Interview with Pete Hurt
MS: OK. Right, this is Martin Speake, interviewing Pete Hurt at the Orange Tree Pub in Richmond on what is it…21st of July 2010. Hi Pete, thanks for doing this, can we start at the beginning and, maybe if you could just give me a bit about your background: where you were born and the kind of environment and any musical environment when you were a child.
PH: Yeah. Well, I was born in Nottingham in 1950. I had piano lessons when I was about eight…something like that, but they didn’t last, and then I went to grammar school when I was eleven and took up the clarinet as it was about the time of the ‘Trad.’ Boom. The 60’s. you know, Acker Bilk and all those bands were around, and then gradually I became interested in modern Jazz ‘cause my brother had some…some records, he was very keen on Humphrey Lyttleton and Duke Ellington and various others. Especially, he had a record of a Gerry Mulligan concert band, which I thought was ..
MS: Ah Ok.
PH: …fantastic, which included George Russell’s ‘All About Rosie.’
MS: What the arrangement?
PH: Um, not the original, he, George, rearranged it for the Mulligan concert band..
MS: Ah Right.
PH: … to feature Mulligan.
MS: Oh Great. I’ve never heard that, fantastic
PH: Oh Yeah, It’s fantastic. Yeah.
MS: And that really grabbed you at the time did it? You remember that well?
PH: Yeah, hmm. Well I’ve still got, in fact I stole that record (MS laughs) off my brother (Both laugh.) I’ve got it, although I haven’t played it for a long time but it’s a great record that. There’s a couple of Mulligan pieces on it and a couple of Brookmeyer pieces and also a couple of pieces by Gary McFarland.
MS: Oh Yeah?
PH: Who I think is a very underrated writer.
MS: Very Interesting
PH: And there’s a rearrangement of ‘Israel’ by Johnny Carisi on it.
MS: So at the time were you attracted to, ‘cause that’s quite a large band, you were attracted to the sound of the bigger bands at that time and the idea of writing, did that come to your mind already?
PH: Well, perhaps subconsciously I was, I mean I didn’t suddenly think , ooo, you know, big bands, that sounds great I’ve got to be a writer. But the school I went to, the music master was really good actually, and they had a…I had clarinet lessons for free, I didn’t have to pay for them.
PH: This was in the old days.
MS: That’s right, Yeah. Bit different from now
PH: Yeah, and I was encouraged quite a lot, in act, I seem to remember directing a group of younger pupils at school speech day once and I wrote an arrangement of ‘St. Louis Blues’, or something like that.
MS: What kind of age are you talking about now?
PH: Well I was I think then I was in Sixth Form , so I was 16 or something like that.
MS: Was that your first arrangement or had you been writing things before that?
PH: I seem to remember going round to a friend’s house who played guitar and trying to write out stuff for clarinet and guitar. I didn’t have any idea of what I was doing but I sort of tried it anyway.
PH: and well that’s what I’ve done really since …just trial and error.
MS: But have you never had any kind of conventional arranging or composition lessons with anybody?
PH: No, never.
MS: So when you were at school, you were talking about the lessons, the clarinet lessons you were having, were they classical clarinet lessons or/PH: Yeah, hmm./ MS: Nothing to do with improvising jazz/PH: none of that/ MS:OK so you played classical repertoire. You enjoy that?
PH: Erm, yes. Although I did actu… I seem to remember, as I said becoming interested in clarinet because of the ‘Trad.’ boom. Then that sort of waned and my interest in clarinet waned a bit as well, but it was only when I sort of started listening to more modern jazz I think, I suddenly became more interested. My interest grew again.
MS: That sounds really interesting, ‘cause you were talking about you, being about what twelve or something or younger and you’re into ‘Trad,’ is that what you’re saying? Which would be different now, I can’t imagine any twelve year-olds…
PH: No, well I think my interest waned in there and I, then the Beatles came along and I was more into the Beatles and I remember watching the Beach Boys on ‘Ready Steady Go’ /MS: Oh yeah?/ and thinking that was fantastic. Well they are actually, those Beach Boys tracks.
MS: What, ‘Pet Sounds’, you know that album?
PH: Um, I’m sure I’ve heard…I don’t know the album but I mean, all those tracks they did in the 60’s/ MS: Incredible compositions… / were classics.
MS: Was the, I was think…was ‘Trad’ just because you were talking just before the Beatles, was that almost a popular music then do you feel?
PH: Oh Yes /MS: So a lot of people would listen to it?/ PH: They had top-ten hits, I mean the Kenny Ball had one hit called ‘Midnight in Moscow.’
MS: Oh right, Yeah. So they were on TV / PH: Yeah, Yeah, hmm/ MS: did you have a TV and you saw them on TV? Oh right, OK.
PH: Oh they were big stars, and you know Acker Bilk and Chris Barber, Kenny Ball. Anyway, as I said, then as I became more interested in Pop music then I started listening to my brother’s records and then started buying my own. I remember the first record I bought, the first L.P. was called ‘Miles and Monk’ at Newport.
MS: Oh is that the one where they were half a side each?
PH: And the…I was a bit bewildered by it actually when I got it home and played the first track, um, you can’t hear the piano all that well on the Miles tracks.
MS: Was that…
PH: That was Bill Evans
MS: Bill Evans.
PH: Well, on the fast tracks. The first track was ‘Ah Leu Cha,’ and, um…/ MS: Oh it’s the sextet isn’t it?/ PH: Yeah it was Cannonball and Coltrane/ MS: Oh they’ve released it since haven’t they I think, on one CD, Yeah. / PH: With an extra track/
MS: Yeah, I know.
PH: Erm, anyway you can’t really.. you can just about hear the piano, but it sounds, you know, fairly ‘out’, some of it. And I thought “blimey”, it’s a bit strange.
MS: When you say ‘out’ do you mean his lines or there’s just…/ PH: Well yes…I mean…/ MS: just some dissonance involved? / PH: I remember Cannonball was playing some quite, um, chromatic stuff, well and Coltrane as well. Um, it seemed…I mean if you were to have the piano, if you could actually hear what Bill Evans was doing it would probably sound, you know, a bit more conventional, but because you couldn’t hear the piano, I thought it sounded a bit, uh, well adventurous I suppose.
