DIARY: Stan Sulzmann, A Cockney In Colorado

Stan Sulzmann being interviewed by Daniel Feinberg
for KUVO radio (Denver)

Stan Sulzmann was invited by John Gunther, a great saxophonist/composer and head of Thompson Jazz Studies Program at Colorado Univ. Boulder to work with the students for a week this September, culminating in a Big Band gig at Dazzles Jazz club in Denver.

Prior to the week Stan and his wife Sarah had the opportunity to fit in week of holiday in the Rockies.

A change is as good as a rest, and vice versa. In Stan’s tour diary, the calm, the distance, and the thin mountain air seem to put everyday London life into perspective. Questions he was asked, from a simple, friendly “Where are you guys from?” on a hiking trail to “Do you think there is a difference between the music in USA and in Europe/Scandanavia – – if so what?” from an inquisitive student, spur Stan Sulzmann to some broad and fascinating reflections. The trip also was also poignant for Stan, since it coincided with the last days of Kenny Wheeler’s life. Kenny Wheeler and Stan have been close colleagues for several decades. Stan writes:


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On Trail Ridge Road In the Rocky Mountains

“Welcome to Colorado” – “Have A Great Time In Colorado” were the friendly messages we read on the large hoardings on our arrival at Denver airport. Even the immigration officer said “have a great stay.” And we did, way beyond any of my expectations !!

On the second day, we collected a car and headed off into the Rocky Mountains for a preliminary week’s break staying in a log cabin near Wild Basin just outside the National Park entrance. Straight out of ‘gunfight at the OK Corral’ ! The Big Thompson river ran not far away, through Estes, the scene of devastating flooding in Sept. 2013. The recovery is still evident. New roads and buildings were quickly reconstructed by a very resilient population.

Altitude sickness took a while to adjust to (we were around a mile above sea level). Panting for air on the trail head hikes, particularly on the steep ups meant little chatter, but time for some self-reflection amongst such a spectacular, surreal and humbling landscape.Vast vistas of mountain range, pine and aspen trees, lakes,meadows and wildlife; it all makes us feel so small.

I realised just how privileged we were to be there for this short time, away from the interminable media news of pointless violence, religious bickering, gangs, drugs and the insanity we live with on a daily basis. This friendly expansive region invoked the opposite view of USA as typified in ‘The Wire’ or ‘Breaking Bad’. We visited Eagle Plume, a shop and museum of Native American culture reminding us of Colorado’s own difficult history played out between the indigenous native tribes and the settlers. But this wasn’t Hollywood, those were real events.

The people we met everywhere were incredibly open, friendly and wanting to talk, particularly interested in the Scottish referendum. On more than a few occasions other passing hikers said “Hey where are you guys from ? My parents met in England , dad was stationed there during and after the 2nd world war”. That reminded me of playing a gig with Eric Delaney’s band on a US airbase just off the A1 when I was about 18 ! Glen Miller lived in Fort Morgan Colorado for a while, not the jazz musicians first choice maybe but a great roaring band that was stationed in the UK. In the late 1960’s players like John McLaughlin and Harry Beckett worked in bands lead by ex GI R&B singers like Ronnie Jones(& the Night Timers) and Herbie Goines. Possibly this fusion of jazz,blues, and rock influenced McLaughlin’s classic record Extrapolations that lead him to NY and working with Miles and Tony Williams. I believe John Surman took lessons from a GI serviceman – explaining the Harry Carney influence and circular breathing.

We heard some spectacular three octave elk bugling. Eerie high notes made me think of Evan Parker and the possibility of a duet with him on soprano. We weren’t far from a small town of Lyons where posters invited you to open Blue Grass jam sessions ,reminding me that Bill Frisell, brought up in Denver Colorado draws on a huge ‘country’ influence in his music.

I’ve been toying with Moose The Mooche (Parker theme ) ever since Jim Hart suggested playing it on a busking gig some time ago . Eating breakfast about 7.00am my wife Sarah suddenly screamed ‘Look !’ : a moose was ambling right past the window, just feet away and then disappeared into the Aspen trees. The tune has now taken on new meaning !

A drive to the top of Trail Ridge Rd ( the highest road in USA, above the treeline) meant white knuckles on the steering wheel, particularly when terrifying roadside sheer drops appeared and central road markings disappeared . All made worthwhile by the breathtaking view ! I’ve included my amateur pic from the top of Trail Ridge. The view both humbling and awe inspiring brought up all manner of reflections and emotions . I had been receiving news on e mail from Nick Smart in London about Ken Wheeler’s deteriorating condition. The spectacular landscape made me think about some of the wonderful artists that I have been privileged to work with or experienced, lifting the spirit out of the ordinary, inspiring us to keep trying to get a little better and ‘contribute’ in some way.

Ken was certainly one of those people ( for me, like Messiaen or Coltrane ). A private and shy person excused the usual duties of life courtesy of a loving family, who played and composed sublime music right up till his 83rd year. Artistic success came in middle life and Ken continued to work hard and develop almost to his passing. An inspirational life and music that touched so many people around the world. Kenny enriched my life as did that view from Trail Ridge Rd .


The second week we drove down to Boulder and the Colorado Univ. campus. architecturally a pleasure to stroll around. I was surprised just how much the Jazz faculty staff knew about us in the UK. Brad Goode, trumpet teacher from Chicago knew Evan Parker and Kenny Wheeler very well having worked with them both. Paul Mckee (trombone and composition) enthused about Kenny’s and Mike Gibbs’ composing. Art Lande who had a duo with Garbarek in the 1970s, and records with ECM, is artist in residence.

