Last night of “Not the Olympics” at Oliver’s featuring Geoff Simkins

Geoff Simkins

Don’t let appearances deceive you. This one time drummer may have made early appearances with Harry Strutters Hot Rhythm Orchestra and the Temperance Seven and his principal stylistic influences have been the American alto player Lee Konitz and tenor player Warne Marsh. However, according to the great British free improvisor Alex Maguire, Geoff Simkins is the “most free improvisor” that he has heard (and Alex played with Tony Oxley!).

Geoff has played in all parts of the UK, in Europe and beyond, often with American musicians such as  Art FarmerBobby Shew, Al Cohn, Tal FarlowSlide Hampton, Warren Vache, Al GreyKenny Davern, Bill Berry, Al CaseyHoward AldenRuby Braff, Bill Coleman and Conte Candoli. He has recorded with UK tenor player Danny Moss and with US trumpeters Billy Butterfield and Yank Lawson. Since the 1980s he has worked regularly with UK guitarist Dave Cliff and his current quartet features Nikki Iles, Martin France and Simon Wolf.

Geoff is also a highly respected teacher at various conservatoires and summer schools but apart from the delight of hearing his insights into all forms of improvisation, it is his attention to the in the moment narrative of line that make musicians of all genres pay attention. Having played with and listened to Geoff for nearly 30 years I can say that his apporach transcends genre and challenges all co-improviors to raise their game and critically, their aesthetic.

I think that Geoff’s understated but powerful wit would have it that in fact he would prefer that appearances might indeed deceive and for once the integrity of the improvising be the principal point of connection for artist and listener. So no glitter or latex tonight, instead, regardless of genre and the the listeners’ projections, tonight’s music will be very much improvised!

There might also be a special guest appearance by Dave Cliff!

Oliver’s is here… click here for directions

Enjoy.

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Finally a big thank you to all who have braved public transport and public shame by bucking the trend and electing to opt for jazz in place of medals during the Olymics. Well done!

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Gordon Beck 16th September 1935 – 6th November 2011
It is desperately sad that so many musicians have passed away in recent times (Tony Levin, Jeff Clyne, Michael Garrick). Pioneers of the post-bop period in British jazz, a time when British musicians forged their own path, forming a sound that is disecernably  “local”, Gordon Beck was a formidable artist and pianist of international stature, appearing on numerous broadcasts and achieving a reputation beyond the UK. Despite his formidable playing and work with Phil Woods, Clark Terry, Dave Holland, John McLaughlin, Gary Burton, Lena Horne, Tubby Hayes, Kenny Wheeler, Alan Holdsworth and many others, typically, he was pretty much ignored amongst many jazz aficionados in the UK and worrying so, amongst younger musicians and sorry to say, students of the music. Click here for a more complete biography.

Gordon, I imagine along with Michael Garrick, John Taylor, Mick Pyne, Pete Leemer and Pat Smythe, was clearly influenced by Bill Evans, indeed he told me himself that they would go to Ronnie’s and try to sit behind the piano to watch Bill’s left hand, because “that was where the action was”. But while Bill Evans was an anglophile and the romanticism, melancholy and timbre of his music seems to resonate with much British jazz from the 1970s and 80s, those musicians drew on it to form a new sound that made a massive impact on own generation – ask Nikki Iles. Whatever British jazz musicians might think or say about American jazz (and I love it), they certainly cherish their “lineage”. We would do well to learn from that.

Gordon was a massive inspiration to me at the time (along with John Taylor, Stan Sulzman, Kenny Baldock and Tony Oxley) instrumental in making me want to become a jazz musician after hearing him along with Tony Oxley, Alan Skidmore and Ron Matthewson on the first night of the Barry Summer School in 1978. I was blown away and can still remember how they played.

I also recall a lesson with him on that first day of the summer school. Tony Oxley and Gordon (the directors of the Barry Summer School) maintained that they were anarchists and began the first day of the course by instructing all eighty of us that they were vehemently opposed to any kind of jazz education at all and that “we don’t want any of you asking us how to play like Bill Evans or McCoy Tyner”. Yet half an hour later Gordon was demonstrating every conceivable approach to jazz piano, playing “Pennies From Heaven” in the styles of Fats Waller, Teddy Wilson, Errol Garner, Oscar Peterson, Bud Powell, Bill Evans, McCoy Tyner, Chick Corea, Keith Jarrett and Cecil Taylor. It was extraordinary and attracted an audience of students and tutors. Gordon was actually also a good teacher, well informed, clear, methodical, generous and funny.

For years I have been shocked and frustrated that 99% of my students are/were completely unaware of Gordon’s music. What a terrible shame. I wish that more folk knew of his incredible playing.

Check out Gordon’s legacy – my favourites are “Seven Steps to Evans“, “Experiments With Pops” and “Gyroscope“.

I regret that I didn’t hear him more often or keep in touch. I feel immense sadness and gratitude.

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Postscript: Interestingly, Martin Speake is currently recording interviews with a number of musicians from this special generation. This will form an invaluable oral history of a defining period in British Jazz. I look forward to hearing them…