Ray d’Inverno: The Journey of Jazz – 9

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.

There was one infamous concert given by the percussionist and performance artist Paul Burwell… Paul often included fireworks in his performances, and in one of these, he set a bush next to the campus stream on fire…

Lunchtime, Workshop and Foyer jazz events

The Music Department ran the lunchtime concert series twice a week – originally Tuesday and Friday and then Monday and Friday – but they did so in collaboration with Turner Sims management. I think the original idea was that one of the weekly concerts would be given by professional musicians and the other by music students, but the distinction was never clear cut. I gave the first lunchtime jazz concert as a workshop with my trio in February 1984, and probably the second one in November that year when Tony Roberts on flute and myself on piano included Bill May‘s lovely jazz suite Explorations 1980.

I played a number of lunchtime piano trio concerts over the years and two of them were recorded and sold for charity. The first was entitled ‘Reflective Practices’, with Rick Foot on bass and Sam Brown on drums, and it sold a large number of copies. I have always been bad at learning jazz tunes by heart and I usually rely on jazz charts (consisting of tunes and chords). However, for this concert I had learned all the tunes by heart and rehearsed them beforehand with Rick who lived in Southampton, whereas Sam lived some way away in Martock. When we gave the concert, Sam did not know some of the tunes and the CD uses a photograph showing him to be the only one consulting the music on a music stand.

The second recording ‘Rd3@TSCH’ used the London rhythm section of Alec Dankworth on bass (the son of John Dankworth) and Winston Clifford on drums. I have made a number of albums with the wonderful Winston Clifford, and he is the drummer in my son’s prestige band the Mark d’Inverno Quintet which can be viewed on YouTube. I also gave two memorable concerts in a duo called ‘Classic Mix’, with a wonderful flautist named Claire O’Neil, in which we played mostly classical music. The first concert was just recorded from a stereo pair of mics set up in the auditorium, but they worked very well and I was able to use the recording to produce a very nice tape cassette.

In my diary, I have the entry ‘Day Jazz Workshop’ for Saturday the 14th January 1986, but I do not have any recollection of what it consisted of. However, I do remember leading two workshops in 1990 and 1992 with the American Scott Stroman who, at the time, ran the highly regarded Guildhall School of Music jazz course. The Arts Council had provided some funds to try and support jazz teaching in local schools in their music lessons. Scott and I helped to inspire a set of teachers to attempt this. There was even some funding for us to go into some schools subsequently, and help the teachers in the classroom. It was a great idea, but there was insufficient funding for the continuing support of teachers in the classroom required, and it withered on the vine. I remember that we had some school pupils in one of the workshops who were there to help show how to go about teaching jazz to children. One young pupil who played the tuba was required to play a long high note at one point and he couldn’t. Scott said to him, ‘just imagine the note in your head and then try and play it’, and he did.

I have two other dates in my 1993 diary which just say ‘Jazz Workshop Concert’ and ‘One Day Workshop’, whose contents also escape me now, but I do remember a workshop with music undergraduates led by the vibes player Orphy Robinson. In it, he asked the students what is the most important note in a scale. He told them that he considered it to be the third, since that determined the tonality of the scale and when improvising, if you are stuck for an idea, then you could play a phrase that includes or ends on the third. The suggestion stuck with me.

I ran a weekly jazz workshop for about 15 years for the Adult and Continuing Department of Education which existed in those days. It was a liberal arts course for local would-be jazz musicians. For a period, the last workshop of the year was a performance by the students with a rhythm section in Turner Sims. The performance was assessed in the latter years of the workshop to give it some credibility as a university qualification, and to that end it gave me some experience of assessing jazz performances, which I used later on when my jazz course was run in the Music Department. I remember one final performance which included my daughter Beth playing ‘So What’ on the piano with a rhythm section, including my son Mark on drums.

After the 1993 refurbishment of the foyer of Turner Sims, it was used for smaller scale jazz and improvised music performances. Southampton Musicians Cooperative (SMC) was principally concerned with contemporary jazz, free jazz, and improvised music. The ‘SMC Big Band’ grew out of a series of workshops organised by SMC. The big band was unusual, in that it ended up consisting of 3 and not 4 sections: first, a brass section of 3 or 4 trumpets augmented by 1 or 2 trombones and occasionally a French horn, second, a reeds section of 6 saxes lead by a soprano sax, and third, a large rhythm section including guitar, keyboards, bass, drums, and percussion. Because of its unusual shape, nearly all the music was written by members of the band. Even though the band was a mixture of amateur, semi-professional, and professional musicians, it got to give some concerts with leading jazz musicians of the day.

SMC received a grant from Southern Arts to promote a monthly series of concerts. Although I set SMC up originally and was involved in running it for the 20 years of its existence, I no longer have a complete set of programmes. However, the 1994 programme included Evan Parker and Mark Sanders, ‘World Wide Music’ with Loverly and Maggie Nichols, ‘Maintenance’, Trevor Watts Trio with Colin McKenzie and Nan Tsiboe, and Lol Coxhill with the Rick Foot Trio and the Phil Collins Quartet, and all these concerts were held in the foyer.

SMC also held concerts at various times in the John Arlott bar and the John Hansard Art Gallery, both campus venues, as well as occasionally providing financial support for some concerts in the concert hall. There was one infamous concert given by the percussionist and performance artist Paul Burwell, who is famous for performing a filmed drum solo under the Thames. Paul often included fireworks in his performances, and in one of these, he set a bush next to the campus stream on fire. The controversy in the University magazine Viewpoint raged on for some weeks. In another concert which took part in a lecture room, Paul performed a long percussion solo behind a figure bound up completely in bandages. The lecture theatre had been rigged beforehand with fireworks and the set ended with their detonation – going out with a bang! SMC promoted some other wacky concerts including one London guitarist who played one ‘tune’ on a guitar with no strings. I won’t chart any of the other concerts here, but the point is that the University in general and Turner Sims in particular hosted SMC concerts for a long part of its history.

Ray d’Inverno

Read part ten 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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