© - Steven A. Cerra, copyright protected; all rights reserved.
One minute I’m standing next to him at an Los Angles Jazz Institute event introducing myself for the first time and the next he’s agreeing to be interviewed via e-mail for the following JazzProfiles feature.
This all speaks wonders for the modern age of communication, but even more importantly, it underscores
John Altman’s agreeable and affable personality, not to mention the pace at which he conducts his life.
Before hearing his band perform at the LAJI event, I knew virtually nothing about him other than remembering his name as the music credits flashed by for the Miss Marple TV series based on the books of Dame Agatha Christie and starring the actress Joan Hickson [my wife is a huge fan of the series].
With a diverse and wide-ranging involvement in many aspects of the music business, John is a “man in motion” and as a result he maintains residences in
and London and a flat in Sydney . Los Angeles
Since my “road warrior days” are now long gone, it seemed that the easiest way to develop this feature about John would be to prepare a series of interview questions and e-mail them to him a few at a time.
This I did and while John was preparing he responses – quite speedily I might add which just goes to prove the maxim: if you want anything done, give it to a busy person – I was preparing this introduction by doing some research on John’s background.
Much to my surprise, this man whom I knew virtually nothing about, turns out to be an Arts & Letters equivalent of Da Vinci’s “Renaissance Man.”
Before moving on to the interview with him in which John very kindly [and patiently] expressed his views on a variety of subjects largely pertaining to music in general and Jazz in particular, let’s begin this feature with a quick overview of the biographical highlights of John’s accomplishments, of which, there are many.
John was born in
on London December 5, 1949 and he is proficient as a saxophonist, composer, music arranger, orchestrator, and conductor.
He was introduced to the music of the 1930s Swing era and 1940s Bebop scene at an early age by an uncle who arranged music for big bands and conducted for Judy Garland, the Marx Brothers and Laurel and Hardy, among others.
In view of his subsequent achievements, I was somewhat incredulous at learning that John’s only formal, musical training were piano lessons as a child.
While attending the
, he became involved in session work and gigs with Fleetwood Mac and Nico. His later studies at Birkbeck College were interrupted when he left school to work for two years as the musical director with the group Hot Chocolate for a two year concert tour. University of Sussex
John has also played saxophone with rock and blues groups such as Jimi Hendrix, Bob Marley, Eric Clapton, Phil Collins and Van Morrison and served as arranger-conductor for Rod Stewart, George Michael and Tina Turner, among others.
He also did work for Monty Python as the arranger for their Rutles television special and their movie, The Life of Brian.
John has also been a frequent conductor with the Royal Philharmonia Orchestra, both independently and for film scores. His screen career began as the musical arranger and director for the 1978 film Just a Gigolo. He continued in this capacity for such films as The Secret Policeman’s Other Ball and numerous television productions including Shadowlands and adaptations of all of the dozen Agatha Christie novels featuring Miss Marple [starring Joan Hickson].
He served as the historical music advisor and arranged all the period music for Titanic and was the first Western European composer to score a Russian film – Tsareubiytsa – The Assassin of the Tsar.
John’s film score credits include Hear My Song, Funny Bones, Beautiful Thing, The Matchmaker, Little Voice, Legionnaire, Hope Springs, Shall We Dance?, Akasha Gopuram and Shoot on Sight.
John is a prolific writer of commercials having scored over 4,000 advertisements. In 2002, Campaign named him one of the 100 most influential figures in contemporary British advertising and one of the 5 top composers. His compositions for
and Renault ads won the Campaign award for Best Soundtracks in 2003 and 2004, respectively. Levis
And to add even more legitimacy to his movie, television and commercial/jingles credentials, John won an Emmy Award for Outstanding Music Composition for a Miniseries Movie or a Special for his work on RKO 281 and he was nominated in the same category for The
of Mrs. Stone. He won the BAFTA Award for best Film Music for Hear My Song, the Television and Radio Industries Club Award for TV Theme Music of the Year in 1993 for Peak Practice, and the ASCAP Film Award for Shall We Dance? And RKO 281. Roman Spring
With this involvement in the broad spectrum of the music business, John’s career in many ways brings to mind that of Henry Mancini’s. And like Hank, John has also had a special place reserved for Jazz and has contributed to the genre in both small group and big band settings.
