Features/Interviews

John Altman (Big Band in London 14 Oct, Henley 25 Oct)

“My main career has been as a composer/arranger/conductor for movies and records. But I’ve never stopped playing jazz,” writes John Altman. He looks forward to two performances by his Big Band playing his arrangements, at Pizza Express Dean Street at lunchtime on Saturday 14 October. and at the Kenton Theatre in Henley on Wednesday 25 October, both concerts featuring vocalists Rebecca Poole and Iain MacKenzie

John Altman soloing with his Big Band. Photo courtesy of John Altman

John Altman writes: I became hooked on jazz at the age of two. Not possible? OK then, I became hooked before I was born. An explanation. One of my mother’s brothers was Sid Phillips – arguably our finest Dixieland clarinettist, a great arranger, the man who introduced Artie Shaw to Buddy Rich, a member of Louis Armstrong’s UK All Stars, and spotted by Bob Wilber at the Paris Jazz Festival lecturing Charlie Parker, who was listening intently (oh to have been a fly on that wall!) Her youngest brother was Woolf Phillips, a terrific trombonist who recorded with Coleman Hawkins, jammed with Django, and, when he became musical director at the London Palladium, conductor for Duke Ellington and Benny Goodman who weren’t permitted to bring their own bands.

When my mother wasn’t playing stride piano, she was telling me stories about Hawkins, Fats and Connee Boswell. So I grew up with jazz – at the age of eleven joined my school jazz society, religiously attended Ellington and Basie gigs in my teens, met Hawkins, heard Wes at Ronnie’s Old Place when I was 14, and bought every record I could lay my hands on.

Once I began playing tenor, I found myself jamming with Philly Joe Jones (you play like Joe Henderson!), refusing to lend Hank Mobley my horn, and getting to know the greats of UK and US jazz.

My main career has been as a composer/arranger/conductor for movies and records. But I’ve never stopped playing jazz – with everyone from Chet Baker to Jon Batiste via Bud Freeman! I started my big band in 1985 and have led ensembles all over the world – during lockdown I wrote my autobiography, “Hidden Man”, and decided to arrange some of my ‘hits’ for the all-star line-up. Some were already jazz oriented – “Oh So Quiet” , “Moondance”, “Ole Devil Called Love”. Some were less obvious – James Bond theme, “Walking in the Air”, “Bright Side of Life” – but with an 18-piece line up encompassing the best of British jazz and two great vocalists we have lift off!


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The crew will be at Pizza Express Dean Street at lunchtime on Saturday 14 October and the Kenton Theatre Henley on 25 October – featuring the terrific vocals of Rebecca Poole and Iain MacKenzie as well as some of our finest jazz stars playing my arrangements. Hope to see some of you along the way – do say hi!

LINKS: Bookings for Pizza Express 14 October
Bookings for Henley 25 October

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