MS: Yeah. And at first you thought that was odd? What were your feelings about that at the time?
PH: Well, it was a bit sort of, “ooo God what’s all this?” Although the second track was more…that was ‘Straight no Chaser,’ so I could get to grips with that. I mean, it took me a time to sort of…I did like it but I thought “oh God this is going to be difficult” but you know, I kept listening to it. That was a fantastic track.
MS: Yeah. Were you playing saxophone at this time then?
PH: Uh, yes I think I got an alto when I was about fifteen, something like that.
MS: So you were playing the two, clarinet and alto?
PH: Yes. Well I never had any lessons on the alto.
MS: Have you ever had any jazz lessons at all?
MS: So you’d say you were self-taught from that point of view?
PH: Yeah. I wish I had actually ‘cause um, I was, you know, it took me a long time to get my shit together (Both laugh,) as it were. If you ever do!
MS: What do you mean by that? How would you describe what you mean?
PH: Well just from a technical point of view. I don’t think the alto I had, it was a very cheap one. It was probably a load of rubbish; I can’t remember what it was now. And, um, if I’d had somebody, a teacher, would have perhaps got me a better instrument and also sort of pointed me in the right direction of a good mouthpiece.
MS: O.K. so you’re talking more like technical aspects, rather than jazz?
PH: Yes, well both actually. I mean, it would’ve been good to have some sort of Jazz tuition as well.
MS: So how did you go…can you remember at the time, you were attracted to this music, how did you go about working out how to play it? Jazz.
PH: Just by ear. I just um, I just played along to my brother’s records basically, and learned by trial and error and just listened to them.
MS: Oh, OK. Did you learn solos then, or just play along?
PH: I think I learned bits of solos, I can’t…it wasn’t a very…I didn’t learn in a very ordered way. You know, it’s been my one big failing in life. (Both laugh)/MS: Not necessarily! /PH: Well not being sort of…/MS: Makes you quite unique though./PH: well (both laugh)…ordered and methodical about things/ MS: Yeah/ PH: I’ve never been like that in my playing and writing, I mean my writing happens to be abysmal.
MS: What do you mean by that?
PH: Well, you know, sort of some people, they start to write a piece and start it then gradually work at it and then finish it, whereas I sort of start, I’m very good at starting things but terrible at finishing them.
MS: So do you have a lot of pieces on the go at the same time?
PH: Oh yeah.
PH: But there again, there is a good aspect to that: if you ever think ‘oh god I can’t think of anything, the inspiration’s dried up,’ you can always go back to the half-finished things.
MS: So there’s always something there?
PH: Oh yes. Oh I’ve got, well on computer these days I’ve got files and files of ideas.
MS: Oh right, well I hope you backed them up.
PH: Oh yes! (Both Laugh)
MS: I wouldn’t want to see all that stuff disappearing.
OK, so it sounds like from the beginning that you were interested in playing and arranging and writing, rather than just for a small group necessarily, which of course most jazz musicians do write for. You’ve become known as a great improviser but also a great writer for large ensembles. Did you do that from early on?
PH: I honestly can’t remember now.
MS: Can you remember when you wrote your first big band chart for instance, or just a large ensemble chart?
PH: Early. Yes I think it was when I came down to London. I don’t think I wrote anything in my student days. I mean, I wrote some classical pieces when I was at college.
MS: OK maybe we should just talk about that because maybe I’m leaping ahead a bit because you talked about being in sixth form and you had a good teacher at school. You did a little bit of arranging and then you got into modern jazz and then so you decided to continue with music as a choice when you left school so you went to the Royal Northern College did you?
PH: Well it was before the Royal Northern was built. I went to the Northern School of Music in Manchester. There were two colleges then.
MS: Oh OK.
PH: That was 1968 and the Royal Northern wasn’t built until ’74.
MS: Did you think about going anywhere else, or was that your first choice? How did you end up there?
PH: I did go for an audition to the Royal Manchester College but I didn’t get in there, so I thought I’d go to the Northern School as they’d accepted me then.
MS: And this was a classical music course?
PH: Yeah. Oh yes, there weren’t any jazz courses then. I think the only…I think Leeds College Light Music Course/MS: Yeah I remember/ was perhaps about starting then. I think in retrospect I should have probably gone to Leeds instead but anyway, I didn’t.
MS: So did you do…so you were doing clarinet as a first study.
PH: Yes, and piano as a second study.
MS: Oh OK, so were you a regular member of the orchestra there? Did orchestral playing?
PH: Yes, I was in the orchestra in the second year I think. In fact, I remember playing in the First Orchestra once, and I was playing second clarinet and the first clarinet didn’t up. He was late and we started with Sibelius 1 which starts with a solo clarinet, (Both Laugh) which I sight-read probably abysmally (both laugh). There’s nothing like being thrown in at the deep end (both laugh).
MS: But it must have been quite an experience playing that orchestral music, I mean a lot of jazz musicians, particularly saxophone players as first study, don’t get that opportunity.
MS: So throughout…what was that a three-year course?
MS: You were playing orchestral music regularly?
MS: How was the jazz playing then? How were you getting jazz together?
PH: Well, when I got to Manchester I went to jazz gigs, pubs and just got to know the local musicians and started to play a regular gig in a pub in Stockport and there was other things besides that.
MS: Were you playing alto then, or tenor?
MS: Oh OK, and can you remember those musicians who you met then?
PH: Yes, in fact there’s one who lives in Manchester called Mike Farmer who’s a tenor player. I sometimes bump into him sort of at festivals every so often. Every five years or something (both laugh). I remember the drummer, Mo Green I think his name was. He was a lorry driver, I haven’t seen him for years. There was a pianist, a blind pianist as well but I can’t remember his name.
MS: And what kind of music were you playing with these guys? Was it standards or was it original or free?
PH: Standards I think. I don’t know I can’t really remember. I think we did…I seem to remember doing sort of a few Horace Silver numbers and stuff like that.