The very successful nature of John commercial undertakings certainly speak for themselves, but what of his interest in and involvement with Jazz? How did this come about? The majority of the questions that were developed for John as the basis of the interview were basically focused on finding answers to that question.
The format used was to send John a set of questions per correspondence which he sometimes answers individually and directly while at other times he combined his answers to one or more of the questions. At times he used the questions as a point of departure for taking his answers in a different direction.
What really impressed me throughout the process of “interviewing” him was the depth and breadth of his knowledge about Jazz, its many styles and its prominent stylists.
Other than making a few, minor changes in grammar and syntax, I have not altered John’s responses in any way.
The editorial staff at JazzProfiles would like to offer a special thank you to Mr.
Gordon Sapsed of for the use of the wonderful photographs of John and his big band that you will find interspersed throughout the interview. Southampton, England
Now let’s meet and learn more about an extremely capable and creative musician –
© - Steven A. Cerra, copyright protected; all rights reserved.
- How and when did music first come into your life?
- What are your earliest recollections of Jazz?
- Who were the Jazz musicians who first impressed you and why?
“Here's a start:
- I first became aware of music around the time I became aware of my own existence! My mother's four brothers were all well known bandleaders in the UK and two of them developed international reputations - Sid Phillips as England's premier arranger for the Ambrose Orchestra and then as our leading jazz clarinetist, and Woolf Phillips as Britain's number one jazz trombonist, as a founder member and original arranger for the Ted Heath Band, and then as the bandleader at the London Palladium between 1947 and 1953 where he conducted for all the major artists including Sinatra, Nat Cole, Ellington, Ella, Goodman, Hoagy Carmichael, Judy Garland and many, many more.
Frequent visitors to my home when I was young were Jack Benny, Sophie Tucker, Danny Kaye and the Andrews Sisters. I made my first stage appearance at the age of 3 with Judy Garland at the London Palladium when I was standing in the wings. I spotted my uncle conducting and ran out to take over the orchestra! Judy hoisted me onto her knee and sang Over The Rainbow to me.
Another of my uncles had been a quality control director for Decca Records so we had many test pressings of 78s as well as an extensive collection of jazz and dance records. My mother had been friends with Coleman Hawkins and Fats Waller so I guess I had no choice but to respond to jazz, anyway I was immediately drawn to the sounds.
By the age of 5, I had memorized Jack Teagarden solos and complete Basie and Ellington performances. One of my favorites was Texas Shuffle by the Basie band, which I took in to primary school when I was 7 to play to the class. What they must have thought of it is a mystery!!
I also loved a Charlie Barnet recording of I Don't Want Anybody At All - many years later I worked as an arranger for the song's composer, Jule Styne. When I told him this, he ran to the piano and played it, got stuck on the bridge so I sat beside him and we finished the song four handed - a treasured memory. Several years later I recorded the song with my big band and vocalist Joan Viskant.
I started learning piano at the age of 7 and began composing virtually immediately (One of the first pieces I wrote I later used in a commercial where they wanted something that sounded like it had been written by a 7 year old). I won a scholarship to one of the most prestigious British schools, City of
and as a reward my parents bought me a Dansette record player that played LPs and 45rpm records (this would be 1961). London
The first two albums I bought were by Bix Beiderbecke and Charlie Parker. I guess I must have liked the covers since I can't imagine I knew much jazz history by the age of 11, but I joined the school Jazz Society, where 11 year olds were frowned on by the gang of 18 year olds who made up the membership. Nevertheless they soon realized I knew quite a bit about the music, helped no doubt by another present I had received, The Pictorial History of Jazz.
