Friday 10 June 2016

A Michael and a Mike: Michael Garrick and Mike Westbrook and a deep English jazz

A ringing bell signals the start. 

Eddie Little: Manchester Jazz Society, 8th of June, 2016... 

Mike White (from the floor): 9th of June.  

Eddie: I beg your pardon. 9th June. And this evening it’s Mike Butler, talking about Michael Garrick, Mike Westbrook, and a deep English jazz. 

I chose the subject mainly because I wanted to share a great interview Michael Garrick gave me in March 2006. And it seemed natural to couple him with Mike Westbrook, who I also interviewed, circa October 1998, but the transcript of that interview is lost – one day all the contents of my floppy disc vanished. 

Off: Oh! 

It happens. So I have a hard copy of the finished piece, but it seems fairly run of the mill stuff. So there’s going to a bit more direct quotation from Michael Garrick than Mike Westbrook tonight.

Perhaps the fact that one is a Michael and the other is a Mike is significant. The rule is, the younger you are, the more formal your moniker, and then, as you mature, you earn a certain chummy informality. It takes determination to hold onto Michael, as I know, and implies a certain hankering after respectability. Mikes however are… Well, Mikes go with the flow. And I think you can hear the difference in the music. 

Michael Garrick 

Mike Westbrook

Both men are pianists, composers, arrangers and band leaders associated with what we retrospectively know as Jazz Britannia. Michael Garrick was born in Enfield, on the 30th May 1933, and Mike Westbrook was born in High Wycombe on the 21st March, 1936. Only three years separate them, although Garrick seems much the senior figure. Jazz Britannia, a term coined by the BBC, is apt, because both in their own way brought an English sensibility to jazz, which up to then was thought largely to be a North American activity. 

‘Deep English’? Well Englishness is problematic, as I hope to show. But before I attempt to disentangle the English stain, it might be best to start with the much more uncomplicated North American influence. Duke Ellington was the household god of Garrick and Westbrook, as he was to every musician who aspired to make jazz a serious art-form. And what of tenor saxophonist  Ben Webster, a staple of the Duke Ellington band between 1940 and 1943? My first selection is ‘Webster’s Mood’ by the Michael Garrick Septet. Joe Harriott and Tony Coe take the solos….

‘Webster’s Mood’  (Garrick)… 6.52

Here’s what Michael Garrick told me about it. 

“I wrote that the day after I heard Ben Webster live, in London. I’d heard a record of him, with Oscar Peterson, but then when you encounter the real thing, it’s quite different. So I used to practise the piano in a rehearsal studio in Oxford Circus. I just went in as usual – you pay whatever it was; it was about 2/6 for an hour, I think – and just began playing that tune. You play the first phrase (“What’s this?”) and follow it. Then I realised I had a blues. But it was a blues with different changes. It had minor chords in the middle which a normal blues doesn’t have. And the whole movement of it, with that majestic, stately, slowish sureness about it. And I thought, this is from Ben Webster.”  

The line-up is Michael Garrick, piano, Ian Carr, trumpet, Don Rendell, saxophone, Dave Green on bass and Trevor Tomkins, drums. As I mentioned, the soloists are Joe Harriott on alto saxophone and Tony Coe on tenor saxophone. It comes from the LP Black Marigolds, and was recorded in January or February, 1966.   

It’s as much a tribute to Joe Harriott now, as it is to Ben Webster, I say. Garrick: “Yes, that’s true. Although lots of people have played it. Don Rendell was on that session but he didn’t solo on that particular piece because you were constrained by time. You don’t want the track to go on forever. Which is a great shame. Because on gigs – we did gig that sextet – everybody would solo on it, but then the piece would last a quarter of an hour. And in those days, on LPs, that would have filled almost one side. The producer would say, “It would be better if that one was shorter.” And of course, it is different too, when you’re live with people living and breathing in front of you, as long as they’re being interesting then it doesn’t matter if they go on for ages. But when you’re listening at home and you put a CD on, it’s quite different. You need conciseness.”  