MS: Were you playing alto because you’d heard people? I mean, you mentioned hearing Cannonball on that recording. Was that the reason why you were playing alto or was it because it was cheaper or what?
PH: I think I probably got an alto because it was cheaper. In fact, I bought another alto, which was probably slightly better and there’s a shop just round the corner from college called Johnny Roadhouse. In fact, it’s still there.
MS: Oh OK.
PH: Johnny Roadhouse was um…he played lead alto with the Northern Dance Orchestra. I think he died actually, but the shop is still there. In fact, I think it was more of a junk shop when I bought my alto there. It was a cheap Czechoslovakian model I think. That’s another thing: I mean if I’d had some proper tuition and guidance I should have got a more professional saxophone like a Selmer or something. Anyway, it was all right, you know, did the job (both laugh).
MS: Well you managed to do gigs on it.
PH: Yeah, yeah.
MS: And so, you met Pete Saberton there didn’t you? He was a student at the same college?
PH: Same year, same college. In fact, he was in my digs in the first year.
MS: What, just by chance?
PH: Yeah, he came in the third term.
MS: Oh, OK, and was he doing piano or was he doing clarinet? He was doing piano first study?
PH: Yeah, and I think clarinet second.
MS: So did you start playing together then?
PH: Yes, in fact, he came round to mine in the second year, came round to my digs and suggested we play some duets and I was terribly snotty about it, and sort of disdainful ‘cause he hadn’t really got it together then, he was all over the place. (Laughs)
MS: Oh, you’d heard him before he came round?
PH: I can’t remember actually. I think he came up to me in college and started you know, saying “oh fancy coming round and having a blow?” Anyway, after a few numbers I suggested, “well perhaps we ought to go over to the pub (both laugh).” And then a few weeks later he came up to me in college saying, “oh I’ve joined this band I’m playing on a Friday night in a pub in Manchester, come along.” So I went along thinking it was going to be awful, but I was amazed actually ‘cause he seemed to have got incredible amounts of playing and you know…together in such a short space of time, and I said “blimey he’s not bad this guy”.
MS: And you’ve collaborated with him ever since on and off haven’t you?
PH: Oh yeah.
MS: Ok, so what happened after college? Did you come to London straight away or…where did you go?
PH: Well actually before I went to college I started going to the South Glamorgan summer school.
MS: Oh, Barry?
PH: Yeah, Barry.
MS: So before college?
PH: Yeah, so I went between school and college, which must have been the summer of ’68.
MS: Oh, OK.
PH: I went for about four years on the trot I think, and met a whole load of people down there.
MS: So you just heard about that course did you? Or was it recommended by anybody.
PH: I can’t remember now.
MS: Who was teaching on it at that time?
PH: Pat Evans, he was director of the course and there was Ian Carr, Don Rendell, John Burch…God, I can’t remember! I remember Keith Tippett actually being on the course. He was a student, along with Mark Charig. Do you remember him?
MS: Yeah I do remember him.
PH: Elton Dean…(to himself) ‘was Elton doing it? Or perhaps Elton Dean was.’
MS: He could have been a student.
PH: There was a trombone player who joined that Keith Tippett band…
MS: Oh, Nick Evans.
PH: Nick Evans, he was on the course.
MS: Well, so that sounds like the beginning of a certain group of musicians…
PH: Yeah, I think they met…yeah.
MS: …who collaborated later didn’t they?
PH: I mean, there was a whole load of people who came and Tony Oxley was there in later years.
MS: Well I actually did that course probably ten years after you did, two years in a row maybe ’79 or something like that. They split it so that had a free-improvised side: it was Tony Oxley, maybe Phil Waschmann, those kind of people. Nigel Morris was there, the drummer, and then was the jazz side and some of those people you mentioned are still teaching there: John Burch was there. Alan Skidmore was teaching by this time, Chris Laurence, all kinds of people. But when I say they were teaching, it’s not like people teach now. For me, I would be interested to hear your experience of it. It was…I was just in awe of all these people and I was just soaking up the atmosphere, but if I think back on it now, they didn’t impart any knowledge or anything about how to practise, how to learn improvising it was just pick your horn up and blow, you know. But actually seeing all these heroes of mine was what moved me really. Was it similar for you?
PH: Well it was the same thing for me, I can’t remember learning very much actually (both laugh). It was just a question of going and playing with people.
MS: And people were playing original music there were they then? The tutors bought their own music? Or students?
PH: Yes I think so. Yeah. I honestly can’t remember all that much about it. I just remember getting terribly drunk!
MS: Yeah it would have been just a drunken stupor for a week! Was it a week or two weeks you went for? We went for two sometimes actually.
PH: I think, yeah it might have been two actually.
MS: In the history of British jazz it’s an incredibly significant course. I didn’t know those people you know. Pat Evans I didn’t know at all. By the time I was doing it, it was called Barry Summer School but I can’t actually remember who was the head of it then.
PH: Well Tony Oxley took it over eventually didn’t he?
MS: Did Tony Oxley take the whole thing over? Maybe he was responsible for the whole thing, yeah so that was ten years later. But if we think about all the players that have either come out of it as students. I mean, I met Clark Tracy there and in fact, I met Nick Weldon there. Each generation meets a new set of people and they tend to stick together quite a while. Did Pete Saberton go with you on that or not? Can you remember?
MS: I mean, I’ll ask him about it if I interview him but I was just interested.
PH: No Pete …When I finished college I moved down to London, but Pete stayed in Manchester for about a year I think.
MS: Oh Ok. So you came straight after, so that would have been ’71 or something?
PH: Yeah. In actual fact I was quite lucky ‘cause I met Graham Collier who was teaching on the Summer School at Barry and he asked me to join his band just shortly after I came down to London so I fell into a reasonable gig.
MS: And he had some gigs? He has some work did he?
PH: Hmm [Yes]. I remember the first few gigs I was playing with his previous band that was sextet with Harry Beckett. It should have been Alan Wakeman and Bob Sydor on saxophones but one of them, I think Bob Sydor, couldn’t do some of the gigs so I did them instead with Geoff Castle, Graham and John Webb. Then he formed a new band with me, Dick Pearce, Ed Speight and the same rhythm section.
