26 Sep 2011, 10:48am




This is an autobiography, focussing on the musical events in my life. It is is how I remember things. It is not intended to be a comprehensive list of everything I’ve done or been involved in. It’s my take on how things have happened and I hope you’ll find it interesting reading. If I’ve got anything wrong, do let me know.

My Musical Life

Me, about 5 or 6 years old.

It started with my older brother, Philip, taking violin lessons. (A lot of things are his fault.) Following our mother’s egalitarian way of handling things this meant that I had the right to some sort of music lessons a couple of years later. I chose the recorder (blockfloete) and despite Philip’s well meant attempts to put me off, warning me that music was full of “nasty crotchets and quavers” I stuck it out.

My first instrument (in a recent photo with passing cat.)
The first note I played was a G and that has somehow remained my favourite note. Doing everything in G, I learned F sharp almost straight away and was rather put out to discover, about a year later, that there were actually F naturals too. This somehow didn’t seem right.

By the time I got to grammar school I wanted to carry on playing in some way. The recorder was out of the question for the school orchestra, and since they had a plethora of clarinettists but a lack of flautists the thing was quickly decided. My parents took me off to Sidcup and bought me a third hand Boosey & Hawkes flute for £30. This must have been about 1968.

At school, for some reason I could never work out, I kept getting good grades in music. It never crossed my mind that this would have any bearing on my future. The brother had now switched to electric guitar and was playing in his own rock band at the local youth club. Sometimes when he was out I would creep into his room and try out chord shapes from his guitar books. We never had a piano in the house until I was sixteen and studying for A Level Music, and my music teacher asked my parents how I had managed up to now. I had trained my ear during those clandestine guitar sessions, and occasionally grabbed a minute at one of the school pianos during lunchtime.
It’s interesting here to note that music was already becoming something to be done furtively. No-one ever told me that music was “bad”, although I later learned that my Headmaster had done everything possible to prevent me from taking music A level. Still we musicians live most of our lives being considered people who have avoided getting real jobs.

I was having flute lessons from a guy who lived near my school, but at a certain point he had to move away for a job with an orchestra in Birmingham so he referred me to his teacher, Derek Honner, who just happened to be the head flute teacher at the Royal Academy of Music, as well as playing with the London Philharmonic. Fortunately he lived a short train ride from my parental home, and he offered to take me on at half his usual private tuition rate.

By now (at fifteen years old) I was getting into “progressive” bands like Van Der Graaf Generator and Soft Machine, as well as cultivating an appreciation for Schoenberg and his theories. The Avant Garde excited me, and I wanted to scream at the world. This was difficult with a flute (so I thought at the time) so I borrowed a soprano sax and tried to emulate my first saxophone hero, Elton Dean.

First concerts
Apart from school concerts my first public performances were with the Dartford Youth Orchestra. I was never really asked if I wanted to join, it was just sort of assumed that this was going to happen, as it did. It was a useful experience working my way up to first flute over those three to four years. If I’d been seriously intent on becoming a symphonic flautist I should have been aiming at the Kent Youth Orchestra, but I wasn’t, I was thinking about jazz.

About fifteen years later I learned there had been a sort of reunion of the orchestra to celebrate the conductor going into retirement. No one had thought of contacting me. I’ve never understood that. Maybe they thought I was too far off into jazz, or maybe I hadn’t made that much of an impression.

I suppose my first “jazz” influence were the Soft Machine, a Kentish band, part of the so-called “Canterbury Scene”. They used a lot of irregular time signatures, compositions that took equally from modal jazz and Hindemith, rock, and the avant garde. At the time I couldn’t really appreciate where they were getting it all from, and like most fans assumed they were completely original.
Elton Dean played alto sax and saxello ( a slightly curved soprano) in a style that recalled Rhythm ‘n’ Blues and Ornette, and he was part of a London jazz scene that had a strong (South) African contingent as well as a thriving free element and strong blues influences too.
I listened to his solos over and over again, and of course started writing all my tunes in 5 and 7. By the time I was seventeen I was more used to improvising in 5 than in 4, I had some idea of who Parker and Coltrane were but I thought Elton Dean was the best in the world. Looking back I think it’s right that a person gets inspired first by “local” heroes before discovering the “legends”. (This is in no way meant to diminish Elton Dean, who was, I think, an international figure in his own right.)

I took the soprano sax along to my flute teacher, not knowing what his reaction would be. Most Conservatoire teachers would have forbidden me to touch it, because it might have had a destabilising effect on my embouchre. Derek Honner looked at it, and then said “Play me something”. He then gave me a few tips and told me to carry on, because these days it was “important to have more strings to your bow.” He told me that one of his teachers had been a saxophonist, and had played on the atlantic cruises with Geraldo!

Early jam sessions after hours in the school hall. Me on piano here.

I was unsure whether to go to the Royal Academy (having passed my Grade 8 on flute) or go to University. By now (at eighteen years old) I was convinced about pursuing a life in music. Various factors had influenced me; not only the ongoing good grades in music at school, but also my failing Eng. Lit O-level had effectively narrowed , or should I say, rationalised the field. I took A-Levels in Music , Maths and German, and by the time I was sitting the exams the only one I cared about was music.

I eventually chose to study music at University, partly because I wanted to get away from home, and studying in London at the RAM would have meant commuting, whereas University meant going to live on campus somewhere. My parents were cool about this. I think they sensed my need to get away and have space. So it was decided. I went to Royal Holloway College, a cute little College of the London University, situated away from the metropolis in well-healed Surrey.

I had chosen University because I wanted to know about music, not just play it, and my contact up to now with Conservatoire elements (apart from the great Honner) had been negative. I didn’t want to sit around all day agonising over my little finger technique, I wanted to know what music was about. I also identified the Conservatoires with Classical Music, and I saw University as a chance to study all musics from all angles.

At University I adopted the role of the angry young man of jazz, carrying my old soprano sax around with me everywhere, trying to organise free jam sessions, and probably being just a little bit obnoxiously alternative.
But these were the seventies and the establishment loved that sort of thing, so my dissenting voice was listened to. I was invited to give a lecture on jazz for the 20th C. Music History course, since I knew more about it than the Professors. This must have gone down well somewhere because I came away from university with a decent degree, and even today I still wonder how I got it, when I consider the attitude I had at the time.

During the Summer break after my first year I worked at a bookshop and London and saved enough to buy myself an alto sax. This was mainly to make myself more “useful”. I was thinking in terms of being a jobbing musician and soprano sax and flute were more “colour” instruments than mainstay.

University gave me other things too. One of the Lecturers put me in touch with Roger Dean, a bassist/pianist working on the free end of the jazz scene, and in contemporary chamber music. We met up and played together and started to collaborate. A few gigs, the Edinburgh Fringe, and he recommended me to Graham Collier when his saxophonist (Alan Wakeman) had turned down a tour because he was busy with a rock singer whose name I have long forgotten. Art Themen was busy too, so Graham had no choice but to risk the young man fresh out of University.

The audition with Graham consisted of meeting for a few beers, talking about music, eating fish and chips, and talking more about music. That was all. Graham had tapes,and therefore knew my limitations. He knew I could offer three instruments (alto and soprano saxes and flute) that I read well, that my academic background meant there would be no problems with his concepts. He just needed to know what I was like as a person.

And so the collaboration with Graham Collier got underway. I got into Graham’s band just as he was getting out of playing (bass) and more into composing and band-leading. His music was becoming more and more “directed” and my academic background helped me in coming to terms with his techniques. I wasn’t a “volcanic” soloist like other saxophonists but I could offer a variety of sounds and styles. So I went from obscurity to BBC Radio broadcasts and the Camden Festival, (supporting Sam Rivers.) This was 1979; I was poor but happy. The old soprano was replaced with a Selmer Mark VI (which I still have) thanks to the few hundred pounds left in a building society account my grandfather had opened for me years before.

Me as multi-instrumentalist with Graham Collier Music in 1981. On bass; Paul Bridge, at the keyboard; Roger Dean.

Up until leaving university I had no real idea about what making a living in music actually involved. I had heard a ‘cellist on Radio Three say that, in music “The cream rises to the top like in no other profession” and I had believed this. I imagined that all I had to do was work at my art; practice and compose, and things would just happen. The rude awakening didn’t take long to arrive.
Actual directly paid work involved performance, recording sessions, and teaching. For every hour spent in these activities several other hours would need to be spent practicing, preparing lessons, composing and arranging. But in order to have that work, several other hours (and this was the new discovery) had to be spent on the ‘phone or writing letters (no computers at that time). So: two jobs for the price of one.
Then, add that at the start of a musical career it’s not always easy to make a living just out of music, so some sort of “day job” is needed. (I worked in an office for a year.) Bearing in mind that the day job will probably have nothing to do with what one has been training for all these years the chances are that the pay won’t be amazing. So: three jobs just to get by.
After my year of office work I had the good luck to be taken on part time by Graham Colliers’ small independent record company, Mosaic Records. That was at least in my sector and it helped me though until evening class teaching for the I.L.E.A. (Inner London Education Authority) finally gave me self-sufficiency in musical activity.

Directing a jazz workshop for ILEA in the early ‘eighties. Olly Blanchflower is helping out on double bass on this occasion.

My only film appearance.
It must have been about 1982. I was living in a bed-sit in Hackney at the time and somehow I got a call to go and mime the part of a flautist in a film. I still, to this day, don’t know how they got round to calling me, since I didn’t know the person who rang me. Someone must just have passed on my number. At the time I was doing quite a few studio sessions , mostly for adverts, so the contact might have come from one of those agencies.
Anyway I was to turn up with my flute at, I think, Shepperton Studios and they would think about everything else. I was given a black jacket and they applied some stuff to flatten my hair down, a sort of non-greasy gel, then we were taken to the set where they positioned us on a platform that was supposed to rise up in a cloud at the start of the scene. From there on we were to mime while the track was played over the speakers.
I had been told it was for the new Monty Python film , but the famous faces weren’t really visible from where I was sitting. In fact all of us in the band were wondering where they had got to, untll finally one of them did a silly voice. Most noticeable were the angels with their plastic breasts. Somehow they caught one’s eye.
We managed a few takes on the first day, but the producers weren’t happy, Then there were problems with the platform. I can still remember the nasty jolt that went up my backbone every time it returned to basement level- Same story the second day. The third day we just hung around waiting to be called. On the fourth day we got the job done, It was four days’ work at Film Artist Association rates. One day was enough to pay me a week’s rent so the four days put me alright for the month.
Here’s how it came out.

Even if I was aiming at being a session musician/sideman it was also important for me to have an “own band”; something that would play my tunes and put across my ideas. In the ‘seventies “jazz-rock” had become a sort of staple pub music, and the typical formation was a quintet with one “horn”, a guitar, an electric keyboard, electric bass and drums. I started off from this formation and then at a certain point decided I could do without the keyboard. My influences were jazz-rock, free jazz, the avant-garde and even progressive rock. So no standards and no blues – these were things I would play with other groups; my band was for my thing.
The seventies had been an interesting decade. The major record companies (in UK) had dropped jazz almost completely and in response a lot of artists had started producing their own records on their own independent labels. Distribution was difficult but enthusiasts were still willing to search for records, or order them by post. This had led to, I believe, an increase in creativity, because artist-owned labels gave the artist total freedom whereas previously the commercial record companies had had their say.
Then in the early eighties a funny thing happened. Post modernism collided with jazz and everything suddenly seemed to be in quotation marks. Just for short moment (a year or two) the major record companies came back, wanting to sign up only young, smart, (clean) jazz artists because it seemed jazz had become trendy. I remember reading an article in the New Statesman which began “Young blacks are discovering that jazz is savvy and cool”. I can assure you that on my South-east London council estate there were no young blacks (or whites for that matter) driving around with Kind of Blue blaring out of their car windows. (Hip-hop was just arriving; maybe that’s what the journalist was thinking of.) Yet there was a strong desire on the part of journalists and record companies to believe in this, and a few musicians managed to get records out with real distribution and promotion, but the general effect was, in my opinion, negative. One London jazz club proudly proclaimed that it was only putting on bands with current recording contracts. One prestigious jazz magazine started off a review with “Jazz today is all about style” and proceeded to base its review on the artist’s haircut. (I’m not kidding.) The listings magazines were full of bands apparently offering “Blue Note Repertoire”. This , decoded, meant tunes from the sixties written by jazz musicians (so not “standards”) for quintets (two horns, piano, bass and drums) of young guys in suits; basically tonal or modal, not free, and certainly not original.
Needless to say these were difficult times for me. I’d grown up thinking that jazz was about originality, and non-conformism, now I was being asked to do my best to pretend to be someone else or at least repackage my originality in inverted commas. Fortunately I was getting enough gigs with funk and latin outfits, as well as advertising jingles and Graham Collier’s bands but my “own band” went on a back burner with just the occasional BBC radio broadcast or a gig at the RFH Foyer. I started sending tapes abroad and got some positive replies from east of the Iron Curtain, and in 1985 my band, with help from the British Council toured Hungary; then in ’86 we went to Yugoslavia. I was also at this time making contacts in Italy and for the first time, in 1986 I flew to Bologna on my own (with just my instruments and my English-Italian dictionary) to stay with and do three gigs in quartet with bass player Felice Del Gaudio.

Greenwich 1986. Photo taken during a break in rehearsals for the Yugoslavia tour: Ed Speight on guitar, Olly Blanchflower on bass, Malcolm Ball on drums.

With Latin outfit Bolivar,London 1987.

There’s no such thing as a demo.
When a musician talks about a demo he is referring to a recording that gives an idea of his music: how his band plays, how his compositions go, without being the actual finished product. It may have been recorded economically or quickly, or may even be incomplete.
Musicians understand the term “demo”. Promoters, festival directors and generally those on the other side of the barricade say they understand what a demo is but actually they don’t.

Here are two episodes from the early ‘eighties.

