taking everything else.  I got so that I wouldn’t write unless I had some.  You know that album with Ben Webster – Webster’s Dictionary – that was entirely Dexedrine.  It just used to spark me off but Seven Ages I was trying too hard.”

Stan dealt with that, as he had his dependence on Heroin. Not so, however, the brilliant saxophonist Mike Osborne. Osborne probably had a predisposition for Schizophrenia but his use of Amphetamine and Cocaine certainly did not help. He was hospitalised several times as a result of psychotic episodes that were in part a consequence of his use of stimulants. From 1980 onwards, that wonderful and unique voice and gift that Ossie had was silent.

But perhaps the strangest tale of addiction that I came across in writing Trad Dads, Dirty Boppers and Free Fusioneers concerned trumpeter Bert Courtley. In a way, it seems to sum up the confusion of British drug policy then and since. Bert’s addiction was to a proprietary brand of medicine dating back to Victorian times, called Dr. Collis Browne’s Chlorodyne.  It could be bought at pharmacists and even corner stores as a remedy for all manner of complaints and was certainly still available well into the seventies.

Bert Courtley was married to that fine tenor saxophonist Kathy Stobart and died in 1969.  He had played with Ted Heath, with Don Rendell in the Jazz Committee and the Jazz Six and had done sessions for pop groups like the Beatles. As Stobart tells me, her husband’s problems began when he was asked to share lead trumpet duties in the Heath band.  Courtley was very talented but lacked confidence in his abilities.  What began as a ‘stiff one’ before a gig to calm his nerves became something else all together. At some point, he started taking Chlorodyne and it killed him. As Kathy told me,

“I remember opening a cupboard and a whole load of them falling out.  I couldn’t believe my eyes.  When the doctor found out what he’d been taking, he said that the medical profession had been trying for years to get it taken off the market.  Eventually, it was taken off the market but not until it had finished Bert’s liver.”

Dr. Collis Browne’s potion was advertised in the late 19th century as “a liquid medicine which assuages pain of every kind, affords a calm refreshing sleep without headache and invigorates the nervous system when exhausted.” Given that it was a mixture of hydrochloride of morphine, chloroform, ether and prussic acid, with treacle, liquorice and peppermint to make it palatable, it would surely meet current advertising standards!  It did exactly what it said on the tin – and more.

For me, the very fact that one could be busted for possession of Cannabis but take a perfectly legal but extraordinarily dangerous medicine like this tells us a great deal about the morally-determined character of British drug laws.

‘Who Put the Benzedrine in Mrs. Murphy’s Ovaltine’ by Harry ‘The Hipster’ Gibson http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=-WJq35UvO_o

NB: This lecture was originally given at the National Jazz Archive, Loughton, Essex in March 2013. It is based on the chapter on drugs and British jazz in ‘Trad Dads, Dirty Boppers and Free Fusioneers’.


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“New Routes through an Ancient Landscape” – Russian Saxophonist Alexey Kruglov

Excessive praise can damn a fledgling career.  Yet there are occasions when a critic hears a new voice that is just that – that is different, distinctive and even dissident.  I hesitate to say it but Russian saxophonist Alexey Kruglov may just be all these. Continue reading

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Editor’s note: This article first appeared in Jazz UK in 2002. Sadly, the efforts of Gilles Peterson and Tony Higgins did not, as many of us had hoped, result in the reissue of the vast British jazz archive on Universal records. However, it did perhaps prompt companies such as Dutton Vocalion and BGO to come to arrangements with Universal that have allowed many wonderful albums to find their way to CD. For that, our thanks go to Gilles and Tony.

‘This beautiful music deserves to be heard not for extortionate prices but for the £9 or £10 of buying a CD and not just by the core Jazz fans but it’s people like me and younger that are very open-minded to hearing lots of different styles of Jazz.  It’s as fresh hearing it now as it must been hearing it then.’   Nathan Graves, Head of Jazz, Universal Records.

Rarely does the release of a compilation CD merit headlines but that’s definitely the case with Impressed, a unique plundering of the vaults courtesy of DJ Gilles Peterson and Universal Records.  For the first time in years, Jazz fans can hear some of the best British music of the sixties – music long missing in action.  With tunes from Joe Harriott, Ronnie Ross, Mike Garrick and the much lamented Rendell-Carr Quintet, the album already looks like a winner.  There’s a lot riding on it.  If it’s successful, fans can expect to see some of these rarest of rare records back in the racks.

We asked Gilles Peterson how it started.  “Really, it started just as doing tapes and things for myself and my friends.  I’d started picking up some of these British Jazz records from the sixties and made a tape together and I thought I should send it to Nathan Graves at Universal because they own a lot of this stuff. He’s a really lovely guy and he liked it. He just said, ‘Yeah, let’s do it.’

As for the choice of the eight tracks to include, it simply came down to the first that got cleared and that they found the masters for.  I asked Gilles how they found these legendary tapes and he tells me that Tony Higgins, his manager (and author of Impressed’s excellent sleeve notes), did the detective work.  Gilles tells me, “It took ages.  I put this together three years ago and it’s taken that long.  Until he got on the case who understood all about the Lansdowne series and got to speak to the musicians it was on hold.” 

Only one track, the Joe Harriott/Amancio D’Silva Quartet’s lovely Jaipur, needed to be mastered off vinyl.  For the rest, including Rendell-Carr Quintet’s version of pianist Mike Garrick’s era-defining Dusk Fire, were there on near pristine tape in Hanover.  Given his involvement with Jazz-Dance, I wondered if he’d been tempted to remix the tracks.  Gilles just shrugs off the question, “Remixing?  No.  I’d rather try and get the bands back together.” 

If any Jazz UK readers are surprised by Gilles’ involvement in the project, then their view of him is somewhat one-dimensional.  Nathan Graves is full of praise for Gilles and as he suggests,  “It was having someone like Gilles with his media profile that made me think we’ve definitely got to do this.”  To Gilles, ‘It’s all Jazz.’   His personal journey into the music was through Funk bands like Light of the World and Incognito and from there via Herbie Hancock and Chick Corea to Coltrane and Miles and onto the European and British scenes.  “I’ve always had two areas to think about when I’m putting music together.  I think about it as a club DJ, so things like the Tubby Hayes’ Down in the Village or Ronnie Ross’ Cleopatra’s have been Classics in that arena for some time.  But then as a radio DJ I’m able to go a lot deeper and play things like Dusk Fire or those beautiful Mike Garrick melodies.  Those songs can sit in perfectly on the radio.  I can play Hip Hop next to Black Marigolds.”  As Gilles says, it’s all about creating a context for the music.

I asked Tony Higgins what they’d found as a result of his ‘detective work’.  “It was a case of deduction really.  I contacted the chief librarian in Hanover and lo’ and behold all five of the Rendell-Carr tapes were there.  Sadly we couldn’t find all of the (Denis Preston) Lansdowne recordings.  For instance we don’t know where the Joe Harriott ‘Hum Dono’ tapes are.”  I ask what else is missing and Tony tells me that both guitarist Amancio D’Silva’s albums – Integration and Reflection have yet to surface but to Tony’s relief both Neil Ardley’s New Jazz Orchestra records – Western Union and Déjeuner Sur L’herbe – and his album featuring Don Rendell and Ian Carr, Greek Variations have turned up.   

