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Wednesday, November 17, 2004

jamaica Swing Excerpt #4

Courtney Pine
devoted to excellence
by Michael A Edwards
Sunday, July 04, 2004Courtney Pine

Anyone who heard the blistering saxophone solo that supports the posthumous Bob Marley release, Iron Lion Zion knew they were hearing a phenomenal talent, and upon the song's release and frequent spins on radio, there came the question, "who's that guy on the horn?" The answer turned out to be a Briton with Jamaican roots by the name of Courtney Pine.

No one better embodies the dramatic transformation in the British Jazz scene over the past few years than Courtney Pine. First drawn to jazz by the tenor sax stylings of the legendary Sonny Rollins, he moving away from the instrumental limitations of reggae in pursuit of Rollins' hybrid sound (jazz with country and western, as immortalised in Williams Claxton's famous sleeve for the Way Out West album) and a musical setting which would allow him to stretch out and make full use of the hours of wood shedding he embarked on; a rigorous regime of practice which gave Pine the essential technical facility to continue in pursuit of his chosen music.

"At that time," he previously told music writers, " I didn't know what improvising entailed. "I knew nothing at all about chord substitutions, I just knew how to play the instrument and the C sharp major scale, and that was it. I put the record on and tried to play what Sonny played, regardless of whether he was flattening his ninths. I was ignorant."

The ignorance, however, quickly transformed into competence. Pine wasted little time making his mark on the London scene, and Island Records was quick to recognise the potential.
His debut, Journey To The Urge Within, was the recipient of considerable media attention, but much of the focus was motivated by the novelty appeal of a personable, sharply-dressed young black jazzman, rather than a real commitment to the music itself, Journey was the first straight-ahead jazz album to crack the British Top 40.

Pine was subsequently involved in the creation of the Abibi Jazz Arts organisation in London, a focus for the advancement of, in Courtney's worlds, "Afro-Classical music". Through Abibi, he became a prime mover in the creation of the Jazz Warriors, an all-black big band. The Warriors 1987 debut, Out Of Many, One People echoed the Jamaican motto. The unit evolved into a much sought-after training ground for emerging talent, in the spirit its founders intended.

Never one to rest on past achievements, Courtney Pine has continually explored different tangents of the spreading jazz tree. The vision's tale saw him exploring the Afro-Classical tradition, with Pine interpreting the work of early giants like Ellington, Mercer and Carmichael as well as directing a nod toward his idol, Sonny Rollins.
At the start of 1990, Pine had travelled to Jamaica for a showcase jazz gig. While he was on the island he took the opportunity to record an album with the hottest producer in contemporary reggae, Gussie Clarke. The result was a collection of tunes which took Pine right back to his musical roots. His latest album release, Devotion, continues in the eclectic vein of incorporating up-to-the-minute street sounds, with African and traditional jazz forms.

Pine, who was awarded the OBE in 2000 for his services to Jazz, has continued his inspirational role at the forefront of UK Jazz in many ways, but has been especially busy on radio. He still presents his regular high rating Radio 2 slot, which has featured musicians from all genres from Radiohead to Herbie Hancock.
His fifth series is now confirmed to return to Radio 2 in June of this year. His other major contribution to Radio 2 is JAZZ MAKERS, a one-off six part series he recorded and produced for BBC Radio 2, which aired in February. He also recently presented another major series for Radio 2 - UK Black - which examined the black musical heritage of this country from the Windrush years to the present day, and featured leading lights on the scene of the last 30 years, including the likes of Soul 2 Soul's Jazzie B, Eddie Grant, Mica Paris, Loose End's Carl Mackintosh and comedian Lenny Henry.

His latest soundtrack was for the definitive two-part BBC documentary Nelson Mandela: The Living Legend. Shown on BBC and SABC in South Africa in March of last year to widespread critical acclaim.
Following on from the education workshops he toured two years ago, Pine is presently now in the final stages of production on an animated children's short film he has written and produced, due for release in the spring of next year and including musical contributions from the likes of Maxi Jazz.

Recently, Pine was named as one of the Top 10 Greatest Black Britons of all time. Two years ago the BBC's high profile hunt for the 100 greatest Britons failed to find a single black face, an omission which drove Patrick Vernon (who runs a black history website) to set up a similar poll exclusively for black Britons.
Pine joins the illustrious company of nurse extraordinaire Mary Seacole, labour man and Utech Chancellor Sir Bill Morris, Sir Trevor McDonald, Professor Stuart Hall, Bernie Grant, Dame Shirley Bassey, Queen Phillipa, Olaudah Equiano and Mary Prince.

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