Second track, Mike Westbrook’s take on Lionel Hampton’s ‘Flying Home’, which is crowded with incident. John Surman leads on baritone sax… 

‘Flying Home’ (Westbrook)… 4:20 

A shot of the Concert Band circa '67, with (l to r), Harry Miller, Mike Osborne, John Surman

Mike White: What year is that? 

1969, I think. 

If Mike Westbrook spent the rest of his career avoiding jazz cliches, it’s because he used them all up on ‘Flying Home’. [Profound silence. Mike: “Oh oh!” Eddie and Eva dutifully laugh.] It comes from Release, a 1969 album by The Mike Westbrook Concert Band on Deram. After John Surman, Malcolm Griffiths takes the trombone solo and Nisar Ahmed, otherwise George, Khan is getting all hysterical attempting to channel the spirit of Coleman Hawkins. Alan Jackson is the unruly drummer.

And here is Michael Garrick’s tribute to …. Well, you can probably guess who. The title is ‘Mrs Marietta Clinkscales’, which is a clue when you know that Mrs Marietta Clinkscales operated as a piano teacher in the Washington D.C. area in the early decades of the 20th century. 

‘Mrs Marietta Clinkscales’ (Garrick)… 7:31

‘Mrs Marietta Clinkscales’ comes from Michael Garrick’s ‘A Life of Duke’, commissioned for the 20th International Ellington Conference in London, May 2008. Were you there, Peter?

Peter Caswell: Yeah. And Delia.  

A Shakespearian cadence was added to the album release on Jazz Academy, Garrick’s own label: Lady of the Aurian Wood, subtitled ‘A Magic Life of Duke’. The singer is Norma Winstone. The phrase she quotes, “Don’t do that, Henry”, is, of course, culturally specific, despite the USA accent elsewhere. “Don’t do that, Henry”, I needn’t explain, is the running refrain of the celebrated monologue with Joyce Grenfell as the nursery school teacher. Just what Henry is doing is never specified. 

Likewise, Ellington tributes are sprinkled through Westbrook’s career. Notably, On Duke’s Birthday, written to mark the tenth anniversary of Ellington’s death in 1974, and possibly a more meticulous, mature reworking of an early jazz inspiration than ‘Flying Home’. It’s not included here because of time limitations and because I don’t have the CD. 

Instead let’s pursue the English theme. The third edition of The Penguin Guide to Jazz on CD has this to say in the Westbrook entry: “Westbrook belongs to a long-standing English musical tradition one associates (though Westbrook is from semi-rural High Wycombe) with the Lancashire Catholic background out of which John Lennon emerged (and to which novelist/composer Anthony Burgess has paid tribute)…” Now while you’re thinking about that, and if anyone can tell me what it means I’d be grateful, the next selection is ‘Waltz (for Joanna)’ from the 1969 double album, Marching Song by the Mike Westbrook Concert Band. 

‘Waltz’ (Westbrook)… 5:51 

Marching Song is a suite on the theme of World War 1 – Westbrook served his national service in Germany in the early fifties when whole swathes of the country were bomb sites – and ‘Waltz’ is a pretty interlude amid the angry turbulence elsewhere, but listening to it then, I think a bit of the turbulence does creep in. Tommy is in the trenches thinking of his sweetheart back home. It’s an early vehicle for John Surman’s lyrical soprano sax. Sometimes the arrangements recall Gil Evans, but Marching Song, I think, is jazz with a very English identity, about a national cataclysm.  

Garrick again: “Right from the earliest times, when I was still in college in the fifties, it struck me that jazz was obviously the next step forward in serious music. Because it engages in time. Time and pulse and swing. That element, which so far, in so-called classical music, just didn’t exist. That was the new thing – the freedom in relation to time, which didn’t exist before. And so therefore it seemed to me then, this is a completely new way of taking music forward. So I thought people should be educated in it. That’s been my stance ever since.” 

