Photo credit: Gary Wallis
No one better embodies the transformation in British jazz from the underground scene to the mainstream over the past twenty years than Courtney Pine. With his debut album Journey to the Urge Within becoming the first 'serious' jazz album to enter the top 40 music charts in 1986, Pine has released what can only be described as an intimidating collection of music. An established front man in his own right, Courtney Pine has also appeared on numerous records for other artists, including Mica Paris and Elkie Brooks. Made an OBE in 2004 and a CBE in 2009 Pine also has an honorary doctorate from the University of Southampton for his services to jazz music.
We grabbed five minutes with Courtney to discuss his beginnings as a musician and his journey to becoming one of the most recognised faces of the modern jazz scene. Here's what he had to say.
Can you give us an insight into how and when you started out making music?
My mother got me a recorder at the age of 9 and when I was 15 she bought me a tenor saxophone for Christmas.
Have you come up against difficulties when learning? How did you overcome them?
There were many difficulties with inner city education having to deal with small budgets, teachers underrating me also my family did not see music as a true vocation so I had to study harder, ignore the negative remarks, school bullies and concentrate on being a better student of music, being focused listening to great jazz records and knowing what I wanted to be and sound like in the future this is how I overcame the difficulties.
Are there any musicians in particular that you would say that led you to pursue a career in music?
Rex Rutley father to my friend Jonathon who taught and played in London theatres playing all the woodwind instruments and Mac Tontoh father to another friend of mine, Frank. Mac played trumpet and was the co leader of the hugely successful group Osibisa. These two musicians led me to believe that it was possible to be a professional musician.
How did you make the step from playing as a hobby to being a full-time musician?
I never believed that playing music was a hobby, I always felt that exploring sound was to be taken seriously. I made my first professional engagement in 1981 at the top rank in Brighton playing with the lovers rock band Black Harmony. the promoter ran away with the money so I was never paid. It still was way better than playing in school assembly!
What is your favourite tune in the world? Why?
At this moment in time Chaka Khan's Through the Wire. It has a great melody and a great performance the lyrics are so spot on.
If you could start playing a new instrument what would you like to be able to play?
Drums! I would tell everybody to tune up and play with a bigger sound (not louder!) and if they can't handle it go home and practice!
If you could go back in time to when you were just starting out what advice would you give yourself?
Don't take the negative comments too seriously you can prove them all wrong if you practice, research and be brave enough to play from your heart.
What are your thoughts on the Take it away scheme?
In many cultures outside the UK music is an integral part in the development of the young. This has been a tried and trusted way of supporting positive growth patterns in young minds. From the beginnings of our existence in Africa repetitive reinforcement of social conduct, order and general safeguarding against danger has been reliant on songs or nursery rhymes which allow the young to 'get the message' in a very direct way. Playing an instrument is a further development of this, which gives (in my experience) the student an even closer attachment to personal development.
"I believe this scheme to be important and very relevant to our current society."
For more information check out Courtney Pine's website.