Book Review: Dusk Fire by Michael Garrick

DUSK FIRE: Jazz in English Hands
Michael Garrick with Trevor Bannister
(Book Review by Tommy Pearson)

It’s shameful that the popular imagination can still reduce jazz in this country to the moldy stereotype of blokes, often with beards, scratching away at the same old standards. And the awful photo on the back cover of Dusk Fire: Jazz in English Hands does nothing to help dispel this image. Yes, it’s true, Michael Garrick does have a beard. But his music has so much more value than that.

This book reveals what fans of his music have known all along – that Garrick, while constantly acknowledging the past, never settles for it. He keeps on innovating and changing.

Which is probably why his name, like that of another great British jazz innovator, Mike Westbrook, isn’t better known. What’s his ‘style’? In his intro to the book, co-author and friend Trevor Bannister suggests Garrick’s sheer diversity presents critics and audiences with a ‘conundrum’ because this jazz maverick simply can’t be pigeonholed; stores, broadcasters and, ultimately, the general public don’t quite know what to do with him.

Dusk Fire: Jazz in English Hands tells Garrick’s story in extraordinary detail – sometimes too much detail and with infuriating diversions – from curious child in the 1930s through National Service, university in London (where he formed his first quartet), the building of a music career to fully-fledged bandleader, teacher and inspiration to new generations of jazzers. But it’s more than mere biography. It’s a reminder of the struggles and determinations of a small group of brilliantly creative British musicians who have gifted the jazz scene of their country sustained innovation for 50 years. A thankless task, and Garrick generously reprints his stinking early reviews alongside completely contradictory reviews of the same records from 30 years later – very entertaining and revealing.

The real pleasure of the book is in what it has to say about education – after all, Garrick has been a jazz educator for much of his life. Insights come from deep understanding and experience of music, in all its shades, and references used to emphasise points are wide-ranging and often surprising. Throughout the book, one senses Garrick’s urge to answer that impossible question: What is jazz? He has a good go, especially in a set of fascinating articles at the end of the book, including a letter written to the Associated Board called ‘Jazz, A Philosophy’ and an academic but nonetheless absorbing analysis of harmony.

There’s a lively and intelligent mind at work here. It’s an exhausting book – endless lists of players, dates and other minute details should have been edited better – but written with energy and wit. Garrick often dances around a story so much you forget where it started, but that’s a great metaphor for his music, right? I played with Garrick a few times when I was a drummer; looking across during one of his solos, I would catch those mischievous eyes and know that we were in for a little Ravel here, some Ellington there – but pure Garrick, a dose of gentle, inspired chaos.

It comes as no surprise whatsoever to discover that Garrick had a succession of Reliant Robins; there’s something very British about that kind of sideways rebellion. But how on earth did Garrick get himself, the late Jeff Clyne (+ double bass and amp), Kenny Wheeler AND all the touring gear in one Reliant Robin for a gig in Yorkshire? Only a master improviser could’ve worked that one out.

Dusk Fire can be bought from Amazon, or directly from Springdale Publishing

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1 reply »

  1. What a shame Tommy Pearson had to ruin an otherwise decent review of Mike Garrick's biography, by wasting a whole paragraph on the nature of his beard!
    Too often reviewers miss the point and digress into irrelevant territories, which blunts their argument and is not of any interest to the reader at all.
    However, we must be thankful that Mr Pearson has at least bothered to read the book (?) and at least point out the many excellent merits it has.

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