I bought a tenor sax for my 13th birthday, got it on the Friday and played a gig on the Saturday - it must have sounded awful! This was with a blues band whose entire repertoire was lifted from a Muddy Waters LP. Just 8 years later these same guys got together at my 21st birthday party and played virtually the same set - accompanying Muddy Waters who jammed at my party for the whole night! Who could have ever imagined it!
I attended my first jazz concert in 1963 - Duke Ellington at the Finsbury Park Astoria, and my first visit to a jazz club was in early 64 - Wes Montgomery at Ronnie Scott’s. From there on it was a continuous round of jazz clubs and concerts - Don Byas, Ben Webster, Coleman Hawkins, who remembered my mother from pre war Holland and my uncle Woolf from the Jack Hylton Band where they had a small jazz group together, and early encounters with many of my jazz heroes, some of whom I wound up either working with or befriending.
At the age of 15 an amazing thing happened - I had become acquainted with a bass player named John Hart, who lived in the same street as some friends of mine. He was a wealthy scion of the Woolworth family and a very fine player (he would sadly die in a car crash several years later). For some extraordinary reason Philly Joe Jones arrived to live in his house, and he soon started organizing jam sessions.
I attended along with all the fine young (and not so young) horn players and anxiously awaited my turn. I became immediately aware that I couldn't play like any of the other guys - not just couldn't but didn't want to. They were all over their instruments, striving to impress, but it all sounded to me like text book exercises.
As I had my last music lesson at the age of 11, I had picked up my knowledge of the saxophone mainly by listening to other players I liked, and I had gravitated towards the melodic improvisers. So I began my solo with a carefully placed note, waited a few seconds, repeated the note, then added another and went from there. It was ostensibly a different method to everyone else, and it seemed to meet with Joe's approval, as he came up to me at the end and said 'you sound just like Joe Henderson!' - which I took to be a compliment (at least I hope it was!)
Shortly afterwards Hank Mobley arrived in the house. Not only did he not own a tenor, he had no mouthpiece, and I sort of regret passing on allowing him to borrow my horn, as most people assured me it would never be seen again! To have a horn played, or even pawned by Hank Mobley - now that would be something!”
- Could you describe your college years at
and Birkbeck C. as they relate to Jazz composing and arranging? U. of Sussex
- Were you doing any combo playing during these college days?
- How would you describe your approach to writing for big bands?
- How would you describe your approach to small group writing?
- Melody, Harmony, Rhythm and Texture [the way the music sounds] have been described as the musical atoms upon which all composing is based; is there anything unique or different in how you deal with these, individually and collectively, in your writing?
When I started at
, doing a BA degree in English and American Literature, I still thought of myself primarily as a blues/rock saxophonist and folk flautist. My jazz seemed confined to some Dixieland clarinet gigs, but my listening continued to develop and I began to run the University Jazz Club which brought all of the great British jazz musicians down to perform over the three years (many of whom were later to wind up as members of my own bands in later years). Sussex University
I continued to be involved with the Blues Society which existed side by side with the jazz club, and in addition to jamming with local talent such as Peter Green of Fleetwood Mac, then an out and out blues band, I got to play with artists like Mississippi Fred MacDowall, Champion Jack Dupree and , on one memorable occasion, the legendary Son House, as well as managing to inveigle the entire Muddy Waters band to play at my 21st birthday party. I only recently discovered that they never got paid for that particular
tour, but on that incredible night for me they stayed and jammed with my friends and me till next morning! Ben Sidran was a contemporary of mine at the University (doing a Masters degree) but our paths were not to cross till much later. UK
When I returned to
in 1971 to pursue a Doctorate in Victorian Literature, I continued to play in a variety of settings, including 'subbing' occasionally in the pioneering Anglo/South African big band The Brotherhood of Breath, but it wasn't till 1974 that I really began to materialize on the London Jazz Scene. This coincided with my buying a secondhand baritone sax for 60 pounds, which I earned back the first night I played the horn! I'd always loved the sound of the baritone, particularly Gerry Mulligan and Harry Carney, and I started playing bebop gigs as well as lots of Dixieland and mainstream with people like Bud Freeman and Wild Bill Davison. London
I co-formed the first salsa band in the
with a nine piece horn section and began writing in earnest. As a self taught arranger I wish I could explain how my ability showed itself but like my uncles, also self taught arrangers, it was just something I could always do. I could listen to a classical or jazz recording and tell you exactly how each effect was achieved, what the violas were doing, how the saxes were voiced etc. UK
This became invaluable slightly later when it became apparent to TV companies and advertising people that I could transcribe existing pieces quickly and accurately, but as I started writing commercial pop charts and writing for performers like Van Morrison, I discovered that I had an aptitude for both orchestration and composing - neither of which I had ever formally studied or intended to pursue.
