The shipyard painter, political activist and razor-sharp cartoonist Bob Starrett has just written a new book The Way I See It on his eventful life and times. Below we reprint one of his stories and review an essential read
They say that all the world's a stage and that was something the British saxophonist and raconteur Lol Coxhill took at face value.
He played everywhere, from the streets of London to skips in Yorkshire, and he'd play with anyone who interested him, from rhythm and blues singer Rufus Thomas - with whom Coxhill got his professional break in 1965 - to free improvisers John Stevens and Derek Bailey, avant-garde rock band Henry Cow, punk rock jesters The Damned, legendary guitar hero Jimi Hendrix and sound poet Bob Cobbing, to name but a very few.
Coxhill, who died in July aged 79 following a series of medical complications, was never influential in the way that Charlie Parker - who he wished to emulate as a young amateur - or John Coltrane were to generations of jazz musicians.
But he was a genuine innovator who developed a unique sound on the soprano and sopranino saxophones, exploring every crevice of those instruments' tonality but often favouring the bitter-sweet sounds inhabiting their top ends.
Coxhill's lines were peppered with references to the great tunesmiths he loved like Ellington and Gershwin but then the sound could suddenly fragment into microtonal showers, pointing the music towards something more abstract.
Although his collaborations were numerous and wide-ranging, Coxhill was best known as a solo improviser.
Busking the streets - both for the thrill of playing with the multifarious sound sources that he found there and to keep house and home together as a lone parent to four children - and an invitation from Ronnie Scott's Jazz Club during the late 1960s to perform alone between sets whenever he fancied were instrumental in forging his art.
The streets also opened up other opportunities for Coxhill.
Kevin Ayers, out searching for a new combo following his departure from the Soft Machine, found the saxophonist for his avant-garde rock band The Whole World there.
Another impromptu meeting, this time with the DJ John Peel, resulted in him signing to Peel's record label Dandelion.
Released in 1971, his debut album Ear Of Beholder, was a double album's worth of solo recordings, parlour room duets, jazz standards, collective improvisations and field recordings.
One of the latter, culled from the ape house at London Zoo, is devilishly spliced into some freeform antics from the members of Ayers's Whole World and is a window to Lol's offbeat humour.
It set the tone for much of his future work, which also extended beyond music into fringe theatre and film, all of it possessed by his keen inquisitiveness about the possibilities that lay beyond the bounds of genre and taste.
On Wednesday Mike Westbrook's Brass Band, Welfare State Theatre Band, Eddie Prevost, Maggie Nicols, London Improvisers Orchestra, Sibylline Sisters, Stan Tracey, Evan Parker and and an array of free improvisers are set to converge at London's Cecil Sharp House, which would have been Coxhill's 80th birthday, for what should be an exceptional tribute performance.
The stage is set for the fringe to be the focus, something which runs counter to today's ghastly X-Factor aesthetic.
The droll and amiable Coxhill will probably be sat there in the great club in the sky nodding approvingly - while figuring out how best to pull the rug from under them.
Remembering Lol Coxhill takes place at 7pm on Wednesday September 19 at Cecil Sharp House, 2 Regent's Park Road, London NW1. Full details: www.efdss.org
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