Harry Beckett in Concert
I was first introduced to Harry Beckett through his performances in live sets on the BBC radio show ‘Sounds of Jazz’. I remember being intrigued by the sound he produced on his trumpet, which by classical standards was atrocious, yet for jazz was both distinctive and alluring. But it wasn’t only his sound that compelled me to listen, his compositions and improvisations had a freshness that made them stand out from the crowd. So, when I heard he was coming to town, sometime in the early ’90s, I had to go along to see him.
The venue was an upstairs function room in a Birmingham pub, located in an area where most wouldn’t choose to venture after dark. I was nervous about leaving my car so I found a place to park directly under a streetlight, just a little down the road from the pub.
The downstairs of the pub just had the regulars – unaware that a luminary of the British jazz scene was going to be performing above them to a gathering of ardent jazz fans.
Beckett’s band consisted of keyboards, bass guitar, drums, vocals, and saxophone, their shoddy appearance totally belying the quality of jazz they would produce.
The best word I can think of to describe Harry Beckett’s music is refreshing, having a certain joyous quality about it. The improvisations he does are equally as appealing. The band was tight, with the vocalist acting more as an integral part of the ensemble than a soloist, and providing impressive improvised vocal lines in places.
At one point in the concert the keyboard player announced that only Harry and the bass player were going to perform the next piece. As someone who prefers larger ensembles to smaller ones I fully expected this to be the lowlight of the evening. And what sort of piece could just a trumpet and bass guitar produce? In the hands of these two musicians the answer was something quite remarkable, so much so that over 20 years after the concert it is the thing I remember the most.
I was hearing British jazz at its best, and it is lamentable that Harry Beckett never really got the fame he deserved before his death in 2010.
After the show the band was selling their album, Stormy Weather, which I bought and everyone signed, including Harry Beckett himself. Little did I know then what a souvenir I was getting.
Leaving the pub in the late hours I was relieved to see my car still safe and sound under the streetlight where I had left it. It had been a most memorable evening, one that remains clear in my mind to this very day.