There’s no such thing as a demo #1.
A friend of mine had a jingle company. That is, he wrote music for adverts; usually 25-30 second pieces, sometimes original, sometimes closely copying existing pop tunes but never enough to infringe copyright. These were commissioned by advertising companies who would then incorporate them in their TV adverts. In the ‘eighties these jingles were performed by real musicians since samplers didn’t exist and synthesisers and drum machines were still in their infancy.
It would often happen that an advertising company would contact a jingle writer asking him to present a demo jingle for an advert; if the client was convinced the next stage would be a “master” recording (in an expensive studio) and the jingle would go on air.
So, you may say, it is obvious that the advertising company have understood that the first recording is a “demo”. Well, yes and no.
My friend was asked to provide a jingle in ska/reggae style with lots of brass. No problem there, but they wanted the recording to play to the client the next day. My friend explained that he didn’t have time to arrange for a brass section and get the musicians together in a studio at such short notice and offered to do a version just using a keyboard for the brass parts. ”Fine” said the man from the agency.
“But remember” said my friend” The sound of the keyboard will be nothing like a real brass section.
“That’s OK, we just need a demo” came the reply.
The demo was recorded and dispatched by courier to the advertising agency the same day and my friend waited for their reply.
A week passed and he had heard nothing. So he called up.
“Er, yeah” said the guy from the agency, “Well, you see, the client didn’t like the jingle because the brass didn’t sound very good.”

Here I am playing tenor sax in a beer advert,around 1982.

There’s no such thing as a demo #2,
In 1983 I had the luck to be awarded an Arts Council Bursary to compose an extended piece for my jazz quartet. The piece “Other Storeys” was about 25 minutes long and had a rather spacey central section where the percussion had a cadenza and then swapped phrases with the guitar. I managed to obtain a BBC Radio recording for the work and on the day we went into the studio, my percussionist, Malcom Ball, brought with him some “Sculptures Sonores” made by the French Baschet brothers. These are amazing instruments with very particular sounds so we left a little more space in the central section to show what they could do. The BBC were very happy –they broadcast my piece twice in the space of a year, something rather unusual and possibly due to the presence of these instruments.
Having enjoyed this experience I discussed with Malcolm the possibility of maybe writing something with these instruments particularly in mind from the start; of integrating the jazz quartet with these sounds. It seemed a nice idea but also quite a lot of work, so I decided to write around and see if there was any chance of getting a commission to do this from a contemporary music festival.
One festival wrote back saying they were interested and asking for a demo. I replied that what I was proposing-. to integrate a jazz quartet with the Sculptures Sonores hadn’t been done yet so I had no actual example – in fact I was asking to be commissioned to do something new, but I included a copy of the BBC recording just to give an idea of the sounds of these instruments and also how my band usually played.
A week later I got a letter back saying they weren’t interested in commissioning me because on the recording the jazz quartet wasn’t integrated with the Sculptures Sonores.

Foreign Travels
One of the jobs with Roger Dean’s Lysis Ensemble took me to India (1980): a three week British Council sponsored tour playing some Jazz, some Contemporary, and some Free. I think I got the job, because again a saxophonist, in this case Art Themen, was busy but this didn’t bother me, I had my first foreign tour. We did the tour in quartet, with me playing saxophones and flute, Roger playing piano and some double bass (if I remember correctly), his wife Hazel Dean on violin and Ashley Brown on drums.

We were in India nearly three weeks and played a dozen or so gigs. We were well received everywhere, although sometimes I got the feeling it was more the novelty value than a full understanding of what we were doing. This wasn’t the India of the 21st Century, you could still quite easily meet an elephant coming down the road towards you. They understood their music, but many had a limited perception of western music, probably thinking it all sounded a bit the same. I was 22 but the on the photo on my fresh new passport I looked about 15 and it became a joke that wherever we went someone would ask me how old I was.

At a post-concert cocktail party at the British Consulate in Calcutta I met a load of bored Diplomatic Service time-servers, a couple of enthusiastic critics, various elderly ladies who kept asking me how old I was, and Aparajita (Pinky) Zachariah, a dancer and writer. The contact with Pinky has remained; first through letter writing, and later through collaboration on our musical Poker soon after she moved to Germany. Later on I have worked with her and her dancers . Through Pinky I met Peter Wiessmueller the jazz record producer, the man, who, among other things would tell me in 2008 that I needed to do a solo flute album.

After India there were other excursions abroad, mosty with Graham Collier’s bands. Several times we flew over to Cologne to record for WDR the regional radio station, and other times we were on tour for the British Council, going to Hungary, The Far East (Thailand, Indonesia, Hong-Kong and the Philippines) and in 1986 Israel.

On stage in Bangkok with Graham Collier Music. 1984.

Working for a living
All musicians are aware of the general consensus that we don’t have real jobs; or if we do, this is in addition to our playing music. Apart from when I have been supporting myself as a musician there have been periods in my life when I have been earning my way from other activities. My first ever job was as a “milk boy”, helping our milkman deliver pints of milk in glass bottles to peoples’ doorsteps. This was at weekends while I was still at school. During the Summer break after my first year at university I worked at Foyles books shop in the Charing Cross Road, down in the bowels of the building in the mail-order department. Then for a year after university I was answering the ‘phone for a company in the West End who ran theme-banquet restaurants.
I suppose we should also include my helping out at Mosaic Records, Graham Colliers’ record company, as a sort of “real job”. After that it has been performing, teaching, recording, arranging, composing and examining.
Perhaps my nearest experience to being a wage-slave on a production line was during my first year in Italy. I turned up in Emilia Romagna in the Summer of 1988 and started making my contacts with (mostly jazz) musicians there. I was getting a few gigs, and I think I had one saxophone student but something else was needed to pay the rent. At the time there were quite a lot of dance bands who worked fairly regularly and the obvious thing was for me to get into one of these to tide me over. Friends told me not to try a “ballo liscio” (folk dance) band, warning me earnestly that I, an English jazz musician, would never be able to master the style required. The alternative was to find a “modern” band playing pop-dance stuff, but these were less common and worked a lot less, whereas the folk-dance bands were playing 10-12 gigs a month during the Winter and 20-30 gigs a month during the Summer. Inevitably I got offered a trial with a folk dance band. Getting the hang of the style took me about an hour. It consisted of playing the saxophone in the way you would imagine a circus clown would play it: an absurdly wide vibrato and squawky tonguing. The tunes were either in B flat or F so the only real danger was of falling asleep on the job – which was a real danger because the hours were devastating. The gigs would average 4 hours long, with just a short break at half-time. So we would play from 9p.m. to 1 or 2a.m., but before we got on the stage to play we had to unload the bus, and set up the P.A, and lights (yes we travelled with everything except the stage itself), and then after the gig it all had to be taken down and loaded back on the bus. Bear in mind too that this band usually played in places about three hours’ drive from where they were based and you get the idea that the working day could be 12 to 16 hours long, and sometimes longer. After three or four back to back gigs you had a face like an ageing rock star, and when you did get a day off you spent most of it in bed catching up on your sleep.
I stuck it out for a year, and can honestly say I was working for a living by anyone’s standards.
The guys in the band were mostly young and easy to get on with. Some were jazzers, who, like myself did this to get by. The classic sound check scenario of a Liscio band would consist of the individual sound check, where each musician played his jazzy chops into the mike just to let off steam, then at the sound check for the band together out came the mazurka!
The Ballo Liscio scene in 1988 was on its way to a slow decline, It had a proud history of virtuosos on sax (in the circus clown style) and accordion- churning out fast and furious variations in a sort of “I bet you can’t play this fast” manner. The original dance bands of the ‘thirties, from which these had developed had had a more varied and sophisticated repertoire, something like tea room orchestras. The music had, over the years, been simplified and very much standardized. The pieces all conformed rigorously to the same limited selection of harmonic progressions, but at least it was all played live; sequencers and drum machines hadn’t come in just yet but were there lurking in the wings
I was surprised to find that the keyboard player in our band had spent most of his adult life in the States, and had only come back to Italy to look after his ageing parents. He was a very good cocktail bar pianist (thoroughly wasted on I- V – I in B flat) with a soft Carolina accent. We could chat away in English and, when necessary, with a careful choice of vocabulary, could make sure that no one knew what we were talking about.
The band leader was, as was the tradition, the accordionist, and his wife was the singer. She was considerably younger than her husband and was having an affair with the quiet American. This too was almost a cliché. We jokingly referred to our, ratty and quite often unpleasant band leader, as “The old cuckold”
I worked through from October ’88 to September ’89. Right from the start of that last Summer I was telling my colleagues (the band leader and his wife) that I was going to be leaving soon, that I was being offered more jazz gigs and that they should be looking for a replacement saxophonist, They ignored all this, unable to conceive of a person living from playing jazz. They were actually convinced that the only music you could possibly make a living from was Ballo Liscio. So when I finally said my goodbyes they threw their hands up in horror saying I couldn’t leave them like this without any warning, and the band leader even adopted a menacing attitude. I got off the bus that morning after the last gig and never spoke to them again. The last pay cheque finally arrived a couple of months later. More annoying was that they had stolen my book with all my parts out of my bag. I had no more use for these parts but that they went and rummaged through my things instead of just asking for those parts, which I would have gladly given them, was very annoying.
And so that “particular “Working for a Living” chapter came to an end. I’m glad I did it: I feel it was part of a learning experience; part of paying one’s dues, and I’d always had the feeling that in England I had not really paid those dues enough. At the time it was an economic necessity; and I remember justifying it to a friend like this: “In England a musician signs on and gets a government subsidy to top up his gig earnings. In Italy there is no Welfare State but you can play Liscio.”

In September 1989 I played 30 gigs with my Italian jazz trio. We had one day off that month, but did two gigs on another day. That was working for a living too, but not everyone would agree with me.

The Modenese Trio, from 1988 to 1991 : Stefano Cappa. GW, Lucio Caliendo.

The World Music thing.
I think it happened with the onset of sampling, during the ‘eighties,; suddenly sounds from all over the World were available for inclusion into whatever musical context you liked. This in turn led to genuine curiosity about other musics and gradually, the folk festivals that had almost died out, become World Music festivals.
As a flautist I had always been aware that my instrument, in its primitive form, perhaps the oldest (tuned) instrument on the planet, was present in just about every musical culture, and I found no difficulty in adapting myself to various contexts. I had often taken my Bansuri around with me and occasionally played one little theme on it, before reverting to my western flute to improvise: I have no pretensions to being a bansuri player, I realise that’s something you have to dedicate your whole life to, and I make no excuses for my being (just) a western flautist.
Over the years I have built up a collection of ethnic flutes and whistles, sometimes bought on my travels, sometimes given as presents; some real instruments, others little more than toys. I occasionally take one down and play on it, but it’s just curiosity.

I think there are two possible approaches here and I have made my choice. One approach would be that of a leading English World Music exponent, who I met in Spain. He said he aimed to play a different instrument for each piece in the programme, and I have to say he was competent on flutes of various kinds, and stringed instruments. The other approach, espoused by Enver Izmailov (among others) would be – try to get all the sounds out of your one instrument. This second approach appeals to me more, because it has the advantage of allowing you to stay with the same “horn” for the whole gig and not only warm up on it but stretch out too. Constantly changing you get the advantage of the different timbre but you don’t, I think, get to express youself.

So, from the nineties I started to get more involved in groups that were roughly speaking “ethno-jazz” and in which I was principally a flautist, usually being asked to double on soprano sax for a few numbers. This was fine by me, my aural analytical skills helped me understand the genres very quickly and I was able to jot down themes quickly (given the frequent lack of actual written parts) before memorizing them. During that decade I played with Basques, Indians, Brasilians, Moroccans, Tartars, Japanese, and probably some more I can’t remember now. I was still playing themes and improvising but the contexts were new and each band had its own syntax. Straight jazz became a rarity, although I was still playing some funky stuff occasionally, just about the only time I was getting out the alto sax.
What was good was that I was getting work, but there was a downside too that started to bug me. I pretty soon realised I was usually being called as a guest rather than an integral member, and that was down to my ethnicity. Being English just wasn’t interesting enough. I even had promoters asking me “Can’t we say you’re from Scotland?” Festival programmers just wanted to have as many nationalities a possible on the poster, and quite often the ethnicity was more important than the instrument the musician was playing. Probably if you were Mongolian and just about able to play a couple of notes you could get onto a festival somewhere. (No disrespect to any Mongolians intended here.)
I was frequently praised for my chameleon abilities “How is it you play exactly like a Tartar flautist?” they asked me at a festival of post-Soviet music in Vienna. – Just the same way I learned to play like a ballo liscio saxophonist; listen, analyse and then play. It may have even been uncomfortable for people (like festival organisers) to have to admit that music isn’t always in your blood (or stamped on your passport) but in your ability to understand what you’re playing.
Please don’t get me wrong.
I don’t wish, in any way, to denigrate or undervalue indigenous musical cultures, and I’m not saying that anyone with a University/ Conservatoire education can do all that stuff. What I am saying is that I have come across several instances of a sort of fetishism regarding ethnic origins at the expense of an evaluation of musical/artistic substance.
Personally I can say I’m extremely thankful to have had the opportunity to play with and learn from musicians from all over the World, and I’m still learning.
I hope too to have been able to incorporate some of this into my own playing.
A critic from Bologna once wrote, after a concert I had played with Enver Izmailov, that I was able to adapt myself to the most disparate situations without ever losing my musical identity.
Well that’s what I was aiming for.

For the record, I have had wonderful experiences working with Badal Roy, the great jazz tablas maestro, Enver Izmailov, the tapping Tartar guitarist, Balen Lopez De Munain, Basque guitarist and Jamal Ouassini, Moroccan violinist, and for me the most positive times have been when I could just be myself working with them being themselves.

With Enver Izmailov, not exactly on stage, Essen, 1995.