MS: Oh OK, and this was all original music wasn’t it?
MS: And you were playing alto still?
PH: Hm (in concurrence).
MS: When did the transition to tenor…
PH: Erm, ’74. I was offered a summer season at Butlins in Minehead (both laugh).
MS: You can’t refuse those kind of gigs.
PH: No, no. I was desperate for work so I only did half the summer season. I did the first six weeks and the last four weeks, something like that.
MS: That’s still a long stint though.
PH: Yeah. Oh God, it was fortunate that I was in digs in the town, I wasn’t staying in the camp. Chris Biscoe was doing that.
MS: You were doing it together?
MS: So was it quite a big band then?
PH: It was something like an eight or nine piece band or something like that.
MS: That would have been a reading gig, it was all charts?
PH: Yeah, playing in the ballroom and the theatre.
MS: So you played tenor for that one?
PH: Well yes. Chris Biscoe had an old Radio Improved tenor so I borrowed that.
MS: And he was playing alto?
MS: So was that when you met him?
PH: I can’t remember when I met Chris. I may have met him a year or two before then. I don’t know. I’ll have to ask Chris about where I met him, I can’t remember. But, I know he was in NYJO for a bit.
MS: So the National Youth Jazz Orchestra was happening then wasn’t it? It started in the ‘60’s.
PH: Oh Yeah.
MS: So did you do that?
PH: No I didn’t.
MS: Was that a choice or were you…?
PH: No, I was never asked. Anyway, so after the summer season I quite liked tenor I thought, “hmm, nice.” I still play the alto occasionally. In fact, I’ve got a gig with Scott Stroman in about four weeks doing one of these choir things and he wants me to play alto on that. I always find with alto that you have a sort of idea of a range of the sounds that you want to make and it [my idea of sound] just fits the tenor better than the alto. The alto seems too high for me, although I play high notes on the tenor, I probably go into the top of the alto range. But all the extra notes you know, down the bottom, they just (aside) I’m trying to remember what you call it, tessitura is it not?
MS: I don’t know what that word means (laughs)
PH: Well it’s sort of like the range of the notes. Everything fits better on the tenor.
MS: Right, you’re hearing things down the bottom, really, you need that range.
PH: Yeah. So, when I got back from the first stint at Butlins I bought a Mark VI tenor for £180.
MS: I was going to say how much were they in those days?
PH: Which I thought was quite a lot of money back then but I don’t know how much the equivalent would be today. Anyway, it’s a fairly good one, I’ve still got it.
MS: You’ve still got it?
PH: Oh yeah.
MS: Is that the one you play?
PH: Well I played it for a long time. It’s a nice Mark VI, it’s an 85000 which is you know, the best if you go…all those people go by serial numbers. That’s supposed to be the best range.
MS: What, for the altos and tenors?
PH: Yeah. Although I haven’t played it regularly for more than 20 years now actually.
MS: That particular horn?
PH: I mean, it comes out occasionally if I drop the other one, which I have done! (MS laughs)
MS: You’ve got a couple?
MS: You’ve got a silver one haven’t you.
PH: Yeah, so I’ve got the silver one, so the other Super Action which I’ve played…I bought that in the mid ‘80’s. That was in exchange up North for about three hundred quid.
MS: So you’ve got two Super 80’s (Actions) and one Mark VI. Is that right? So three tenors.
MS: OK. So where are we up to? You played with Graham Collier.
PH: Oh yes, I remember what I was going to say: I left college, I did…I was writing some modern classical stuff. I wrote some small rather chromatic piano music, sort of in the style of either later Stravinsky or a bit like Webern only not so brutal. And erm…
MS: Not serial though?
PH: No, and also I wrote a piece…it’s supposed to be an orchestral piece, ‘cause the college had a competition, a composition competition. I thought I’d go in for it but most of the pieces people wrote for it were sort of done in a very conventional late romantic style. And I realised this thing I wrote was a bit like Messiaen, bit of Stravinsky a sort of amalgam of influences. But it was fairly complicated, and I realised that for one thing, I’d never get the college orchestra to play it from a practical point of view ‘cause there wasn’t any time ‘cause they were busy rehearsing Beethoven Symphonies and stuff. So I re-wrote it for two pianos but even that turned out to be impossible to get together. I remember getting Pete Saberton and another pianist in a room. There was only one room with two pianos in it in the whole college and I managed to get it for ten minutes (MS laughs) and we never got beyond the first ten bars.
MS: So it’s never been played?
MS: Have you still got it? You got the score?
PH: Yeah, hmm. Oh yeah. In fact I did make an attempt to orchestrate it for full orchestra. I think I got about half way through. But what with the wonders of modern technology I’ve heard it played back on the computer.
MS: Oh you’ve put it all in now. How’s it sounding?
PH: Yes, I mean it was…I like some bits of it obviously. I think some of it’s OK and some of it is like “oh my God that sounds a bit weird.” So one of these days I’ll get round to re-writing it and finishing the orchestration.
MS: Yeah that would be a great idea.
PH: But it’s one of these pieces you know that (mumbles) …time signature changes virtually every other bar: 3/16, 7/8 and so on, so it’s fairly complicated. When I had to go to the principal at college and say “I’ve had to pull out of this competition ‘cause it’s impossible to get these pieces rehearsed. I’m never gonna get it played.” The atmosphere at the college was so sort of reactionary and high-brow there she couldn’t even understand that it was so complicated ‘cos she was stuck in the…you know, the principal Ida Carroll she was stuck back in the 19th Century. I don’t think she knew much about 20th Century music and how complicated it could be.
MS: So it was quite a backward thinking place you feel, musically?
PH: Oh yes it was. The only thing was I had a very good clarinet teacher.
MS: Who was that?
PH: I can’t remember…he was Steven somebody. He was principal of one of the big orchestras before the war. Before the Second World War.
MS: And you have good memories of him?
PH: Yes. He was a fairly eccentric character but he was a good teacher. He went into detail about breathing and posture and everything like that, which stood me in good stead.