It might be significant that neither man has a formal music education. Westbrook studied art at Plymouth College of Art, whereas Garrick studied English at London University. And Shake Keane, who played trumpet in Garrick’s group, also studied English at London University. “You see Shake Keane was a poet, and he came to England later than Joe Harriott. They didn’t know each other, because he came from St Vincent. He came here to study English at University College, London, which is where I was. I was unaware of him then, although we were at the same college. He didn’t put in much time there, and in the end he pulled out, after his second year… 

“So when we did meet, which was at the Marquee Club, Wardour Street, where my quartet and his quintet played opposite each other every week, Saturday night, 1958-59… At the same time I was asked to do this Poetry and Jazz thing, and I had a quartet, which went down to a trio, that’s right. We had a trio and I said, ‘Shake, would you like to play with us at this Poetry and Jazz thing with Spike Milligan and Laurie Lee and Dannie Abse?’ And so he played with us, and he was totally sympathetic to the idea of poetry and jazz, being a writer himself.” [‘Shake’, incidentally, is short for Shakespeare; his other name is Ellsworth.] 

It’s poignant to think that 400 people had to be turned away from the first Poetry and Jazz In Concert event at Hampstead Town Hall on February 4th, 1961. The success led to a follow-up at the Royal Festival Hall and then to a concert at Belgrade Theatre, Coventry, which marked the debut of the Michael Garrick Trio with Shake Keane. Dates at Cheltenham, Birmingham and Oxford followed, and the Michael Garrick Trio expanded into the Michael Garrick Quintet, with Shake Keane and Joe Harriott as full members. They participated in Centre 42 events. Centre 42, er, was an attempt by the Trades Union Congress to devolve culture and art into the regions, with the playwright Arnold Wesker as a guiding force. It was crucial to the development of the folk music revival, but that’s by the by. Poetry and Jazz In Concert spawned more than 250 concerts, two LPs on the Argo label, and a poetry book, which you can pass around. [Produces Poems From Poetry & Jazz In Concert, edit. Jeremy Robson, 1969, Panther.]

Jeremy Robson

“The opportunities came. I didn’t invent them. They came along. I thought, oh, this is great. It’s what I’d like to do. Poetry and Jazz for example. A poet called Jeremy Robson was organising poetry and jazz together in the beginning of the sixties and he heard us, and said would I like to work with him? Because he was going to expand and work with other poets. That’s how it happened. Through that came the first Argo recording which has just been reissued, Poetry & Jazz In Concert.” 

The Argo records are weighted more to poetry than jazz and only Adrian Mitchell on the first record and Jeremy Robson on the second actually attempt to read to jazz accompaniment. But the jazz and poetry are integral elements, with the jazz as a direct response to the poems. ‘Wedding Hymn’, the next piece we shall hear, was inspired by Dannie Abse’s ‘Epithalamion’ (a tough word to pronounce), a poem for his wife, Joan Abse. Here’s a flavour: 

Singing, today I married my white girl, 
beautiful in a barley field. 
Green on thy finger a grass blade curled. 
So with this ring I thee wed, 
and send our love to the loveless world 
of all the living and all the dead. 

’Wedding Hymn’ (Garrick Quintet)… 8:07

The line-up is Joe Harriott, alto sax; Coleridge Goode, bass; Colin Barnes, drums; Shake Keane, flugelhorn; Michael Garrick, piano.

Garrick on Joe Harriott: “Joe Harriott was a Charlie Parker man through and through. He’d been brought up in an orphanage in Jamaica, the Alpha Boys’ School.” 

I chip in, “Oh, the one that gave birth to The Ska-talites?” 

“That’s right, and not a few others. And they must have been very good teachers there, because he started on clarinet. But when he arrived here, which was in 1951, although I didn’t know him till seven years on… Everyone says he arrived here and he was playing fantastic on arrival. So where he got that from is a mystery. In a home for wayward boys or orphans, accumulating all that knowledge and putting it onto his horn, all the Charlie Parker compositions, for example, just bore him along. That’s the mystery of Joe Harriott. 

“And there was this idea about free form. It was then that the Caribbean influence came into his music more. There’s one in particular called ‘Calypso Sketches’. It’s a deliberate calypso thing. [As ‘Calypso’, it appears on Free Form by the Joe Harriott Quintet, Jazzland, JLP49, 1961.] But the other one,” [Abstract by The Joe Harriott Quintet, Columbia 33SX 1477, 1962] “it’s more like a cross between circus music, European impressionism and bebop. They’re wonderful things, the Joe Harriott free form records.” 