Solidarity- sort of.
There are times when a musician has be to more workman than artist: you might find yourself for example playing in a restaurant, acutely aware that nobody is really listening. Who hasn’t been there? I can remember some nights with the Italian dance band, all those years ago, when, contracted to play until 3 a.m. we played the last half hour or so to any empty dance floor, and sometimes even to an empty hall. If you want to get through these evenings with your self-esteem still intact it can be a good idea to switch off your artist’s personality (ego?) and just imagine you’re being paid to produce a carefully coordinated noise that someone has asked you to provide during a certain lapse of time. You’re just providing a service.
Just ask yourself. Does the bus driver driving an empty bus feel guilty?
In those situations where we’re part of the staff it can happen that a sort of workers’ camaraderie builds up with the waiters or other employees. It can, but in my experience it rarely does. Maybe I’ve been unlucky but so many times I and the musicians I have been working with have been treated slightly worse by the waiters than by the bosses. Maybe they imagine the musicians are getting loads of money for just sitting there enjoying themselves playing music, so there is an element of (misplaced) jealousy. But usually you just get the impression that you’ve somehow invaded their space and they find you inconvenient and annoying to have around. They can be jealous of every square centimetre you try to take up with your gear. They might huff and puff when you say you need to move a table. They might even have to serve you something to eat as well!

I remember playing at a sort of private party in a big historic house just outside of Modena, North Italy. There were about half a dozen musicians in all and we had to intervene at different times during a carefully coordinated presentation (the launching of some product I can’t remember). We were directed to our dressing room which was one of the smaller bedrooms in the villa and in which the double bed took up about sixty per-cent of the space. So we piled our jackets, bags and cases on the bed and started to get ready. Almost immediately one of the waiters burst in exclaiming noisily and in his best authoritarian (Hitlerite) manner that nothing should be placed on the bed as this was a valuable historic artefact, and implying that we were a bunch of uneducated hooligans for even having considered depositing our proletarian belongings on top of this treasure. He wasn’t any part of the villa staff, he wasn’t a museum assistant or anything like that; he was a waiter contracted in for the job, but he certainly made the most of exercising his assumed authority, and of making our lives difficult. Needless to say, the moment he left the room we chucked everything back on the bed again and I seem to remember the accordion player using it as a trampoline too.
Another time, in a venue that was quite well known for its intelligent and creative music programming I remember the head waitress telling me, with a really big satisfied smile on her face, that the nights they had music were the least busy nights. This was probably true, in that Saturday nights the place filled up automatically so the owner tended to put the music on Thursdays and Fridays in an attempt to fill up on those nights too. No real harm there, what hurt was the smug satisfaction of the waitress who really seemed to want to say “You’re not important, you know.” The owner didn’t make a point of telling us this, but the waitress did!

November 2013

The last night in Edinburgh.

It had been a long, tiring, but rewarding tour, taking my flute around the UK doing jazz flute demonstrations and workshops, with Yamaha, The British Flute Society, Flutewise, and to round things off nicely, doing a session for BBC Radio Scotland with pianist Richard Michael.

I had a free day in Edinburgh before my flight out to Roma-Ciampino.

I spent the morning visiting Edinburgh Castle, spending my Scottish pounds on whisky, woollen scarves and other gifts, then lunch at a pub, The Ensign Stewart, that recalled the Scots Greys’ capture of a French Standard at Waterloo, then back to my hotel for a siesta.

The plan was then to go to The Wind Section, a musical instruments supplier that had been working with us during the tour, practice for an hour, give them back the alto flute they’d kindly lent me for the week (I’d had a baggage weight problem so mine had stayed at home) then a relaxing evening with Malcolm Kirkpatrick, boss of the Wind Section.

We started off at a rather pleasant pub, in the company of two of Malcolm’s assistants from the shop. Then Malcolm and I went on to a fantastic Punjabi restaurant, before finishing off the evening at whisky bar not far from my hotel, with a series of Laphroaigs.

I was back in my hotel about 11.30, watched a bit of TV, then around 12.30 as I was switching off the light, I looked around to see where the bag with my flute was. It wasn’t.

The information came through to me slowly, thanks to the alcoholic haze. So instead of having an instant heart attack I gradually got my mind around the idea. Maybe I can say Laphroaig saved my life there.

I got dressed and walked quickly out of the hotel and down to the bar we had left not a couple of hours before. A gorilla had been placed on the door, but seeing the determination with which I was approaching he sort of flinched backwards and accepted my “I left my bag in there” without question. But the bag was not there and the same barman who had served us previously said nothing had been handed in.

So, off to the restaurant. I didn’t know the address and was working from memory in my drunken state. But I got there quickly, only to find it closed. I rang the number on the sign and a recorded message thanked me for calling and invited me to call back after 5pm the next day when they would reopen. My check-in was at four, and I didn’t know for sure if the flute was in there or not.

I walked desperately back to my hotel from where I sent e-mails to Malcolm, and to the address on the website of the restaurant.

I then sat, fully clothed, on the bed for the next seven hours, not sleeping, telling myself I was an idiot.

Around 8 in the morning Malcolm sent me an e-mail saying he reckoned the flute was probably in the restaurant, and that if I’d left it in the pub one of his colleagues would have at least texted.

At 8.30 I left the hotel and walked back down to the restaurant. I found it still closed and got the same message when calling the number again.

Across the road was an Italian coffee shop, “Asti Cafè”. I opted for an espresso having decided to stake out the restaurant in case anybody turned during the day. I explained my dilemma to the (very Scottish) lady who served me and she suggested asking at the newsagent three doors up from the restaurant, since he delivered papers to the whole street and might have another ‘phone number.

It seemed worth trying so finishing my coffee I went across to the newsagent. The guy was Asian, quite possibly Punjabi like those of the restaurant. He suggested I knock at a door he indicated further along the street saying that the people who lived there might know someone who worked in the restaurant. I went over but the place seemed deserted; on the door was a tatty sticker saying “British Pakistani Association”. Nobody answered so I returned to the newsagent who this time told me the owner of the restaurant had another business, with an office where he sometimes went, and after a bit he found me the number.

I called . No reply. It was 9.30 a.am.

Back to my hotel room again. I had to be out of there in a couple of hours. I packed my bag for want of something to do and rang the “office” number intermittently. At 10.10 a woman with a strong Scottish accent answered. I immediately thought I’d got a wrong number but I explained why I was calling and she said she would try to contact the people from the restaurant, asking me for a number to call back on. I had an Italian mobile phone with me, so I gave her that number but offered to call back myself in twenty minutes. She said to call back in half an hour.

I stared vacantly at the wall of my hotel room for twenty minutes and then she called me back. The chef would be at the restaurant in ten minutes, could I be there? I asked if they had found the bag, and she said yes.

I think at that point I cried. Or at least my glasses steamed up a lot.

I was at the restaurant in six minutes. The guy who had served us the evening before arrived ten minutes later. We entered and he produced the bag with my flute still in it.

I wanted to thank him so much. I offered to pay for his petrol, for his trouble, but he wanted nothing.

I then went back to the newsagent and thanked him, then to the coffee shop to thank the lady and have an Italian breakfast.

When I checked out of the hotel I told them some of my story and said they should recommend that restaurant to anyone seeking an Indian meal. They told me they always did since the food was great and the people were so nice.

I second that:

Khushi Punjabi
32B Broughton Street,
Edinburgh, Lothian EH1 3SB


Some time ago (early 2015) I received an e-mail from someone claiming to be a longstanding friend and associate of a person I apparently knew ( but couldn’t bring to mind) who had passed on my e-mail address.
They were setting up what they described as “an exciting new agency which will focus on promoting the highest quality and most dynamic performers and composers to a wider UK audience. “
Finding management is one of the main problems these days. There is less and less of it and those who are active tend to look after one artist full time (often a relative) and those who are looking for artists tend to want young, cute, phenomena they can manipulate for life. So mature artists like me are not very palatable: being not at all manipulable and not as cute as we used to be.
So, this was a very interesting e-mail. They seemed to be wanting classical music but also said: “We are always listening to whatever high quality music is out there, irrespective of the labels people apply – if we believe your music fits our ethos, then we will seriously consider an agreement. We only choose to work with musicians whose work reflects our own energy and commitment to the highest standards of artistry. “
I worked hard on my reply, proposing a couple of situations I thought might be good for the UK market, thinking of basically ”classical” contexts: music societies, universities and festivals; So, me with piano in a sort of chamber jazz, and me with live electronics; two practical solutions that were easy to get together and to tour with.
Messages went back and forth and the thing started to take shape. We got round to talking about fees and seemed to be talking the same sort of language.
Then, at last came their “draft proposal’ for you outlining in detail exactly how we work for our artists & what we would plan to do for you”
They started off saying how they worked predominantly with classical music so selling me would cost them more time and effort but there was “scope for a deal of some kind”

Then came the sting;
“Our typical fee at XXXX would be 20% of all bookings, but in your case this wouldn’t be appropriate as we are not dealing with music at the core of our market. This means we could spend weeks of our time pushing hard for bookings without success and therefore no payment for our work. Clearly, this is not feasible from our point of view. I therefore suggest a trial period of 3 months on a monthly retainer of £150 offset by a reduced management commission rate of 15%. This will give us a good initial period to really push your music to our market & see whether we get any take-up. If the signs are good, we can then consider a more long-term arrangement should you wish. A typical festival, music club or concert society will book between one and two years in advance so we would be looking to achieve bookings for you during that period. The retainer fee would cover our working time and all associated costs incurred in promoting your work with the reduced commission rate of 15% offsetting your upfront financial commitment.”

Got it? Yes, that’s right, I pay them!

I took this seriously for about a second and a half, Then I put it aside, hoping that maybe if I were to read it again in a day or two I might understand it differently. I didn’t. I forwarded it to Richard Michael (the great Scottish pianist with whom I had proposed the duo) and he didn’t need the one and a half seconds.
The way I saw it, I now had two options; either not write back and forget the whole thing, or send a sarcastic refusal. My canny Scottish friend suggested a third option: politely declining the retainer formula but accepting the scenario of initial investment we could offer a much higher agency percentage for that “trial period”. If they were in good faith they would at least come back to me on this.

I sent off this message and no reply was forthcoming. A couple of months of regular correspondence fell instantly dead.

I found their website. Nice and shiny and new and …empty. No artists, no news. Space waiting to be filled in, presumably by someone who has bought the deal. I still check it every so often: no one has yet.
It occurred to me that this was basically someone who wanted to set up his agency with a sort of crowd funding from his artists.
A second hypothesis was that this was a carefully planned scam, e-mailing hundreds of artists in the hope that enough will take the bait, and sign up for the three months “trial period”, then disappearing with the money. But maybe I’ve spent too much time living in Italy.

If anyone wants to see that website, just write to me privately,

Travel is an integral part of a performing musician’s life: you can’t perform to the same audience every night, you want to show yourself to the World, so you have to move. (The “prophet without honour” saying is also very true.)
Internet has changed things of course. You can get yourself “heard” across the globe quite easily but digital technology has also been responsible for the death of record sales, so real-life performance remains an important source of income.
So, all musicians will have their road stories. Here are a couple of mine, linked by a curious unexpected element.

Of Broken-down Trains and Kindly Arabs

Part One – Destination Bilbao. August 2006.

I was all set to play a tour of the Basque country with my friend, guitarist Balen Lopez De Munian and his quartet.
I was to set off from Pescara, by train to Verona, where Balen and the Sardinian bassist, Salvatore Maiore were waiting for me, and from where we would drive to Verona-Brescia airport to get the plane to Bilbao. There, our accordionist, Joxan Goikoetxea, would be waiting for us to complete the quartet.
Pescara to Verona by train can take up to six hours, so I was up at 5.00 am. The first leg of my train journey, Pescara – Bologna was uneventful: now I just had to do the last hundred kilometres to Verona and for this I was booked on a Eurostar Train that was going on up to Munich.
It didn’t get to Munich. It didn’t even get to Verona. Just after midday under the ferocious August sun, in the middle of an idyllic agricultural landscape, the mighty Eurostar simply died, leaving us on board without air conditioning and with very few openable windows.
What did remain operative were the announcements, which gave us progressively more pessimistic forecasts, from a half-hour delay to an indefinite wait.
I got through to Balen on my mobile and we finally decided that he and Salvatore should go ahead and I should try to get on the train from Verona to Paris, from where I could get the TGV to northern Spain.
After about two hours of waiting a train pulled up on a track about twenty meters from ours and we were asked to leave our train and get onto this other one. There were no platforms so the operation was a little disorderly, and for some people not easy.
I got in to Verona three hours late and proceeded to book myself on the night train to Paris and from there on the first available train “back down” to Spain. This was all at my expense, but fortunately the tour was to pay quite well.
I had a few hours to spare in Verona and took the opportunity to drop in at my friends at the MAT school where I taught. They were busy making structural improvements to the school during the Summer break and must have been somewhat bemused to see me turn up unexpectedly, say “hello” and disappear again.
I got onto the night train in Verona as soon as the doors opened, organising my instruments (flute, alto flute and soprano sax) around me, trying to keep some sort of physical contact, always afraid of losing something during the night , although I knew there was little chance of my getting any meaningful sleep.
So at 9.am. I arrived in Paris, having been on the road for twenty seven hours. All I had to do now was get across town to another railway station from whence my TGV would take me to San Sebastien. For this I had fifty minutes.
I stumbled out of the station, sort of following the crowd and eventually came to the Metro. I descended to train level and looking at the maps identified the line I needed to take me to my desired railway terminus- I found the line but not the trains. They were all going in the wrong direction; away from my objective; It seemed there was no platform offering trains going where I wanted to go.
At this point that nightmare feeling clicked in: paralysed, unable to move in the direction I wanted to go. It was rush hour and grumpy Parisians were barging past me, clearly annoyed that someone should dare to stand still, mesmerised by an information screen. Panic welled up inside me. I started to feel the weight of sleep deprivation , of my baggage and of my total confusion.
I was then approached by a gentleman of North African origin. In clearly pronounced, measured French he asked me if anything was wrong. In awful, scholastic, panic-stricken, garbled French I told him where I wanted to go. He explained to me, slowly and patiently, that I needed to leave the station, cross the square and enter the underground by the other entrance where I would find the trains going in the opposite direction. I thanked him profusely and whilst leaving this wrong station checked if anywhere they had bothered to indicate, in any language, that trains going the other way were only accessible from the parallel station. I didn’t see anything; at least nothing big and obvious that a tired traveller might have understood.
I got my metro and was in the other railway station with enough time to get a watery coffee before boarding the TGV. I was taking this train all the way so even if I did fall asleep I couldn’t miss my stop. I’m not great fan of high speed trains but now I was happy to be on the last leg of my journey, speeding across France in a train that was pretending to be a plane.
I woke up to hear an announcement that seemed to be saying we were at the last station. Everyone was getting up, so I grabbed my things and at last, feeling satisfied with myself, followed the crowd off the train and into a station that for some reason was displaying a French flag. I had got off at the last station….in France. My destination was one more stop over the border in Spain. I rang Balen and he said “Don’t move”, – no problems there. Fortunately the distance between the stations was practically just a bridge over a river. The Basques and the Sardinian came to get me and the quartet was finally united.
We played that evening in Tolosa, and I seem to remember it didn’t go too badly. We knew each other very well as a band, and even if I wasn’t fully pulling my weight, Balen’s music was attractive and the guys were all top class performers.

