I’ve just heard the sad news that pianist John China, a stalwart of the trad scene and a sympathetic and gentle man, died this morning after a short illness. More to follow. He will be sadly missed in many places, but they will be remembering him especialy at this Sunday’s jazz session in Crouch End. RIP.
I first met John in the early 70's when we worked together playing gigs around London and it was always a pleasure. I was a young student at the time and learned a great deal about music and performing from him. His playing was deceptively adept, interesting chords very good time. He was one of the very first musicians to perform at the 606 Club when we were in the Kings Rd and he continued to play here for the next 35 years. Although largely known as a Trad/Mainstream musician he was also an excellent Be-bop/modern jazz player, familiar with much of the contemporary repertoire although in later years he got to play less in that style, which I always felt was a shame as he was so good at it. Unsurprisingly though it never seemed to bother John who was always cheerful and positive. When I spoke to him about 3 weeks ago, after he had moved to Devon to be with his family, he was talking about “picking up a few gigs” down there, but typically was concerned because he knew there wasn't so much about and “didn't want to take jobs from the local guys”. A wonderful man, a fine musician and a unique talent – he will be greatly missed. Steve Rubie
Very sad news. I first played with John at Laurie Morgan's Crouch End gig something like ten years ago and last worked with him in May. John was what I'd call a total old-school professional, able to pluck all sorts of repertoire out of the air, back singers in the most unlikely of keys and offer tasteful accompaniment to all manner of horn players. And he was a ubiquitous, if totally unassuming, figure. Everyone, in all corners of the business, knew him, a fact I was reminded of a few years back when I was talking with Bobby Wellins about piano players. Bobby praised John's choice of chord changes and his fine time, as we all know that Bobby knows a thing about both of those aspects. As much as I hate to use the hackneyed old phrase, John China was a “musicians musician”, dedicated, not interested in attracting attention to himself, but always with the music uppermost in his mind. That's why he was one of the safest pairs of hands to have in any rhythm section and such a popular figure with a wide spectrum of our profession. My condolences to his family. Simon Spillett
Brian Johnson 8 September 2012
Found out today of Johns passing.
I've known John since about 1970, a genuinely nice guy and professional musician.
We did many West End clubs and 100's of pro gigs together of all types of music over the years. If you rang him Saturday afternoon to do a gig that night he would do it if he wasn't working, (which was very rare). A real pro. Miss you mate. See you later in the Lyric in Archer Street in the sky.
Cheers for now.
A fond farewell to dear John China, a fine jazz piano accompanist and soloist, and a thoroughly decent man.
He will be sadly missed by many jazz singers and musicians, especially in The King's Head Crouch End, home of Sunday afternoon Jam Sessions more than three decades.
John played here many times and was quite simply brilliant. Aside from his playin,g we will miss his gentle humour and the long chats into the night following a gig. It won't be the same without you.
We had an emotional afternoon yesterday in John's absence at The Jazz in Crouch End, but one full of smiles and dancing as is usual and as he would have wished. John was perhaps the kindest man I have ever met, nothing was too much trouble for him and his calm measured demeanour was reflected in his sensitive accompaniment and solos. Among his musical advice, one phrase stood out to me “it's all in the spaces…” His knowledge of repertoire was vast and not limited to any particular style, as adept at Latin grooves, pop songs, Bebop or standards – he seemed to know every song in every key and to play them with a chameleon like authenticity. I am only happy I managed to make so many recordings with him. He will be missed by so many as a person and a professional. x
John China's funeral will be held on
Monday 17th September
at North Devon Crematorium, Old Torrington Road, Barnstaple EX31 3NW
Very sad news. Like many people, I worked with John in a variety of settings over the years; Simon may be correct in calling the phrase a 'musicians musician' hackneyed – but in this case it was true. RIP John.