The problem arises that the different labels changed hands several times and tapes moved around over the years.  But Tony isn’t giving up.  “I’m hoping that someone somewhere has these tapes.  I intend to make a hit list of thirty to forty key albums of that time and pin them down in the hope they can be released.” 

When I spoke to him about Impressed, Ian Carr told me a story about the Rendell-Carr Quintet.  “That was a great group.  It was very, very poetic music and it brought a lot of people into Jazz.  I met this guy who wrote for Avant Magazine and he came and spoke to me at a concert.  He said, ‘I’ve always meant to tell you that a friend and I thought we should get into Jazz and we went to see the Rendell-Carr Quintet and the spotlight shone on you and you began to play your solo and that was the very moment I fell in love with Jazz.”   I know the story’s true – I was that soldier.

I asked Mike Garrick, who features on the CD with his own trio and on the two Rendell-Carr Quintet tracks about the lovely tune he wrote for Rendell, Dusk Fire.  That’s the one they’re playing in my memory at that concert all those years ago.  “Dusk Fire  does seem to be a special piece, in that Don took it to his soul.  He loved it and I think it brought out the finest qualities of Don as a Jazz musician.  So, every performance we did of Dusk Fire was special and I didn’t feel that to the same extent with any other piece, though Black Marigolds (also featured) took off as well.  But the emotional level that Don attained on that track was at its peak.  I had just to jot down the tune – it took me all of about ten minutes to write – which enabled us to bring this feeling out of the group and not just Don.  It was Don who wanted a big intense introduction to the piece.  He would want it absolutely boiling and then he’d come in on top of it.  Absolutely beautiful.”  I can’t add a thing to that.

Nathan Graves tells me that the advance response from critics and retail outlets has been positive enough to warrant a follow-up CD.  He also wants to reissue the original albums but this well depend on sales of Impressed.  “This isn’t by any means a done deal yet but I’d like to do that with Tony Higgins who’s put a proposal to me.  We’ll work towards this year on doing batches of the originals.”  There’s also talk of some reunion concerts from Gilles and Tony and from my conversation with Ian Carr, it certainly sounds like he’s up for it.  The exciting thing is that there seems to be an audience out there – and not just of ‘forty-fifty somethings’ either.

With original Rendell-Carr and Mike Garrick records selling for hundreds of pounds – often but not only in Japan – these are rare artefacts that fans are collecting like stamps or Art.  But what is it apart from scarcity – most went out on print runs of no more than 500 copies – that makes them special.  Everyone I talked to from Gilles and Tony to Nathan and to musicians like Ian Carr and Mike Garrick all agree this was a special time.   There’s a particular passion that comes across from Gilles, Tony and Nathan.  When I suggest that they represent a missing piece of history, Tony Higgins puts it like this, “Definitely.  Not only is it great music and playing, they are historical and social artefacts.  They represent a bridge between one school of music and another.  It’s about time these guys’ work was acknowledged.’  Nathan Graves talks of ‘the incredible amount of music locked up in the archives’ that shouldn’t be.  This could be the first time that Jazz fans in Britain, Europe and Japan might actually hold the key to open those vaults and let the light of history shine again.  Buy Impressed now.  Let’s get this stuff out people!

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The Don Rendell-Ian Carr Quintet

The Don Rendell-Ian Carr Quintet still holds a special place in the affections of British Jazz fans.  For thirty years, the five records they cut for producer Denis Preston between 1964-69 have been locked in a vault in Hanover.  As BGO reissue all five on a leasing agreement with Universal Records, Jazz UK caught up with ‘The Five’ to hear their story.

Back in 1962, Don Rendell had a quintet with Graham Bond on alto.  “Graham phoned up out of the blue and told me he was going to play the organ and sing,” Don told me.  “I wasn’t thinking about having an organ and singing in the quintet, so we just parted.  I had no notice about it.”  That band had not long released an album, Roarin’, on the Jazzland label.  Tony Archer, the group’s bassist, suggested Don check out Ian Carr, newly arrived from Newcastle.  “He was playing at the Flamingo Club with some band,”  Don explains.  “I thought he’s good, so I said to Tony, ‘Yeah, we’ll try and get Ian to come in.’  It just changed over night from Graham Bond to Ian Carr.”

Ian was playing with Harold McNair, the Jamaican reedsman.  He takes up the story,  “I’d come from the MC5 (Mike Carr Five) – a world class band – and Harold didn’t really have any kind of policy and wasn’t very well organised.”  Ian jumped at the chance to join what was then the new Don Rendell Quintet.  Meanwhile, John Mealing had replaced original pianist John Burch, Trevor Tomkins was now the drummer and shortly after Dave Green took Tony Archer’s place.

This band features on the Spotlite Records’ album The Don Rendell 4 & 5 plus the Don Rendell-Ian Carr Quintet (SPJC-CD566).  The band recorded the sides for American Hank Russell, Howard Keel’s musical director, in ‘64.  Russell and Don were Jehovah’s Witnesses and Don describes it as ‘a friendship thing.”  Russell hoped to secure a release in the States but nothing came of it.  Backed with three tracks from the group’s appearance at the Antibes Jazz Festival in 1968, it reveals an already fine mature group but the contrast with the Antibes tracks is enormous.  When Shades of Blue(BGOCD615) came out in ’64, Colin Purbrook was on piano and the band had moved on artistically.  Where the Russell record draws heavily on the Great American Songbook, Shades of Blue focuses on original compositions.

Dave Green feels the early quintet was ‘very based on the Miles’ thing’.  “We were trying to emulate these great players,” he laughs.  “I was trying to do a Paul Chambers and Trevor was trying to do a Jimmy Cobb.  John was influenced by Wynton Kelly but as time went on the band really matured a lot.”  For Dave, Michael Garrick’s arrival later in ’64 signalled the change.  “We started utilising a lot of Indian type compositions Michael used to write and the whole band became really strong after Michael joined.”  Ian feels there was something uniquely poetic about the group’s music.  “I think that was one of the reasons people liked it so much.  It wasn’t hard-driving like a lot of American Jazz of the time.  We had different kind of focuses than the Americans.  We were into texture and different rhythms.  And Michael Garrick was steeped in Indian Music as well.  We found we could do so many things that we never thought of before.”

Michael Garrick echoed this when we spoke last year.  It was about one’s own roots.  As he said then, “Whether we like it or not we’re English and I wasn’t born in Chicago or New Orleans but in Enfield,” he said.  The recent release of The Rendell/Carr Quintet Live in London (Harkit HRKCD8045) shows how fast they were developing.   Their compositions leapt from the group’s shared identity.  There was no policy decision to feature original material, as Don explained, “It was quite brave in a way because we had so many originals with Michael, Ian and me writing.  Suddenly we’d gone a whole concert without using a standard.  It just happened.”