So how calypso is ‘Calypso Sketches’? In 2004 the Michael Garrick Jazz Orchestra issued a tribute album called Big Band Harriott, so let’s find out. 

’Calypso Sketches’ (Garrick)… 4:51 

From the sleeve-notes: “To the fore, Martin Hathaway and Quentin Collins (trumpet), Jimmy Adams (trombone) and Gabriel Garrick (trumpet). It’s 2.30am and carnival time. You could say that this one is closest to Joe’s Jamaican roots, but his gaze was always onward and outward.”

More Garrick and Westbrook after the break, shall we say? Thanks guys,


 * * 

OK, to pick up where I left off, and without further ado, so Michael Garrick said: “So Poetry and Jazz got me on that tack, and it also helped my composing immensely, because I found that by taking a poem  – not any poem, of course, because you can’t set Shakespeare’s tragedies to jazz too easily – but a lyrical poem, it doesn’t matter whether it’s modern or an ancient ballad, it will give you the mood, it will give you the movement. So you can write music out of the feelings you get from it. That’s how I found I could write original music. I wasn’t thinking, now I’m going a write a blues, or an ‘I’ve Got Rhythm’ type tune. I just look at the poem and let the music come out of it. And so it would lead to different shapes of composition, according to the poem – odd numbers of bars. Most jazz music is written in 8-bar phrases. Instead of adding up to 16 or 32 bars, I might suddenly find I’d got a piece with 19 bars or 21. But then which held together because the starting point in itself held together. And then I found I could do it without poems. Still things would come out odd shapes and so on.”  

I said that Englishness is problematic. I said that ‘Webster’s Mood’ is so sublime that, for me, it could go on forever. In fact, whenever I do play it, I have to speedily get up to raise the arm before the next track starts. And if I’m a bit slow, this is what comes on. 

’Jazz for Five’ excerpt (Garrick)… 1:23 

[John Smith recites to Garrick’s piano: 

You are winter
You are a landscape of snow…  
And though my arms are not yet ready to hold you 
Because of the loosened tenderness of your especial being 
I will let the air only vibrate with a small celebration of words 
I love you 
You are winter 

Now can anyone defend that to me? 

Eva: Yeah, yeah. [Chuckles elsewhere] 

Don Lee: Mike, who was that speaking? 

It’s a poet called John Smith, it’s called ‘Jazz For Five’, and what happens next is a series of duets between John Smith, the poet, and the different musicians. I don’t think it’s as good a poem as the Dannie Abse. I don’t believe it. It’s pitched in such ludicrously overblown terms. But I think a bigger stumbling block might be John Smith’s voice. 

[Murmurs of agreement] 

That awful received pronunciation, which was standard in 1966, but which everybody has thankfully dropped since. 

[Titter from Eva. She tells me that there was conversation during the break about my accent.] 

All the poets on Poetry and Jazz In Concert possess it to some degree, though none have it as bad as John Smith. 

So this is what Garrick had to say about John Smith: [posh, high-pitched voice]: “He has a very interesting voice. 

[Mild laughter] 

He speaks like that. He lives in South Africa, Cape Town. [Resumes normal voice] And he doesn’t intend to come back. But despite his voice, he was a great character. And he wrote a cantata for us as well, called Mr Smith’s Apocalypse. Although that’s for a choir and organ, and Norma Winstone, and a sextet of musicians. It hasn’t got an  orchestra.” 

And I chip in. I say, “I did hear it one time, and I found it a bit heavy going actually.” 

“Oh it is. It’s very heavy going, I promise you. But then again I thought what he was trying to say was something that should be said. You call to God for help when you really need help and where is he? Gone on holiday. So the only answer is, if you want something like a god, you’ve got to look for him in a human being. You won’t find him anywhere else. That was the theme of it. It was good fun though. I know it’s heavy going. And the words were so dense, that there was very little room for jazz improvisation. But we did get some in. It’s always a compromise, you know.” 