MS: I suppose a lot of this could be translated to the saxophone though/PH: Oh yeah/MS:… although you mentioned that you didn’t have saxophone lessons, a lot of the same things apply don’t they.
PH: Oh yeah, and also at the end of the course he said
“So what are you going to do after you leave college?” and I said,
“I wanna play jazz” and he said,
“Oh right, like that Ronnie Scott chappy?”
At least he didn’t say something totally uncool. At least he’d heard of Ronnie Scott, which was, well, more than the rest of the people at the college. They’d have never heard of people like that. So anyway, as I said, I came down to London and joined Graham’s (Collier) band.
MS: I presume that you couldn’t make a living out of just playing with Graham’s band, or could you?
PH: Yes, well we did quite a lot of school concerts actually. We went around schools trying to play. In fact, I remember one once where we went to this primary school and after we did the school concert – Harry Beckett was doing it – the music master said to Graham, I remember hearing it, I was within earshot, he said about Harry (Beckett) being naturally gifted as a trumpet player ‘cos he had the lips for it! (Both laugh) (Aside) Oh my lord.
MS: Did Graham make a response or not?
PH: I can’t remember. We told Harry afterwards, I think he laughed about it.
MS: Right, so Graham was involved in quite a lot of educational activities with his band.
PH: In fact, I remember the band was fairly busy actually.
MS: When you say busy is that working every week?
PH: Most weeks I think yes.
MS: And how long would that be for?
PH: I was with the band for a couple of years I think. Made a record. I did a few high profile concerts. I remember doing one at the Shaw Theatre with an extended band. He wrote this piece called ‘Wheel of Dreams’ which we re-christened ‘Dreams on Wheels’ and Norma Winstone was in it, Derek Wadsworth the trombone player and a few other people I can’t remember now. We did another thing up in Scotland featuring Sandy Brown.
MS: The clarinet player?
PH: Yeah, who’s quite an adventurous sort of (indeterminable) of music. He wasn’t just the sort of ‘Trad’ player he did more modern things.
MS: What was the name of the album that you were on?
PH: Oh, God…’And Now For Something Completely Different’ I think.
MS: Was it?
MS: That’s the title of the Monty Python show. Ha! Stolen from that.
MS: And that’s probably been re-issued has it? ‘Cos I know that quite a few of Graham’s have been put on CD.
PH: Yes it has. In fact it has been put on CD ‘cos he gave me a copy a few years ago when he was the director of the jazz course at the (Royal) Academy. I think I told you. He stayed in the flat at the top of the Academy.
MS: Yeah and he had a little soiree or something. A few of you you’d been on those albums came round.
MS: What kind of music was that? I mean I know a bit about Graham ‘cos I worked with him at the Academy when he was there for a long time, and I do know his music but I wasn’t around then when you were playing it. Have you got any feelings about it? How you played in it, and the experience?
PH: I wasn’t…some of it was OK but I wasn’t bowled over by it. As a jazz composer I’m afraid that I’m of the opinion that Graham…his music sounds a bit grim some…most of the time to me. He’s never been a favourite of mine as opposed to other British Jazz composers like Mike Gibbs or Kenny Wheeler. Actually, neither of them are British are they? (Both Laugh)
MS: No. They just happen to have been here for a little while! Well Kenny has anyway.
MS: I’m just thinking…’cos I know Graham…quite a lot of his stuff is ‘freeish’ and what you’d been listening to at the time in your early twenties. You haven’t mentioned that you’d listened to any kind of ‘free’ music.
PH: I remember being into Ornette Coleman quite a lot then. Actually, I do remember playing some Ornette Coleman pieces on the summer school. On one of the later summer schools I went to.
MS: So someone would have brought them in would they? Or did you bring them in?
PH: I may have transcribed a couple of pieces off that first album he did with Don Cherry, ‘The Shape of Jazz To Come.’
MS: OK so you were transcribing in those days. You did tunes?
PH: I think I did yeah.
MS: Did you transcribe solos as well?
PH: No I’ve never really transcribed whole solos. Obviously you learnt solos listening to records. Sort of get to know them. Sort of penetrate your consciousness, but I’ve never properly sat down and transcribed a solo although I have transcribed stuff off records. Frank Sinatra arrangements, well Nelson Riddle.
MS: Oh really? The whole arrangement?
PH: Oh yes, ‘cause people have asked me to.
MS: Oh, so you’ve done that for money? So you find that OK? Not difficult to do?
PH: Well it is difficult sometimes ‘cause you hear a bit of the orchestra then the singer, Frank Sinatra or whoever it may be, comes in and if he’s up in the mix it can obliterate the whole orchestra. All the detail behind it, a lot of it you have to guess.
MS: So, I’m kind of interested in that. Did you build these ‘ears’ to hear that stuff? Did you start small, you know, transcribing smaller groups like Ornette tunes and then progress to larger ensembles or could you hear everything straight away?
PH: It hasn’t been an orderly progression by any means. As I said earlier my method’s a bit hit and miss and chaotic but transcribing is, as I say, sometimes you just have to guess. You can hear…you start with a basic harmonic pattern and then build on that. You have the harmonic pattern down then lead lines and fill in the rest as you go along.
MS: Oh right, so with your own writing, ‘cause you said you’re self taught, have there been things where you specifically thought ‘oh that arrangement is great’ or the way somebody voices things ‘oh I wanna’ use that’ in your own music?
MS: Can you give some examples of that?
PH: Well Gil Evans has always been a favourite, especially as an orchestrator. Those albums he did in the 50’s, and 60’s, especially the Miles ones: ‘Miles Ahead’ and ‘Porgy and Bess’. A fantastic sound he gets. So I think I probably tried to emulate some of that. Especially, I’ve done a few vocal arrangements; I did some for Norma Winstone. I think I tried to sort of emulate the Gil Evans sound with…I did three for her for North (inaudible) radio. That was about 20-25 years ago I think.
MS: Did she ask you to do that?
PH: Yeah. She asked a whole load of writers including Mike Gibbs and Alan Downey. You remember Alan?
MS: Yeah, I didn’t know he wrote.
PH: Yeah, he’s a fantastic writer, oh really good.
