Ray d’Inverno: The Journey of Jazz – 6

Ahead of his 80th Birthday Concert at Turner Sims on Sunday 5 MarchRay 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.

Favourite concerts in which I was involved

My first concert ‘Four By Four’ will always be special, as it was my farewell concert when I retired in 2006, which featured Tina May and Stan Sulzmann. The most important concert to me personally was the Bill Evans Tribute because of the role he played in my life. I also loved my 60th Birthday concert in 2003, in part because it involved a solo set from the late John Taylor and a set with my piano trio playing with Andy Sheppard. John Taylor is the most important jazz pianist that Britain, and even probably Europe, has produced. His influence on so many other jazz pianists is profound. His time playing was exemplary and his unique style had some underpinning in classical music and, in particular, he made wonderful use of minimalist elements. His recorded output is prolific and he has played with many wonderful jazz artists including Jan Garbarek and Kenny Wheeler.

Indeed, I promoted the trio ‘Azimuth’ with vocalist Norma Winstone and trumpeter Kenny Wheeler on a number of occasions. I am very proud of the fact that I was the first person to put John Taylor on solo and went on to do so about six times. I remember him being rather nervous the first time and wasn’t sure he could pull it off but, of course, he was just wonderful. He is greatly missed. Similarly, I have had a long relationship with Andy Sheppard. I first knew Andy in 1976 as a teenager playing in the group ‘Sphere’ which was based in Salisbury. He was greatly influenced originally by John Coltrane, but at the time had a rather unusual and individual way of phrasing some ideas. When other saxophonists first heard him they were rather scornful of this approach, but as his international standing grew, I have heard younger sax players trying to emulate Andy’s individual approach. I was lucky to play with Andy on his way to stardom.

We had a wonderful period in 1986 when we had a Sunday gig in a pub called ‘The Chough’ in Salisbury (now renamed), where we played at lunchtime and again in the evening. It was great because we could draw from the excitement of the lunchtime gig at the start of the evening gig. The band consisted of Andy on tenor and soprano saxophones, Pete Maxfield on bass, Lee Goodall on drums and myself on keyboards. Although Lee played every instrument, including drums, he was principally a flautist and alto saxophonist. Sometimes the Bristol drummer Tony Orell would sit in on drums and we then had a quintet with two saxes in the frontline. I think the ‘Chough Band’ meant something to Andy since we have got together several times in more recent years to recreate the band for the Southampton Jazz Club. The 60th birthday concert was recorded and it includes Andy employing some of his amazing circular breathing on one tune.

But the concert which had the most emotional impact on me was the performance of Rod Paton‘s ‘Ascension Jazzmass’ in 2000. Rod Paton began as a French horn player and has worked professionally in various orchestras. He also plays jazz on the French horn. At gigs, I would introduce him as ‘the best jazz French horn player in Europe – in fact, probably the only jazz French horn player in Europe’. He later became a senior lecturer at the University of Chichester based in the Music Department but working across several other departments. He has written a seminal book on something he calls ‘LifeMusic’ which is based on 4 principals: everyone is musical, there are no wrong notes in music, every sound has a meaning, making music is an act of trust. Rod has run many LifeMusic workshops for musicians and non-musicians alike. He is also a composer with an extensive output – an output which encompasses many styles. Here is the text from the Turner Sims programme:

Described as ‘a magnificent firework display of voices and sounds’ when it was first performed, this is a one-off opportunity to hear Rod Paton’s unique work in the jazz repertoire. Early music soloist Vivian Ellis is joined by singers from Southampton University Jazzmanix and the Jazz Choir from the University of Chichester. They are accompanied by an eight-piece jazz ensemble, organ, and no less than twenty-one xylophones. This piece is a complete setting of an English text for Ascension by the Christian mystic Angelus Silesius. Many of the musical styles of the past millenium are combined into a work of celebration and praise.

I was billed in the programme as Musical Director but all I did was help prepare the Jazzmanix choir and the jazz ensemble and I played the piano in the performance. The music is totally enthralling and being involved in the concert was one of the most profound experiences of my music career.

Ray d’Inverno

Read part seven here

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!

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