COURTNEY PINE FRESH AND READY
Having remained at the forefront of the UK jazz scene for more than 20 years, multi-award-winning London saxophonist Courtney Pine is this week promising to “evoke the remarkable and heart-warming story of a life lived in the jazz fast-lane” by bringing to the Cheltenham Jazz Festival his new show.
A tribute to legendary New Orleans saxophonist Sidney Bechet, who initially inspired Courtney back in the early Eighties, when Pine first heard him playing the standard 'Summertime'.
With Courtney`s debut album 'Journey to the Urge Within' having, back in 1987, become the first serious jazz album ever to make the British Top 40 (significantly earning a Silver Disc), the last two decades have seen him go on to achieve considerable international acclaim. Prestigiously cracking the American jazz charts along the way, while constantly remaining an inspirational figure to many young, upcoming black British musicians. Meanwhile, by titling his new show 'Transition In Tradition', Courtney is intending to demonstrate - through his virtuosic tribute to Bechet - how the legacy of jazz is an ongoing, ever-developing art.
“To me Sidney Bechet was - and still is - THE first saxophone legend. You know, he`s the guy who set it all off. While a lot of people thought he was playing the clarinet, he was really playing soprano saxophone”, begins an ever-personable Courtney: “And though at first, when I started listening to him, it was hard work - his music was so detached from my experience at the time, which was all about Earth, Wind & Fire and Weather Report - it was as I got older and more mature that the way he innovated through his work made a lot more sense to me. There`s a record I`ve got of his called 'The Sheik Of Arabie', where he played all the instruments - bass, drums, tenor sax, clarinet and piano. I mean, this was recorded in 1941 - before the days of computers and Stevie Wonder and one man playing all the instruments on one album. And the Musicians Union in America actually banned it, because they were so frightened of the record! Yet to me, when I listen to it, it`s pure gold! So, for people like myself, Sidney Bechet was a very inspirational man. And interestingly, it was actually while he was visiting Great Britain in the Twenties that he first found a silver soprano saxophone in a music store on Baker Street! He bought it, and ended up transforming the whole sound of the instrument. By the next time he came back to the UK, he`d made such a name for himself that he was actually playing for George V in his front room!”
Known for his continual commitment to pushing the boundaries of jazz music through his live shows, Courtney (who was awarded an O.B.E. in the 2000 New Year`s Honours) promises his upcoming Cheltenham and London shows will be different from what people expect: “We`ve actually done a tour with this new show already - about 14 dates in February - and it all went really well. Even though the promoters didn`t really know what to expect. They basically thought I`d be playing Sidney Bechet's music, whereas what I`ve actually done is write a whole set of new tunes based on Sidney`s INSPIRATION. So what you`ll be hearing is more of what I`d call `the Creole side of Bechet`. Which means some music that sounds like it came from Guadalupe; some tunes that sound like they come from France; there`s a tango or two in there, with some rhythms that I haven’t really DEALT with live before. So it`s a very different set to what I`ve been doing for the last 10 years. And musician-wise we have a Cuban electric violinist called Omar Puente; on piano we have Alex Wilson, who`s released some records where he`s explored what he calls `the Anglo-Cuban` side of jazz; we have a Dominican guitarist called Cameron Pierre; a Ghanaian drummer called Robert Fordjour; and on bass we have Darren Taylor, who graduated from the Tomorrow`s Warriors school.”
Interestingly, the always-articulate Courtney (whose other notable achievements include being made an Honorary Doctor of Music by London`s University of Westminster) intends to transform his live Sidney Bechet tribute into a full, studio-recorded album project: “Yeah, with the musicians during the gigs having expanded the music SO much better than I`d expected, I can`t wait to go in and record it! So hopefully in the winter - when the festival season is over and it gets a bit quieter - we`ll be able to do that. And I do think this project will surprise a lot of people. Because while yes, Sidney Bechet was an innovator who played some real old skool music, with our record you`re gonna be hearing Sidney Bechet in a different LIGHT! You know, while it won`t be exactly like Sidney Bechet, it will be played with his spirit. And I do still believe that, if you search and research enough and you`re LOOKING for innovation, then you`ll FIND it!”
Courtney Pine plays Town Hall (Main Stage) at 7:30pm, Wednesday April 30 at The HSBC Cheltenham Jazz Festival 2008
Courtney also plays Ronnie Scott`s Jazz Club, London on Friday May 2 and Saturday May 3
Words PETE LEWIS