Although his book was published some years ago, I only recently got round to reading it and regret it took me so long.
First let me declare my interests. I have quite a lot in common with Peter King. We were both born at the beginning of World War II, brought up in humdrum family circumstances in the South London/Surrey region. We have both been troubled by addiction problems over the years although Peter massively more so than myself. We both made our own faltering attempts to copy the music of our jazz heroes by listening and copying in the days when jazz tuition was rare and college courses were never even contemplated.
The resemblances end, of course, with the fact that Peter went on to become a world-class jazz saxophonist and I pottered about in an enjoyable role as a run-of-the-mill, semi-professional, mainstream pianist.
Enough, and now on to the real interest - alto saxophonist and renowned aero-modeller, Peter King. His life has been one of great extremes - an immense musical talent which unfortunately led into a downward spiral of chronic narcotic addiction which he courageously recounts. A travel phobia and a disastrous early marriage to Joy, were other ordeals he suffered.
Like most sax players Peter started with a simple system clarinet after being bowled over as a teenager by the grossly distorted Hollywood biopic, The Benny Goodman Story. Well, everyone starts somewhere and Peter kicked off in a South London pub, sitting in with a dixieland outfit and playing Ice Cream in Bb, a tune he didn’t know, but he received an encouraging reception. He progressed by being shown “hieroglyphics” by the banjo player. These were, of course, chord symbols.
Peter’s Damascene revelation, like so many modern jazz musicians was hearing Charlie Parker. The experience blew his mind and from then on, listening to the top players of the day, he acquired an alto sax and progressed to actually playing with top names like Don Rendell, Jimmy Skidmore, Harry Klein, etc.
The real acid test came when he shared the stand with Tubby Hayes, at the time the acknowledged “guv’nor” on the British scene. Little was said by Tubby but later Peter heard that the Great Man had been favourably impressed.
Another rite of passage had been negotiated and, one could say that the crowning point of his youthful apprenticeship while still a teenager, was to be invited to open a new venture, Ronnie Scott’s Club, in October 1959.
Peter, like some others of the jazz fraternity, was introduced to taking a “joint”, which he thoroughly enjoyed. Unfortunately that was to lead to one of the most calamitous aspects of his life.
He was becoming well known to all the top British musicians. Playing regularly at Ronnie’s and hearing the procession of US visitors, usually sax players, broadened his style and technique. A spell in John Dankworth’s big band felt to him like a final year at university where he gained lots of experience in sight-reading and section playing.
In 1961, another high spot in the King early days was hearing one of his great heroes, pianist Bud Powell, at a German jazz festival. Bud had a history of deep mental illness and frightened off many gestures of friendship with offensive and odd behaviour.
Peter specifically went to hear Bud in a Parisian club where only a handful of punters had turned up and was scared of getting a mouthful of abuse from the pianist. However all went well when he sat in and was thanked with broad smiles and a handshake. It seemed Bud was impressed by “the spotty-faced, 21-year-old from England who sounded like Bird.”
Unfortunately an enjoyable “joint” progressed to a full-blown heroin habit and much of his early life was occupied with finding dealers or doctors who would prescribe narcotics to registered addicts. The dreadful withdrawal symptoms which users experience became a fearsome event.
The drug habit persisted for many years although with such a massive talent he still produced sublime music although like many top-class players he had to supplement meagre gig money with more mundane work to pay the bills.
Fortunately, his later marriage to Linda helped him through the many years of addiction and he attributes both his survival and success as a musician very much to her love and support. He was desolated by her death a few years ago.
There are some fascinating jazz anecdotes contained in the book.
One of his heroes, Ben Webster, who thought nothing of drinking three bottles of the hard stuff a day, alternating gin, whisky and vodka, was entertained at Peter’s parents’ place in Tolworth. Ben was treated to a traditional English roast dinner and was lost in gratitude.
On holiday in Majorca, Peter and Linda frequented a bar where Ron Rubin played solo piano. Another piano player, an American called Art Simmons used to come and play a bit as well.
One night Linda, who had been a fair singer in the past, was persuaded to take the stand and sang a few tunes accompanied by Art who loved her voice. She nearly fainted when they told her that Art had been Billie Holiday’s accompanist.
