At his wedding to BiBi in a church near his home in Deal it was shocking to see how frail Malcolm had become. Diabetes and the pain of an inoperable hip problem had taken their toll. Nevertheless relaxing with fellow musicians and his life-long friends at the reception he was in good form and seemed very much his old self. That was the last time Kate and I saw him. From our occasional phone conversations it was clear that things were gradually getting worse. But thanks to BiBi’s unfailing care he never seemed to give up hope. Now we pray that he is at peace.
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05 February 2021
Lately when Griff and I spoke on the phone he would ask whether I “needed a trombone player.” A crazy question perhaps since he had been forced by illness to give up playing several years ago. But he meant it. Old habits die hard. And being a jazz musician is for life.
You never give up.
He and I worked and played together from the early 60s and the Old Place days with the sextet, to The Orchestra in the mid 80s. We went through a lot of changes in those times, in music as in life. Wherever the action, Griff was in the thick of it.
Malcolm was a man of strong opinions, musically and politically, which he wasn’t shy to express. He had a fairly explosive temperament and didn’t suffer fools gladly. He had a wonderfully sardonic sense of humour. Above all he was as loyal and as true a friend as one could wish for. Whether touring with Mama Chicago or The Cortège, Kate and I remember him not only as a brilliant musician and a passionate improviser, but as a lively, and at times irascible ‘companion of the road’. With him around life could be difficult, but never dull. The highs and lows of travelling and playing together, the jokes and the griefs, are embedded forever in the music we produced.
Malcolm was one of the most in-demand trombonists on the scene. For a resumé of his career you can do no better that Duncan Heining’s interview in All About Jazz. Fortunately there are abundant examples of his playing on recordings with just about every top UK band you can think of.
Of his work with us, apart from the albums, we can offer two glimpses of him on film. (Moving Picture Show No 45). His dramatic intervention on Erme Estuary from The Cortège shows him at his most declamatory and displays his passion for Early Jazz and Ellington in particular. In contrast, his solo on Song Of The Rain from Mama Chicago is a classic of trombone ballad playing in a direct line from Tommy Dorsey, or as Malcolm himself would wish to acknowledge, Laurence Brown with the Ellington Orchestra.
A jazz musician has always to believe that the best ever gig is just around the corner. In recent times Griff would often phone to enquire “ Westy, when’s the next rehearsal?” There was no answer to that. But he was only half joking. He was a Jazz musician. Whenever the call came, he’d be ready.
Our WestbrookJazz Moving Picture Show No. 45 is a tribute to Malcolm and can be seen here.
12 February 2021
Turner in URI
The Peace of Amiens in 1802 made it possible for the English painter J.M.W. Turner to travel to Switzerland, - a country he very much wanted to see. There had been a fashion for the English on the Grand Tour to see the Alps.
Turner came to canton Uri on that first visit and is said to have made over 400 drawings and watercolours. In fact, he carried small sketchbooks with him at all times, and he drew and made notes constantly. Fellow passengers on coach journeys report Turner peering out of the window and sketching even as the horses stumbled on rough tracks.
As well as depicting the Alps, lakes, skies, Turner also kept a small sketchbook called 'Swiss Figures' in which he made watercolour sketches of the people he saw, - girls in national costume, gendarmes, characters in processions. Page one of his sketchbook shows two naked women in a curtained bed with their gala costumes on the floor beside them.
In the 1840s Turner returned to Uri several times and he did some of his most free and extraordinary watercolours in the aftermath of those visits, including one now at the Tate in London, called 'First Bridge Above Altdorf. It seems he liked the steamboat that brought him to Uri, and he was passionate about the wilder effects of weather in the valley of the Reuss. When Turner said fair weather' he meant wild storms, strange cloud configurations, and extravagant sunsets.
Turner died in 1851. He was such a secretive man towards the end of his life that even close friends did not know where he was living. He never married, though he had two 'housekeepers', one of whom bore him two daughters. Several members of Turner's family went mad including his mother who died in Bedlam, a London lunatic asylum. His great fear was that he too would go mad. His friend and admirer, the art critic Ruskin, thought perhaps Turner had gone slightly mad in the final years of his life. These days we think that these late "mad' paintings are some of the greatest works of all art.
Turner in URI - scenes from a jazz oratorio can be seen in our Moving Picture Show No. 46
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Charles Mapleston's documentary, 'Devil's Bridge' about the making of Turner in URI can be seen in our Moving Picture Show No. 63