Luckily I had thoroughly absorbed (through listening)the writing of so many heroes in the jazz and orchestral world - from Don Redman, Benny Carter, Ellington and Strayhorn through Jimmy Mundy and Sy Oliver to Tadd Dameron and Gil Evans and beyond so when it came time to form my own big band I had a solid grounding in the vocabulary of big band writing.
In the late 70s and early 80s, after I gave up touring with Van Morrison to concentrate on composing and arranging, I also broadened my jazz playing even further and began working with the likes of Tony Scott, Jon Eardley, Chet Baker,
Kenny Wheeler and for five memorable years Slim Gaillard. Van Morrison and I had often discussed Slim and wondered where he had vanished to, when he suddenly showed up at the Canteen in . I went down to introduce myself, found myself co-opted into the band and wound up doing all his gigs when he spontaneously decided to relocate to London ! London
We became very close and I often found myself in his company for dinners with Dizzy, Johnny Griffin or
Kenny Clarke. A very surreal experience occurred just after he passed away. I received a call stating that in his papers he had requested that I play at his memorial, and the concert had been fixed for a Friday afternoon at Ronnie Scotts. I was in the middle of recording a big movie score and was conducting a largish orchestra all day long - it was a wartime drama and very sombre and melancholic music. I worked out that if a car was sent for me at 1pm when we took our break, I would assemble my curved soprano sax -which I had begun specializing on in the early 80s - in the car, run straight on stage, play a set and rush back to resume conducting at 2. All went to plan, and I ran through a packed club to the bandstand - as I arrived on stage the rhythm section kicked off a mid tempo blues. It felt so good that I had to look round to see with whom I was playing - there on piano was Les McCann and on bass was Percy Heath! As I finished my first solo I looked over to the piano where Les was comping with his left hand and videotaping me with a camera held in the right! I played two tunes, hugged Percy, waved to Les, ran out of the door to the waiting car, packed my horn and five minutes later was conducting some sad dramatic scoring for low strings, thinking to myself 'Did that really happen?' More to follow”
THE BIG BAND
I formed my big band in the mid 1980s as a result of having a number 1 hit record on the pop charts. It was a cover of a Billie
Holiday recording - That Ole Devil Called Love by a 19 year old British pop singer named Alison Moyet. This was her parents' favourite record and she wanted to do an updated version keeping the same feel and to a large extent the same orchestration. Two stories stand out from the making of the record. We worked in a studio I had never seen before or since, with an old Swedish piano that fell horribly out of tune barely 30 minutes after the piano tuner left. While we were wondering what to do next, up stepped Ms Moyet and opened a bag to reveal a piano tuning kit. 'Leave it to me' said the multi platinum pop star 'I trained as a piano tuner' and with that she proceeded to tune the piano perfectly - it held up through the whole session!!