John Guenther, Stan Sulzmann

John Gunther (above) is a fine saxophonist and woodwind player as well as composer and not least head of the Jazz faculty. A remarkably broad artist with eclectic taste in music John is well versed in the traditions having been a member of Woody Herman’s band and then spending nine years in New York. He leads an experimental laptop orchestra as well as promoting the repertoire classes. He was keen for me to talk to the students about our jazz history and development (as well as cockney rhyming slang ! ) and my own early experiences. A student asked “ Do you think there is a difference between the music in USA and in Europe/Scandanavia – – if so what ”

That question set the memories going…. I found myself talking first about having started playing whilst at school in R&B and dance bands before formal jazz education was a possibility. A short period in an office job ,then working on the Queen Mary at the age of 18 making regular trips to NY. Docking on 52nd street I remember passing Birdland all boarded up. Rock & Roll was “in” but Jazz at a huge ebb. I visited clubs like Village Gate with a double bill Miles Davis and Dizzy Gillespie Quintets but with half empty houses, seeing Mingus with Dannie Richmond and Charles McPherson and a quartet led by Joe Henderson with Louis Hayes and Kenny Barron, where Cornish drummer Terry Rodd and myself were the only ‘punters’. With jovial curiosity and puzzlement the guys came off stage and asked “Hey where are you guys from?”

Back to that question: I think the differences (if indeed there are any) may have come about because of American expats like Dexter Gordon , Ben Webster, Oscar Pettiford, Tootie Heath, Mal Waldron to name but a few, moving to Denmark ,Sweden, France and Germany but not to the UK mainly because of our Musicians Union rulings – – they couldn’t work here. In Europe/Scandinavia they were stars coming from the states where making a living was becoming extremely difficult. More importantly they passed on their traditions directly to the local players, but here in the UK we developed in a different unique way. I told the students about Tubby Hayes and Ronnie Scott, one student doing some quick research on Tubby and coming back saying Wow ! how great Tubby was. ( wonder of the net ! ) I also talked about the great players that left these shores for the states. Victor Feldman, Peter Ind, John McLaughlin, Dave Holland and more recently Will Vinson and Phil Donkin.

In the late 50s early 60s we had a strong musical influx from the West Indies, Jamaica bringing Dizzy Reece , Wilton Bogey Gaynor, Joe Harriott, Shake Keane, Harry Becket, Harold McNair, Ernest Ranglin and Russ Henderson playing the London clubs. But the big development came in the late 60,s with the arrival of Mike Westbrook’s band with John Surman. The faculty staff and some students knew about Surman.. The general vibe of the music was ‘full on’ often free and affectionately earned the nickname “modal holocaust !’ Blood on your lip and “seeing God” marked a great gig ! Ken Wheeler became prominent around this time as did John Taylor and Mike Gibbs, all ex members of John Dankworths band. Then add to the mix the South African musicians lead by Chris Mcgregor that arrived and took up residence at Ronnies Old Place ( the original tiny club) with Dudu Pukwana and Louis Moholo . These musicians were to be a huge influence on the next ‘Loose Tubes’ generation abandoning traditional swing for a more broad eclectic view. Evan Parker , Derek Bailey, John Stevens and Tony Oxley were spearheading the free improv music that found Germany as its stronghold. The Boulder students were genuinely interested and I hope they will research some of these great artists.

At Old Main, Colorado University Boulder


On the Wednesday evening (Thurs am in UK) we played a small group concert in Old Main a lovely old hall on campus built around 1850. The second set comprised of all Kenny Wheeler compositions that I had taken specially, finishing with Kind Folk. Next day I heard from Nick Smart that Ken had passed away that morning (Thurs am). There was a shared air of sadness from the whole jazz faculty who expressed their love for Ken’s music including the young students being introduced to the music for the first time. It was very emotional to hear how much Ken was revered by the faculty and how his music had touched so many.

Daniel Feinberg invited me for a live radio interview on KUVO radio (Denver) a great jazz radio station in large premises and with a live performance room. KUVO runs on sponsorship, donations and a great deal of voluntary work. We talked about the Univ. Big Band gig at Dazzles jazz club in Denver that would conclude my visit playing tracks from several of my cds. An impromptu special half hour tribute to Kenny followed, talking about him and playing some of the recordings kept in the stations extensive CD library.

The ‘Dazzles’ club gig was a joy. A comfortable venue with a large playing room and smaller back room for late night sessions. It felt a little daunting to precede upcoming gigs by Ravi Coltrane and Mark Turner quartets. The band played beautifully with such spirit reminding me of home. Apart from a couple of my own compositions we played my arrangements of British jazz musicians tunes that I have been working on for several years now, giving me the opportunity to have fun telling the audience about these great artists and ‘characters’ Ken Wheeler, John Taylor, Nikki Iles, Iain Ballamy, Mike Walker, Gwilym Simcock. I took one new piece written especially for the band ,an arrangement of a Bacharach tune You’ll Never Get To Heaven . Nikki Iles Westerly was the hit with its slightly laid back ‘Western’ groove. We enjoyed the response from the very open and generationally mixed audience who stood for the band, every bit deserved .


Many thanks to John Gunther and his wife Stephanie for taking such great care of us and making me feel so valued. If you ever get the opportunity to go and see the Rocky Mountains and Boulder , GO ! – – its wonderful !!!

Arriving back at Heathrow exhausted but exhilarated from such a full on eventful and emotional trip, we noticed a large sign saying ‘Abuse of our staff will not be tolerated’ Back to reality !

Thanks for listening.
Stan Sulzmann.

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2 replies »

  1. What a great read – a travelogue, potted jazz history, and diary all in one article. Great stuff! Thanks also Stan for your contributions to my entertainment when I was in London from '69 to '75!

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