Part Two – Destination Pescara. July 2015

I’d been in Verona for the end of year “Summer Concert” at the MAT. It had been the first year of my Jazz Flute Academy there, and I was feeling pretty good about the performances my flautists had put in, playing arrangements I had made for rhythm section and four flutes, of two of my pieces; Pete’s Feat and Just Asking.
Now I needed to take the train back down to central Italy, and, setting off in the morning, I would hopefully be in Pescara by late afternoon, with the possibility of having a couple of hours on the beach in what was, so they were saying, the hottest July for 140 years.
Once again it was just outside of Bologna that the train died. Once again everything switched off bar the announcements and there was very little possibility of obtaining any sort of ventilation. We were on a section of the line where several tracks ran in parallel like a motorway and trains were shooting past us on both sides. The crew could not risk opening the doors in case anybody wandered out and onto the other tracks. So we sat for an hour and a half in unbearable temperatures, just dripping with sweat.
After a while people came walking past with bottles of mineral water: some had three or four. They said the bar was dispensing all the water it had for free. No announcement had been made and by the time I got there, there was no water left, but I managed to obtain a can of coca cola, which at least was cold.
Apart from dripping sweat, I spent my time translating the announcements for two Californian girls. The news changed continuously so I was giving constant updates: first we are going to be towed away, then we were going to put us on another train, then we were going to be bussed to Bologna.
A helicopter turned up after about an hour, then police, firemen and some medical workers who took care of the people with serious problem.
After about two hours they managed to get the train moving, and it took us as far as a tiny suburban station where we were invited to get out and take the water that the “Protezione Civile” had brought for us. This was in plastic bags which were being dispensed from the back of a truck. As usual some people were getting away with armfuls of water bags whilst others, like myself, never got anything. As I walked despondently back to the train, a little empty plastic bottle in my hand, an Arab, dressed about as Arab as you can get, with the long white shirt, the white cap and the full beard, offered me some water from his plastic bag. It was nice gesture and I felt better as the tepid, tasteless liquid got into me. I was now at the point where by squeezing my shirt I could produce substantial drips of sweat. I remember thinking, maybe you have to be an Arab to understand the importance of sharing water.
The train eventually took us all the way, and they managed to get the air-conditioning working to some extent. I got to Pescara four hours late and probably a kilo or two lighter; too late for the beach.
I don’t want to draw any conclusions or make any generalisations, but I can say that in the Summer months I get anxious when I’m on a train that gets anywhere near Bologna.

Nobody Phoned.

I often find myself explaining this title: doing so is a useful intro and fills the time while I change from concert to alto flutes.
It was back in 1982 when I was living in a bedsit in Hackney, East London, recently separated, waiting for my divorce, and very much dependent on the telephone as my connection with the outside world and work. I wasn’t long out of university and was still finding my way in the city.
A friend of mine had offered me a cheap Chinese alto flute. Chinese instruments in the early ‘eighties had a bad name, and this was really very cheap – but I had always wanted an alto flute. The first alto flute recordings I had done with Graham Collier for BBC Radio had been with a borrowed instrument, so it was really about time I had one of my own, and even if it was not a quality flute, it would be a start.
The instrument was a “Parrot alto flute”.

Not only was it cheap to start with but I got it “through the back door” of a music shop in Central London, basically at stock price. So my friend, who was also my landlord at the time, brought it home one evening, and I started trying to get a sound out of it. The mechanism was every bit as bad as its negative pre-publicity had suggested: fast passages were almost impossible and not all the pads closed properly. There were about half a dozen notes that sounded good, and had that warm, dark tone that said “alto flute”. Using the few notes that sounded good I started to put together a theme.
Once word was out that “Geoff has an alto flute” I started getting offers of work on alto. Using the Parrot soon turned out to be embarrassing, so within a year I had bought a second hand DeFord- but that’s another story. I can’t remember where the Parrot ended up. Maybe I gave it away.
The title Nobody Phoned owes much to the age I was living in: before e-mail and before mobile phones. The main thing a freelance musician needed was a phone number, and this had to be a land line. So, when you were out you were not reachable (unless you had a bleeper) and when you came back home either you had an answering machine or you hoped somebody had taken a message. So coming home always meant hoping to find new contacts for work, and finding an empty answering machine with no happy flashing light was disappointing. The tune takes its atmosphere from that feeling I got whenever there were no messages – Nobody Phoned.
I was living without a keyboard at the time, which meant harmonisation of my tunes was done in my head, often leading to chord progressions that I might not have used if I’d been sitting at a piano, following my instincts and employing the patterns I was used to churning out at a keyboard. So, consequently the chord progression looks a bit odd, but I think, it works.
The theme came out at 23 bars long and I left it there. I recorded it for a BBC Radio jazz programme with my quartet, and for the occasion, Mark Wood, our guitarist used an acoustic guitar, which for some reason made the producer very happy. Here we have Malcolm ball on drums and Olly Blanchflower on bass (with me on the Parrot.)

I used the tune with my band up until I moved to Italy and then it got banished to the archives. I think I tried it out once with an Italian band, but the musicians I was working with couldn’t seem to make sense of it: the unconventional harmonic sequence, the odd length phrases, so back into the archives it went.
I wrote a piano and alto flute version with a written out solo and added a B section to flesh it out a bit, into a sort of chamber jazz work, but never got round to promoting this version.
Years later when I finally found the Italian group I wanted to record with, I dug it out again and, using the longer version, with the B section, recorded it for my CD The Quartet Album, as one of duo numbers on that record. Now the piece has come home. I feel it works best in a duo format although I have been asked to do it in quartet again ( mostly by the other band members).
Here is a version of Nobody Phoned with Raffaele Pallozzi in 2015 in Borrello, where I hold my Summer course,. Even on this occasion one of the other band members couldn’t resist contributing (in this case not on his own instrument.)The flute is a Yamaha YFL A 421 and is worth maybe a hundred times the value of that old Parrot- but things had to start somewhere and the shape of that opening motif owes a lot to the peculiarities of that primitive instrument.

The rather atmospheric lack of light is a problem with the camera setting.

The Parrot Alto Flute D.C. al coda.

With the news getting around that I had an alto flute, and my getting a taste for using the instrument, even in this rather primitive version, I soon needed to upgrade and buy a “real” one.
My last job on the Parrot was actually a very important one. It was the Bracknell Jazz Festival, in Graham Collier’s International Big Band, performing his commissioned piece “Hoarded Dreams.”
I was still young, 24 or 25, and although that may not seem young, I was young in character, lacking the confidence to assert myself.
Graham had set up the big band with, out front, a “solo microphone” so that each soloist would stroll out and take his place to play his solo while the band played on.
The problem was just that, the solo mike. There was just the one, and the engineers had to adjust it to each incoming instrument. -Obviously the alto flute was the quietest instrument of all, and the engineers were unable to give me anything of me in my monitor without getting feedback. If I’d been the me of today I would have insisted on them putting up another microphone just for me. I didn’t. The result was that I didn’t hear any of what I played, the band didn’t hear what I was playing, and Graham, a couple of days later, told me he liked all of the recording except..the alto flute solo.
After the Parrot I bought a DeFord, second hand for £600. This was a big step up, although it too had its difficulties. It was tuned very low, (perhaps an American tuning?) Many years later my repair man in Modena, Italy, actually sawed quite a few millimetres off the head joint just to pull it up a bit. So live it was sometimes a problem. In the studio I could always get the engineer to tweek it up a few herz as long as the track was separate.
Still it served me quite well. Here it is on the opening track of the record I made with tablas giant Badal Roy in 2003.
(After the DeFord I graduated to a Trevor James which served me very nicely for several years and a quite a few recordings, and now I am using the Yamaha Alto Flute YAFL421)

“But you’re supposed to be an artist!”

I’d like to talk a little about my relationship, or lack of it, with the printed word. I’m not a great reader. In fact, you could almost say that I’m not any sort of reader. I don’t remember the last novel I read, but I’m pretty sure I didn’t buy it. It was probably a gift I felt obliged to read, and although I may well have got something out of the exercise, I have yet to be persuaded to spend more of my time reading prose.
Confessing to this in public can produce interesting results. If I’m around a dinner table someone is likely to come out with “But you’re supposed to be an artist!” That “supposed to be” is a bit of an accusation, or maybe even a challenge. If there is league table of how cultural we all are, this confession has just lost me quite a lot of points. Or maybe the person who says this, has their own idea of what an artist should be doing with his time, and I’m guilty of not conforming to that.
I can try mounting a defence in the form of attack, asking, “So when did you last listen to a piece of art music; say a symphony or an entire jazz album, from start to finish, giving it your whole attention – so not while you’re flipping around facebook or ironing shirts- just sitting and listening to the music? The answer I usually get in this case is “That’s different”. The obligation for an “artist” to have read the latest novel by this week’s author and seen the latest film by the prize-winning Polish director is a serious matter. As for music, having a Madonna compilation in your i-pod for when you’re doing some aerobics would seem to be enough to get the points, whether you’re an “Artist” or just a person who likes to consider themselves adequately cultured.
Actually it’s not true that I’m not any sort of reader. I have an almost morbid attachment to an Italian comic book hero called Tex Willer. These are cowboy stories in rather classic graphic novel style: fairly straight forward vignettes with word bubbles and thought clouds, the occasional “Bang” for the pistols and “Bwang” for the bigger explosions . It’s predictable stuff, I feel at home with it, it relaxes and entertains me and I’m pretty sure it doesn’t broaden my artistic horizons. It also, incidentally, helped me with my learning Italian. I think the relaxation element here is very important. I don’t want to have all my artistic sensibilities on their toes all the time, I just sometimes want something to occupy, gently, a part of my brain for a while. Confessing to this at that dinner party however would be asking for relegation to a lower cultural league.

The fact is, I don’t, as it is, have enough time to do all I would like to do in terms of practicing and composing. If I had, maybe, six more hours in each day, I would be happy to devote one of them to reading literature, but the other five would go to my art.
OK, I admit it: I failed Eng. Lit O-Level. (Murmurs of – “You see? He’s a thicko. I told you”) But there were circumstances here. I was expected to pass it comfortably; something just went wrong on the day. Exams can be like that. I can also say, in my defence that my teacher got it very wrong at least once. We were doing Brighton Rock, by Graham Greene – born-again Catholic, loads of religious imagery. The bad guy “Pinkie” has a phone number – 666.
Up went my hand.
“Please Sir, isn’t that a reference to the Satanic significance of the number 666?”
Teacher’s answer: “No, don’t be silly, Warren, absolutely not.”
So of course I didn’t mention that in my exam paper and failed by the slimmest margin.
I suspect that music has suffered most among the arts from the general dumbing down, or if you like “opening up” or desnobbing…whatever. Sometimes I wonder if it wasn’t better in the bad old days when you did classical at the Conservatoire and rock or jazz at the private music school. Most of the guys I know who are studying rock guitar at University level aren’t doing it because they want to get into a rock band, and the minimum requirement for an audition is a Bachelors degree. Most of them say they’re doing it to have a qualification, either to get into teaching or just to fill out their CV.
As a jazz musician I have been part of the opening up and mixing of genres and have benefited from it. Jazz wasn’t considered art music a century ago. Then gradually along came Arts Council grants and conservatoire courses in jazz and then rock-pop. These days it seems we don’t draw any lines at all. It’s all music: nothing sacred, nothing profane. You can do your Masters Degree in Thrash Metal Guitar if that’s what you want.
So why, when I say, I don’t read novels, just comic books am I told: “But you’re supposed to be an artist!”

Graham Collier- The Tribute and Last Suites.