However, as Trevor Tomkins explains, it soon became a question of principle. “We did a BBC Jazz Club broadcast and wanted to do all original stuff.  There was quite a heated discussion because they said, ‘Can’t you throw in a few American Standards?’  We insisted and I think we were the first band they had do a set of totally original music.  At gigs we’d get requests for original material.”  With Warren Mitchell and Sam Wannamaker amongst their fans, ‘the Five’ attracted ‘a nice class of audience’.  There’s a wonderful group atmosphere that comes across on “Live” (BGOCD614) and the Harkit recording – it’s Warren Mitchell’s ‘ribald comments’ you can hear on “Live”.  This is a band doing it, as Don says, because they love it.

Dave Green recalls, “We always used to travel and room together.  Somehow we got the gear in Trevor’s Vauxhall and we all piled in.  It was so exciting.  I was absolutely thrilled to be with that band.”  And as Trevor Tomkins points out, it was clearly a group, not two great horn players plus rhythm.  He told me recently, “That was really my schooling.  All of us contributed in lots of different ways.  It was a group effort.  If Ian came in with a new composition it wasn’t, ‘this is how it’s got to be done.’  It would be ideas and experimenting with things and almost letting it grow naturally.”

Perhaps Dusk Fire is their most popular record and backed with Shades of Blue it makes of a hell of a package.  But Phase III/“Live” reveals a developing band.  As Don points out Phase III saw changes in Ian’s writing.  “Ones like Crazy Jane and Les Neiges D’Antan were approaching Free Music, no time with no harmonic structure, (while) I’d always written time and harmonic structure.”  With Garrick stretching the group with his Indian-influenced pieces and Don’s ‘Coltrane out of Lester Young’ approach, the Quintet could go in any of a number of directions and frequently did.

And they worked regularly.  “We played a lot of Poetry & Jazz, mainly through Michael Garrick,” Don remembers.  “The poets were normally the same ones – Vernon Scannell, John Smith, Danny Abse and Jeremy Robson.  There were tours.  The northern tour took in Liverpool, Stoke, Leicester, Coventry and Ian coming from Newcastle fixed us to play there a few times.”  But apart from Antibes and Montreux, they never played in Europe and despite Ian’s best efforts a US trip never materialised.  However, a Poetry & Jazz concert for the BBC with Vernon Scannell (Epithets of War) got them on TV and they also did a BBC2 documentary.  Mike Dibbs, who did Ian’s Miles’ programme for Channel Four, was the producer.  Dave Green tells me, “He filmed us at the Phoenix on Cavendish Square and as I was getting married on March 1st ’68, he tied the wedding into the filming.  Mike had previously written this piece called Wedding Hymn so it ended up with the band playing it in the church filmed by the BBC.  It was extraordinary.”

In 1967, Ian’s wife Margaret had died shortly after giving birth to their daughter by Caesarean.  That’s her on the cover of Shades.  That night he rang Trevor who came over immediately, so Ian wouldn’t be alone.  “Some people think that’s why I put so much of myself into music and, in a way, music was my salvation,” Ian explains.  Perhaps that shows itself most in his contributions to Phase III and “Live” but by ’69, somehow the steam was going out.

Ghanaian percussionist Guy Warren had begun playing gigs with the group at Ian’s behest but, as Dave points out, this ‘didn’t meet with everybody’s approval’.  For Dave, ‘Things started to unravel for no particular reason I can remember.  Ian started getting quite frustrated.  I think he wanted it to go in a slightly different direction and Michael had his own ideas.”  Ian left at a gig in Camberley in ’69.  “Maybe I was just jaded,” he says now.  “I just went home and didn’t communicate with anybody for a few days.  I just felt the band was over.”

Nucleus would follow and Jazz-Rock certainly wouldn’t have sat easily with either Don or Michael.  For Michael, the whole Pop/Rock thing had little to do with the Jazz he loved.  For Don, it was a question of different priorities.  “Ian wanted his own band which was a different kind of music from what we’d been doing.  I didn’t have the Jazz Music commercial ambition that Ian had.  As a believing Christian I just didn’t want to do a month’s tour of the States or that kind of thing.  I’m a family man, I guess.”  With hindsight, Change Is (BGOCD613) tries to contain too many potentialities at one time.  The very thing that had made the group great – its breadth, its bravery, its quiet bravado – were its inner contradictions that eventually destroyed it.

Though they’re all glad to see the records reissued, as Trevor suggests, “It would be nice to get paid for some of it because we didn’t get much first time.  But it’s nice they’re coming out again from a musical standpoint because I really loved working with that band.”

Looking at the scene then and now, both Don and Trevor express concern at the  ‘chops for chops’ sake’ attitude they see in some young players, though both feel that most young players have now moved on from that.  As Dave Green suggests, “You can’t really compare one particular period with another.  Things that weren’t happening then are happening now and vice versa.”  Hopefully there is a whole new audience for these records and as he says, “if they can hear how good Don is that would really make me happy.”

Editor’s Note: This article first appeared in Jazz UK in the July/August 2004 issue.



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Blue Notes and Brothers

Early one August morning in 1964, seven people crossed the border by train passing from South Africa into Mozambique.  It was an unusual group of people – five black guys, one white and one white woman.  Any ‘mixing of the races’ was, of course, immediately suspicious in apartheid South Africa.  The six men – Louis Moholo-Moholo, Chris McGregor, Dudu Pukwana, Johnny Dyani and Nikele Moyake – made up The Blue Notes. South Africa’s only multi-racial jazz group was ostensibly travelling via Mozambique to Paris and then to the South of France to play at the jazz festival in Juan Les Pins.  The woman was Maxine, pianist Chris McGregor’s partner and the group’s manager, publicist and often main source of financial support.  It was true that they were heading for France but there was no question that they were coming back. Continue reading

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Mike Taylor – The Not So Strange Life and Death of Mike Taylor

Composer-pianist, Mike Taylor, lies buried in a touchingly simple grave in a cemetery in Southend. His body was found on the beach at Leigh-on-Sea in Essex in January 1969. It was assumed that he had committed suicide. He was 30 years old and didn’t leave much of a legacy – a couple of albums now highly prized, a CD of his tunes and songs recorded by the New Jazz Orchestra a few years after his death and one or two tracks written or co-written for Cream in the late-60s. And yet his life and short career remain a source of fascination for jazz fans that belie his lack of success during his life. Continue reading

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Stan Tracey – Age Shall Not Weary

It was early last year in Hampstead.  I was watching and listening to Stan Tracey playing a short solo set at a gig he was doing with poet Michael Horovitz.  I was sitting opposite him and his head and shoulders were framed by the piano’s lid, a study in concentration.  It was one of those moments when what you are hearing and what you see become one total image, iconic in every sense of that word.

I suspect Stan would scoff at the suggestion but I realised then that, now in his eighties, he is not just one of our finest musicians but, also, that he represents so much more than his own place in jazz history.  At 83, you’d forgive him for restricting himself to an occasional, polite recital but this year he has thrown himself into a hectic schedule of work.  There are three albums already in the can and his gig diary is filling up nicely.  The first record is Later Works, a double CD of two suites for his octet, and it will be followed later in the year by a piano trio set and a collection of improvised duets with his son and drummer, Clark.

Later Works features two suites, Amandla written in ’93 for the newly-amalgamated Trades Union, Unison, and Hong Kong Suite commissioned by Lord Chris Patten to mark the handover of the city to China in ’97.  The performance of the latter was held in the governor’s mansion.   “Oh, yeah,” he says laughing.  “It was the last concert in Government House.  I remarked at the time that it was one of the nicest places I’d ever closed.”

