Sun Ship burns and fans the Flames

“It’s always nice to play a gig close to home,” said Alan Skidmore, “they are very rare and then like the buses, two come along at once.”

In his sixtieth year in the business, tenor saxophonist Alan Skidmore has travelled far and wide making his unique contribution to modern jazz music – Belgium, Germany, The Netherlands, Aylesbury, Huddersfield, Llandudno, London – and that’s just this year. Then in October he played twice at the Herts Jazz Festival 2018 in Letchworth all of half an hour’s drive from home. They were two gigs that showcased the amazing versatility of the veteran tenorist.

For the first gig he was the guest star with the Paul Dunmall Sun Ship Quartet which showcases the music of one of John Coltrane’s last albums, Sun Ship. This is post-bop jazz with fire and pace and fury from the classic Coltrane quartet in 1965 and it sounds as fresh, vibrant and spiritual today in the hands of these devotees of John Coltrane.

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Howard Cottle, Paul Dunmall and Alan Skidmore play Sun Ship

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Alan giving it some ‘welly’

 

As Skid says:

“It’s great music and gives you a chance to give it some ‘welly’ on the tenor.”

That welly results in streams of notes that make you wonder how anybody can play that fast or with such inventiveness. Very impressive blowing from all three.

 

 

 

Then the closing set of the Festival on Sunday 7 October saw Alan joining the line up with Georgie Fame’s New Blue Flames of which he’s been a member since 1970. Slightly less ‘welly’ is involved in the polished arrangements for the front line that surround Georgie Fame’s bluesy vocals. It is always a festival show-closing hit and Alan’s solos were met with great acclaim by a large and enthusiastic audience.

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Georgie Fame Hammond Organ, Alec Dankworth bass (hidden), James Powell drums, Guy Barker trumpet, Alan Skidmore tenor saxophone, Tristan Powell guitar (hidden), Anthony Kerr vibraphone

Photographs: Graham Mullett

60 Years a Blowin’

 

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1958 Alan Skidmore aged 17 is playing one of his first professional engagements at Butlins, Skegness and his father joined him on stage as Alan says, “To show  me how to do it”!

NOW  

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Photo:Kay Skidmore 2018

 2018 Alan Skidmore waiting to go on stage at the Llandudno Jazz Festival in the Green Room known as “Barnes’ Boudoir”.

 

 

 

 

Alan’s early years were spent in big bands and he had a number of opportunities to play alongside his already well-established tenor saxophone playing father.

1960s

Alan played for many BBC Jazz Club broadcasts played in bands like Eric Delaney’s and toured and recorded with Alexis Korner’s Blues Incorporated and John Mayall’s Blues Breakers where he says he truly learned his art. As he told Jazzwise in 2008:

“You have to be hungry to play and perfect your art. But before that you have to learn to play the blues. If you can’t play the blues you’re stuffed.”

And as the decade closed Alan’s Quintet was chosen to represent the UK at the Montreux Jazz Festival.

015 Montreux John Taylor, Kenny Wheeler, Harry Miller, Alan Skidmore And Tony Oxley won the International Press Prize for best band and Alan won the soloist prize too and Tony Oxley won best drummer.

 

 

1970s

Alan was winner of Melody Maker‘s best tenor saxophonist poll for four years in a row and had the honour of playing with Elvin Jones whose connection to John Coltrane meant a great deal to Alan who has been greatly influenced by Coltrane throughout his career.

With the Ronnie Scott Quintet he played on the same bill as Thelonious Monk at the Royal Festival Hall in 1975. Throughout the decade he toured extensively with SOS the three-saxophone group formed of Alan Skidmore, Mike Osborne and John Surman. Alan also became a regular member of Georgie Fame’s New Blue Flames and would be for the next 40 years.

1980s

In a very busy period of playing and recording: a couple of highlights were playing in a duo at the 1985 Edinburgh Jazz Festival with Stan Tracey a musician with whom Alan had a long association and tremendous respect.

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Alan with Stan Tracey at the Edinburgh Jazz Festival 1985

It was in the 80s too that Alan replaced Dexter Gordon in George Gruntz’s Concert Jazz Band an association that also lasted for many years. Alan worked and recorded with the WDR Big Band based in Köln which included a tour of south east Asia as soloist with the band sponsored by the Goethe Institut. Then in 1987 he was asked to play at the John Coltrane Memorial Concert commemorating 20 years since Coltrane’s death.

1990s

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Recording The Call

In 1991 Alan began a long musical relationship with Colin Towns’ Mask Orchestra and his Provocateur Record label.  Alan was the first musician to play in South Africa after the ending of apartheid when in 1994 he made a British Council sponsored visit. Alan returned with Colin Towns to record The Call with musicians from the band Amampondo who were to become the core of Alan’s own Afro-European group Ubizo.

2000s

Alan Skidmore’s Ubizo came to tour the UK and had residencies at Ronnie Scott’s in 2002 and 2003.Ubizo Ronnie's001

The noughties saw more recordings, more festivals including Cork, Brecon, Cheltenham and the North Sea and more tours with his own bands and others mainly in Europe. He made a trip to New York in 2006 as he was nominated for best reissue CD for Once Upon a Time in the Jazz Journalists Association awards at which his old friend Sonny Rollins was crowned musician of the year.

2010s

As he enters his sixth decade in the business things are slowing down a bit but only a bit. He played at the opening of the The Jazz Centre UK in Southend in 2017 a year which saw Alan again commemorating John Coltrane’s 50th anniversary by playing music from the album Sunship at London’s Café Oto. As Skid said at the time:

“He was playing this stuff when he was 36, here am I trying to play it when I’m nearly 76. I must be mad.”

Bimhuis showtime

But then he goes off on a Saxophone Summit Tour of Belgium and the Netherlands with dear friends that go a long way back which we reported in the blog at the time.

Luckily for all his fans Alan will still be playing his unique jazz music for a while longer yet.

60 years and still blowing strong.

New CD release

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Saturday 25th November saw the launch of a double CD of music by two of Alan’s quartets by Uli Blobel’s German label Jazzwerkstatt. One CD features a concert recorded in Berlin in 2007, the other a 2011 gig at the Boxford Fleece which was Alan’s last opportunity to work with long-time drummer collaborator, the late Tony Levin.

Jazzwerkstatt held a two-day festival at the Vortex Jazz Club in Dalston featuring artistes who were also releasing new CDs. Alan played an all-Coltrane set with his customary enthusiasm and vigour to a rapturous reception. It’s perhaps worth noting that Alan is nearly twice the age of John Coltrane when he played these numbers.

Alan also features on one of the tracks Mr Skid. on the new album from the Leo Richardson quartet and will be guesting with the band at the Pizza Express Jazz Club on 12th December.