The record was then released a few months later and immediately shot to number 1 in the charts. The pianist on the record, playing the Teddy Wilson style fills, was the wonderful Mick Pyne, who was in Stan Getz's group for a while and played for years with Tubby Hayes. Mick had sight read my chart of a song he had never actually heard before. On the night the pop charts were published he was playing solo piano at Kettners Restaurant in
Soho, . The owner Peter Boizot, an avid jazz fan, clapped his hands to silence the assembled diners and announced 'Ladies and gentlemen I am delighted to tell you that Mick Pyne, our pianist, is tonight Top of the Pops, and will now play his version of That Ole Devil Called Love.' As the only time he had encountered the song was as a chord chart three months previously, and had not even the vaguest idea of how it went, he proceeded to play a succession of rippling arpeggios and florid runs up and down the keyboard, much to the bafflement of the patrons! London
However on the back of this success I was approached to undertake a concert tour with Ms Moyet and began writing charts at a furious pace, both for her and for the band to perform. We launched at my local jazz club in the summer of 1985 - the band included Ted Heath stalwart Ronnie Verrell (Animal in the Muppets!) on drums, great baritone saxist Ronnie Ross, ex Buddy Rich trombonist and Downbeat poll winner Malcolm Griffiths, former Maynard Ferguson tenorist Bob Sydor, and former Bill Holman and Louie Bellson saxophonist Andy Mackintosh plus the cream of British jazz talent.
The tour was a half success - the pop audiences were baffled by our music till we played the 'hit' and the jazz audience wanted more of the instrumental stuff. I received very favourable feedback from Oliver Jackson, Sweets Edison, Red Rodney, Tony Scott, Benny Carter, Slim Gaillard and Al Cohn, all of whom were very supportive of the band, and we guested with the likes of Warren Vache, Harold Nicholas, Martin Taylor, Adelaide Hall and many others over the next few years.
I kept the band busy playing on commercials and movie soundtracks including Little Voice, Shall We Dance, RKO 281 and many more over the next 24 years, and we made an album with Chicago born UK resident vocalist Joan Viskant (a cousin of Lennie Tristano) in the mid 90s.
We also had two further worldwide number 1 hit records with the Icelandic singer Bjork on a song entitled It's Oh so Quiet, and with George Michael on Kissing A Fool. However it has been a struggle to keep the band going - I joke that it's our 24th anniversary - 24 years and 24 gigs! Al Cohn, who used to stay with me in
when he toured there, took me to meet Woody Herman- 'This is John - he leads a big band in London ' said Al. Woody looked me straight in the eyes, gripped my hand and said 'Why???" We recently played at the London Ken Poston Swingin' Affair with the LA version of the band (there is also an Australian one too!) which includes Bob Efford, Pete Christlieb, Tom Ranier and many other West Coast giants, and had a resounding success and I will shortly record an album of my instrumental big band charts - hopefully half in the UK and half in LA.
Here’s the next round of questions under the broader rubric of “Influences:” to wit, can you talk about how the following may have influenced you writing?
- Duke Ellington – “My favourite arranger. He could make any combination of instruments sound amazing - but then he had Hodges, Gonsalves and Carney and Lawrence Brown and Ray Nance etc. Al Cohn once said to me while we were listening to Creole Love Call - 'if you or I brought that in to a session people would laugh at us - but doesn't it sound great!' Al was a huge influence as a player, writer and friend.”
- Pete Rugolo – “I enjoyed the bravura of his brass writing, and the humour (shades of Billy May too.)”
- CY Coleman – “An early mentor - more by his attitude and his perspective - he showed me how I could find myself a place in the music scene that I could feel comfortable with - an inspiration.”
- Johnny Mandel – “We share a hero worship of Al Cohn - Johnny's charts are an absolute delight to hear whether you are a musician or a fan - they are so well crafted.”
- Gil Evans – “Like Duke an alchemist! The later rock influenced stuff never excited me that much - I preferred to hear rock musicians play rock, and enjoy Out of the Cool, the Individualism of, Plus 10 and the Miles collaborations.”
- Gerry Mulligan – “A huge influence as a player and writer and I was delighted to find we shared the same passion for Adrian Rollini and Danny Polo.”
- Robert Farnon – “The Geraldo band had 3 staff arrangers in 1946 - Farnon, Angela Morley and my uncle Woolf Phillips - phenomenal writers who definitely influenced my conception of light music writing - a genre I adore.”