MS: I always knew him as a…he was a lead trumpet player wasn’t he?
PH: Oh yes. He was a fantastic writer as well.
MS: Oh, I didn’t know that.
PH: Oh, Duncan Lamont, in fact there was a story about him. We’d just sent the scores over to Germany, and somebody had copied them and they came to play Duncan’s arrangements, I mean Duncan can write some fairly complicated stuff, so these things proved impossible and the orchestra said ‘no we can’t play these’ and sent the scores back. Anyway, it turned out that the copyist had screwed the whole thing up, he just made a mess of it, and that was the reason why they couldn’t play it.
MS: So it wasn’t as complicated as…
MS: That’s incredible. Did they get sent on again? You ended up doing it?
PH: I think so. In fact, some of those arrangements I’d done for Norma, we did with the London Jazz Orchestra a few years ago, before you started playing. We did a concert at that church in Highbury.
MS: Is that the one that Scott’s associated with?
PH: Yes. We were supposed to do some music written by Steve Gray written for Norma but for some reason, that didn’t happen so I offered to bring some of these arrangements that I’d done for Norma. Some of the ones we did for North (inaudible) radio and I’d done some for the radio band as well, and there’s a lot of woodwind in them, you know, sort of the Gil Evans influence is particularly prevalent if you know his arrangements.
MS: Have you written for strings?
MS: Yes, not much but I did a couple of arrangements for the small radio orchestra. You probably don’t remember but the radio orchestra came in various sizes of the full orchestra, which included the radio big band.
MS: Oh and the orchestra together.
PH: Yes. Then there was the radio orchestra without the big band. Then there was the small radio orchestra with only a few woodwind and a couple of brass and I did a couple of arrangements for that for Norma. I think I rearranged some of the big band arrangements I’d done.
MS: Oh OK. Did you feel you had to do any research for that in terms of writing for strings?
PH: No, I mean I just…I’d looked…I’ve got a copy of Walter Piston’s book on orchestration which is fantastic actually. You can’t do better than that one if you’re just going to have one book.
MS: Yeah a lot of people recommend that.
PH: It has everything in there. Everything you want to know about orchestration. Writing for strings is so much…if you’ve got a good string section then you can write anything for them. Well, anything within reason, and it will always sound good, whereas with brass you have to be careful about how you orchestrate a chord.
MS: Why do you say that?
PH: Well. Say you’ve got four brass instruments. Something closely arranged will sound better than something widely spaced. It’ll sound thicker, more homogenous, whereas with strings you can write widely spaced stuff and it’ll sound good. I was amazed actually, the first…when I got a tape. I wasn’t at the sessions when they recorded these arrangements with strings and I got a tape later and I was slightly worried about what it was going to sound like. I kept it simple, as simple as possible but the first…I remember there was a piece, a Jobim piece called…oh I can’t remember now but it was in 3/4 (hums the tune). Anyway the first four bars were sort of string chords and there some slightly Aaron Copland-type atmosphere about it…to the sound. When I first heard it I thought God! I was quite proud of that, I though ‘that sounds really nice.’
PH: Well I thought so anyway (both giggle). As I said, a really good string section will sound great, whatever you write for them. I mean, obviously there are certain things that you’ve got to know about it. But if you write just some chords it’ll sound good.
MS: So you’ve been writing for, well, ever since you came out of college have you? When did you get your first writing experience?
PH: In actual fact, I started doing a rehearsal band led by Jill Lyons.
MS: The bass player?
PH: Yeah. In fact, it was in the ‘Sun Inn’, which is behind here, it’s in Parkshot Road. ‘The Sun’ used to have a separate back room where we used to rehearse on Wednesdays. I played in Jill’s band for a long time actually. We used to play Sunday lunchtimes in a pub in East Sheen, the ‘Derby Arms,’ which is long gone now. It’s a block of flats. That’s where I started doing big band arrangements, taking them along.
MS: So have you always been associated with this area then? Did you live here at that time?
PH: I didn’t live here then, no, but when I first came to London I lived in Harlesden for about a year and a half, which was a bit grim (MS laughs.) Then Pete Saberton and there was a pianist called Phil Broadhurst who has since gone to live in New Zealand. Anyway they lived in a place in Richmond and I got chucked out of the place in Harlesden and there was a free room going, so I moved in there and apart from a year where I lived in Chiswick, I’ve always lived in Richmond.
MS: It’s a nice place to live. Fantastic. So we’ve been talking about your writing a lot and I’m wondering what you feel about the balance between playing and writing. As far as I know about your career and involvement in music you’ve done the two in parallel the whole time. Is that correct? I presume at different time one becomes more dominant than the other, or has it felt quite even?
PH: Well yes it depends. Occasionally I’ve had commissions to do films so you have to…It takes me a long time I can’t…I have to do a lot of trial and error in writing. I’m not very quick.
MS: So do you actually stop playing during those periods? Or do you always…do you play every day? Do you practise every day?
PH: Well I do these days but I think in the old days I probably didn’t if I was writing something I sort of stopped practising.
MS: Oh OK, so have you got a routine now where you practise saxophone for two hours and then do some writing? Or the other way round?
PH: Actually, I’m not doing very much writing at the moment all though I should. I’m going to try and do something new for LJO (London Jazz Orchestra.) My writing chops are…I mean, it’s like practising an instrument, you have to keep writing to keep your hand in.
MS: But you write things even if you’re not getting commissions or anything right? You continually write?
PH: Oh God Yes, if I only relied on commissions I would hardly write anything (both laugh.) Although ideas do come up, I wrote something the other day, a sixteen bar thing which hopefully will develop into something else. Well anyway, it’s gone in…
MS: The computer?
PH: Well actually, no. I got some manuscript out. I still use manuscript occasionally.
MS: Oh right, I do all the time.
PH: Sometime I use the computer. Sometimes it’s just quicker to just jot it down on a bit of manuscript. I still like writing on manuscript actually.
MS: I think we’re missing a lot of original handwriting now aren’t we. Handwriting’s very distinctive. There’re quite a few people: Kenny Wheeler, it’s a bit of a scrawl his handwriting isn’t it?