Graham Collier died in 2011. I remember getting the call from John Gill, his partner, and not knowing how to react apart from offering a pretty useless, “I’m sorry”.
I don’t know if we could really say Graham had been my mentor, but certainly he had believed in me at times when others hadn’t, he had given me chances, and over the years I had come to appreciate more and more his musical philosophy.
My first reaction was to write the tune Mr GC which can be found on my CD “The Quartet Album”.
I had long felt that whether or not you liked his music, the ideas underneath were always valid and could be applied almost universally. His books are always interesting reading and challenge your mind-set, particularly on the question of what is “jazz”, and what the role of the composer in this “jazz” might be.
Some months after that call, discussions began about a tribute to Graham that would take place at the London Jazz Festival of 2012. The initial plan was that the BBC Jazz Big Band would play a programme of his pieces. In an ideal world a band would have been put together featuring those musicians who were best known for their work with Graham, but with the BBC being a major sponsor of the Festival it came together in this way. The choice of a “Big band” was logical in that during the latter part of his career Graham had worked mostly on commissions for larger ensembles, although he had preferred not to think of this as Big Band writing. In fact his whole approach to larger jazz groups had been to go against the conventional sectional approach (saxophones, trumpets, trombones) and to mix up the horns in search of new combinations. Since the days of Hoarded Dreams I had got used to finding myself on stage sitting perhaps between a trombone and a bass clarinet. Later on Graham had even left much to the discretion of his musicians; dividing them simply between high, middle and low horns, often giving them a chord from which they would choose the right note in the right register. This adapted perfectly to the fact that his compositions could open up at any time and the same written passage might need to be played in a different way according to what was happening on the night. The role of the director was also very important, because he had the possibility to shape the performance, even to decide the order of execution of the different sections of a piece, in real time. So when I got the call asking if I would like to conduct the tribute to Graham, I hesitated. It was one hell of a responsibility. Still, I accepted.
There then followed a period of talks between the BBC, the London Jazz Festival , (mostly in the person of John Cumming) and the Old Guard of Graham’s musicians. Having now been appointed M.D. I tried to keep a little out of these negotiations, which were mostly about how many of Graham’s stalwarts could be imported into the BBC Big band in order to give it the right line-up, capable of interpreting Graham’s works. This was also, I think, financial, since the BBC band were sort of “paid for “ whereas the others had to be bought in.
The figure of John Marshall on drums was not negotiable, and no-one tried to say anything. Everyone was just happy that he could do the gig. On bass the BBC said we could have anyone we wanted except Roy Babbington. Paul Bridge, the bass player I had first played with in Graham’s sextet had passed away, as had Jeff Clyne. Roy seemed the right choice and John Marshall was keen to work with him. Yet it seemed Roy had upset the BBC Big band by walking out on a rehearsal the day of a broadcast, and an edict had come down that he should never darken their doors again. (The story is actually quite interesting and , as it was told to me, Roy was quite justified in his actions on that day, if a bit impetuous.) It seemed we had come to an impasse, and if I remember rightly it took an intervention from John Cumming to persuade the BBC to allow Roy back into their studios.
On piano we had Roger Dean who had agreed to fly in from Australia to do the gig. Fortunately some of the “horns” of the BBC Big Band had been in Graham’s bands from time to time. Some had even studied on his course at the R.A.M. My one contribution to all this was the inclusion of a french Horn. There are, I am pretty sure, no other french horn players in the Collier discography, although in Graham’s archive I did find parts for french horn which presumably had been prepared for commissions or workshops where they would have been needed. I wanted the french horn because I had the privilege of being a friend to Jonathan Williams, a great horn player, and I knew Graham had always had a thing about Gil Evans’ orchestrations where the horn is often present. I knew the colour of the french horn would help in blending the mixed sections I was going to have to work with. I also knew Jonathan was an amazing reader and would be a solid rock I could always rely on. So the band was formed and booked. I had a meeting at Broadcasting House with the producer, Sushil Dade, to confirm things and we went about choosing the programme.
Once again it was the BBC pushing for the “more listenable” pieces and the stalwarts mostly wanting to play Graham’s more representative repertoire. Compromises were reached. The first half of the tribute would be the “Blue Suite”, Graham’s second to last big work, which was based around ideas, images, echoes of the classic Miles Davis album Kind of Blue. The second half was to consist of earlier (“more listenable”) works. His very last large-scale work, “Luminosity”, would be held over for a CD recording of the last two suites.
I spent the Summer of 2012 on Pescara beach listening over and over to recordings Graham had made with various small and large groups. My main problem was a lack of a recording for Blue Suite. I knew I could interpret it how I wanted but I still needed to have a rough idea of how far Graham might have stretched out each movement, since there were a lot of “Open” spaces and I was going to have to work to a time limit.
To show what I am talking about I am reproducing below one of the individual parts. By this time in his career Graham was giving the same part to everyone (transposed where necessary of course) so that everyone had an idea of what was going on, and as I said before, could choose which note from those on offer he wanted to play when the time came.

I knew there was a recording of Graham conducting his Blue Suite in Halifax, Canada, with the band which had commissioned Luminosity, so I wrote to the director there and asked if he could give me just a rough idea of the timings of the pieces, since I was going to conduct a live radio broadcast. Something must have got lost in “translation” because the guy took me for a BBC bureaucrat with little knowledge of Graham’s music, anxious to put a strait jacket on it. He told me if I were working to a time limit then I should “fight it”, that he had spent evenings discussing with Graham about how music should be free to take its own direction every time (etc. etc), and that if I didn’t understand this, maybe he should come over to London to conduct the performance. (Perhaps that last bit was all he really wanted to say.)

Maybe I had expressed myself badly, perhaps my e-mail had lacked a bit of context. I don’t know. I wrote back telling him I had worked with Graham for a third of a century ,and if he knew Graham’s discography he might have noticed that, and all I was asking for was some idea of how Graham had conducted this music on that occasion, after which, of course I would make my own decisions. The guy wrote back apologising and soon after some recordings turned up. Everything clarified. No hard feelings.
I managed to have lunch with John Marshall in London just to look through some of the parts together, and after that everything seemed in place.
The final band was: John Marshall, Roy Babbington, Ed Speight, Roger Dean, Andy Grappy, Jonathan Williams, Gordon Campbell, Martin Shaw, Mike Lovatt, Steve Waterman, Julian Siegel, Graeme Blevins, Art Themen, and Andy Panayi.

We didn’t have loads of rehearsal time at the BBC, but I think I managed to make it do. Jonathan Williams was great, as I had expected: he read from a trombone part, transposing the whole time. The band were extremely cooperative, and working with the rhythm section (John and Roy) I had listened to incessantly throughout my formative years was something of a dream come true.
We were working in Maida Vale 2, which was the first BBC studio I had ever played in, with Graham back in ’79. I’ve always found the commemorative plaque saying Bing Crosby made his last recording there, rather ominous.

My brother came to the gig, and the BBC, true to some ancient “jobsworf” tradition managed to keep all the audience standing outside in the rain until it was officially time to let them in.
The guys played well on the night and I think we did justice to Graham. Several of us were interviewed during the interval, and I remember likening Graham to Arnold Schoenberg (well this was Radio Three) in that his ideas could be , and were, quite widely applied, but his later works were seldom heard, even though, for him, his writing style hadn’t really changed.
Here are some extracts from the broadcast. They are probably still property of the BBC so please don’t share them around on the web.

Introduction by Julian Joseph.

One of my favourite Collier compositions, “The Hackney Five.”

Our final number, one that almost became Graham’s theme tune, “ Aberdeen Angus.”

Some months later we were back together recording the last two suites: Blues Suite and Luminosity for a double CD release. The band remained more or less unchanged: I had one less trumpet to play with, having only Steve and Martin; Mark Bassey came in for Gordon Campbell on trombone, and James Allsopp replaced Julian Siegel amongst the “reeds”. Since John Marshall was having some health problems, Trevor Tomkins very kindly agreed to come along with him and sit in as percussionist, with the understanding that if John wasn’t feeling well, Trevor would take over on drums. So we remained a 14 piece band: one trumpet less, one percussionist more.
We had two days to record the music. The first day went extremely well, and most of the material on the release comes from those first takes. We redid everything the second day and having two versions of everything I let the band go about an hour and a half earlier than we had agreed, since I couldn’t see any point in squeezing out of them any further versions. Was this a mistake? Looking back I ask myself, “When were you going to find yourself again in a studio with a band like that?”
I don’t know, I could sense a bit of fatigue creeping in, John wasn’t well, but had, up to the point, been brilliant, and I was more than happy with what we had in the can, but experience has also taught me that sometimes amazing things can happen in that last extra take. Still, finishing just that little bit early we could make a start on some basic editing.
The mixing took place at a different studio a couple of months later. Here we were very much in the hands of Tom Leader, Graham’s trusted engineer and producer, but I was also very happy that both Jonathan Williams and John Marshall dropped in during the mixing and editing, just to hear how things were shaping up.
My career as a member of Graham Collier Music came to an end in that mixing studio. He had put me on the big stage and with his bands taken me around the World. Less than a year out of University I had found myself in that Maida Vale Studio going out on BBC Radio 2.
Now (writing in 2017) I can see a lot more of Graham’s stuff on YouTube and people talk about his work a bit more, but no real attempts have been made to keep his music itself alive. A year after Graham’s death there had been an idea to commemorate Graham on the island of Skopelos, where he had spent his final years. I corresponded with John Gill, Graham’s partner about this, and would have happily gone over just to go though some of Graham’s pieces in an almost workshop environment with local musicians, if there weren’t the money to fly in a soloist or two. Nothing came of it, but it was a nice try.
In my own workshop leading I often find myself introducing elements in a typically Collier way. He called it “opening up the jazz ensemble” . That was his thing. He did it very well.

A little mystery.
As I’ve already said, in the final years Graham was giving the same parts to everybody, just transposing them appropriately. During rehearsal at the BBC Andy Panayi (alto sax and flutes) pointed out that in one of the movements of Blue Suite, one part, the Eb part, seemed to be incorrectly transposed. We looked at it together to make sure, and it was in fact a fifth above where it should have been. A simple mistake made probably when Graham was preparing all the parts. The resulting fifth didn’t sound so bad, more or less fitting into the harmonies, but in unison lines the alto sax stuck out as being different (as would have done a baritone sax if we’d had one.) Andy kindly offered to sight transpose, which he did perfectly, for the one movement, and I made sure I’d rewritten it for when we came to the CD recordings later.
The mystery is that on listening to the live versions with Graham conducting, in Parma and in Halifax, Canada, the players are performing the “incorrect” part. I find it difficult to believe that Graham wouldn’t have noticed this at rehearsals. I find it even more difficult to think he would have departed from his rule of giving everyone the same part to follow, just for one movement of a suite, and then only the Eb part – bearing also in mind that it was quite possible to imagine a performance without any Eb instruments. So maybe Graham thought it sounded OK, and just couldn’t be bothered to redo the part.. But not even during the months between the Parma and the Halifax performances?
I really don’t know what to think.

Just a little grumble
I was happy to do this job. It was a big challenge, I worked hard at it, got paid for my work and treated with respect by all involved. It wasn’t easy standing there where Graham should have been, making decisions that he would have made differently, (and that’s how he would have wanted it.) I had to apply my vision to this work, because Graham’s scheme meant that was what I should do, but at the same time it was a tribute to Graham.
At the BBC I was treated as M.D. – a role they could understand; after that my role became less clear. I remember at the recordings of the two suites for the double CD, some of the guys asked if I didn’t want to play too, and I said if I was conducting I needed to concentrate on that and couldn’t divide myself between being player and conductor.
On the CD sleeve I am listed in among the band. I wasn’t asking for “WARREN conducts COLLIER” but I would have thought it normal to put the director first. Possibly on this occasion, the void left by Graham meant that it was somehow not right to do that. I didn’t make waves, never asked for any special treatment, but between BBC broadcast and CD release I passed from M.D. to almost invisible guy who stands up front.
The result has been that I have seen more than one review of this recording where I am simply not mentioned, not even listed. It is music by Graham Collier performed by these players. The director, since it wasn’t Graham, somehow doesn’t exist or doesn’t matter.
OK, I am thanked in the booklet. My little grumble is that if Graham spent most of his life trying to make the role of the conductor interactive and creative, then why on “his” last recording is the conductor almost forgotten?

March 2019. Supporting the Softs.
Those of you who have had the time and the patience to read all of this blog will have noticed, in the early chapters, that among my formative influences I have listed (the) Soft Machine. It has to be said I came to the “Softs” when they were already on their way to becoming a jazz-rock band. Later I explored the earlier albums but found those less interesting. The quirky, psychedelic songs on the first album don’t do much for me. What attracted me were the long instrumental solos over modal riffs, often in irregular time signatures. The bass riffs of those tunes have stayed with me all my life, and been a strong, and I feel positive, influence on my creative writing.
I had the good fortune to be meet Elton Dean (probably the man most responsible for my taking up the saxophone at 16 years old,) when I was artistic director of a small jazz festival in Modena for a couple of years. At that time Elton had a band, together with Harry Beckett (on trumpet) and two Italians from Turin on double bass and drums. The project was called the Anglo Italian Quartet and they played at my festival in Modena in 1990.
I worked with two musicians from what might be called the second generation of Soft Machine – Roy Babbington and John Marshall, in the context of Graham Collier’s larger bands. But this was really just a case of our being on the same stage at the same time . I got to know John and Roy better later, when I was conducting the tribute to Graham Collier with the BBC Big Band – which for the occasion had been half substituted by Graham Collier stalwarts. I found them two amazing guys, not only excellent musicians, but also really collaborative and helpful (despite all the stories about Roy being grumpy and difficult, that I had heard over the years.)
As for the other “Softs”, I had a cup of tea with Robert Wyatt in the early ‘eighties, and a telephone conversation with Hugh Hopper some years later when I was trying to get his band over to Modena for the third edition of my festival – on which they pulled the plug.
After the release of my “The Quartet Album” (2014) I started working with Trevor Taylor, who was not only the owner of FMR Records but also a great drummer, and we put together a quartet, principally to promote myself and that material in England, where it would have been difficult for me to get gigs with my Italian quartet. This gave me the chance to fly in, do a couple of gigs, maybe a workshop or some individual lessons, see my family, and fly out.
Trevor also ran the Fire Music Festival –a series of concerts from jazz to Avant-garde, held at the Old Fire Station Arts Centre in Hadleigh, Essex. In 2019 Soft Machine were on the festival and Trev proposed that we (my quartet) could support them. This was fantastic, and of course I accepted. As things progressed it became obvious that Trevor was not going to be able to handle the administration and also perform on that evening. There were also problems for our bass player, Jose Canha, who had another engagement on that night, so it was decided I would do the gig in duo with Dan Banks, our keyboard player.
The Soft Machine we were to support were made up of John Etheridge on guitar, Theo Travis on saxophones and flute, Roy Babbington on bass and John Marshall on drums.- Of these four only Theo had come in later, in the Soft Machine Legacy phase. The others all appear on ”regular” Soft Machine albums.
On the day I learned that John Marshall, who I had really been wanting to see again, as we hadn’t met since the mixing of the posthumous Graham Collier album, had had some problems with his heart and was taking it easy for a few days. In his place was Nick France on drums.
We (I and Dan) sound checked after the Softs, and for me it was easy just stepping up to where Theo was going to play later. The sound was great and the monitoring fine. Dan had a very nice piano sample on his keyboard, so we were ready.
Originally we had imagined we would be doing some of the quartet repertoire- those pieces that might work nicely in duo, but , almost at the last minute, I proposed we play the set mostly free, telling Dan to keep on his piano the parts for three tunes, one of mine (Nobody Phoned) one of his (Changing States) , and his arrangement of an Icelandic song (Saeglopur) . All these tunes had been played in quartet two nights before. The idea was to play freely and when the time felt right, just slip into one of the tunes.
My inspiration had partly come from those early Soft Machine concerts where they never talked between the numbers, just ended up on a chord, did some free fills, and worked together into the next tune without a break.
This was something like how our performance came off. It was forty-five minutes of free improvising with the tunes seamlessly inserted. Playing with Dan was great. We had never improvised freely together before this concert.