- Neal Hefti – “Neal defined the art of big band writing several times over - with Herman, and Basie and then the Clifford Brown with strings album is exemplary.”
- Tadd Dameron – “I loved the melodic beauty of his writing and always try to keep the internal parts 'singing' - I am not a big fan of convoluted writing that forces each player to bury their heads in their individual parts to the detriment of them hearing the whole picture.”
John added the following:
“Benny Carter - Major influence as a writer and a friend - his observations on music alone were priceless. The idea that I could teach him anything seems ridiculous but he rang me several times to ask my advice or to find out 'how I had done certain things in certain charts'. My feeling is he was boosting my confidence - if so I guess it sort of worked!
I have so many other favourites - Sy Oliver, George Duning, Skip Martin, Gary McFarland, Jimmy Mundy, Don Redman, Spud Murphy, Bill Holman - I hope I have synthesized them into a personal style of some sort.
Oh I need to add Horace Henderson to my arranger favorites list. He is so underappreciated but his charts make me exhilarated and envious. So much talent.”
- What do you look for in a rhythm section? Is this different for a small group as compared to a big band?
I love to play with a rhythm section that locks in and grooves - sounds obvious but isn't that easy to find. It's the same for the big band, though the techniques of locking in and grooving are definitely different. Some pianists, guitarists, bass players and drummers are great in small groups, not so great in big bands and vice versa. And some players switch effortlessly. I play consciously differently with the big band and always try to stay aware of the arrangement and its effectiveness, and I think that's what the best big band rhythm sections do too.
- What are the favorites instruments that you enjoy forming a front-line with in a small group?
I've really enjoyed doing the two soprano thing with Jim Galloway for the last few years at the Sweet and Hot Festival - I feel we play together intuitively. Now I'm back playing baritone again I enjoy playing with trumpet - it's harder to have a soprano/trumpet front line. Trombone fits nicely with both, and I enjoy playing with guitar and double bass as a trio with no drums - Jimmy Giuffre style.
- Do you have an interest in writing a thematic big band album? If so, what would be the favored theme for the album?
I enjoyed a project where I wrote originals in the style of all my favourite big bands and arrangers - Artie Shaw, Lunceford, Sy Oliver, Tadd Dameron, Jimmy Mundy, Ellington, Hefti etc. My thing has always been to write whatever takes my fancy, be it an original or a chart on a standard (jazz or pop) that I enjoy hearing.
- Who among today’s musicians is appealing to you and why?
Eric Alexander, Joe Lovano, Brian Lynch, John Allred, Pete Christlieb, Larry Goldings, Matt Wilson, Dena De Rose, Bill Cunliffe, Terell Stafford - the list is endless and really I am still a fan - I go to jazz clubs at least once a week and try to catch everyone who is creating new exciting music. Though my recorded listening still mainly focuses on the era from 1923 to 1970 and the work of the acknowledged and unacknowledged jazz masters.
Why is writing for strings such a challenge and why is it that so few composer-arrangers are able to do it?
Many arrangers fall into the trap of trying to make the strings 'swing' and thus overwrite. The best string writers - Farnon, Angela Morley, Riddle, Costa, Vince Mendoza, Mandel, Jeremy Lubbock know exactly how to make strings work in the context of a large ensemble. I have always loved the jazz with strings genre - particularly when the great jazz melodists - Hodges, Desmond, Clifford Brown, Chet Baker, Charlie Shavers, Ben Webster - are put in that context with sympathetic string writing. I love Parker with strings - although the string writing is far from perfect it works a treat for me. Two underrated albums are Cannonball with strings and Benny Carter with strings - I think jazz players love the challenge of creating melodic jazz. I'd love to do a jazz with strings album sometime!