PH: Oh yes I know.
MS: That’s gone now isn’t it? Is everything on computer of his now? I presume the old parts are. Do you do some of that? Copying.
PH: I have done bits of copying for Kenny, yeah.
MS: He’s just one very distinctive example but there’s…well it’s almost everybody. Everybody’s got distinctive handwriting. Is there anyone left who does handwriting for their scores, well for the parts?
PH: I doubt it these days, although I did use a copyist. I can’t remember his name now. He lived in North London and his hand was absolutely fantastic. I’ve never seen a better hand. He did a lot for classical orchestras and it was wonderful hand-writing. I used to do copying by hand.
MS: Well I remember your handwriting and that was really clear. It was fantastic.
PH: In fact, I think there might be parts in the LJO pad that are still handwritten by me.
MS: Yeah I think there are.
MS: That’s all a bit of a shame really but kind of inevitable in a way, in terms of time I suppose. Would you say it saves time?
PH: Oh yes.
MS: Certainly with the transposition of course, it’s literally just pressing a button. That’s probably the main [time] saving thing isn’t it?
PH: Oh yes. I mean, you don’t even have to press a button anymore, you produce a score and all the parts in Sibelius are connected to the score. So you’ve got the main score and then you have a little scroll down menu at the top and you click on the part and it opens and it’s all there for you, transposed, you don’t have to do anything (Both Laugh).
MS: I can see how tempting it is.
PH: I mean, in the old days there I was with the manuscript paper, the pen with an italic nib, Indian ink ‘cause Indian ink doesn’t run. You get brass players emptying their spit valves all over the parts, which they frequently do.
MS: That is a consideration then isn’t it.
PH: The ink doesn’t run, but then again it’s a lot more difficult. You have to clean the pen meticulously after you’ve finished or else the Indian ink is going to clog it all up.
MS: I didn’t know that
PH: I mean it’s a bit of a palaver.
MS: It’s fascinating.
PH: But there again, computers are so much easier in a way that if you make a mistake, it’s not a catastrophe ‘cause you just think “oh I missed a bar out” or “I’ve done a wrong note “ or something, you just change it and it’s fine. I mean you do have to check. Obviously if you’ve got time you check the score before you print it. But in the old days I remember staying up all night and finding I missed three bars out and you have to start literally cutting and pasting with bits of manuscript and it’s a real pain.
MS: I can certainly see the attraction for the new technology. Can we talk a bit about playing now? Who you’ve collaborated with over the years, what your influences are in playing.
PH: Well as said, I mentioned Ornette Coleman I was heavily into more ‘freer’ aspects of Jazz I think in my early twenties. Then, gradually, Kenny Wheeler was a big influence.
MS: In playing?
PH: Well in his writing more than his playing but that influenced me to write pieces, I mean a lot of my early pieces were Kenny Wheeler influenced and so I started playing more on chord sequences.
MS: So before that you hadn’t?
PH: Well I had, yes, but my playing influences were more free. I remember playing with the John Stevens band a couple of times and going up to the Little Theatre Club and sort of playing a lot of free stuff up there.
MS: You played there did you?
PH: Not very often.
MS: It’s another part of British Jazz that was just before my time ‘cause that was the 60’s wasn’t it? Did it carry on into the 70’s or not?
PH: Yes, early 70’s I think. I seem to remember going up there a few times. Anyway I played with John and in fact, I did a tour with him once with that ‘Freebop’ band.
MS: So that was some tune was it?
MS: Not on sequences?
PH: I think that was more Ornette Coleman type things.
MS: Were you playing alto in that band?
PH: Yeah, ‘cause Pete King was supposed to do it originally and then he pulled out and Ray Warleigh was asked to do it and he pulled out (both laugh). I ended up with it.
MS: Third down the list!
PH: I remember getting more into playing on some sequences.
MS: That’s interesting. I always think of your playing as very unique but also it has got a certain freedom to it where you sound like you are kind of ignoring the changes at times even though you’re playing the form. Is that about right?
PH: Yeah. I mean I always thought the ultimate way of playing, if you’re playing over changes, is to develop a style where you could play anything over a particular chord. You could play something that’s not remotely related to that chord but make it sound good so long as you resolve it in a certain way.
MS: Are there any other players you’ve been influenced by in hat respect?
PH: Well I think Warne Marsh actually, I mean he and Lee Konitz sometimes they played totally outside the sequences. At the same time Wayne Shorter has been a huge influence on my playing. He plays some of those things with Miles. Have you heard that ‘Live at the Plugged Nickel.’ I mean he plays…well they all play some outrageous things!
MS: Yeah that seem to bear no relation to…
PH: They totally change whole tracks of chord sequences, it sort of goes into completely different keys but I love all that, I think it’s fantastic.
MS: Yeah that’s a very significant album for a lot of people. You mentioned you’ve never transcribed solos, you’ve never done that with anything from that album even? So your knowledge of it is just from listening repeatedly and intuitively would you say?
MS: O.K. You’ve written for large ensembles, I know you’ve always had a quartet on and off over the years haven’t you, with your own music.
PH: Yes. In fact the quartet’s been going…we won the Greater London Arts Association young jazz musician in 1976 I think, or something like that. Mid 70’s.
MS: I remember that competition, yeah. So who was in the band then?
PH: Pete Sabo (Saberton), I think there was a drummer called Paul Robinson, do you know Paul?
MS: I know Paul, Yeah.
PH: He was in it I think. We used a bass player called Harvey Weston, who’s more sort of a mainstream player actually.
MS: And you played all original music?
PH: Yes. I’m not sure whether he actually did the competition ‘cause he was older than us.
MS: Was it under-thirty that one?
PH: Yeah, something like that. I can’t remember.
MS: I think it might have been.
MS: And so over the years you still play with Pete Saberton?
PH: Yeah, so the quartet’s been going since the mid-70’s really.
MS: 30-35 years. That’s great. And is there different bass players and drummers throughout that time then?