I greatly enjoyed the Soft Machine gig that followed. I know they have been sneered at for not being the original band, but they are four fine musicians playing pieces from a repertoire that I love, and that no-one else plays. John Etheridge did talk between the numbers, giving bits of history: which album each tune came from, and some anecdotes from their travels.
What I really liked about the gig was that they played some of my favourite tunes (ones I would have chosen) and in several cases gave them more substance. It was a great relief for me not to have to suffer the meaningless oboe solos of Karl Jenkins – (a very capable composer but not a jazz soloist.) So tunes like Chloe and the Pirates, Gesolreut and The Man Who Waved at Trains, took on a new dimension without losing the beauty and balance of their construction.

Soft Machine, 2019
After the gig I got myself photographed with Babbington and Etheridge, and sent my best wishes to John Marshall. My brother, the man who had introduced me to Soft Machine all those decades before, bringing the LP Soft Machine Four home one day., also came to the gig. He had introduced me to Soft Machine, I could now introduce him to Roy Babbington.

With Roy Babbington

With John Etheridge.

My thanks go to everyone who made this possible for me.

My Flute Concerto

Most flute players who are also composers have written a flute concerto, and in this I am no exception. The difference in my case is that I wrote mine for flute, strings and tablas.
These were various reasons for this choice of instrumentation. I wrote the concerto between 2007 and 2008 which was towards the end of a period during which I had worked quite a lot with tablas, and had had the good fortune to play, and record with, the great Badal Roy, sideman for Miles Davis and Ornette Coleman. So his rhythmic ideas; those long rhythmic cycles with their origins in classical Hindustani music, combined with Badal’s personal creativity in varying and adding some “groove”, were very much in my system. The melodic/harmonic spectrum I adopted was more or less what you will find in my chamber works of the time, such as “Entrata” for Flute and piano, slightly modernist, basically tonal/modal and with a harmonic palette between jazz, and jazz-rock fusion.
At that time, my friend and colleague Gabriele Di Iorio, flautist, conductor and conservatoire professor, was also artistic director at the Marrucino Theatre in Chieti. They had, after much political struggle managed to establish a resident orchestra in this provincial theatre. I told Gabriele I was working on some ideas for flute and strings and he said he might be able to include the work in his next concert season.
The inclusion of tablas was also motivated by my desire to give the concerto a unique identity, and I thought, at the time, that the growing tendency towards “crossover” works: classic-jazz, jazz-ethnic, World- pop etc., would mean that the work might find people interested in taking it up. So far (writing in 2019) that hasn’t happened, and I strongly suspect that the inclusion of tablas has quite possibly relegated the work to obscurity. Still, l live in hope. What also doesn’t help is the lack of any real recording of the work. For that performance in Chieti I purchased a digital recorder ( called “Zoom”) in order to get a good recording of the event. On the day the machine simply refused to work, so the only demo recordings I have are the rather inhuman computer playback from my publishing programme.

For the tablas player, I had recently met and worked with Arup Kanti Das, an excellent Benghali musician who lived in Milan. We had toured together with Moroccan violinist Jamal Ouassini and had immediately hit it off, so he was the obvious choice.

Arup Kanti Das

We had the strings of the Orchestra of the Marrucino Theatre, and my longstanding colleague Marcello Sebastiani came in on double bass. The bass tends mostly to be part of the “rhythm section” in this work and hence is pizzicato nearly all the time, quite often leaving the other strings in a section apart.
Originally there were four movements. and the work was performed in this way in Chieti. I have since removed one of the inner movements to give the concerto a more conventional, fast – slow – fast, three-movement scheme.
The first movement is based on a tune I wrote together with Badal Roy. The rhythmic cycle was his, and it adds up to 26 beats. He originally taught me this cycle at his home in New Jersey. I wrote a little melody to fit the pattern and we had performed the piece in some of our concerts in trio with Marcello; the line-up on the “Frammenti” CD.

Me with Badal and Marcello

On those gigs. after the exposition of the theme from just flute and tablas on the 26 beat cycle, we went into solos in a straight 16 beat pattern with bass. I called the tune “Du Furty” and here is that theme.

I was writing a lot in A at that time and this was mainly due the fact that Badal’s favourite tabla was his A drum. Playing the tune three tunes before going on, as opposed to the more conventional (two times) ritornello was a thing I got from Badal. He seemed to want to do everything three times. I don’t know if that’s just his thing, or if it came in any way from his Indian roots. Anyway, it gives the tabla player a little space to do some variations to the accompaniment during the tune.
For the first movement I took this theme, orchestrated it and developed it a little, adding a sort of subsidiary theme (like the second theme in a first subject group), but I decided not to insist with the 26 beat pattern, so after a while it breaks into straighter 4/4 for the second subject, which also motivically anticipates the main theme of the second movement. The second subject works through to a cadenza and then it’s back to the 26 beat cycle for the finale, which sounds just a little bit like this. (Computer playback)

I wrote earlier that the original version of my concerto had four movements. The second of these was an arrangement of “Brick Lane” a piece I had written some years earlier for use with the trio with Badal. You can find this tune under the title “East One” on the Kolkata Rose CD. I later chose to take this movement out, not because I didn’t like, it but because I felt it overbalanced the form of the work.
So the middle movement of the work in its three movement form is the classic slow movement , for which I adopted another of Badal’s rhythms, a ten beat “Jhaptal” but slowing it down from the way he had first taught it to me, and which can be found on our CD “Kolkata Rose”.
Here is that rhythm as I first learned it.

In this movement I decided to use more deliberately jazz harmony. That is, I made more use of seventh and ninth chords rather than the quartal harmonies and slash chords of the first movement, although the harmony isn’t really “functional” in a jazz or classical sense, it’s mostly modal. The bass is working very much like a bass player in a jazz group and the strings are providing the “comping”.
Here is the main theme, with its ten beat cycle split into 4, 4 and 2. The Jhaptal is slowed down to a new “cantabile” tempo.

For the last movement I wrote an allegro with a straight 2/4 groove (sixteenth notes in the tablas), a groove I was very happy working with. There are some exchanges between the strings and the flute where the soloist can improvise a solo, or follow the part I’ve written out. Here is the main theme.

On the day of the premiere, I can’t say the theatre was full, but enough people came to make it a successful event. The Marrucino strings, under their leader Ornela Koka performed well, Arup and Marcello rose to the occasion. and I got through it; feeling a little the weight of the double role of soloist and sort-of conductor. With the parts now in the Orchestra’s archive, maybe a second performance might be possible in the future…I thought.
Since then we’ve had austerity, arts budgets have been slashed and that fine orchestra is no more. I’m still on the lookout for way to get the piece performed again.

That time at the Bracknell Jazz festival.
The Bracknell Jazz Festival was, for about a decade (the ‘eighties), Britain’s most important modern jazz festival, and as part of Graham Collier’s band I played there twice.
The first time was with Graham’s Hoarded Dreams project, an international big band with a host of special guests. That was in 1983.
The second time must have been 1986 or 1987 and was with the Royal Academy of Music Big band (on a slightly less important stage) strengthened by the inclusion of various tutors from the jazz course, including myself, playing alto sax on this occasion.

Graham in the 70’s or maybe ‘80s

Me with alto sax, 1990’s.
Graham, known for being a modernist, also had his moments of revaluating and revisiting classic jazz forms. On this occasion, the work, which I think was in the form of a suite, included a “rhythm changes” piece (a classic jazz progression) but using just about every possible chord substitution in the book (and several not from the book) and changing key with every chorus. The main soloist was to be me and I had, I seem to remember, at least three pages of tightly compressed chord changes to play over. It wasn’t easy.
On stage we were using a “solos mike” which meant each player, when the moment to play his solo came, would stroll elegantly over to the mike, which was to one side of the conductor, and upon the music stand he would find his solo part ready for him to read from. This was to save him time in setting his part out on the stand and leave him free to come forward just with his “horn”. Each departing soloist was to put his part to the back, or perhaps take it away with him, I can’t remember, so that each incoming soloist would find his part ready to play from.
All nicely thought out, but on this occasion it didn’t happen that way.
When my moment to stroll came, I approached the soloist mike and music stand, only, to my horror, to find that my part was not waiting for me there. I looked hurriedly amongst the parts to see if mine had been somehow misplaced, as the beats ticked away towards my solo entry. It was definitely not there. I tried to signal to Graham, in the vain hope he might have a spare part somewhere, but he was too engrossed in conducting the band. So my moment came and I just…played.
The concert was being recorded live for BBC Radio Three. It wasn’t actually going out live but the piece was going to be broadcast later in its entirety and there would be no editing. I tried to play by ear, trying to remember something of the progressions – just about impossible, and after a I while just went for it, in the style (flattering myself) of Ornette Coleman. I got to the end and went back to take my place in the reed section.
After the gig, I found Graham chatting to the BBC producer at the bar. I told Graham of the problem I’d had, and both he and the producer said things to the effect of “It sounded alright to me.” Maybe they were just being nice, or maybe the harmony had been indeed so complicated that there had been little difference between playing over it freely and following the chords. I don’t know. For some reason I didn’t get to hear it on the radio three weeks later.
So what did actually happen?
Graham was usually very precise in his methods, and I don’t think it possible he could have, for any reason, simply failed to include my part amongst the soloist sheets. The most likely explanation was that a departing soloist had mistakenly also taken my part, or managed to get it mixed up with the others, and I had been unable to locate it in those few panic-stricken moments before my solo.
Over the years however another theory has taken root in my mind. Could my part have been deliberately removed by one of the students during the performance, as a sort of jolly student prank? This could have been an initiative by an individual or perhaps a prank from the whole student band. I don’t remember there being any tension between myself and the students, so I don’t think any malice could have been involved, but I do remember the Academy students having a rather particular sense of humour sometimes.
If anyone can shed any light on those events I’d be really interested. No hard feelings, really! It was actually quite a learning experience, which I often recount when giving seminars.

Folk Song – “The first tune “
When I get a new instrument home and pick it up, and play it freely for the first time: that is, I’m not testing it out any more, I’ve bought it, it sometimes happens that the first thing I play becomes a new composition. There is something about that first moment with the instrument, the way certain notes respond, the presence, the personality almost, of the instrument.
This happened with my first alto flute, the cheap Chinese one, on which stringing together the few notes that sounded well, produced the opening motif of my piece Nobody Phoned.
In 2000 I bought a new flute. This was flute four of my life and it was a Powell. My friend and trusted repairman Eros Marchi had found it for me, knowing I had been playing American flutes for 25 years and was in need of an upgrade. I got it home, and meditatively played a few notes. Exactly these notes, in more or less the same rhythm, were to become the theme of a composition I later named “Folk Song”. Yes, not a very imaginative title, I grant you, but I was in the middle of what I now look back on as my ethnic phase. I was working with tabla players Badal Roy and Tobias Ott, I was part of Balen Lopez de Munain’s group performing Basque tunes, and I was still in touch with Enver Izmailov, the tapping Tartar guitarist from the Crimea. So “Folk Song” it was; not very singable but sort of modal and folksy.
I was still playing jazz whenever I got the call from Graham Collier, and there were still jazz gigs in Italy coming through, but the ethnic thing was taking over at this time, and this didn’t worry me in the slightest since I found it gave me the contexts I needed to play the way I wanted .
My personal melodic sense has always been fairly diatonic. Early on in my career, one British journalist had written approvingly of my melodic simplicity and how it contrasted with the other, more complex elements in my music, but two decades later, around the turn of the century, one less well-meaning Italian journalist accused me of being too “New- Agey”. It seems my lack of chromatic bebop approach notes irked him greatly.
The melody of “Folk Song”, sitting ambiguously between the tonal centres of G and D is typical of the first things I do when I get a flute in my hands. G is my favourite note and the octave jumps are simple lip movements for a flautist.
I wanted the piece to be fairly sparse, with its harmony more implied than fully stated, so the trio I was working in at the time, with Marcello Sebastiani on bass and Tobias Ott on tablas and ghatam, was well suited. I developed the melody up to an AABB form, and then wrote a bass line which would come in the second time round. I then made a chord chart for the solos, from the implied harmony of the flute and bass lines, and decided the tablas would enter from the solos.
The best recordings of this trio come from a concert we played at the Fonoteca in Carpi. The recording here, from that concert, has had just a little post production from Peter Wiessmueller of TUTU Records, Germany, although this recording has never been “released”.

Composing and…Publishers

I think I wanted to be a composer even before I wanted to be a performing musician. From the age of about 12, I was buying books of music manuscript paper and lovingly put all the clefs down the left hand side imagining the orchestra I wanted to write for. Then came the problem of filling all that space, and I rarely got beyond the first page and a lot of rests.
At school I searched through the music history books for a composer with my surname. There weren’t any; at least not classical composers. The best I could find was Harry Warren, composer for Hollywood and Broadway. Still, not bad! The first ever composer to make a living writing for film! The guy who wrote Lullaby of Broadway and Chatanooga Choo-Choo! BUT.. on closer examination I found that he wasn’t originally called Harry Warren (which, incidentally was also my grandfather’s name), he was in fact Salvatore Guaragna, one of eleven sons of a Neapolitan shoemaker in Brooklyn, New York. His father had changed the family name to Warren, perhaps to avoid discrimination. It certainly didn’t do Salvatore (Harry) any harm. So the only famous Warren composer was an Italian! Now there’s an irony.