Please write the first thing that comes to mind or whatever you want to say about the following reed players:
Benny Carter - a great pal and a consummate musician. He had his own identity on every instrument he played - like Ray Nance he didn't play the same way on his doubles, and maintained the character of each instrument. A thinking musician, you can always hear the arranger's mentality but that doesn't mean he was a cold unfeeling player.
Johnny Hodges - the greatest! As Benny said, has there ever been a sound like that? I never tire of hearing him in any context.
Coleman Hawkins - as a family friend he was the first saxophonist I became aware of, at the age of about 5! He never stopped developing as a musician, and never looked back, although sometimes I wish he had.
Chu Berry - Along with Don Byas, the first to take Hawkins to another place (I hate the notion that jazz kept 'advancing' - it kept changing and becoming harmonically more sophisticated but its essence and quality were there from the start and to me Luis Russell is just as valid and contemporary as Maria Schneider. The vocabulary has changed but the spirit remains.). A direct influence on my favourite saxophonist, Lucky Thompson.
Lester Young - another great melodist, and I admire him even more because he seemed to have his whole style worked out from the get go. Like Adrian Rollini and Bechet they seemed to spring fully formed into the jazz world.
Charlie Parker - Benny Carter called him the greatest musician he ever met. I think we're still coming to terms with his innovations - certainly his rhythmic freedom is mind boggling.
Paul Desmond - one of my favourites - I admire his compositional mind and purity of sound, and inventive wit.
Gerry Mulligan - a hero as a player and a writer. When I got to spend time with him I was delighted to find that he shared my enthusiasm for Rollini and Danny Polo. I will never forget walking through
Soho with his baritone in my left hand and him balanced precariously on my right shoulder after a few too many drinks!!
Bud Shank - a consummate professional and someone who never allowed himself to be pigeonholed - I admired his fierce dedication and 100% commitment.
Zoot Sims - genius!! And along with early Steve Lacy and Lucky Thompson one of my favourite soprano players.
Al Cohn - A great sax player, arranger, comedian and houseguest. Like Johnny Mandel, I learnt so much from listening to Al both in his playing and writing. Like another favourite saxophonist arranger Lars Gullin, his writing always seemed an extension of his playing - complete musicality.
Stan Getz - when he told me 'everything I play is Benny Goodman' a light went on. A great melodist and the consummate balladeer - Focus still takes my breath away. Seeing and hearing him play Blood Count at the Royal Festival Hall when he knew he was fatally ill is still one of the most memorable musical experiences of my life.
Tubby Hayes - Clark Terry used to carry copies of Tubbs In New York around to give to people who hadn't heard him. His opening cadenza on You For Me is breathtakingly brilliant. I'm proud that I could use him in my band in my early days in music - just to be able to say that Tubby or
Kenny Clare or Ronnie Ross worked for me is still a major buzz as I am still a jazz fan primarily in my own mind.
John Coltrane - I appreciate what he does and how he does it but it doesn't move me I'm afraid - I enjoy him up to 1962 then it loses me - not because I don't get what he is doing but because it doesn't satisfy my musical needs. And his soprano playing leaves me pretty cold. A great player though.
Eric Dolphy - I've always loved his unpredictability and his humour. He is an exciting passionate alto player and a phenomenal bass clarinettist.
Could you please conclude this “interview” by talking a bit about what excites you as you look out over the current jazz scene in
in particular and Great Britain Europe in general.
I hear more of the native folk elements in European jazz these days, particularly in Scandinavian and Scottish jazz, and of course the African and
Caribbean influences in French and English jazz. They were always there in the music of Lars Gullin but now World Music has become more mainstream I'm delighted to hear all the elements thrown into the mix. I regret the demise of mainstream jazz - as Kenny Davern said to me on a gig - We're the dinosaurs. He also memorably said - jazz won't die, when you old people go there will be new old people! However I do see younger audiences for younger bands - the problem has always been that kids want to hear people their own age playing music - and any surviving 'modern' jazz players from the golden age are now in their 70s or 80s. Having played with James Moody a couple of weeks ago I can attest that the music itself is alive well and vibrant!