After leaving school in the mid-70s, Gail began attracting attention with her striking saxophone playing, in particular her work on baritone. She played with NYJO and was co-founder with Courtney Pine of the Jazz Warriors. She also played with Charlie Watt’s big band and led her own group, Gail Force.
Her future as a performer appeared assured when she played baritone with Art Blakey’s Jazz Messengers, thus becoming the first and only female Messenger. Unfortunately, within a few hours of this gig, she was struck by a spasm of her facial muscles and was rendered unable to play. While this disaster might well have destroyed a less determined and resourceful individual, Gail rallied and turned her enthusiasm for music in other directions.
She became a director of Mick Jagger’s music company and founded Musicworks, a centre and workshop for musicians. Starting out in one room at her house, this organisation grew to occupy a three-storey warehouse employing 20 staff, eventually serving the needs of around 3,000 students.
Gail has also run workshops in Africa, Belgium, Canada, Germany and Russia. Her African experience in the 80s was the inspiration for Jazz Africa, a big band blending jazz and African music, and for several compositions which draw upon the music and cultures of the places she visited. Throughout the 90s she led big bands, much of whose repertoire drew upon her compositions.
In the late 90s, Gail was able to resume playing, now on flute, and in 1996 she released her debut album, Jazz Africa, on the ENJA Records label.