I can’t help commenting that Patten always seemed quite a decent bloke for a Tory.  “We all formed that opinion,” Stan replies.  “He came across as a really nice guy.”  So, how did the commission come about?  “I was working in a jazz club in Hong Kong,” he says.  “Somebody from his office invited him down to the club and at the end of the night we were introduced and he suggested to Chris that he should commission me to write a piece for Hong Kong.  He just said, ‘See to it!’  That was It!”  Oh, to have that power to do such good!

The Amandla Suite focuses on Unison’s international links, in particular with the developing countries.  Both suites are quite glorious, celebratory pieces and, as ever, Tracey succeeds in making his octet sound like a full big band.  I ask him how he approaches writing these longer works.  Does he seek to link the different sections or use recurring motifs or chord sequences?  His response is down-to-earth and pragmatic but still informative about his working methods.

“I can’t answer that,” he says after a long pause.  “They just are.  How can I put this?  I’m not academically trained and I’m not a schooled musician, so I can’t talk to you in those terms.  I just bumble along and hope for the best I guess.” Stan laughs and continues.  “I tend to start at point A and keep going until I reach a point in the alphabet I feel it is time to finish the piece.  Sometimes, there’s no repeating of harmonic sequences at all.  Truth to tell, I find that boring.  It’s okay on a gig where you’re just blowing but, if I’m writing, I try not to keep repeating the chord sequence.  It just grows organically.  Also, there’s a matter where it’s a commission and you decide to do five pieces, then you know that each piece has to last so many minutes.  So that comes into it too.”

It reminds me of what Bob Dylan said when someone asked him what his songs were about – “Oh, some are about 10 minutes long, others five or six!”  Stan is not unusual in this respect amongst musicians I’ve talked to – they reflect extensively on the content and form of the thing they are producing but not on the process of its creation.  So, when I ask him which he finds easier – writing for big band or octet, his reply is that it’s the latter, simply because he’s had more experience in that area.

It struck me long ago that those who play with him seem to sound at their very best in his company, as if he brings out something special in them.   Stan’s not exactly dismissive of the suggestion but I can tell he’s not entirely comfortable with it.  “First of all, I don’t know if that’s true,” he says, “and I haven’t really had the chance to make the comparison.  You have to work with somebody to have knowledge of their playing.”  He pauses for a moment, “I really have no comment to make about that.  If they do play better with me (laughing), that’s a real boost for my ego.”

It’s the first time, I’ve spoken with Stan face to face and I’m struck by a gentleness about him.  It’s not modesty exactly that makes him appear reluctant to accept such compliments but more a kind of old world good manners.  It’s very refreshing.  They said about F. Scott Fitzgerald, that while most writers lived for their writing, Fitzgerald wrote for a living.  Tracey has that same quality.

His bands often feature a fine blend of mature and young talent.  It’s a balance of experience and youthful vitality that adds a special dynamic to his music.  Clark has been part of the family firm from his teens.  Guy Barker has been playing with Tracey from a very young age and the same is true of Gerard Presencer.  It is, he says, an aspect of his work that he really enjoys.

“Yes, with the help of my son Clark because I don’t get the opportunity to hear who’s playing amongst the new players and he lets me know who’s playing well.  For instance, he suggested I might ask (trumpeter) Henry Armberg-Jennings to do a gig with me at the Bull’s Head with me.  I have absolute confidence in what Clark suggests.  So, Henry’s playing with me in a couple of months time.  I like working with all players of all ages but it is nice to work with the younger players.”

Bassist Andy Cleyndert is another who’s been with Stan for years.  As well as featuring in the octet and big band, Andy plays all of Stan’s trio and quartet gigs.  In fact listen to him on the forthcoming trio set or the quartet session from 2009, Senior Moment, and you’ll hear how young players can retain that youth and vitality thing and yet underpin that with maturity and experience.  Saxophonist, Simon Allen, who features both in the octet and on Senior Moment, is another – still young musician – who keeps growing in stature in Stan’s company.

Obviously, for any composer, the more they work with particular musicians the more it aids the process of composition and arranging.  Having the right mix of players certainly helps in one sense at least, as Stan points out, “It does help when I’m familiar with what a player does I can feature that player in certain parts of an arrangement because I know that’s what he does well.  So, in that regard, yeah, it does work.”

Readers may already be aware that Stan’s wife and life partner, Jackie, died last summer.  Jackie was, like so many jazz wives, so much more than even that word of a thousand tasks might convey and Jackie had made her own contribution in so many ways to jazz in Britain.  The idea of a duo album – just Stan and Clark – was hers, as Stan explains.  “It was something that Jackie was always pushing for and I’m sorry that she didn’t get the chance to hear us doing it.  That was a big wish of hers that we do that and we finally did.  It’s totally improvised – there was no preparation.  Clark went into his booth I went into mine and we just started playing.”

It was probably one of the most important recordings for Stan, for reasons that should be clear.  He admits that he was nervous.  “I thought I was going to have a paucity of ideas but came the moment I thought ‘Phew!’”, and his shoulders actually relax, as he says this.  “Clark is a tremendous person to work with – the things that come from him that I can relate to and I suppose the other way round.  It came easier than I thought it was going to from my point of view.”

But don’t expect an album of atonal free improvisations.  Stan had, of course, recorded in that style in the seventies with John Surman, Keith Tippett and Mike Osborne – and more recently with Evan Parker.  But, as he tells me, this was more about the creation of instant compositions, he tells me.  “The stuff I did with Keith it was totally atonal.  It was 90% atonal with John and 100% atonal with Mike and I knew that I wasn’t going to be doing that with Clark.  There’s one track that gets a bit atonal but for the most part it’s regular harmonies.”

I ask, which approach he finds easier.  “I find using regular harmonies and composing on the spot easier because that’s the bulk of what I’ve been doing all my life.  The atonal thing, I don’t do all that often, so I do find that more difficult.”  He’s actually slightly dismissive of his own efforts with Surman, Osborne and Tippett.  I’ll just say, his opinion isn’t one I – or anyone I know who’s heard those records – would share.  Hopefully, these duets with Clark will come out soon – or at least as soon as the Traceys have the bread to do so – because the music is a delight.  Jackie would be proud of her guys.

It’s amazing to say it but Tracey’s own playing seems, if anything, to improve with age.  He rejects instantly my suggestion that this, and the impression that he is now more relaxed on stage, might come from the sense that he now has nothing to prove.  “No, no!  Not from that angle,” he says, “I’m too aware of my shortcomings to be that laid-back about it.  I guess it just comes with age.  I am more relaxed with the audience.  After all these years, I would have to be.  I used not to be, I know.”  There was a time when a Tracey gig could be an edgy affair – for the audience, that is.  You kind of felt you had to be on your best behaviour.  But as he says, for all the drugs he once took, his favourite buzz is playing live.

