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.
He wrote on the note ‘Later on … London. Well we both made it. Bill Evans, 1980’. Well, we only just made it because, sadly, the next month he died – probably through his drug addiction
The Bill Evans Tribute
Bill Evans was one of the greatest jazz pianists of all time and was a big influence on many other jazz pianists. He died somewhat prematurely in 1980, mostly from drug usage. Ten years after his death in September 1990, I organised a tribute concert featuring the John Horler trio and my own trio with Pete Maxfield (bass) and Andy Trim (drums). I was able to organise the screening of an excerpt of the Bill Evans trio performing in the BBC2 programme ‘Jazz 625’ before the concert began, as well as exhibit a large portrait of him that I possessed. But to convey the real significance of this concert to me, I need to trace some of my own history of involvement in jazz.
I was classically trained as a pianist moving through the grades. When I was 15 – remember you’re going back a long way before the age of records, CDs and computers – we only had ‘steam’ radio. On a Sunday we had a programme called ‘Family Favourites’ on the radio and it was playing in the background. Then I suddenly heard this music. It turned out to be the Hampton Hawes Trio playing ‘Gypsy In My Soul’. Immediately I knew it was my music. As soon as it was over, I went into the sitting room where the piano was, and tried to recreate the sounds that I’d heard. I asked around, particularly at my youth club, if anybody had any jazz records. As it turned out, someone had just bought a jazz record which they lent to me: the Dave Brubeck Quartet playing ‘Take The A Train’ and ‘Out Of Nowhere’. So I went home, wound up my gramophone and put the record on and it dug a hole all the way across. I was using an old fashioned 78 rpm wind-up gramophone, and this was an EP – a small LP. So I saved up for my Dansette record player and then I was able to at least play the side ‘Take The A Train’. I then tried to develop on my own as a jazz pianist. The breakthrough for me was when someone lent me an Erroll Garner LP, since he plays 4 to the bar with the left hand. I copied this approach, and with a rhythm section in the left hand I was off improvising in the right hand.
Then I wanted to form a trio. I bought myself a bass, taught myself bass, taught my best friend Jerry O’Regan bass, bought a kit of drums, got to play some drums, helped another friend – by the name of Dave Drum would you believe – to play drums, and then I had a trio. We had very limited knowledge, but we were really keen and we played as often as we could and wherever we could: concerts, garden fetes, parties and the like. The only thing we required was a steam piano because it was before the era of keyboards. Rather remarkably we used to travel everywhere by bus. We’d take a double bass and a kit of drums on a bus to go and play somewhere. Then, even more remarkably, together with some friends at school, we opened a jazz club in Bushey, North London. The opening concert was with an established London trumpeter called Bert Courtley, and that’s how we continued. I think we met monthly. We were the resident trio and we would get in a London star to play with us. We booked a lot of famous people, even including Tubby Hayes.
I took a first degree in Mathematics at St Catherine’s College, Oxford, and I then went to Kings College, London, to first study for an MSc and then a PhD in Mathematics. It was around that time that I first heard the music of Bill Evans. When I heard his music, I gave up playing in public and only listened to his music. I then gave up playing and even eventually listening to his music since I found it so moving. This, coupled with the fact that I thought I could never feel myself being able to play like him, was very demotivating. In 1970 I moved to Southampton University where I had a temporary lectureship in the Mathematics Department but stayed there for the next 36 years.
In 1974 a colleague of mine, Leslie Cohen, said to me ‘They’ve got a jazz club in Southampton. Why don’t you come?’ I said ‘No thanks. It’s bound to be trad jazz, and I don’t like trad jazz very much. I’m a modernist.’ But he persuaded me to come. We went to a pub in Southampton and indeed it was a trad band. He went to see the organisers and said ‘My friend’s a jazz pianist. Could he play?’ He came back and said ‘They want you to play in the interval’. I said ‘I can’t. There’s no piano on the stage’. So he went back to the organiser, and it turned out that on the stage in the corner there was a whole pile of chairs. They removed the chairs and behind the chairs there was an old piano. I played with a drummer called John Bell – who went on to be my drummer for many years – and the father of Paul Morgan– who became my bass player for many years. The piano was in a shocking state and the music was pretty awful. Anyway, at the end of it the organiser said ‘You should go to the Solent Suite, because once a month on a Sunday they have a jam session and there you’ll meet other modernists, such as Lee Goodall, a wonderful sax player. I’m sure you’ll get on well there’.
Rather surprisingly, I decided I would go. It was run in those days by a compere called Tim Colwell – a tenor player and a singer. I went up to him before the gig started and said ‘I’m a jazz pianist. Can I play?’ He said ‘What sort of style do you play in?’ I said ‘Well, a bit like Bill Evans’. He said ‘Oh yes, Bill Evans, I’m sure’. So he put me on first with an unknown bass player and an unknown drummer and the amazing thing was I did sound like Bill Evans in those days. I had listened to nothing else for 6 years, and although I hadn’t ostensibly set out to play like him, his music was so much in my head that when I played it came out. I was simply very Evans-inflected. Tim ran the leading group in the area called ‘Jazz Friends’. He immediately sacked his pianist and installed me. I was with him for many years after that and that was the start of my semi-professional jazz career. We did a lot of gigs together including broadcasts, festivals, competitions and tours.
I had a musician friend who went over to the States, and whilst at a jazz festival, he intercepted Bill Evans and said ‘I’ve got this friend in England, and he is a real fan of yours. Could you write him a note?’ The note which I still have said ‘Ray, we’ll be at Ronnies (Ronnie Scotts) next month July. Best always, Bill Evans. 1980’. I did in fact go to see him at Ronnie Scotts, and in the interval I went to speak to him and he was very friendly towards me. He wrote on the note ‘Later on … London. Well we both made it. Bill Evans, 1980’. Well, we only just made it because, sadly, the next month he died – probably through his drug addiction, which started when he joined the famous Miles Davis ‘Kind Of Blue’ band. So 10 years later I organised this tribute featuring John Horler, who is probably the best exponent of Evans’ music.
Some 10 years or so after Bill Evans’s death, an American called Win Hinkle had set up a bimonthly publication on Bill Evans called ‘Letter From Evans’, where he had interviews with people who were associated with Evans, and discussed his recordings, compositions and the like. Win came over to the UK specially to attend the concert and he reviewed my trio set in his publication. In the concert, I played a transcription that I had worked out of Bill Evans’ solo on ‘Re Person I Knew’ from the ‘Bill Evans Album’. It was quite a remarkable achievement because I had the piano on one side of my music room and the record player on the other. I had to play a little bit of the record and then rush over to the piano and write it down. To do this for all 16 choruses was a piece of dedication on my part. Win published my transcription across 2 issues using an early music typesetting program called Coda, and this was the first time I had any music published. I remember the concert as being very well-received, and again it was recorded by Steve Gladders and issued as a tape cassette.
It is of interest to recall that this same trio of mine with Pete and Andy appeared in 1992 in an international jazz festival in Atina, Italy, which is the hometown of my father. You can view the concert online in 3 parts (type ‘Ray d’Inverno’ and ‘Atina’ in Google). I recommend viewing the last tune in Part 3 where an injured Andy Trim ‘plays’ the cathedral square. The noisy Italians loved the trio and Andy’s solo particularly, but many walked out of the main attraction which was a performance by Joe Zawinul‘s group ‘The Syndicate’.
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!