Tuesday 10 July 2012

Memories of Lol

I never intended this blog to become a list of obituaries and try to resist the temptation to comment on each passing. I felt I had nothing to add to the many heart-felt tributes which followed the shockingly-premature death of Abram Wilson but when I received an email from Hazel Miller of Ogun Records with the news that Lol Coxhill died last night I immediately felt the need to record my memories of this great jazz original.

When I graduated from trad to mainstream as a teenager and became a regular at concerts by US stars at the Odeon Hammersmith there was often a balding man playing soprano solo in the underpass leading to the cinema; his music sounded strange but intriguing in a serpentine way. Lol later grew tired of talking about his busking years but that subterranean music insinuated its way into my consciousness and persisted in my memory.

Then there were the years of the Bracknell Jazz Festival; Lol was hired as the announcer but found plenty of opportunities to play, standing at the corner of the stage while the bands were setting up. His annual mock-reluctant recital (with sound-effects) of 'Murder in the Air' was always greeted with a Mornington-Crescent-like cheer from the crowd but his music was always serious (even when filled with humour).

When we started Leicester Jazz House one of the first bands we booked was Dave Green's Fingers, a remarkable quintet with Lol and Bruce Turner on saxophones, Michael Garrick & Alan Jackson. Lol told me his job was to disrupt the music whenever Bruce and Dave got into a groove. Lol sang My Funny Valentine but we forgave him.

Later we heard from Anthony Wood (ex-editor of the Wire) that he was organising a tour for the Recedents- Lol, Mike Cooper, Roger Turner. We didn't think we'd get a big audience (in the event it wasn't bad) but booked them anyway. Lol stayed with us overnight and over breakfast I asked how the the tour was going; his reply?:  That was it!

At a later concert with Roger Turner at the City Gallery the musicians got into a huddle during the interval; I overheard someone telling Lol it was strange to see free musicians rehearsing and planning a set list. 'We weren't deciding what to play, just what not to play.'

For a few years we ran an annual gig as part of the De Montfort University Cultural EXchanges week- a (free-of- charge) talk in the afternoon then a solo gig in the evening. Remembering Lol's wit and loquacity we invited him two years ago and were delighted he agreed. To our surprise he was very ill-at-ease during the afternoon session, answering almost monosyllabically. We struggled to keep the conversation going and were relieved when he announced he'd play for a bit; the music was great as ever but we only we wanted him to give the audience a taster- we did want them to come back and buy tickets for the evening gig!

The lack of ease- anxiety even- persisted during the evening performance but his music was as inventive and original as ever, with twisting melodic shapes you'd hear no other saxophonist attempting.

My biggest disappointment is failing to persuade Lol to reconvene the Melody Four (Tony Coe & Steve Beresford) for a Leicester gig. I no longer have their lp 'Love plays such funny games' so I'm playing Lol's album 'Before my time' instead. There's a version of Burgundy Street Blues  with the late Paul Rutherford on euphonium and Dave Green on bass, then I'll turn it over for Buddy Bolden's Blues. I won't play What a Friend We Have in Jesus ...not today.