An intensely private man, I’m loath in any way to intrude on his grief.  I do, however, get the impression that Stan is throwing himself into work this year, with the encouragement of Clark and daughter-in-law Sylvia, as a means of honouring everything he and Jackie had worked for over the years.  We honour the dead best by living to the full, after all.  And when the Tracey standard remains so high, what better way of doing just that could there be?

Nonetheless, this year’s work schedule might frighten much younger souls.  Umpteen UK festival gigs are already set up.  The new CD will be launched at the Sage, as part of the Gateshead International Festival on March 26th and is followed by gigs in Bury St. Edmunds (May), Glasgow (June), Swanage and Wigan (both July) and Marsden in October.  Even more intriguing is a gig on April 10th at London’s Jazz Café – let’s hope the club starts making a habit of it.

Then there are some US dates with his trio in June, including the Rochester Festival and, most intriguingly, on 14th June at Lincoln Center in Dizzy’s Club – one of our jazz icons appearing in a room named after one of theirs!  Back in the fifties and sixties, when Stan was still learning the trade that might’ve been considered a case of coals to Newcastle.  These days it’s more a matter of Matthew Chapter 7, Verse 6!

Editor’s note: This article appeared in the April 2010 issue of Jazzwise. Unfortunately, whoever subbed it saw fit to change the last line. I was not best pleased. 

Check out Stan’s new website at www.stantracey.com.

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Graham Collier – Music and Mosaics

Graham Collier has a simple yet profound working philosophy. “Jazz happens in real time – once,” as Graham explains.  “That’s what it should be about.  Even if it’s put on record, it should be a one-take venture.  That’s it.  We did it.  That’s the best time we played it.”  And that’s precisely what he and his band did last autumn at gigs in Birmingham and the London Jazz Festival with Forty Years On, a collection of pieces from four decade career and with The Vonetta Factor, a new commission.  It’s all about spontaneity, making sure improvisation remains at the heart of Jazz performance.

Back in ’68, Graham received the first Arts Council commission by a Jazz composer.  That piece was Workpoints and a concert recording made at the time has finally been released on Cuneiform, along with a performance of Graham’s 1975 sextet live in Belgium.  Graham’s glad it’s out but almost damns it with faint praise.  “The sound is not brilliant,” he admits,  “but it’s a historical document and there’s excellent playing on it.”  Actually, the sound’s remarkably good and of much more than mere historical interest.  Hearing it for the first time is like discovering a missing link not only from Graham’s own musical history but from a golden age of British Jazz.  With players like John Surman, Kenny Wheeler, Harry Beckett, Mike Gibbs, John Marshall and an inspired Frank Ricotti on vibes, this twelve-man orchestra is one of the finest bands you could wish for playing some of the smartest music you’ll ever hear.  True the Belgian recording is a bit muddy but this group of Collier stalwarts – Art Themen, Harry Beckett, Ed Speight, Roger Dean and John Webb – are superb and perform beautifully on Graham’s Darius and add splendid takes of Clear Moon and Mackerel Sky, a highlight from last November’s gigs.

Graham’s entire back catalogue has recently been reissued on Discinforme and fans have been treated to a clutch of new releases like the brilliant Winter Oranges with the Danish Radio Jazz Orchestra and Bread and Circuses with the Australian ensemble, The Collective.  Of the early albums, Songs for my Father (1970) and Down Another Road (1969) stand comparison with the very best Jazz of the period.  While Workpoints proves Graham’s abilities as a writer for large groups have always been there – after all he studied with the great Herb Pomeroy at Berklee – it’s only more recently that opportunity has revealed just how important a composer for Big Band he really is.

The key for Graham lies in the late fifties’ revolution ushered in by Miles and Ornette, “that opened up the music so much that it enabled us to do many, many more things within a Big Band.”  It’s a point he expands in his influential book, Interaction – Opening Up the Jazz Ensemble and on his web-based project, This is not a Book.  Both seek to show different ways composers can work with a big Jazz group.  As Graham points out, “I argue that the language changed with Miles’ Kind of Blue but the potential of what a Jazz composer can be is rarely being realised.”  These theory projects, he says, “keep me mentally occupied in a different way than writing music does.”

Graham’s ideas have evolved over the years.  In the early eighties he ran a series of workshops with musicians like Django Bates, Iain Ballamy and Eddie Parker, which led to the formation of the seminal Loose Tubes collective.  In the late eighties and nineties, his teaching career at the Royal Academy allowed further scope for reflection and he has now embarked on another book tentatively titled The Jazz Composer, which looks at how the term is used to describe everything from tunes and arrangements for small and big bands to large-scale works.

As he notes, improvisation in Jazz can take several forms.  A musician can take a solo out front.  The whole or part of the band can play with the structure of the piece, which Graham calls structural improvising.  Or there’s the way that the rhythm section constantly adapts and moves the music in new ways, which Graham describes as textural improvising.  Graham’s innovation is to apply these and their dynamic potential in any given situation to the large Jazz group.  It’s not just the performance that changes.  The composition itself is transformed every time it’s played.  It happens in real time – once!

For Graham, “There are too many writers who want to write too much and impress with their techniques.  To be brutally honest, you listen to great orchestrators like Stravinsky and Bartok, most Jazz Composers can’t write that well, they’re trying to do something that’s almost doomed to failure.  They simply cannot create the kinds of textures that Classical people do when they have orchestras with twenty-five different flutes and all kinds of instruments.  For me the path to go down is to say the Jazz small group does this and like the Miles’ group can be very flexible in the way they approach a tune.  They can stretch things out.  The rhythm section drop out occasionally.  So, there’s all that textural flow, that changing flow that the Classical people can’t do because of the nature of their beast.  They’ve got to write it in order to play it.”

The Vonetta Factor illustrates this well.  It was inspired by Tony Williams’ strangely martial drumming on the Miles’ piece Vonetta.  “What it really is, is the unexpectedness of it,” he says.  “It’s almost as if something’s intruding from a parallel universe.  The more I started to write it, the more I realised I’m doing it in all my pieces anyway.  It’s a kind of subversion of the expected.”  He tells a story of one of Gil Evans’ last trips to the UK.  Gil had been commissioned to write a new piece for a festival.  The guy meeting him from the airport asked if he’d finished the piece.  Graham continues, “Gil said, ‘Yeah, I’ve got it in here somewhere.’  And he pulled out this scrap of paper and that was it.  Yet, they made a magnificent concert out of it.  That is what it should be about. Putting a scrap of paper out and seeing what people do with it.”

Graham left the Royal Academy after ten years and moved to Spain with his partner, writer John Gill but he’s quick to point out that this is no retirement, semi- or permanent.  “In some ways I’m actually busier than I ever have been,” he tells me.  “I was at the Academy which was pretty much a full time job.  I was trying to look after my own music and travelling and all that sort of stuff and it was all getting on top of me.  So, John and I decided it would be nice to get out and live somewhere cheaper.  The two things I’m most involved with is promoting my own music and writing new music when I can like for this gig or with the NDR Big Band which I did last December.  Also I’ve got other work lined up in Singapore and Sardinia and Norway and there’s talk of going out to Australia soon.  So, I’m still looking for that sort of work.”

And with hopes that the London Jazz Festival gig may be released later in the year, if he can do a deal with the BBC, Graham’s presence on the scene is once again highly visible.  And that’s good for him and it’s good for Jazz.

