This weekend, British Jazz lost another of its most individual voices, the maverick pianist and composer, Keith Tippett.
Keith was known for his unique approach to improvisation and prepared piano and adventurous collaborations with artists such Elton Dean, Louis Moholo-Moholo and Matthew Bourne. He pushed the boundaries of large-ensemble jazz with his 50-strong Centipede Band and Tapestries Orchestra.
As a performer he captivated audiences and managed to stretch the boundaries of space and time through his music. Today the internet is awash with musicians and fans sharing their wonderful memories of his performances; but, off the stage, Keith was also committed to sharing his expertise with the next generation.
I was lucky enough to benefit from lessons with Keith during my time at Royal Welsh College of Music & Drama, which had a huge impact. Every Friday the entire jazz department would gather to hear Keith’s amazing anecdotes and be challenged to spontaneously improvise in different groupings. He would then give his feedback – praising commitment and musical risk-taking but oft veering off into a fantastical story about a staring match with Mingus, or a tirade against Cliff Richard. He would always seek to empower us, and the harshest criticism you could receive was along the lines of “For my ears, on this particular day, it didn’t quite work”.
Keith’s lessons had a lasting impact on all of us who had the pleasure to study with him. Every session with him was full of his natural warmth, a spirit of inclusivity and respect for everyone’s musical contribution. There was magic in the room. I aim that every young person who walks into a NYJO workshop also feels that spirit as, to me, that’s what playing music together is all about. It’s life-affirming, cathartic and full of joy.
At this sad time my thoughts are with his wife, Julie, and all his family, biological and musical.
May he rest in peace.
Photo © Emile Holba.