Combining a career as performer and educator, Simon Purcell was recently appointed International Chair in Improvisation at the Guildhall School of Music in London. Formerly Head of Jazz at Trinity-Laban Conservatoire of Music and Dance from 2005-2017 and member of the Pop and Jazz Steering Group for  the Association of European Conservatoires from 2009-2018.

Since the mid 1980s, Simon has performed both as leader and sideman, appearing with amongst others – Red Rodney, Kenny Wheeler, Eddie Henderson, Stan Sulzman, Jean Toussaint and Julian Arguelles. His current band “Red Circle” features Julian Siegel, Chris Batchelor, Steve Watts and Gene Calderazzo. From a musical family. His parents were classical musicians, his father having performed with a number of London Orchestras, while his grandfather, clarinettist Paddy Purcell, was a listed in “Who’s Who” as a member of Henry Wood’s Orchestra during the 1920s.

In his teens, Simon fumbled through boogie-woogie and various attempts at jazz as relief from hours of long notes on the French-horn, and by the time he left Trinity College of Music in 1980, he was dividing his time between classical music and jazz (only having received instruction in the former).

Simon Purcell at Cleveland Watkiss’s 50th Birthday at QEH (photo Damian Duncan)

While at college of Music, Simon formed a band with saxophonist Martin Speake, mainly playing bebop, and later jazz-fusion in the group This Side Up. However, the first project to attract attention in London, and later on BBC radio, was Jazz Train, a hard-bop sextet featuring vocalist Cleveland Watkiss (and later, Anita Wardell) alongside many and various emerging musicians of the day including Mike Mower, Mark Lockheart, Steve Sidwell, Dale Barlow, Iain Ballamy, Julian Arguelles, Leigh Etherington, Mike Williams, Mick Hutton, Arnie Somogyi, Mark Taylor and Gene Calderazzo.

During this period, Simon also developed a European approach through a collaboration with saxophonist Julian Arguelles, again broadcasting for the BBC and touring the UK.

During the late 1980s and throughout the 1990s, Simon hosted many jam sessions at the London’s Bass Clef Club, supported many American artists such as Bill Frissell, Turk Mauro, Mark Helias, Kenny Barron and Dave Liebman, as well as establishing himself and performing with Red Rodney, Eddie Henderson, Kenny Wheeler etc. He even performed with Peter Ind on three different closing nights, several months apart!

In 1991 Simon appeared on Cleveland Watkiss’s Polydor release Green Chimneys, followed two years later by “Women Have Standards” with Anita Wardell in 1993. However, the busy life as a teacher has meant that most of Simon’s musical projects have never been recorded, notably a quartet with saxophonist Mike Williams, Dave Wickins and Ricardo Dos Santos (1995 – 2000), a trio with Phil Allen and Steve Watts (1987 – 1995), a project with vocalist, Christine Tobin (1991-1995) and his Octet that toured Scotland in 1998. There was never enough time, although Simon is now determined to promote his most recent project with Julian Siegel, Chris Batchelor, Gene Calderazzo and Steve Watts and occasional collaboration with vocalist Liane Carroll.

Obsessively busy, Simon founded Jazz Umbrella in 1993, a London-based jazz collective, promoting gigs at the Vortex Jazz Club and establishing a network of gigs in local communities throughout the city.

Despite his experience as a performer, Simon is best known as an educator. During his teacher-training he was fortunate to be tutored by Janet Ritterman (until recently the principal of the Royal College of Music) at that time, Head of the Music Education Department at Goldsmiths College. A succession of Tuesday afternoon workshops required him to teach songs nonverbally, i.e. without any verbal explanation or notation. This introduction to hemispherical function of the brain, educational psychology and the realisation that lesson planning and evaluation was not only necessary in order to achieve trouble-free lessons but also was a form of creative problem-solving, convinced him of a joint vocation as musician and teacher. Fascinated by how music students learn (and jazz musicians in particular), Simon has continued to draw on his early experiences as a school teacher, over the years accumulating a mass of materials and informal research as a result of reflection, systematic recording, planning and evaluation of lessons, consequently forming a number of templates for diagnosis and interpretation of educational phenomena. Simon’s educational research was published in 2001 (Staff Development through Creative Co-Mentoring Partnerships), 2003 (Musical Patchwork: Teacher Research Within a Conservatoire), and 2005 (Teacher Research Within a Conservatoire – a condensed version of the former, published by Ashgate). His current research interest is “The 4 Ps”, an approach to developing the play state within improvisation through balancing musical product, process and the inner person. More to follow on this site in due course.

Jazz Educator of the Year 2006
Jazz Educator of the Year 2006

Simon has taught and mentored several generations of Britain’s finest jazz musicians. Between 1987 and 2005, he was professor of jazz piano and improvisation at the Guildhall School of Music & Drama and was appointed Head of Jazz at Trinity College of Music in September 2005, meanwhile, co-directing the Glamorgan Jazz Summer School (formerly the Barry Summer School). In between times he has acted as a consultant to Birmingham Conservatoire, been educational director of the National Jazz Youth jazz Orchestra of Scotland and in 2006, received the award for Jazz Educationalist of the Year from the Parliamentary Jazz Committee.

Simon Purcell joined the Executive of the National Youth Jazz Orchestra in September 2009, mainly to advise on behalf of the Music Higher Education Sector and to establish the NYJO Musical Policy Committee. In addition, he is a trustee of the Countess of Munster Trust, supporting young musicians in Higher Education.

