Ahead of his 80th Birthday Concert at Turner Sims on Sunday 5 March, Ray d’Inverno takes us on The Journey of Jazz. Delve into the roots of jazz at Turner Sims in this 10-part blog series written by one of Southampton’s best-known musicians.
…it is really the fact that I got jazz into Turner Sims in the first place, and to some extent against all the odds, that makes my contribution significant.
I have been asked to write some personal memories of jazz in Turner Sims – but why me? The fact that I have performed in over 20 lunchtime concerts and over 12 evening concerts in the concert hall means that I am probably the jazz artist with the most performances in Turner Sims. But it is really the fact that I got jazz into Turner Sims in the first place, and to some extent against all the odds, that makes my contribution significant. Following the first evening jazz concert in 1987, that is some 13 years after the concert hall was opened, I then went on to spend a period of some 15 years or so involved in helping to organise and support jazz concerts in the hall. How was this achieved?
The concert hall was set up principally for chamber music, operating wonderfully well for voice, solo instruments and small ensembles. It can accommodate orchestras and choirs but there can be acoustic problems on occasion with brass and percussion. The head of the Music Department at the time was the greatly respected Professor Peter Evans who conducted various ensembles in the hall. I think he was more sceptical about the inclusion of jazz, especially in the hall’s special acoustic. So he asked one of his departmental lecturers, Dr Bill Drabkin, to provide some feedback on a gig I was giving at the Solent Suite, the venue situated under the Southampton Guildhall. Bill is an internationally acknowledged expert on Haydn, Mozart and Beethoven. However, as an American, he has some knowledge of jazz and has even been asked to write some chapters on important jazz musicians for a book. Neither Bill nor I remember who was performing in that Solent Suite concert, but Bill said my group was supporting a more famous group and that he found my group more authentic. He returned a favourable report and in February 1984 my piano trio started by giving a lunchtime concert, and then in October 1987 my Arts Council funded suite ‘Four By Four’ was the first evening jazz concert.
I was a lecturer in the University Mathematics Department at the time and got to know Bill better when he played the piano for my very accomplished church choir at St Josephs church, Southampton. The choir included his wife and two daughters. Later on in 1993 when he was head of the Music Department, he agreed to allow me to introduce an undergraduate course on Jazz Studies and I went on to teach in the Music Department (in addition to the Mathematics Department) for three years. This was the start of introducing jazz studies into the undergraduate music curriculum and it has survived to this day. Indeed, recently the Music Department was rated the top music department in the country in The Guardian university league tables. Bill believes this was in part due to the fact that the department offers jazz and popular music options. It was on the basis of this teaching experience that I more recently set up an online course ‘Learn Jazz Piano’ for the organisation FutureLearn – a spin-off of the Open University – and some two years after it started, to my amazement, some 50,000 students have started the various parts of the course.
Book your tickets for Ray d’Inverno’s 80th Birthday Concert on Sunday 5 March, featuring Ray himself with his quintet Quintessential Groove, his pianist son Mark, a number of special guests – and plenty of cake!