Editor’s note: This article appeared in the July/August issue of Jazz UK. Since it was written, BGO Records have released much of Graham’s back catalogue in series of beasutifully produced editions with fine sleeve notes from Dr. Alyn Shipton. I include below a review of ‘Deep Dark Blue Centre/Portraits/Alternate Mosaics’. The London concert was in fact later released under the wonderful title, ‘Directing 14 Jackson Pollocks’. These are records no self-respecting fan should be without. To say that Graham’s death is great loss to the music is rather like saying that his hero Duke Ellington was a jazz musician.

Graham Collier Deep Dark Blue Centre/Portraits/The Alternate Mosaics Beat Goes On BGO CD822****

Deep Dark Blue Centre – Graham Collier (b, comp), Harry Beckett, Kenny Wheeler (t, flhn), Mike Gibbs (tb), Dave Aaron (as, f), Karl Jenkins (bs, ob), Phil Lee (g), John Marshall (d).  Rec. 24.1.67.

Portraits – Graham Collier (b, comp), Dick Pearce (flhn), Pete Hurt (as), Ed Speight (g), Geoff Castle (p), John Webb (d).  Rec. 16/17.11.72.

Alternate Mosaics – Graham Collier (b, comp), Harry Beckett (t, flhn), Bob Sydor (as, ts), Alan Wakeman (ts, ss), Geoff Castle (p), John Webb (d).  Rec. 12.12.70.

I had always considered Deep Dark Blue Centre the weakest of Collier’s early records.  My own mono vinyl copy always seemed rather flat and lacklustre.  There are many, many virtues contained in this excellent release but none more virtuous than this final stereo release of that early Deram album.  Apparently, Collier himself hadn’t been aware that it had ever been put out in a stereo version but this reissue has all the sharpness and brightness that now allows these tracks to shine forth in all their glory.  A crack band – Wheeler and Beckett alternate and do not appear together, by the way – and some beautiful compositions in this new stereo incarnation reveal this to be a transitional work but a very fine one indeed.

This second version of Mosaics, taken from the second set but same evening as the original Phillips release, is markedly different from the original.  The external structure is still there but, internally, it’s like one of those TV makeover programmes has moved in.  If anything, Collier’s own playing is stronger on this version and makes one regret his decision to give up the instrument and concentrate solely on composition.  Makes for a lot less to carry, I guess.  Harry Beckett is outstanding once again and the tension he builds during the final section is remarkable and barely dispelled in the closing coda with the saxophones of Wakeman and Sydor joining in.  Wakeman is an undersung talent caught here in his most Coltrane-influenced phase and his contributions are supremely telling, while Geoff Castle’s limpid piano on the second slower section of the piece is quite, quite beautiful.  For anyone wishing to understand Collier’s approach to composition both versions of Mosaics are essential.

With Portraits, Collier was breaking in a new band with new arrivals Pete Hurt on saxes, Dick Pearce on fluegelhorn and Ed Speight on guitar.  Perhaps that was the reason for Collier’s return to more formal compositional structures on the long two-part suite And Now For Something Completely Different and Portraits 1, a lovely ballad feature for newcomer Pearce.  The playing is superb with Pearce proving a worthy replacement for Harry Beckett and Pete Hurt stepping neatly into Alan Wakeman’s shoes.  If anything, however, it’s Ed Speight who proves the most remarkable find, beginning here what has proved a long and successful association with Collier’s music.  His opening to the modal, Spanish-tinged second part of And Now For….is quite special, as is the way he supports the other players through their shared debut.   All in all, another essential jazz purchase from BGO.

Duncan Heining

Graham Collier Obituary

Composer, bassist and bandleader Graham Collier died on Saturday 10th, September 2011 following a stroke and heart attack.  It was quick, relatively painless but unexpected.  We all felt sure Graham had too much sparkle, too much music in him to go so soon.

Graham was the first British graduate from Berklee School of music and, on returning to Britain in the mid-sixties, formed his own band.  The records he made during those years (recently reissued by BGO), reveal a precocious talent able to fuse a British pastoral compositional sensibility with something far more rambunctiously funky that stemmed from his admiration for Mingus.  The first two of these BGO sets are indispensable, while the third is perhaps merely necessary.

In 1968, Graham was the first jazz composer to receive an Arts Council grant.  It took 37 years for Workpoints, the wonderful and forward-thinking music that resulted, to make its appearance on the US Cuneiform label.  Hoarded Dreams, another big band set, was even better.  That took a mere 24 years to see the light of day.  Yet both albums sat perfectly with the series of large ensemble albums that Graham released in the late nineties and early noughties, with Bread And Circuses from 2003 perhaps the finest of these.  Yet it is fitting somehow that Graham’s masterpiece, Directing 14 Jackson Pollocks, would be the last record he would issue during his life.  Its music brims with vitality, good humour and humanity.

Graham gave gladly of his music and of his time.  He was there early in the life of NYJO, was instrumental in the formation of Loose Tubes and in 1986 launched the jazz course at the Royal Academy of Music.  As pianist Peter James, an RAM student, told me – “Graham’s open ethos created an invaluable environment for students to develop their own musical voices.”  This too is a mark of the man.  But most of us will hold on to his music – by any standards a most remarkable epitaph.

Our thoughts and condolences go to writer John Gill, Graham’s partner of 35 years.

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John Mayer: Indo-Jazz Fusioneer

John Mayer leans forward.  It’s really important to him that I understand.  “All I can tell you is, if it wasn’t for Joe Harriott, all these people wouldn’t get a look in,”  he explains.  “He and me, we did the hard graft.  We were kicked and booted.”  He makes me turn off the tape-recorder to talk about one musician in particular he feels has not given saxophonist, the late Joe Harriott his due.  In John’s view, Harriott was the man who made it possible for a whole new generation of Black musicians to build successful careers in Jazz.

Back in the Sixties, John Mayer secured a place in the affections of British Jazz fans with his pioneering work with Joe Harriott in their band Indo-Jazz Fusions. Now, a quarter century later, John has reformed the group with a bunch of talented young musicians and is winning over a whole new audience for his music. Jazz UK caught up with John to talk about the past, present and future of Indo-Jazz.

John came to Britain from India in the early Fifties. He’d won the prestigious Bombay Madrigal Singers competition for his violin playing and the prize was a scholarship at the Royal Academy. He’d studied with Mehli Mehta (father of the conductor, Zubin Mehta) but always wanted to be a composer. Mehta said to him, “Who’s ever heard of an Indian composer” and told him to use his ‘fiddle playing’ to get out of India to somewhere that his dream might become a more realistic possibility.

Things went well for the first year but then the money ran out and he had to leave the academy. Fortunately, he knew the leader of the LSO and his friend got him an audition. John landed the position of first violin but never did complete his degree. Writing still consumed him and even then he had this idea of fusing the musical techniques of India and the West.

He wrote pieces for two of the most famous Classical clarinettists of the day, Jack Bramwell and John McCaw. Of more significance, however, was the support of the composer/conductor Malcolm Arnold, who provided an introduction to Yehudi Menuhin. Menuhin performed but sadly never recorded John’s unaccompanied Violin Sonata but the patronage certainly helped. Adrian Boult, then conductor of the LSO, included John’s RAGA JAI JAVANTI in the orchestra’s programme and that dream he’d nursed since childhood was beginning to blossom.