I never had composition lessons. At school, doing O-Level and A level music I did the harmony exercises, and got consistently good grades, but no-one ever told me how to take an idea of my own and develop it.
On one occasion I managed to string together about four or five fairly sophisticated chords (from my brother’s jazz guitar chords book) and to write a little melody over them. I showed it to my music teacher at school who was very enthusiastic, and told me to go off and write some more like that. I tried hard, but wasn’t able to take that idea any further. I didn’t have the tools, so it just ended there. If I remember rightly this was my little creation.

If only he’d said something like “Take this motif here and try putting it in a sequence – try to do something with this chord movement – try to write a reply to this melodic motif”. Or even just “Get to eight bars and then do it again!” But he didn’t. I suppose it just wasn’t his job.
When I look at compositions by high school students today (examining in the 21st century) I see almost the opposite. The emphasis has been placed on developing creativity, but quite often this is at the expense of learning the mechanics.
My early compositions, apart from some not very successful attempts at writing orchestral pieces, were all short little themes for the first jazz groups and jazz-rock groups I played with, from my last years at school through University. During these years I was still getting harmony and counterpoint lessons and scoring good marks, but no ”composition” teaching.
OK, in my second year at University there was the option of doing composition, and I didn’t take it. By now I was getting heavily into doing my jazz pieces, and was possibly developing a bit of a “jazzer” attitude and I knew this would not have gone down well with the teacher who taught composition. I was also, quite possibly, by this time, developing an “I can work it out for myself” attitude- not always a good idea –but i was young. There were no easily available “teach yourself composition” books, no internet tutorials. I had obtained a book on Webern and devoured it – I was actually quite good with serialism , but still the ability to take ideas much further eluded me- and Webern was hardly a good model for anyone wanting to write pieces longer than a couple of minutes.
So I got to the point where, at the age of 22, my music was being played on BBC national radio jazz programmes but I had difficulty composing anything longer than about 32 bars, (usually less) . Once the material was played we did solos, and then played the theme again at the end. Many jazz musicians have been content with this for all their lives.
My first ever broadcast piece was “Somebody Gave Me This Number”, written for the trio Isogon with Roger Dean on bass and Ashley Brown on drums. . Essentially I had written 12 bars of theme for alto sax and given the bass payer some rather vague ideas about what to do in accompaniment, (there were some chord symbols but I’ve lost them.) and the drummer was more than capable of working around the theme. The “head” is played twice, then 8 bars bass solo for the classical “middle eight” , then the head again. Then we improvised.
Here’s the lead sheet.

And here we are.

Fresh out of university I was starting to get quite good at structuring jazz pieces, and I gradually put together an original repertoire for my own quartet; pieces mostly lasting about 5 minutes combining themes, solos and obbligato passages, but actual compositions excluding improvisation, longer than a couple of minutes minute were still a problem I wanted to resolve.
In 1983 I had the fortune to be awarded an Arts Council bursary to write an extended work for my jazz Quartet. The length of the piece was more or less decided by the fact that I could most likely get it Broadcast on the Radio 3 jazz programme, and this was about 25 minutes. Jazz pieces of this length often tend to episodic, a sort of suite that segues from one section to the next. In fact I conceived the work in three sections: an opening theme with solos, a central section built around a percussion solo and a final theme with solos, that partly recalled the first section. I was living in a high-rise Block in Tower Hamlets when the Award came through, and I called the piece “Other Storeys” – a bit of play on words referring to the storeys of the block (we were half way up on the tenth floor), and literary collections- So-and-so and Other Stories (Not that I read books or anything). Anyway, I effectively confronted the length problem, on this occasion, by combining sections which were in some way motivically related. Maybe I was making progress…
Of course I had studied all the forms, what I still lacked was just the craft of effectively developing my ideas, but this didn’t stop me sending my compositions to publishers. Usually these were short chamber pieces: trios and quartets for flutes and saxophones- instruments I was confident about writing for. Inevitably they came back with nice little rejection slips. Then I had the idea, that as well as sending the music I could send a list of other compositions I had written , so if by chance, they were interested in anything else on the list, they might ask to look at that.
So it was that one publisher, having rejected a wind quintet, asked to see my Ten Studies for Flute. The only problem was, I hadn’t actually written ten studies for flute. This was 1985. I remember that because it was quite a good year for me all round. I was travelling abroad with Graham Collier’s band, had just started teaching a few jazz lessons at the Royal Academy, and had my first foreign tour with my own quartet. We were going to Hungary, sponsored by the British Council, to play the Debrecen jazz Festival and a concert in Budapest. So, I got my partner to write back to the publisher saying that Mr Warren was away on tour (I wasn’t at that time) and would send the Ten Studies for Flute as soon as he returned, Then I got down to writing them.
It’s often good to have a clearly defined task in hand. I gave myself a couple of weeks to write the ten studies, treating it as a sort of commission with a deadline. I decided to make them of medium difficulty. and I jotted down a list of the elements I wanted to feature: whole tone and diminished scales, fourth chord arpeggios . some time signature changes and so on, Then I just took my flute in hand and started work. They came quite easily to me, being short pieces, a couple of pages per study. Many of the opening motifs were directly improvised on the flute and then written down, and then, to a limited extent…developed.
I wrote them out as tidily as I could (no computers in those days) and sent them off. They were accepted. This was of course fantastic! I finally had something published by a mainstream publisher, Stainer & Bell, who would print the books and distribute them. The euphoria lasted about six months. There was a brief initial period when my book of studies (picture below) was actually present in music shops all over London. But the studies weren’t on anybody’s exam syllabus so apart from a few curiosity sales nothing really happened; the few copies present in the shops gradually got sold, and it seems no re-orders were made. The few complementary copies I received were sent out to friends and colleagues who I thought might be interested, and that was that. The Studies have just sat in the Stainer & Bell catalogue all these years (35 at the time of writing.) I could hardly expect a massive sales push, but still this was disappointing, and I found myself asking . “Well, why did they bother to publish them?”

Further disappointment came with the total lack of any change in my relationship with the publisher. The rejection slips remained impersonal. and at no time did they approach me saying they were looking around for a certain type of material. There was, in fact, no relationship. One book of mine just happened to be in their catalogue.
Looking back today at the Ten Studies of 1985, I can see that they were quite a bit better than anything else I was writing at the time. Just a fluke? Or maybe having the task in front of me to focus my thinking, and having to work only with my first instrument, on some pieces which would all be quite short: -the conditions couldn’t have been more favourable.
Recently the studies have disappeared from the S&B website and are only available on request in PDF. I am working on getting a new edition available. Since 1985 my profile as a flautist has grown from where it was then (nowhere) to where it is now (somewhere) so it would make sense for them to be available again.
In one of Frank Zappa’s books he advises aspiring musicians to set up their own publishing company. The logic being: record sales royalties pay only after costs have been recovered by the record company, whereas publishing royalties pay from the start. I was not chasing a record deal as a rock artist but a couple of my friends had publishing companies that practically existed only on paper. This gave them more control of their material and on some occasions, performance and broadcast royalties were greater than for unpublished works.
As I was getting occasional radio play of things I was doing, and was also sending around a lot of cassettes, I thought having a publishing company might be a good idea. I was also told the investment required was not great (at that time.) So, I called the MPA, Music Publishers Association, in London, and asked if they had any leaflets giving guidelines on getting set up. Yes, I was told and they took my address and promised to mail me.
What arrived two days later was both weird and disappointing. They had posted me a leaflet saying (paraphrasing, but not much) “We understand you are thinking of setting up your own publishing company, our advice is – don’t! ” They had actually spent the time putting this in an envelope and stamping it and sending it to me. It went on to say how I would be much better served offering my music to one of their many member publishers rather than trying to do it for myself. It just hadn’t occurred to them that I was wanting to set up my own company exactly because there was no way my jazz pieces were going to get taken up by one of their wonderful member publishers. I am still amazed by this episode. – that they had actually gone to the lengths of printing a leaflet advising me what NOT to do.
Still, as a deterrent it must have worked because I lost interest in the idea.
I have come across various kinds of publishers in my life. Firstly, those, “old school” or “real” publishers who print books and try to get them into shops and, these days. sell on-line of course.. To these publishers I have generally offered my chamber works.
Then there have been the publishers who, because they are part of a record company, take 50% of royalties of the pieces that go on a record but are not interested in marketing any printed copy, In the jazz sector many independent record labels have depended heavily on publishing to finance their operations, relying on the fact that the groups would go around performing the material they had recorded, and performance royalties would come back, not only to the musicians, but also to the record company.
Then there have been those who produce manuals, such as “teach yourself” books, not interested in performance royalties on the music as such, just in shifting books by the lorryload. I wrote (and co-wrote) three such books and in each case created a lot of material –short educational pieces, and always the publisher was not interested in the copyright of the actual music, they just needed my permission to use it. They were perhaps more a printer and distributer than a publisher.
The advent of computers made a big difference. At first. Like many, I was diffident, but I eventually bit the bullet and got a desktop, (which took up more than half the desk.) Shortly after, a friend handed me a floppy disc with a little music publishing programme , Encore.3 . It wouldn’t be much of an exaggeration to say this changed my life. After the inevitable teething period, with various phone calls to my benefactor asking how to do this or that, I started to get the hang of the programme and even became a bit of an expert.
As a first task I set myself, I got all my old compositions from fading photocopies of hand written manuscript onto Encore files. Quite a big task, but I just took one piece (quite often a little jazz tune ) a day, and during this process perfected my skills with the programme.
The big change was being able to transpose sections quickly and copy and paste them where I wanted. This eased the stress on my brain, which had had to remember what I was doing while copying by hand and transposing mentally. Although, It should be said I’ve never been much of a literal copier and paster, I always come back to make adjustments such as tidying up voicings.
The other big change was having an instant playback. My piano skills have never been up to reproducing scores, even just quartets, so having the modest midi audio helped me greatly. I have lived many periods of my life without a keyboard in the house, and am convinced that some of my compositions have even benefited from my thinking out chord progressions in my head rather than writing what was readily under my hands at the keyboard. (Nobody Phoned is case in point,) still, being able to hear back immediately what I had just written was a great advantage.
Stravinsky divided his creative process into two phases;: the sitting-in-the-garden-with-a-sketch-book phase, during which he jotted down little melodic fragments, and the working-it-out phase, during which he sat at the piano and combined and developed his ideas. My first phase has often been with an instrument in my hand- a little motif arises- seems almost to come out of your hands, and you quickly scribble it down, maybe taking it up to 8 or 16 bars with a mixture of improvisation and logical development, but relying heavily on instinct and sheer impetus to get over any block. Sometimes my first idea might come while walking (walking has always been a great stimulant to my mental processes,) and fortunately , my analytical skills allow me to “write down” what I hear in my head and have also a visual memory of it. Now with the computer my second phase was more assured with the possibility of sticking sections together and seeing and hearing how they worked.
At this time (late ‘nineties) I was living in North Italy and teaching a lot in the private sector. My students were saxophonists and flautists, mostly with no professional aspirations, and we worked on “modern” material – jazz, rock and pop. Playalong CDs were becoming all the rage and it made sense for me to create some material which would then be packaged and sold internally by the schools I was working for. So I wrote six pieces for saxophone and playalong CD (with the sounds of a full band accompanying), and six pieces for flute with piano accompaniment only on the track, since I was hoping one day to get these accepted by a “real” publisher who would want a piano part too.
The “Sei Pezzi per Flauto e Pianoforte” were written between 1998 and 2000. I struggled a little with the piano parts, working my basic “strumming” piano style into something a little more pianistic, and I had the final version checked by a “real” pianist. (Something I continue to do to this day when writing for piano) . The first “Edition” was an internal production by the M.A.T. Music School in Verona where I was Artistic Director for many years, and with the help of producer Clemente Bonati (who also was to produce two of my CDs –Frammenti d’Anima and The Quartet Album.) About ten years later I managed to place them with Italian publisher Casa Musicale Eco and they have been amongst my most successful publications. They are fairly accessible, and difficulties arising are usually rhythmic rather than technical. It also seems they are fun to play.
The six pieces for saxophone had a fuller sounding accompaniment –perhaps more exciting to listen to, but excluding the possibility of providing a piano version. Working with Clemente, we enjoyed ourselves finding samples of vintage keyboards and guitar effects.

Here is one of them, “Country Lives”. It uses a 4+4+2 rhythmic cycle which I borrowed from Indian music.

Having had some success with the flute and piano pieces, and almost convincing myself I could now write for piano I decided to take things further and write something a little more challenging, but keeping more or less to the style I had established with the “Sei Pezzi” .that is- tonal (or modal) using a mixture of “classical “and jazz Fusion” harmony , avoiding chains of jazzy sevenths, sometimes preferring quartal solutions and often resolving to a simple major triad at the ends of phrases. I wanted a palette that had all the possibilities of jazz and fusion with some classical “modernity” to it, combined with my usual rhythmic eccentricities (inherited from the Canterbury School) for which, by now I was known.
So I embarked on the project which was to be a suite for flute and piano: four pieces which could be performed together or independently, with some optional improvised passages (solos also provided). The first to be finished was the “Entrata” and I managed to get this published by a small publisher in North Italy, who some years later, on closing shop, released the work, enabling me to place it with Forton Music in England.
Here is the opening.

I made contact with UK publisher Forton Music in 2012, and as well as taking on Entrata” they invited me to propose other works. Forton are a wind music publisher and they travel around setting up stands at the various wind instrument festivals. They are real musicians living in a real world and are the publisher I was always looking for. In the years that followed I have developed my flute and flute ensemble catalogue with them, and now living in Pescara have managed to form a flute quartet, Fluticity, with two professors from the Conservatoire, Lorenza Summonte and Gabriele Di Iorio and my wife Marzia Del Biondo , giving me the possibility to experiment, and to develop and present this repertoire. So I have written duets, trios quartets and flute choir pieces. Possibly the most successful of all these works has been the collection of duets for Flute and Alto Flute “Wild Berries”.