Simon lives with his wife Karen in East London, without pets but with a frustrating loyalty to West Ham United and English Rugby. He is also a setter for the Newham Jazzers Volleyball Club, who have never failed to reach a final when he plays for them!


21 thoughts on “Biog…

  1. Hi Simon,
    Do you still teach at the jazz summer school in France run by Clive Fenner?
    Teena Lyle and I have been permanently resident in France for 10 years now and will be moving to a house near Montpellier in February.
    I have contacted Clive but have not had a reply?
    Teena was a student at Trinity.
    Ric Morcombe Guitar

  2. Hi Simon,

    Do you have my Evans 2 volumes in your library?
    If not let me know and I’ll ask Hal Leonard to send “desk” copies. OK?



    Steve Pringle took some lessons with me in 2003 in Cardiff when I crossed the pond for my first tour of the UK.
    He did well since then. Big talent. He must have worked very hard at Trinity.

  3. Hello Simon,
    I would like to contact you via email in regards to a jazz documentary which I am working on. I could not find your email in your blog, could you give it to me?
    Thank you,
    Valeria Rios

      1. Hi Simon –
        I am compiling a book of my jazz performance portraits and would like to include one of yourself which I took at Dave Wickins benefit at the Vortex.
        Could you let me have your email so I can send a copy and find out whether you’d be OK with this?
        Some of my other work can be seen on my website below.
        (BTW I’m Jon Harvey’s dad …)

  4. Hi.
    My name is Xabier Mera. I’m spanish and I came to London to apply for some postgraduate around music composition, and his relations with screen, dance, theater, film scoring, etc. I have seen in the Laban web page two programmes, the Independent Studdy Programme, and the Postgraduate DIploma, and I think there are very interesting for me. After Talk with Natalie Hartman, of the Laban, she said to me to feel frre to contact you.
    I would like to have an appointmen with you to talk about your departament, about my profile and discuss about both programmes and wich one are best suitable for me. I wonder if you don’t mind send me your work email and I will send you my CV. I’d like to have the possibility of get this interview. Now I am based in London from the last february so it would be easy for me go to Trinity LAban any working day.
    Kind regards,
    Xabier Mera

  5. Hi Simon
    I’m Nico from Italy. We met at Glamorgan summer school in 1990. I met also a great friend bass Ken Baldock that, I knew some mounths ago, passed away. Now I’m a professional pianist and composer and teacher of Conservatorio here in South Italy. Your career is great and your site, also.
    I want to thank you for our few lessons twenty five years ago. I have a website and I’ll be very happy if you would like to visit it (
    Best wishes
    ciao Nico

    1. Hi Nico,
      Lovely to hear from you and your very kind words.
      I was very sad when Ken died although I had not seen him for some time before he passed away.
      I have visited your website which is great…
      I’ll be in Trieste for the Association of European Conservatoire’s annual Pop and Jazz conference. Why don’t you join us? there will be approximately 120 delegates from all over Europe. The conference is 14th – 15th February at the Conservatoire in Trieste. See, or email me at or

      Great that you made contact,
      Best wishes,

  6. Hi Simon,

    Just read your last blog entry about education. Indeed. Thanks for your work.
    Hope you and Karen (and Amie and Karen’s son, whose name I’ve fogotten – sorry, I’m thinking Frank) are all OK. I’m still playing – in a 7 piece with John C Williams mostly – but now mostly discovering the wonderful world of Bluegrass Dobro and doing some promoting, oh, and still teaching! Think you get my email address with this…
    Julian Dean

  7. Hi Simon don’t know if you remember me. My name is hasina Islam and you used to be my trumpet teacher and the very best of teachers you were because of you I have loved jazz and more so over the years you have been my inspiration just wanted to say favourite jazz musicians are miles Davis and woody Shaw .so lovely to see you are doing so well I’m so happy and proud to see you doing so well
    I was wondering if youre still in contact with Richard Westcott?
    anyway take care of yourself simon

    1. Hi Hasina, I do remember you very clearly. You made a lovely fish curry for me once! My time at Mulberry School was life-changing for me and one of the main reasons that I love teaching so much. I am in touch wth Richard via Facebook. Where are you, in London? It wood be a pleasure to welcome you to Trinity as a guest at any time. Very best wishes to you, Simon

      1. Hi Simon,
        I did receive your reply I’m sorry I couldn’t get back to you earlier. It was lovely to hear from you! It’s quite difficult to communicate through this, I was wondering if you have a contact number I can reach you on? Please let me know. You can contact me through my daughter’s email address as I don’t have one:
        Hope you’re okay. Hasina

  8. Dear Mr. Purcell,

    While going through my files recently I found a lovely letter you wrote to Maxine. You mentioned that you had some Bill Evans transcriptions. In it you mentioned that you wanted to publish them. If you are still interested please contact Thank you so much,
    Nenette Z Evans (please remove this email after reading-I wanted to send a private message)

  9. Hi Simon, Can’t gather your age from this site but would you have had anything to do with the Six Boroughs Festivals and the East London Arts Magazine at the end half of the sixties or were you still in nappies? Good grief! Was it your dad?

    Bill Cooke (retd)

  10. Hello Simon – would you have any old recordings of Jazz train, with Dale Barlow that I could hear please? Thankyou

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