The Englishness is problematic, because, England being England, a class element always comes into it, of which received pronunciation is the most obvious outward sign. Duke Ellington is alright, but on the UK side, Garrick’s music (and Westbrook’s) are nurtured by secret wellsprings, and these sub-streams are things like art song, George Butterworth, Vaughan Williams and Constant Lambert setting the poems of Li-Po. [Constant Lambert and Li-Po are the antecedent of the Garrick album, The Heart is a Lotus, except that Garrick fills the roles of both Li-Po and Constant Lambert, as lyricist and composer, which is impressive.] Another piece, I think, before we plumb these murky depths further.  This is ‘Rustat’s Gravesong’. 

[Bass and John Smith speaks… “A blue dusk girl…”] 

Oh, sorry guys, we’re getting more John Smith there. It does sound better, doesn’t it? But, OK, I’ll put on ‘Rustat’s Gravesong’. 

‘Rustat’s Gravesong’ (Garrick)… 5:14 

Yeah, ’Rustat’s Gravesong’ was recorded in a concert with a jazz group and choir at St Paul’s Cathedral in 1968. Providentially, a French TV crew were present, and the short film they made can be found on Youtube. I mailed the clip to selected Society members earlier in the week. But the event was captured on record. A stereo tape machine was found from somewhere and a single microphone was suspended across the chancel directly above the players. The sound is excellent for such primitive resources, and captures well the rarefied atmosphere. The saxophonist is Jim Philip, and I think the sacred dabblings of Jan Garbarek have an earlier precedent in his swirling, plangent tone. “Jazz Praises is an English experience, retelling the American jazz dream in an Anglican setting.” It works because of a refreshing lack of piety, I think. The jazz group, on the evidence of ‘Rustat’s Gravesong’, don’t rein in the ferocity. 

To be an artist in England is to be an outsider, but then artists are always outsiders. There’s always this tension in Garrick's work between rebellion and respectability. His tireless work to get jazz accepted on the curriculum of music colleges is entirely creditable, I think. This comes from a letter he wrote in 1989 to the Associated Board of the Royal Schools of Music: “The classic sources are clear enough by now: Ellington, Armstrong and Parker, to establish a basic triumvirate. And although primarily an American phenomenon, Britain, placed uniquely between the United States and Europe, has produced much that is original and refreshingly different.” 

Westbrook, who shares a tradition and an idiom with Garrick, is by far the more anarchic figure. His idol is not Shakespeare but William Blake, the visionary artist whose phantom arises in every radical period of history, and who had a hey-day in the sixties. Shakespeare has been co-opted by the establishment, but William Blake never could. This is a Westbrook setting of a Blake song, and incorporates a Blake poem.

‘Let the Slave’ incorporating ‘The Price of Experience’ (Westbrook)… 11:28

[Off: Phew!] 

‘Let the Slave’ incorporating ‘The Price of Experience’. It comes from a Westbrook album called Glad Day and it was Chris Biscoe playing the passionate alto sax, and Westbrook himself reciting ‘The Price of Experience’. And the stentorian lead vocal, declaiming the song, was my introduction to Phil Minton, who, in my mind, knowing him only from Westbrook performances, represented an English ideal. I pictured a big, bearded Old Testament prophet type. And after all, Minton is only one consonant removed from Milton. 

Does anyone know Phil Minton? 

Bruce Robinson: I know of him only as a sort of free improvising vocalist. 

MB: A free improviser is what he is primarily. I think the Westbrook thing is a sideline, and you get a completely different thing with his free jazz gigs. He’s the pioneer of an extreme kind of body music. He plays alongside hardcore free jazz musicians and proceeds to shriek, burp, gasp, moan, whine, hiss, belch, squall, hoot, snort, coo and choke. And sit tight, I’ve got an example here. 

[Anticipatory chuckle from Chris Lee and general laughter] 

‘Spermin Spunk About’ (Minton)… 1:48 

That was ‘Spermin Spunk About’ by the Phil Minton Quartet from Mouthfull of Ecstasy, free settings of Finnegans Wake

Phil Minton

In England we judge a person by their accent every time they speak or sing. I did it myself with John Smith earlier. It must be said that Phil Minton’s way out of this particular trap is radical and extremely effective. 

Now can I hold up, as an exemplar of everything good about British jazz, a track from Garrick’s 1970 album, The Heart is a Lotus called ‘Torrent’? Which I think finds British jazz musicians finally shaking off their inferiority complex and emerging from the shadows of North American jazz. 

