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21 July 2021
S t u a r t B r o o k s
1957 - 2021
Stuart Brooks, trumpet player, died on June 27th at St Christopher’s Hospice,
Sydenham. Mike Westbrook pays tribute to a great musician and a dear friend
Stuart’s first regular appearance in the band was in 1984 with On Duke’s Birthday. We rehearsed in London with the British contingent, then traveled to Amiens to meet and rehearse with violinist Dominique Pifarely and Danilo Terenzi, trombone. We were a fairly disparate group, not by any means your typical big band musicians. For one thing the instrumentation was unusual: a brass section of two trumpets, tenor horn and trombone, a saxophone section of one, a string section of violin and cello, as well as a rhythm section of guitar, piano, bass guitar and drums. Stuart, who enjoyed life hugely and had a great sense of humour, was very serious about the music. A born leader, though never a domineering one, he made a band out of this rather rag-tag line-up and made my arrangements sound a million dollars.
The premiere was a ‘coup de foudre’,- that instantaneous falling-in-love between artist and public that can happen in France if you are lucky. Moreover the recording of that very first performance became one of the best albums we ever made, and got us the deal with hatART that opened a new chapter in Europe.
Listen, and you are aware of Stuart’s clear and subtle presence throughout the album. On the last track, Music Is, he plays the eight bar solo that put his personal stamp on the piece for all time. Ever afterwards, any lead trumpet player performing in On Duke’s Birthday is required to play that solo.
Stuart was one of the most in-demand trumpet players around, often away on tour. I had few opportunities to get a big group together, so our gigs together were always special occasions. The early 90s found Stuart splitting the lead with his great friend the very fine Graham Russell. Big Band Rossini was the thing and we toured Europe for a while, with the dream trumpet section of Graham, Stuart, Guy Barker and Dick Pearce. We made a live album, The Orchestra of Smith’s of Academy, which really shows the rapport between Stuart and Graham. Hear how they scorch through I.D.M.A.T. and how these two comrades-in-arms share the lead on So We’ll Go No More A’Roving.
In 2001 I formed a new line-up for what I rather grandly called The New Westbrook Orchestra. I wanted to draw a line and try a different approach. Combining jazz and classical players was a big part of this. So I had a trumpet, a French horn, four reeds and woodwind, accordion, string quartet, piano, bass, drums and the voices of Kate and classical baritone Matthew Sharp. With the composition Chanson Irresponsable I was being more technically ambitious than usual. I remember Stuart playing one section over the phone and asking “Is this really what you want?“ On the eve of the premiere in Milan Stuart put his back out. He had to miss the trip. He was back with us in time for the first London performance which was at Canary Wharf. That performance was followed by a live recording for Radio 3 at Kingston University before an invited audience. That audience included Stuart’s dad Reg, trombone player. As with On Duke’s Birthday, that recording of Chanson Irresponsable became the album. Stuart’s generous sound is felt throughout, in a role that demonstrates his taste and versatility as well as his impeccable musicianship. His playing on Insouciant Amour says it all. For some reason that I’ve been unable to fathom, we’ve never had the opportunity to play Chanson again.
In 2018 concerts in Italy with our West Country-based Uncommon Orchestra gave us the chance to bring Graham and Stuart together in a trumpet section with Dave Holdsworth and Dick Pearce. They took the band to new heights. The concerts in Catania, Palermo and Pesaro, in beautiful venues to capacity audiences, were unforgettable. For a jazz musician it doesn’t get much better. In February 2019 we had another great gig, at Ronnie Scott’s. It seemed that The Uncommon Orchestra was ready to take on the world.
Not long afterwards, Stuart was diagnosed with cancer. For two years he was in and out of hospital as they tried every known treatment. Stuart never gave up. It takes courage to be a lead trumpet player. The strength of character that made him such a fine musician saw him through his ordeal without ever losing his fighting spirit. Or his sense of humour. Graham says that he was joking right up to the moment when he had finally to go into the Hospice.
During Stuart’s illness Covid had arrived and put us all out of work. The Orchestra’s return gig at Ronnie’s kept getting re-scheduled. It’s now in the diary for April 2022. Whenever we get together again Stuart’s absence will be deeply felt, personally and musically. The music will be dedicated to his memory, with admiration and love.
Listen to Stuart playing on 'Music Is'
click on bottom right icon to view in full screen
The Orchestra on tour in 1991, Stuart on the left. photo: Graham Russell
Mike Westbrook albums featuring Stuart Brooks:
On Duke's Birthday hatOLOGY 1984
The Orchestra of Smith’s Academy Enja Records 1992
Chanson Irresponsable Enja Records 2002
from westbrook records
click on bottom right icon to view in full screen
The Uncommon Orchestra, Italy 2018
Graham Russell, Stuart, Dick Pearce, Dave Holdsworth
photo: Matthew North
Stuart with the Westbrook Orchestra in
On Duke’s Birthday