By the early Sixties, John was still working as a violinist and writing. He’d been chasing producer Dennis Preston for some time to record some of his music but with little success. Finally, a letter came. Preston was doing a record for Atlantic’s Ahmet Ertegun and they needed a three minute track to complete the album. The session featured Humphrey Littleton, Don Lusher and Kenny Baker amongst others and Preston needed a piece scored for trombones, flutes, trumpet and percussion. Asked if he had anything suitable, John told a white lie. “I sat up all night and wrote this piece NINE FOR BACON. I got £20, which was a hell of a lot of money in those days.”

Some time passed and John got a letter saying Preston wanted to see him. “I thought, ‘Oh, my God, they want their money back!’” But Ertegun had liked the track and he and Preston were now suggesting a collaboration between John and Jamaican saxophonist, Joe Harriott. “I’d been telling him all the time, I wanted to make a fusion of Indian and Western techniques but Denis Preston had always dismissed it. Now he was saying, ‘We have had this idea.’ I said, ‘What a marvellous idea!’”

With no knowledge of Jazz, John was forced to learn as much as he could about the music before the project commenced. While Indian music has its own improvising tradition, it is as John describes it “a disciplined improvisation”. Musicians improvise on scales or ragas but the improvisation must begin and end on the first note of the scale. There is also no harmony or counterpoint in Indian music and this added to the challenge of bringing together these radically different traditions. John solved the problem by scoring everything and then providing the Jazz musicians in the band with the notes on which they would build their solos.

The group gave its first public performance at the Chichester Festival in 1965 and were an instant success. I asked John, why he thinks this unique fusion struck such a chord with audiences. “I think God smiled on us.” He laughs and then acknowledges the more or at least equally likely reason. “Forgive me if I sound boastful but this was the first attempt to bring these two musics together in a coherent manner.” It’s clear that the Sixties had ushered in a greater openness and the Beatles and others had helped to make a younger generation aware of the musics of the East. That combined with the uniqueness of this musical project is perhaps explanation enough.

But for all the public success, the racism that and prejudice that John had met since his arrival had not gone away. Imagine being feted by the great and the good at some provincial festival but then being turned away from digs because of the colour of your skin. John can still remember the hurt and recall the cruel and stupid comments of those years. It’s perhaps for this reason it upsets him he feels that young Black musicians don’t seem to acknowledge the efforts that Joe and he and others made to create the opportunities that the younger generation have today.

I ask him about Joe Harriott. I was fortunate to see him once before he died and have heard stories that he wasn’t always the easiest of people. John tells a different story. “He was a marvellous saxophonist and a marvellous character. People say he was difficult but I didn’t find that at all. It might have helped that there was no competition. I was a composer and I wasn’t trying to show what a fine fiddle player I was. And I always gave full credit to him for the ban.”

In fact John is full of praise for the whole group – for bassist Coleridge Goode, the great pianist Pat Smythe, his close friend Kenny Wheeler and drummer Alan Ganley. As John puts it, It was these people like Joe, Pat and Kenny who really paved the way for young players today.”

But there was always a certain sadness about Joe Harriott and John describes how he would go and visit the saxophonist and find him staring into the fire and smoking a cigarette. “I’d ask him what he was doing and he’d go out and gamble. He had nothing else to do. He was a lonely man. Everybody else was getting a lot of work and here was this great saxophonist not getting the amount of work was due to him.”

Joe’s death in 1973 from a combination of Cancer, TB and Pneumonia still hangs heavy for John and he recalls returning from India to a message that Joe was very ill. He rang the hospital and was told to phone the morning and find out when he could visit his friend. He got a call at 7.30 from the matron to tell him Joe had died.

“I tried to keep it going for a time but it didn’t work. Joe was connected with me. I remember at his funeral, I played the SARABANDE and I told my wife I can’t do this anymore. I had no heart to start up again.”

From 1973 until the mid-nineties, John was away from Jazz. He worked as a violinist and wrote a flute concerto for James Galway and music for cellist, Rohan de Saram. In 1990, John was pleased and surprised to be offered the post of Composer in Residence at the Birmingham Conservatoire. He took the job but only on condition he didn’t have to examine. John says, he just couldn’t bring himself to fail anyone.

It was in this period that he was persuaded to reform IJF by Robin Broadbank of Nimbus Records. John realised he had some wonderful players amongst his students and took up Broadbank’s offer. After two indifferently recorded CD’s with the Classical label, Nimbus, John has found a home with Trevor Taylor’s Future Music Records. Last year the group released the beautifully played and recorded Inja and this July sees the release of Shiva Nataraj (King of Dance), which is if anything even more remarkable.

I ask him, what he sees as the differences between the two groups. John acknowledges the whole issue of ‘names’ – Joe and Pat have a near legendary status and Kenny Wheeler is simply a star musician. But for John, in many ways, the new IJF is an advance on the original. While the originals broke new ground, the musicians knew little of each others musical traditions. In this group, altoist Carlos Lopez Real and drummer Andrew Bratt bring a knowledge of Indian music and instruments to the band. Then there’s John’s son Jonathan, a master sitar player and composer in his own right, and the brilliant tabla player, Harjinda Matharu.

“Joe was a stalwart Jazz musician who played in his own Jazz tradition. He’d say, ‘I don’t know anything about Indian music. I just play what you write.’ Like a tree you couldn’t budge him. Now with Carlos, he plays tampura and composes and Andrew not only plays drums but tabla and ghatam as well. So, the world has become smaller. Young people today not only know their own music but Indian as well.”

The new band has re-recorded some of the old compositions but John is also writing new material. When I ask whether the re-recordings suggest he was unhappy with the originals, his answer is swift and to the point. “No, I wanted to show these young people how their playing is different.” The new album features a recording of the first piece John wrote for Indo-Jazz Fusions, “Overture”. For John, the differences between the two recordings separated by 36 years show how things have changed.

And he’s right. In many ways, the new group integrates the two traditions to a greater and more powerful extent. It also allows the compositions centre stage, which is where they belong. Things have changed but in another way this is timeless music. And it isn’t a competition. We are lucky. We still have the original recordings and now we have the new group. We don’t have to choose. We can have both.

Duncan Heining

This piece appeared originally in amended form in Jazz UK in its July-August 2011 issue.


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Jamie Cullum – Pointlessly Nostalgic?

When it comes to Jazz singers, Candid Records’ boss, Alan Bates can pick them. Claire Teal and Joe Lee Williams have followed Stacy Kent’s success and now here’s Jamie Cullum. A twenty-two year old pianist-singer with the confidence of a scene-hardened veteran? ‘Sinatra in sneakers’? The old Jazzer in me is torn between disbelief and a growing sense he may just be the real thing.

Last month at the 606, I’d been struck with the way his performance mixed the self-assured and the self-effacing.  His parents sat at the best table in the house, lighting up the stand with their smiles.  I talked to his dad after the show.  ‘What do you think his chances are?’ he asked me.  I said, ‘He’s good, maybe very good.  Yeah, I think he’ll make it.’  Parental pride mixed with parental concern.

