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
Michael Garrick with Trevor Bannister: Tone Poems & Dusk Fire Jazz in English Hands: An Autobiography
It wasn't easy. Michael Garrick, who died in November 2011, knew more than most what it cost in sheer energy, financial expense and creative effort for a jobbing British jazz musician with few resources - beyond their musical invention and brilliance - to assemble, rehearse and record even a highly talented big band.
And yet he managed to realise it time after time with astonishing and powerfully beautiful results.
Just listen to the succession of jazz achievements on his Jazz Academy label, created in the final decade of his life.
And take his final album Tone Poems. It was an impressive summation at the age of 77 of his composing, arranging and orchestrating skills over five decades, as well as the enduring spirit and potency of his piano playing.
Garrick was also an esteemed and long-serving teacher of the jazz tradition, and his big bands have frequently featured young and unknown musicians who have gained precious expereince and confidence under Garrick's tutelage.
This ultimate cohort was brimming with such talents, playing alongside older heads like the superb veteran drummer Alan Jackson and the singularly fine guitarist Dominic Ashworth.
Garrick's big bands were true jazz schools.
The album's earliest composition is also my favourite, October Woman, recorded in 1964 by Garrick's quintet with two mighty Caribbean horns, the Jamaican altoist Joe Harriot and the Vincentian trumpeter Shake Keane.
Now in 2012, Shake's original solo is blown serenely by Garrick's trumpeter son Gabriel, with powerful contributions from Ashworth and tenorist Sam Bullard.
Garrick's satirical edge is sharpened by his musical essay on the Millenium Dome, Shambolism, with the rampaging trombones of Martin Gladdish and Nick Mills, while Mick Foster's serpentine tenor winds its way through Rustat's Gravesong, from Garrick's hymnal and atmospheric Jazz Praises at St Pauls of 1968.
The years of war and their pain were remembered in Bladon, which includes successive solos by father and son Garrick and Jackson in full mettle.
Matt Wates's curling alto is buoyant throughout Floating on Summer, and the huge Ellingtonian undertones of Garrick's orchestrations emerge almost visibly through the 11 minutes of Black Marigolds.
If Tone Poems has strong elements of Garrick's musical life story, it should be listened to with a reading of Dusk Fire: Jazz in English Hands, his biography written with the journalist Trevor Bannister.
Garrick was a Middlesex boy born in Enfield in 1931, bullied at school and with a mother who taught him the basics of the piano which became his life comrade.
A boyhood fascination with jazz was first provoked by hearing Nat Gonella's Islington trumpet blowing his late '30s hit Georgia on My Mind.
His story is full of the wit, incident and vagaries of a full and unpredictable jazz life, with all its discoveries and insecurities, its lows and periods of virtual poverty, but its long moments too of climax and creative achievement.
Its strongest and most memorable sections are the descriptions of what the author calls his "debacle of national service" and the pointlessness of his experience of military life, whether in RAF Kumalo in Southern Rhodesia or RAF Podgate near Warrington. He brings bacl the early '50s postwar world with powerful evocations.
Garrick also draws compelling pen portraits of the jazz figures in his life, of Keane and Harriott, of the US pianist Bill Evans, of Ellington's finest vocalist Adelaide Hall and of the burning alto saxophonist of Saltburn, Bruce Turner.
But more than anything his story is one of a man who knows, loves and plays the humanism of music.
The last time I saw him he was about to perform in a north London pub on a damp November night to a handful of listeners.
Coming to the end of his eight decades, jazz was still his life's commission and joy.
Dusk Fire is the story of such a finely driven artist and human being.
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