I can only reiterate all the wonderful words already expressed above. I worked with John on many occasions at the 606 in the 80's when I was a young singer and saw him every month with the trad. group there. Always easy going, humorous, and encouraging. I last saw him working with Paul Pace at my cafe in the park, nothing had changed he was still wonderful, enthusiastic and full of life. RIP John.
Same here.Great words above written about a great pianist and lovely man.
John was the first pianist I worked with on the London Jazz scene. Our “cassette” demos will now be very precious to me.
As well as being one of the old school pianists who knows pretty much every tune in every key – he was also a master of the bass pedals.
Thought he might be with us for a while longer so his passing has come as bit of a shock.
Would have liked to have said bye bye to someone warm down to earth, jolly and special.
I only played with John once, a few months ago on a gig with Nick Charles's Benny Goodman Tribute. He was really friendly, sight-read everything beautifully, with a lovely sense of swing and a deep understanding of the idiom, which is so rare these days. I was thinking only recently that I would love to play with him again. I am very sorry I won't have that chance now. RIP.
John always played at The Mill Hill Jazz Club as the leader of our house band at our monthly Jam Sessions. His talent and musicianship provided the highest quality support for all our Jammers, pros and amateurs alike. He made the music seamless and all our performers had the comfort of a safety net for their output.
Always happy to pick up on any style, tune and key his infectious good nature filtered through the keyboard and over the bar during the breaks. Mike Paxton and Steve Picking who make up the rest of our house band with John have lost part of their lives but John's influence and support will endure at our club.
I met John around 2000 and enjoyed countless gigs with him. John was one of the most musical and sympathetic of accompanists and band players, always listening carefully to the players or singers he was with and leaving plenty of space for them. He knew what to leave out; never pulling the music in a particular direction, but supporting what he heard around him. He rarely used chord extensions – not because they weren't in his musical vocabulary, but because he wanted to allow other musicians to take the music where THEY wanted to go. This made him perfectly suitable for both Traditional and Modern Jazz settings. John's musical style was reflected in his own persona. A humble and modest man, warm and approachable, supportive and utterly reliable. I shall miss him tremendously.
John used to put a packet of fags on the top of the piano. I once asked him if he ever played those notes. “No” he said, “too far to reach”. Great bloke, sorry to hear of his passing.
I'll really miss John: a wonderful pianist, sensitive and encouraging accompanist and a very generous person.
John would dep for my father at the bougline restaurant in Gerard st during the seventies. Our paths have crossed many times over the years and I will miss giving him a lift home or just chatting and having a ciggy. God bless john, Pete Jackson
John was a great musician who could turn his hands (and feet) to any musical situation. I first met him when he was a dep for Art jackson (my father) at the Bougline retaurant in Gerrard st. in the seventies. Our paths crossed at different times over the years, and everyone of them was a pleasure. RIP John, you will be missed, Peter Jackson
just read the sad news of Johns passing. I met John through Brian Johnson's big band in the early '70's. I was just starting out in the music business and John and Brian arranged a couple of my songs for me. Although they weren't too good really John always gave me his encouragement and his Time. A great bloke, a great muso and such a lot of fun. The secret of life is enjoying the passing of time. Thanks mate for for such great memories.
Oh man… I had no idea. First saw John at the Welock Arms. My wife wanted to give me a couple of coaching sessions with him for Christmas. Rest in Jazz, John.
Sorry I can't be at 606 today for the tribute to John. Had many happy sessions with John, playing with Jack Free's Chicagoans or in a trio with guests like Phil Day, Simon Spillet, Roy Williams etc, Plus the functions where we did our duo set. It was great fun recording our CD together (Just a Pedalo) with Pete Rudeforth doing excellent engineering.Plus the cruise together for P&O to America & Canada with Jack Horwood on vibes. An excellent day in Greenwich Village listening to wonderful jazz.Eating ice cream in Newport, Rhode Island. A great day in Boston. Bus tour of Quebec on open top bus. Arriving through the tiny gap in St John's harbour in Newfoundland. A lovely man to be with and a great musician. I miss him lots. RIP John. Martin Guy