On another occasion, a promoter with strange taste had booked Peter and former Charlie Parker trumpet man, Red Rodney, for a gig. The piano player turned out to be Art Hodes, a fine musician but more of a boogie expert. They all bit their lips like real pros and did the job playing 12-bar blues.
Looking back over a long career there so many great achievements in the King story. In 2003 he finished many years of hard work writing an opera Zyklon, in collaboration with writer Julian Barry, based on the life of the Jewish scientist Fritz Haber who unknowingly helped invent the substance used for the mass murder of his own people by the Nazis (650 pages of fully orchestrated score). Ironically the premiere was in New York where as a young hopeful he had hoped to establish his name as a jazz musician not as an opera composer.
He has played all over the world and received a Lifetime Achievement Award in Russia, an honour not observed in his own country. Peter also had the honour of playing Bird’s plastic Grafton alto in a Kansas City celebration.
My own interest in Peter King commenced one Saturday night in the Bull’s Head, Barnes, many years ago. I had heard this British alto player in various media but never live. He took the stand and launched into one of his favourite Wayne Shorter tunes, Yes Or No. With his regular drummer and pianist, Steve Keogh and Steve Melling, in full chase behind him, I could hardly believe my ears. In my long life playing and listening to top jazz performers, American, British and other, this was something very special - the searing tone, the impeccable technique and the endless flow of ideas.
I knew nothing of Peter’s addiction at that time and I am sure he had been clean for a long while but his gaunt, sad face bore the signs of a harrowing past. It was an evening of pure joy and I repeated my visit to Barnes whenever I could and I can only thank Peter King for the immense pleasure he has given me and many others over decades of listening.
Many autobiographical works often contain score-settling elements. But there is an almost total absence of these and Peter is continually surprised at the “niceness” of people he encounters - sometimes characters with reputations of being temperamental or difficult. Perhaps it hasn’t occurred to him that being such an obviously nice man himself, even the most mean-spirited human being could only reciprocate in kind.
This review only scratches the surface of an immensely interesting and enjoyable read and I would urge anyone who loves music - from Bartok (Peter’s favourite “straight” composer) to Bird - to buy it.
Peter King. Flying High. A Jazz Life and Beyond
The second edition of Roger Farbey's Ian Carr discography was published on 4th January 2016.
Titled Elastic Dream, the second, revised edition of The Music of Ian Carr - A Critical Discography it is available as detailed below...
Elastic Dream, the second, revised edition of The Music of Ian Carr – A Critical Discography has just been published.
To obtain a FREE copy, for UK residents only please send a self-addressed Size 1 bubble-lined envelope (also known as a DVD mailer) stamped with £1.71 (1st class) or £1.54 (2nd class) to: Roger Farbey, c/o BDA Library, 64 Wimpole Street, London, W1G 8YS.
If you use a Royal Mail pre-paid sticker please be aware that the weight of the book will be approximately 400grams. Please do not use multiple ordinary letter stamps. You will only receive the book if you follow the instructions shown above.
Overseas readers, please email me for details of how to obtain the book here: firstname.lastname@example.org
The book is not for sale, I am giving them away, but am requesting that UK residents follow the pre-paid envelope instructions above and that overseas readers reimburse me the postage via PayPal.
Simon Spillett's Tubby Hayes biography was published in April, 2015. Titled The Long Shadow of the Little Giant: The Life Work and Legacy of Tubby Hayes it has been published by Equinox Publishing...
Forty years have elapsed since the death of the British jazz legend Tubby Hayes and yet his story still continues to captivate. Beginning as a precociously talented teenage saxophonist, he took first the local and then the international jazz scene by storm, displaying gifts equal to the finest American jazzmen, appearing with none other than Duke Ellington and proving almost single-handedly that British jazz need not labour under an inferiority complex. Hayes' triumphs during the 1950's and 60's enabled still later generations of English musicians to take their music onto the world stage. However his story has rarely been accurately recorded.
Distorted by the folklore surrounding his tragically early death, aged only 38, much of what has been written, broadcast and recounted about Hayes has added only confusion to our understanding of his short but brilliant life.
