© 2019 by Ian McDowell

photography by Elle Halley

MIKE'S JAZZ STORY 

There I was, perched on the kitchen table, dangling my little legs, at the age of 4, while my jazz guitarist Dad taught me my first few notes on the recorder. This led to a junior scholarship at Trinity College of Music, where a kind and perceptive lady called Gladys Puttick advised that I should “blow something”, and be at once let off from scraping at the violin which had mistakenly found its way into my life.

Soon I was in the National Youth Orchestra on clarinet, and ended my school days with a choral scholarship at Christ Church, Oxford. There I played classical clarinet in every possible orchestra and ensemble, and began to dabble in the naughty music which went on down in the University Union Cellars.

Somewhat at a loss as to what to do with the rest of my life, after Oxford, I fetched up doing a post graduate course in clarinet at the Royal College of Music. This seemed to resolve nothing – other than that practicing scales interminably was not for me. A series of chance happenstances led to a spell on board ships, including the QE2, as a ship’s musician. Plenty of time, as we crossed the Atlantic and meandered around the Caribbean, to practice the saxophone and the flute.

Back in London, I played in the West End, and at society events around the country, with Joe Loss (including The Queen’s private 50th birthday party at Windsor Castle), Nat Temple, and other band leaders of the day. The younger element in those bands were increasingly in demand to play rock and roll and pop music of the 1970’s, much to the annoyance and incomprehension of the old guard.

For a dozen years I played countless society gigs in cover bands, and as many London recording sessions as I could find. From versions of Rolling Stones repertoire to Eightsome Reels; from Beatles selections to Waltzes; from Advertising Jingles to Pop backing tracks. And all the time, learning more and more about ‘real’ jazz.

I turned to jazz almost entirely in the 90’s, and spent some 20 years mostly playing small band jazz in London and Berkshire. My tenor sax started to gather dust, as I began to enjoy the alto more (Phil Woods), and added the baritone (Gerry Mulligan). Clarinet has always been there (Eddie Daniels).

In recent times I’ve moved to Sussex, and have begun to enjoy playing with some of the talented jazz musicians around Brighton, plus occasional musical forays up to London.

Big bands are always fun (on alto/clarinet or baritone), and there’s a bit of big band clarinet on this website if you’d like to listen. But I get most musical satisfaction out of the smaller group setting, especially when there’s another front line or vocalist to share musical ideas with.

 

Entertaining an audience is not always the first and best thing a jazz musician does: I think that’s wrong! If we don’t take our listeners with us, we won’t have an audience to play to.

 

That means engaging with people, by playing repertoire which is musically accessible, whilst at the same time giving the musicians fun and creative satisfaction.