Pete Saberton

Pete SabertonPete studied classical piano from the age of 11 under the guidance of his Sheffield comprehensive secondary-school music teacher. As a teenager he attended the Hallé Orchestra’s concerts at Sheffield Town Hall, following scores he had borrowed from the local library – but he also listened to his brothers’ Beatles and big-band swing records.

From 1968 until 1971 Pete studied at Manchester’s Northern School of Music (now the Royal Northern College of Music), and in 1973 joined NYJO but later left after a falling-out with Bill Ashton.

Pete moved to London, and from the mid-70s to the early 90s often played as a backing pianist at Ronnie Scott’s. He toured with Scott’s own group in 1980, and in the same decade worked in bands led by the saxophonist Pat Crumly, the trumpeters Harry Beckett and Dick Pearce, and the composer Mike Westbrook. In 1988 Pete toured with fellow pianist John Taylor, the vibraphonist Frank Ricotti, and the international Vocal Summit group, which included the vocalists Norma Winstone and Ursula Dudziak, and he accompanied the American superstar crooner Mel Tormé at the Royal Festival Hall.

Pete was also one of the great American jazz singer Mark Murphy’s most sympathetic British accompanists, a frequent performer with the BBC Radio Big Band from 1981 until 1993 and a regular house-pianist at the Jazz Cafe and Ronnie Scott’s. He was a prolific creator of unorthodox original material, more than was perhaps ever realised outside his circle of friends, playing partners and gifted students, who included the young contemporary pianists Alcyona Mick and Bruno Heinen.

He made a memorable breakthrough on record in 1984 with The Year of the Buffalo, written for a powerful octet led by the baritone saxophonist John Williams. Pete’s ingenious yet shapely writing was rarely recorded again, but has been cherished more recently by the London Jazz Orchestra.

In his later years, Pete divided his time between teaching and working on original music. He collaborated with the trumpeter Loz Speyer’s band Rare Mix and the trumpeter Henry Lowther’s Still Waters, and recorded a second album, Rich Core (2004), with the bassist Fred T Baker and the drummer Tony Levin.

He taught at the Trinity Laban, Guildhall, Royal Academy and Birmingham conservatoires and, in his final years, had started writing through-composed music. This included work for the percussionist Paul Clarvis, the violinist Stuart Hall, a two-piano collaboration for Bruno Heinen, and many other compositions for all kinds of ensembles, from string quartets to big bands.

Pete died of myeloma, aged 61, in March 2012