In this book, award-winning saxophonist and writer Simon Spillett, widely regarded as the world's leading authority on Hayes and his work, painstakingly outlines a career which alternated professional success and personal downfall. Using credible eye-witness recollection, drawn from conversations with Hayes family, partners, friends and musical colleagues, unique access to Hayes own tape, photographic and personal archives, and extensive contemporary research material, Spillett has reconstructed the trajectory of his subjects life both candidly and respectfully.
Hayes meteoric musical rise from boy wonder to youthfully mature virtuoso, from saxophonist to multi-instrumentalist and composer is faithfully documented, as is his struggle for relevance as rock, pop and the avant-garde took over the musical landscape in the 1960s and, for the first time, the opaque world of his inconsistent and troubled personal life is recounted in full. His unsettled childhood, his battles with addiction and ill-health and his difficult personal relationships are all exposed, and the confused accounts of his final days are unravelled and made clear as never before. The Long Shadow of The Little Giant also traces Hayes' path through one of the most vibrant periods of history, beginning in the austerity of post-World War Two London, through the "never had it so good" 1950's, the "Swinging Sixties" and into the privations of the "State of Emergency" early Seventies, and outlines the cultural and musical developments of the times which underpinned the life of arguably the UK's finest ever jazz musician.
(A year later, In May 2016, Acrobat Records issued a CD to accompany the book. Titled the Long Shadow of the Little Giant the CD contains fourteen tracks selected by Simon Spillett to highlight some of Tubby's finest work.) Recent CDs...
The tracks included are:
Jordu - Tubby Hayes and his Orchestra (10/3/55)
Straight Life - Tubby Hayes Quartet (29/7/55)
Room 608 - Tubby Hayes Quintet(?) (18/2/56)
Reunion - The Jazz Couriers (8/8/57)
Guys And Dolls - The Jazz Couriers (16/2/58)
In Salah - The Jazz Couriers (Nov '58)
Delirium - Tubby Hayes with the Kurt Edelhagen Orchestra (1959)
Whisper Not - The Jazz Couriers (26/6/59)
Sunny Monday - Tubby Hayes Quartet (Dec '59)
Tubbsville - Tubby Hayes and his Orchestra (28/3/61)
All Members - Tubby Hayes Quartet (31/3/61)
What A Gas - Tony Kinsey Quintet (Sep '61)
Doxy - Tubby Hayes Quintet (?/10/61)
Lady 'E' - Tubby Hayes and The All-Stars (23/6/62)
George Chisholm's life story as told to Bob Sinfield "Gentleman of Jazz" was published in 2014 by can be purchased through www.lulu.com.
GENTLEMAN OF JAZZ tells the fascinating story of George Chisholm, from his boyhood in a part of Glasgow that made the Gorbals seem upmarket to a 50-year career in jazz that earned him the OBE. With a little help from broadcaster Bob Sinfield, George describes his eventful and often hilarious double life as trombonist and comedian, a combination that led him to work with everyone from Ambrose to Armstrong, from Goodman to the Goons, from Sinatra to Superman.
"George Chisholm was one of the few jazz musicians of international calibre that the UK produced in the pre- and post-war period...."
"He seems to have written the text of this book, although I suspect Mr Sinfield has added little touches. When the text is supposedly Chis speaking this method of an aside in brackets occasionally crops up again, and I wonder if it is Mr Sinfield rather than George..."
This is a comprehensive account of his career, from the hard times in Glasgow as a child through until his repeated appearances at Dick Gibson's jazz parties in Colorado. One does get a good picture of what George was like, which is the main object of the book. There are some interesting photos of George in the text and an attractive one on the cover..." Steve Voce Jazz Journal
Dick Pearce's biography "Dizzy Gillespie Was At My Wedding" was published in 2013 by Bill Scott and Iain Hannah and can be purchased through Amazon or www.dickpearce.co.uk...
Hilarious, harrowing and at times genuinely moving, this unflinchingly honest book is a true view from the bandstand, a warts and all self portrait of one of Britain's most gifted and unassuming jazz heroes.