Of course, not everything you write ends up getting published. In fact most of it doesn’t- unless you’re a big name and somebody wants you in exclusive so they jealously hang on to every little scribble.. In recent years, my activity as a jazz flute workshop leader has prompted me to develop a repertoire of pieces for flutes (and sometimes other wind instruments) with backing tracks. Some of my personal favourite compositions of recent years have been for this format, which unfortunately is not the sort of thing a publisher can easily market. Flute choirs tend to be just that, an ensemble of lots of flutes of different sizes, and are generally not used to, or inclined to, working with backing tracks. Yet i have found, travelling across various countries, that this solution is very presentable and adaptable. I just need some speakers and a way of putting my audio files though them.
Here I am in Norway doing a workshop with a hundred or so young people, playing (mostly) with my backing tracks though a PA.

Larger projects along the way have included my Concerto , which I talked about previously in this blog, and a Musical, Poker, written with Ruth Sharon Koch and produced in Germany in 1993. I have noticed, getting older, that I am less inclined to write without an objective – a project. Ideas may turn up and they will be duly annotated, maybe taken as far as 8 or 16 bars and then filed away, sometimes to be fished out at a later date, sometimes just to stay in the folder, but it’s more likely that I will think of what I want to write before I write it.

That night in Belgrade.
Back in 1986 I got the chance to take my quartet on tour in what was then called Yugoslavia, with support from the British Council, who in those days were still willing to promote British Jazz around the World.
A year before I had written the preliminary letters to the State organizations and sent tapes from our BBC Radio sessions, and they had responded saying that they were willing to put us on at some of their festivals if we could get some funding from the British Government.
It turned out that in the same week in October of that year, there were the major jazz festivals in Croatia, Slovenia, Macedonia and Serbia.
I had taken the quartet to Hungary in 1985 and I kept the same line-up for this tour, with Ed Speight on guitar, Olly Blanchflower on double bass, and Malcolm Ball on drums. Stylistically I was moving away from the more open moments, as seen in Other Storeys, and was writing shorter tunes with more jazz rock- Canterbury influence, and making ever more use of the soprano saxophone.
We rehearsed in Greenwich. This was when the riverside area was still pretty down-market; in fact, in places, it was positively squalid, but the rehearsal room, which overlooked the Thames, was well equipped and convenient. These pictures were taken outside.

Back in 1986 Yugoslavia had no motorways, and the best way to get from one city to the next, in time to play on consecutive days, was to travel by plane. There were, it seemed, daily flights between the cities, and these internal flights were always early in the morning. In order to check in the instruments, we needed to be at the airport usually a couple of hours before take-off so this was the tour of the early morning calls: very early morning calls. On arriving we needed to check in at the hotel and usually there was little time, if any, to rest, before going to the venue for the sound check. I don’t know how my colleagues managed but by the end of the tour I was suffering from a serious lack of sleep.
This was life on the road, and of course, as a musician I was used to it. But I was less used to it as band leader. We didn’t have a road manager thinking about every detail. After landing in the new town, we would of course be met by someone from the local organization. The nice thing about being a sideman on tour is that you only have to think about playing, eating and sleeping. Here I had to be conscious, responsible, and even chatty, most of the time.
Here is the tour schedule and you can see that after a fairly easy start it gets a bit intense towards the end.
Monday 20 October Flight London to Zagreb.
Tuesday 21 October Concert in Zagreb
Wednesday 22 October – Free day
Thursday 23 October Bus to Ljubljana – Concert in Ljubljana
Friday 24 October Plane to Skopje- Concert in Skopje
Saturday 25 October Plane to Belgrade. Concert in Belgrade.
Sunday 26 October. Flights- Belgrade-Zagreb. Zagreb – London.
The night after our gig in Zagreb we were out of the theatre by about ten p.m. and looking for a restaurant. Everything was closed apart from some really seedy looking places where they wanted dollars and the meals came complete with hostesses.
We wandered around the Croatian capital looking for something to eat, and eventually got to the main railway station where there was a greasy burger bar. That was our dinner. On the wall behind the man flipping the burgers was a photo of Marshall Tito. Ed remarked, in a voice that I felt was a little too loud “I’ll have a Tito-burger”. I was horrified that the chef might take offence. but it seemed he wasn’t listening.
It was on this occasion that Ed Speight offered me a piece of wisdom that I have kept with me all my life. “First rule of the road – Eat while you can.” An excellent rule, but possibly more applicable to a jobbing back-line musician than to a front man. Also, getting older, one’s stomach starts to need more time to digest. In recent years (writing in 2023) I have occasionally forgone a big meal pre-concert and played on an empty stomach, only to grab a sandwich afterwards.
The Wednesday night, after our only free day, our appointed driver took us to a restaurant out of town, possibly run by relations of his . We had a fantastic meal, consisting mostly of grilled meats, and we paid very, very little.
There was a problem waiting to kick in. My Selmer Mark Six soprano saxophone, at some point during the tour – about halfway, started to have problems. It seemed to have taken a knock and I really don’t know how or where. The funny thing was the problem was gradually getting worse! – As if the instrument was slowly bending! – As if the tension in the rods was too much for the body and was pulling it round. I used it in Zagreb and Ljubljana but for Skopje and Belgrade it was out of the question.
I remember being driven around Belgrade on the Saturday afternoon by one of our local organizers, desperately searching for an instrument repair man. But that afternoon there were no instrument repairers available in the Serbian capital.
Like I said earlier, the repertoire I had been developing had been very dependent on the Soprano sax. So now I found myself short of material. I think maybe one of the pieces could be adapted to the alto sax but the rest couldn’t. There was, of course, the option of filling the set out with some jazz standards, but at that time I wasn’t much of a standards player. I taught standards in my evening classes of course, but rarely performed them on my own gigs, and had never played standards with this band. Also, my personal repertoire didn’t really mix well with standards.
So, I was tired, slightly disorientated by having to adapt the set, and the instrument I had been relying on most was now unavailable.
Belgrade was a weird gig.
I got the impression we had been stuffed into an already full festival program. Someone had thought, “This band is here, and the Brits are paying for them, so let’s put them somewhere.” They used us as an opening act to what was essentially a jam session. And I seem to recall the organizers of the event were, not exactly hostile, but a little cold, in that we seemed to be holding up their fun.
Miles Davis was playing Belgrade that night and before our performance we were kindly driven to the big hall where he was performing. (I think we saw Miles before we played our gig, but it may have been afterwards.) This was the band with Robben Ford on guitar and Bob Berg on sax. I can remember really enjoying a couple of beautiful solos by Berg, who for some reason was wearing a long leather coat on stage. Ford was a little too rock for my tastes. And Miles? I can remember him playing some chords on a keyboard he had for his personal use on stage, and I can remember them having an almost endless delay that got in the way of the music and…I don’t remember much else because I fell asleep. The hall was full, all the seats were taken, so we were sitting on the floor at the front between the seats and the band- right on front of the band, and I just nodded off. So, I can’t really say if I appreciated the great man or not. The lack of sleep accumulated during the week finally took its toll. We were escorted out before Miles finished his set, as it was time for us to go to work. (I think that’s how it went.)
So, the only time in my life I got to see Miles Davis live, and had a place right up front, really close to the band, I fell asleep. I’m not proud of it, but that’s what happened.
Overall, I think we generally played well during the tour, and I remember having a good feeling about our gigs in Zagreb and Skopje, but also feeling relieved when we finished our set in Belgrade.

He’s famous, isn’t he?

The context for the above question was a conversation during which someone was telling me about the various jazz artists playing at a nearby festival, and upon naming a local pianist he posed this question, to which I replied;
“If he were, you wouldn’t need to ask me.”
The idea being that if someone is famous then by definition, we know about it. But perhaps, to be fair, the questioner was really asking, whether this pianist was well known on his circuit – which is perhaps not quite the same as being “famous”.
It could be argued that the aim of all musicians is to become famous. At least I have yet to meet one who has clearly stated he wasn’t at all interest in achieving notoriety.
When I was young, I had the idea that every little thing I did was contributing to what we would call today a “profile” and gradually this would grow and grow until I was obviously noticeable, and therefore “famous”.
As the years passed, I came to realize it was not that simple. You are basically famous when someone says you are famous, and you are famous for them even if they don’t know much about you.
For example, I remember flying to Norway to do a workshop at the festival of the Norwegian Flute Society. This was just my second visit to Norway; I was met at Oslo airport by a lady from the organization, and on the drive to the festival she told me that I was the first of the “stars” to arrive. So here I was in a country where practically nobody knew me, and where I had never performed a concert, but I was a “star”. Very nice, I thought, but maybe the term “guest artist” might have been more appropriate, Still here I was, a star in Norway, whereas back home: “Oh, it’s him again…”
Then there’s the game with the size of lettering they use for your name on the flyer or poster. There is a sort of rule (that’s not written anywhere) that says the more famous you are the bigger the lettering has to be. But actually it’s the more famous they want to make out you are, or the more powerful your agent is, the bigger the lettering. The reader understands that the names written large are the better-known artists, even if he doesn’t know any of them.
Think of any big artistic event. Are the artists there because they are famous, or famous because they are there?
I am reminded a of a time in the early ‘nineties when promoters would sometimes bring over to Italy a promising American jazz player (usually a saxophonist) to play with a local rhythm sections- (often a different band for every gig.) No one had ever heard of them (and probably outside of their home states they were unknown) but the posters obviously didn’t worry about this. So you would get in gigantic characters From TEXAS U.S.A. FRED SCHITT – Tenor Saxophone, and the often quite respectable local musicians would be at the bottom of the page, just about visible, if they were mentioned at all.
“Hey, Fred Schitt, he’s famous isn’t he?”
I know I’m skirting around the old theme of the “prophet without honour in his own land” situation which in the music profession is very present. Possible the secret is to not be actually at home anywhere; to be permanently on the move.
“Hey Fred Shitt’s back in town and he’s doing a gig on Sunday night! We can’t miss that.”
But once Fred starts to give lessons at the local music school and can be seen doing the shopping, and maybe lives in a real home instead of just sleeping artistically on someone’s sofa, then Fred’s gig on Sunday night becomes less of an event, even though he’s had the time to rehearse, and to get to know his colleagues and the music will be so much better than that one off – fly-in-and-do-some-standards, encounter.
I don’t think I’ve ever wanted the sort of notoriety that can get to be a problem. Maybe when I was 18 I wouldn’t have objected to girls throwing their underwear at me, hanging their bras around the bell of my saxophone, but that sort of hunger soon wore off.
At this point I have to include a weird but true story. (No, forget the bras and the saxophones I’m getting back to my main theme.) This must have been in the early years of the century, but I can’t give the precise year. Anyway, I was on tour in trio with tablas player Badal Roy, with Marcello Sebastian on bass, and we had a gig at a Festival in the Marche region, central Italy.
For these gigs we called the group either the Badal Roy Trio or the Badal Roy European Trio since it was the only European band Badal worked with.
Badal was a name. Not a massive name like Miles Davis, (with whom he had worked,) but still an American Jazz artist of a certain pedigree.
When we arrived, we found the posters and flyers just said “Roy Trio”. Roy who? Roy Haynes? Roy Hargrove? Roy Rogers? No names with instruments played either, so I and Marcello were absent from all the publicity and Badal’s name just wasn’t there. No mention at all that this was an Indo-Jazz trio with tablas. It was totally meaningless.
The Artistic Director didn’t seem all that worried and just put it down to a mistake by his secretary. (So he hadn’t just checked the posters or the festival program before they went to print?)
Marcello and I tried to work out how this could have happened and the only thing that came to mind was that possibly one of the demo CDs had had Roy Trio written on it with a marker pen. Nowhere, in any of the info on the band we had sent was there written “Roy Trio”.
It actually seemed deliberate, but that didn’t make sense either. We were paid well, good meals, nice hotel, just that total lack of billing.
On the night, fortunately there were various bands playing on different stages at different times so people were moving around. Those who came to see us were appreciative and afterwards were asking who we were and where we came from. Great! You, organizer, bring an American name artist to a festival in Europe and then you do your best to keep it a secret.
I still can’t work that one out.
During my first year out of University I regularly wore in my lapel a badge which said, “I’m Nearly Famous”. Someone told me this was the title of a Cliff Richard album, but I never wore it for that reason.
I think I have been, at various times during the ensuing 45 years, famous, a bit famous, nearly famous and not at all famous.
The other day (writing on 2023) I was in pizzeria and a guy came up to our table saying, “Excuse me, are you Geoff Warren?”. He had even checked online, finding a photo of me just to be sure. He said the usual “Thank you for the music,” we shook hands and off he went. That’s nice if it happens once in a while and it makes you feel you haven’t been wasting your time.
If being famous means lots of people are listening to my stuff on Spotify or are buying my publications, looking out for my gigs, then that’s fine. If it means I get paid well for what I do, then of course I’m happy with that. Is that being famous?
Maybe I should just find that badge again.

16 Sep 2013, 8:17pm
by karen child


Love your Story. I think it’s me on the DYO programme with you (too small to read). I didn’t get invited to the Party either. Not that I’m bothered. Couldn’t have afforded the fare anyway. Keep writing!

Hi Karen, Great to hear from you. I’ve rescanned that DYO programme so you can see your name. It seems at the DYO reunion they wanted to make do with a second best flute section…

10 Feb 2019, 5:24am
by Andy Poupart


Followed a couple of links from Graham Walder’s facebook page to get here. I’m happy for you that you made life in music all these years. I still remember when you had that sax for the first time in Lower Sixth, I think it was.

This was an interesting read.

Nice to hear from you, Andy. I hope things are well with you

Geoff, interesting to see how your musical life continues to unfold. I played with you in the Quintet Hot at RHC in 1979 together with Andy Stennett, John Goodwin, Ian Blake, & Co. Good times 🙂

Hi Paul, nice to hear from you. I hope you are well and still playing some guitar.

25 Oct 2021, 2:54pm
by Duncan Mirylees


Dear Mr. Warren,

Are you, by any chance, the Geoff Warren who is the Great Nephew of the writer C. Henry Warren?

I’m afraid not. No writers in my family.


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