‘Torrent’ (Garrick)… 3.44 

That was Art Themen and Don Rendell sparring on tenor sax and bassist Dave Green and drummer Trevor Tomkins. Says Garrick (back to my interview): “I was really trying to find a way whereby one could take and draw on the energy and – what else? – sheer creativity that came from America, through Ellington, Parker, Louis Armstrong, that great ebullience, that great life force, that together with this other, English landscape, English poetry and so on, which gives another view of the world. I just thought this contrast in itself gives you the creative edge. So, wilfully or not, I’ve gone down that path.” 

As for a sense of English landscape, I would have liked to have played ‘Erme Estuary’ from Mike Westbrook’s magisterial The Cortege, but unfortunately I couldn’t track down a CD copy in time. Chris Biscoe, in a separate interview, told me that The Cortege was the best record he’d ever played on.

And talking about a sense of place, here’s an unexpected encounter between Michael Garrick and Jaco Pastorius: – 

“I met him in Boston in 1975…” 

Voice off: Jaco? 

Yeah, this is Garrick talking. “And when he came here in 1975, he came up here to my house in Berkhamsted, and I took him for a ride round the little villages in Hertfordshire, and he was totally knocked out by it. Because he was born in Florida, and the landscape is still a desert there. When I went to the States myself, only the northern bit, on a long train journey, looking out the window, the difference seemed to me – in England you have countryside; America hasn’t those aeons of cultivation that has happened here. And there again it points up a difference. There’s a rawness to that side as opposed to this. This is 1975, by the way, I haven’t been there since (although I am due to go there with my big band at the end of April to play in New York). It struck me then – England is the granddad and America is the tearaway teenager.”  

Mike and Kate Westbrook 

Now I love Mike Westbrook because he is or was a loyal employer to some of my favourite British musicians. I say ‘was’ because some of my favourite British musicians are dead or retired – Phil Minton, drummer Tony Marsh, saxophonist Chris Biscoe, and I might add guitarist Brian Godding. A change came in Mike Westbrook’s work around the time he met Kate, soon to be his second wife. She introduced a heady element of cabaret and, reflecting her background in experimental theatre, would create a distinct persona for separate performances. And the Westbrook vision expanded outwards, so that a late masterwork like London Bridge is Broken Down, described as A Composition for Voice, Jazz Orchestra and Chamber Orchestra, has sections called’London Bridge’, Wenceslas Square’, ‘Berlin Wall’, ‘Vienna’ and ‘Picardie’ and sets texts by Rene Arcos, Wilhelm Busch, Andrea Chedid, Goethe and Siegfried Sassoon, some in translations by Kate Westbrook. It attempts nothing less than a survey of Europe and its history over the past hundred or so years. 

If you’ll forgive a glib observation, I think Michael Garrick would probably be a Brexit man, and Mike Westbrook would be for Remain. And I’ll close with ‘Picardie Six’ which comes from London Bridge.  

‘Picardie Six’ (Westbrook) … 6:25 

Michael Garrick died on 11 November 2011, after being admitted to hospital with heart problems. Mike Westbrook is alive and well and still composing, as far as I know. Thank you. 


Mike and Don Lee talk 'Incredibly Strange Music'. 

Thanks to Anthony Butler and Bruce Robinson for sourcing some of the discs and acknowledgements to for the uncredited quote “Jazz Praises is an English experience…” The clip of Jazz Praises from French TV is here:  


  1. I mentioned Brian Godding, distinguished because of his work with Blossom Toes/B.B. Blunder, the whimsical Brit psychedelic outfit (and outside the remit of Manchester Jazz Society), and, as well as the lengthy Westbrook gig, sideman to Kevin Coyne during the latter’s most experimental period (1980-81). A comparison of ‘Wonderful Wilderness’ – Kevin Coyne, Sanity Stomp, 1980, w Brian Godding – with ‘Let The Slave/The Price of Experience’ (Glad Day, 2014, minus Brian Godding) usefully demonstrates the continuity of the divinely-inspired rant.

  2. Mike Westbrook is indeed still alive and composing:


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