Jack Massarik, jazz critic London Evening Standard
Dick Pearce, one of the most brilliant and naturally gifted trumpet players Great Britain has ever produced, is also an equally talented author. Filled with his own special brand of humour, often tinged with irony, Dick's book takes us on a fascinating and highly informative journey through his life; from his childhood to all the highs and lows of his long and creative jazz career. Of special interest are many wonderful anecdotes about the years spent working with Ronnie Scott's great Quintet. Written in Pearce's uniquely personal style, the book is a real delight to read and I strongly recommend it.
Peter King - Legendary Saxophonist
This is a real insider's account of life as a professional jazz musician - candid, moving and often hilarious. Dick Pearce played trumpet in Ronnie Scott's band for 14 years. His memories of the enigmatic Ronnie are probably the most revealing and intimate ever published.
Dave Gelly MBE Jazz Critic
John Fordham's 'Jazz Man'. Subtitled The Amazing Story of Ronnie Scott and his Club Originally published in 1986 it was revamped and issued again in 1995 by Kyle Cathie Ltd and can still be purchased through Amazon...
Jazz Man follows the story of Ronnie Scott from his early days as a sharp-dressing, wise-cracking young dance band musician in a war-ravaged London, through his discovery of the New York 52nd street clubs of the 1940s and their inspiration of his dream - a jazz club that would become one of the best in the world.
The book recalls a post-war London of hipster fashions, jive talk, Soho bottle parties and early experiments with dryus; it tells the story of the coming of rock'n'roll, the shock of the avante-garde, and the ingenious and often hilarious manoeuverings of Scott and his friends to keep their eccentric business afloat.
From a series of conversations with Ronnie Scott, his friends and contempories, John Fordham has created a both a biography and an offbeat picture of life at the margins in post-war Britain.
" An object lesson in how it should be done...Fordham has delved into the milieu of early modern jazz in Britain, interviewed dozens of sources and finally ventures a psychological portrait of his subject against a detailed socio-musical background." Brian Case, Melody Maker
" A splendid biography...Fordham paints in words an atmosphere of Scott's early days in a lifestyle now alas defunct." Spike Milligan
John Chilton Who's Who of British Jazz Originally published in 1997 it was revised and a second edition issued in 2004 by Continuum and can still be purchased through Amazon...
New, expanded and updated edition (2004) of the best comprehensive survey of who's who of British jazz musicians. Over 900 biographies detail the work of musicians from every era of British jazz, ranging from those who played professionally before 1920 at the dawn of jazz in Britain, through to today's young stars.
Contains new information on the early careers of those who became famous and the chronological listing of events in each subject's life sheds new light on the development of jazz in Britain.
Thousands of facts are presented and some popular myths dispelled. Veteran musicians have been traced, even those who left the profession or emigrated have been included.
One of the most fully documented sources on the jazz musicians of any country outside the USA and a treasury of information covering every jazz style.
"The ultimate guide. More compelling than existing histories" Val Wilmer, Mojo
"Indispensible. An invaluable reference book" Ron Simpson, Jazz Rag
Ronnie Scott and Mike Hennessy Some of my best friends are blues Originally published in 1979 and 1988 by Northway Publications and can still be purchased through Amazon...
Written to celebrate the 20th anniversary of the opening of his club Ronnie Scott tells here of his life as a musician and bandleader and as the founder, with his partner Pete King, of the great jazz club that bears his name. Ronnie said of running their world famous venue, 'It's made a happy man very old.'
The book provides a humerous and shrewd behind-the scenes account of the headaches and hysteria of running a club in the heart of London's Soho and coping with the capricious temperaments of some of the world's most celebrated artists.
Co-author Mike Hennessey is a leading jazz writer. He covered the international music scene for Billboard magazine for 27 years and has written hundreds of articles, reviews, album notes and biographical features for a wide range of jazz magazines.
Some of my best friends are blues includes contributions by Benny Green and Spike milligan, with cartoons by Mel Calman. This edition features a forward by Pete King.
"an enthralling book about a memorable character" Jim Godbolt,
"One of the best books about jazz and it's characters ever written" Music Week
"I laughed a lot" Brian Case, Melody Maker