Tonight it’s the usual Thursday session at the Café de Paris, the Kitsch Lounge Riot, and Candid are using the venue to launch Jamie’s first album, Pointless Nostalgic.  Family, friends and music business types mix with the club’s usual punters.  Here reserving a balcony table requires a minimum spend of £500.  With the cheapest bottle of wine costing £75, no-one’s going home wasted.  Old friends and supporters wander the room looking lost.  It’s one of those places with velvet ropes that provide work for jobless East European border guards and where everything requires a tip.  Where Orson Welles once danced with the fated talent of Vivienne Leigh, fading ‘celebs’ now karaoke into the night.  If Cullum’s the real deal, it will show itself in this unreal setting.

We’re sitting in the VIP lounge about to start.  Before Candid’s press guy leaves us, Jamie checks his parents will get a good table near the stage.  The PR reassures him.  ‘And my uncle and aunt,’ says Jamie.  He’s told not to worry, relaxes and turns his attention to the interview.

Jamie was brought up in Wiltshire and family is clearly important to him.  He credits older brother Ben, a session musician and composer, as a major influence.  In fact, the CD’s title track is a Cullum brothers’ production.  He tells me the story.  “We’ve written lots of things together but Pointless Nostalgic was a tune Ben never quite finished.  When I was doing this record I remembered it.  So, we worked on it and then I took it away and came up with the song as it is now.”  I ask him what the title means.  Jamie laughs.  “It kind of defines my brother.  He’s always looking back and saying it was great when we used to do this. The song’s a way of working through that and saying you can’t live in the past.  But it also ties in nicely with how some of my peers see what I’m doing.  Like these old standards – am I pointlessly rehashing all these nostalgic tunes?”

I ask him when he discovered Jazz.  Big brother again proves to be the influence.  “I was in my mid-teens and quite fed up with the Pop Music scene at the time,” he says and I’m reminded of the learning-curve he’s crossed in a mere eight years.  “Ben was becoming a really good musician and he started sifting through mum and dad’s record collection.  He pulled out a whole bunch of stuff and as he started listening, I did too because I did everything he did.  He started playing more piano.  So, I started playing more piano and soon I wanted to learn Boogie-Woogie and that kind of stuff.  These Jazz musicians seemed so cool.  No-one else was into it at school.  So, it felt like my thing and I became really heavily involved in it.  I really wanted to learn how to play it properly.”

His set mixes standards with songs by Norah Jones, James Taylor, Radiohead and originals, drawing in all his influences.  He started out playing piano, checking for the usual suspects – Herbie Hancock, Bill Evans, Errol Garner and then Monk.  (His new album features a nice take on Well You Needn’t.)  But he also picked up on Harry Connick Jr. and began listening to singers.

He’s already got gigs at the Jazz Café and Salena Jones’ place behind him, as well as working with a lot of older musicians around the West Country, quite a few of whom are here tonight to support him.  While studying Film at Reading University, he found himself working four or five nights a week.  By now singing was as important as the piano.  “I’d cottoned on that’s what people really wanted and by then I was really getting into it, listening to other pianist-singers like Nat Cole, Andy Bey and even Diana Krall.”

Jamie’s also worked with Rock and Hip Hop bands as well.  I asked him about his parallel career with Rock group Taxi.  With support slots touring with Toploader and with Paul Weller in Hyde Park this year, they headline later this month at the Marquee.  “That’s the one where everyone’s coming to watch us,” he says, “all the important people.”  Jamie plays Hammond organ, Moog and Wurlitzer in the group and describes their music as, “old-fashioned Rock with big choruses and lots of leaping about.”  They’re holding out for a deal with a major label and as he puts it, “it’s an interesting time for that band.” 

So, what happens if Taxi takes off?  At present, he’s confident he can do both without compromising either but I press the point.  “Obviously, my heart lies here but I would want to say that working in Taxi or in any of the Rock or Hip Hop bands I’ve played with, it all feeds into the performances I give as a Jazz musician.  And that doesn’t please some people because they’re hearing me sing mainstream tunes.  When we do It Ain’t Necessarily So with a funky beat, it takes them by surprise.  I’m just trying to sum up my musical influences into one entity.”

So, is his affection for songs like I Can’t Get Started and Devil May Care just pointless nostalgia?   It’s clear that his love of the Great American Songbook comes from hearing people like Ella Fitzgerald, Frank Sinatra, Harry Connick Jr. and Kurt Elling  “They all sing those songs and that’s where I fell in love with them.  They’re fantastic songs, as you soon realise if you spend twenty minutes listening to one of their tapes.”  For him, it’s their timeless quality that allows for constant reinterpretation and in his set Sinatra gets to dance with Norah Jones.  If some older Jazz fans don’t get it, there’s many others new to Jazz that do and  plenty of us forty-somethings who dig what he’s doing.

I ask about the obvious Harry Connick comparison?  He accepts they share some vocal characteristics but his reply is sharp.  “I think he’s interested in other things than being a Jazz singer but I can’t handle any criticisms against him because even when he got really big he was still doing very challenging records.  Not enough people realise what a creative arranger and great piano player he is.”  So, he doesn’t mind the comparison?  “Absolutely not.  He’s great.”

He makes it clear the Diana Krall records he prefers are those early albums, where “she sounds like directly out of the Nat Cole school of singing trio.”  Then he qualifies his comment diplomatically.  “It’s unfair of me to suggest her new albums aren’t as good because Sinatra and all those great singers have done those kind of things.  But in a way I feel the same about the way her career’s gone that I feel about how Nat Cole’s went.  Much as I love their singing, I always go back to the early records.”

While studying at Reading, he got to know the musicians in the Pendulum Big Band, who rehearse at the University and his trio features Pendulum’s bassist, Geoff Gascoyne, alongside Sebastiaan de Krom on drums.  With players like Dave O’Higgins, Matt Wates and Ben Castle also on the album, Jamie’s keeping pretty heavy company.  He credits Claire Teal as a real source of support and it was she who introduced him to Candid, by taking his self-funded CD to the label.  “She’s also told me how to handle interviews.” He grins at me as he says this.

Is it too soon to ask what comes next?  “No, not at all,” he replies.  “I want to make another record and make it better.  I’m pleased with this one because it’s the best I could do right now but in ten years time I hope I can make a really great record.  I’m working with some of the best Jazz musicians in the country.  In some ways I don’t deserve to be.  And I want to learn how to read music properly.  That’s my next ambition.  I just want to be a great musician.”

Somehow the would-be glitz of the venue is forgotten for the hour the trio are on stage.  The noise of chattering punters even reduces, as he plays and sings.  As he comes back for the encore, the suit’s been replaced by his more usual Sinatra Rat-Pack American Football shirt.  He knows he’s home and dry and can relax.  As I said to his dad, he’s good enough to make it and real enough to deserve it.

Duncan Heining

Editor’s note: This article appeared in the November/December 2002 issue of Jazz UK. It was the second grown-up article to appear on Jamie. It might surprise some people but I still think Jamie is ‘real enough to deserve it.’ He’s a nice guy and, though much of his recent output passes me by, I’m confident that won’t always be the case. 

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