PH: Oh yeah. I mean there’s all sorts of people. The album I did was Tim Wells on bass and Tristan Maillot on drums. I’ve used Mick Hutton. For a time we had Mick Hutton and Steve Arguelles. Did a broadcast once with Ron Mathewson and Steve Arguelles. I mean Steve was still playing in NYJO.
MS: Oh so he must have been very young.
PH: Actually it was a fantastic rhythm section.
MS: What, Ron and Steve sounded good together?
MS: ‘Cause actually, Steve played with Ronnie Scott’s band around that time. I know he told me that he was coming down from school. He lived in Birmingham still and he was doing Ronnie’s so that must have been with Ron Mathewson. So they were a good hook-up were they?
PH: Yeah, I mean Steve was playing in a more conventional style then but he was still pulling the time around.
MS: But he was really into Tony Williams at that time wasn’t he? I think that was probably his influence when he was younger.
PH: Oh it was a great rhythm section that.
MS: How long did that last then?
PH: I think I was using Dave Barry on drums then but he couldn’t do the broadcast so I asked Steve Arguelles to do it so it was just for that broadcast. I’m even sure if Ron Mathewson was the regular bass player I can’t remember. There’s been so many different bass players and drummers.
MS: They’re quite difficult to keep aren’t they!
PH: Yes. (Both Laugh)
MS: But it sounds like you’ve got a real ‘thing’ with you and Pete Saberton then. Do you have a lot in common musically? Or you’ve just grown together?
PH: I just love Pete’s piano playing.
MS: Can you put your finger on what you like about it?
PH: Well he sounds like nobody else. He does some outrageous things sometimes. Sometimes you could…I remember doing a duo with him once, upstairs at Ronnie’s, we had a duo a long time ago. We did a whole week there.
MS: Those were the days.
PH: Oh yeah! We did…(tuts) oh I can’t remember tunes. (Hums the tune)
MS: Body and Soul.
PH: Body and Soul, yeah. And we came to the middle eight and I started playing the middle eight but he carried on playing the first ‘A’. ‘What are you doing!’ So I asked him after we’d finished playing it and said “you weren’t playing the middle eight” and he said “well, I didn’t feel like it (both laugh).” He can be a bit infuriating sometimes (MS laughs).
MS: It’s got to be his way.
MS: A very inspiring musician to a lot of people.
PH: But he can come out with some outrageous things sometimes. I just love his piano playing. Although I think there are sometimes better ‘compers.’ Sometimes he tends to get in the way a bit, sometimes. But I mean…
MS: He’s got idiosyncrasies.
PH: Yeah. But he always…he constantly surprises me and I think that’s great, I love what he comes out with. I mean I did form a band a few years ago and actually it was a complete utter catastrophe. I formed a band with Phil Lee, I can’t remember who was on bass and Brian Spring. That was a strange band. Didn’t happen really.
MS: That’s funny. I played with both those two: the quietest guitar player in the world and an extreme drummer.
PH: I mean, I love Brian’s playing when he can control it but he can sort of obliterate things if he’s in the mood.
MS: He can, he’s extreme. In fact, I remember seeing them together in a band called Axel with Tony Coe. Do you remember that band? Tony Coe, Phil Lee, Brian Spring, Chris Laurence and Bob Cornford. Interesting combination.
MS: We could sort of conclude quite soon. I don’t know whether there’s anything you want to talk about. Influences playing or any feelings you have just about music. I mean, I’m surprised at some of the things you say, saying you’re not organised, you’re not very methodical. It’s interesting that you’re into the freer stuff because your music is…there’s quite a lot of harmony in your music.
MS: It seems very structured although there’s lots of room for improvising. It’s generally relatively easy to play, although you have to think about it. You know, it’s beautifully written. It seems like almost you do have a kind of method in the same way that Kenny Wheeler has. I don’t think your music is like Kenny’s but he’s got a sound world, I think almost you have as well. I was just wondering whether you wanted to say anything about that.
PH: Well it’s very nice of you to say but I’ve never…it just comes out. That’s the way it comes out really I’ve never actually thought, you know, “this is what I’m gonna do.” It’s just, I remember somebody saying that composing a piece of music or improvising music, you want to make it come out sounding like something that you’d really like to hear.
MS: (Laughs) That’s very good advice isn’t it!
PH: I mean it sounds obvious to say but I mean, when you hear a piece of music you think “Ooh that sounds great.” That’s the sort of effect that you want to achieve.
MS: That’s what you’re aiming for. Fantastic, yeah. All right, well keep going, keep doing what you’re doing ‘cause it’s a pleasure to play your music in the London Jazz Orchestra.
PH: It’s funny you say all my music sounds structured but I mean that piece ‘Fog Juice,’ I put that tenor solo in…
MS: Oh yeah, the ‘open’ thing.
PH: …which is fairly ‘free’, I mean quite often the bass player just drops out so it’s sort of tenor-drums duet. And I thought, “yeah it’d be great to do something like that, a bit more free” ‘cause…
MS: Yeah ‘cause maybe you’re not having that side of it which you’ve talked about, your early influences, you’re not having that in your composing. It’s interesting.
PH: And also, I’m hopefully…I won’t go into detail but I probably told you about I’m trying to do a quartet record. There’s a place in Hampstead at the chapel… Anyway, it’s all going terribly wrong (MS laughs) but some of the pieces we’re gonna do hopefully when we actually do get around to doing it (inaudible). There are some fairly freeish pieces on there.
MS: Oh, OK.
PH: Sort of start with just the theme and then see where it goes.
MS: And you felt you neglected that area of music in recent years then?
PH: Yes I think I sort of got more into the more conventional ways of playing and, well, there’s room for all sorts of approaches aren’t there?
PH: So you’ve just gotta mix them up I reckon.
MS: Well I really look forward to hearing that when it comes out.
PH: (Laughs) If it ever does! (Both Laugh)
MS: We’ll finish there ‘cause we’re gonna have a rehearsal and we’re gonna do a gig tonight playing Lennie Tristano, Lee Konitz, Warne Marsh music. Thanks very much Pete Hurt.
PH: Well thank you.
Pete Hurt Interview – Orange Tree Pub in
Photo by: Alex Bonney