Thursday, February 26, 2009

R.I.P.: Ian Carr

(Photo of Ian Carr, March 2003 by Roger Farbey)

Ian Carr
(born April 21, 1933, Dumfries, UK;
died February 25, 2009, London, UK)

Ian Henry Randell Carr 21.4.33 – 25.2.09

Ian Carr was probably the greatest jazz trumpet player that the UK has produced. Certainly he was one of the great innovators in jazz and his award-winning band Nucleus captured the attention of a far wider audience than those usually commanded by more conventional jazz groups. Educated at the University of Newcastle Upon Tyne he took a degree in English and served in the Royal Northumberland Fusiliers during National Service where he rose to the rank of 2nd Lieutenant.

Ian Carr started out his professional jazz career in his home town of Newcastle in the 1950s playing in his brother Mike’s band, the EmCee 5 for which he underwent an audition to prove his worth (he passed it). By the early 1960s Carr had moved down to London from the North East of England and for a time played in bands led by flautist and saxophonist Harold McNair. He then joined established reedsman Don Rendell to form the Rendell Carr Quintet which recorded five albums for EMI’s Columbia label under the supervision of the British Svengali of jazz, Denis Preston for his renowned 'Lansdowne' jazz series of recordings. During this period Carr also performed and recorded with the New Jazz Orchestra whose members included the likes of Neil Ardley, Jon Hiseman and Barbara Thompson with whom he had subsequent associations in different musical projects. He also recorded albums under the aegis of Michael Garrick, Joe Harriott, Amancio d’Silva, Stan Tracey and Guy Warren of Ghana to name but a few.

Although the Rendell Carr Quintet was musically successful, as reflected in the Melody Maker jazz polls of the period, where the RCQ regularly won the small group category, Carr was beginning to yearn for greater, more adventurous careers pathways. Following an ambitious set of compositions for the notable album ‘Greek Variations’ (with other tracks composed by Don Rendell and Neil Ardley), Carr formed his own band Nucleus along with Karl Jenkins (keyboard, reeds) and John Marshall (drums) both former alumni of Graham Collier’s band plus New Zealand saxophonist Brian Smith, Jeff Clyne on bass and Chris Spedding on guitar. Nucleus recorded nine albums for Polygram’s Vertigo label between 1970 and 1975 and later for other labels including the US Capitol label. The group won first prize at the Montreux Jazz Festival in 1970 and went on to play at the Newport Jazz Festival where they wowed audiences.

The original personnel of Nucleus changed after the first three albums, and many well-known jazz and rock names variously supplemented its ranks including Jack Bruce, Allan Holdsworth, Ray Russell, Alan Skidmore, Bryan Spring and Tony Levin. Carr was always the leader and main inspiration of Nucleus and often its chief composer, as with two Arts Council bursary-funded albums ‘Solar Plexus’ and ‘Labyrinth’. Carr recruited guest stars of international reputation for these projects including Kenny Wheeler, Harry Beckett, Gordon Beck, Norma Winstone and Tony Coe. Nucleus also played a major role both in the recording and live performances of ‘A Kaleidoscope of Rainbows’ by Carr’s great friend, Neil Ardley.

By the late 1970s and with the dissolution of Nucleus, Carr, along with erstwhile New Jazz Orchestra colleagues Barbara Thompson and Jon Hiseman, became founder members of the superb United Jazz and Rock Ensemble which recorded a dozen albums including ‘Live in Schutzenhaus’. the biggest selling jazz album produced in Germany.

Carr also had a successful writing career and following his book on British jazz ‘Music Outside’ (Latimer, 1973 and republished in 2008) he went on to write the definitive biography of his hero, Miles Davis and later a biography of Keith Jarrett. He was also musical consultant for two films about these two musicians, made by the director Mike Dibb. Carr also co-edited the Rough Guide to Jazz with Digby Fairweather and Brian Priestley.

Ian Carr was also a broadcaster and amongst other projects he narrated a six-part series for BBC Radio 3's 'Jazz File' on the life of Miles Davis, broadcast to celebrate the 80th anniversary of Miles' birth in 2006. He was also an inspiring teacher and Associate Professor of Jazz at the Guildhall School of Music and Drama. He also taught at the Weekend Arts College for groups of young jazz musicians in North London and many of today’s jazz stars, such as pianist Julian Joseph and vocalist Cleveland Watkiss (both of whom performed at a tribute concert for Carr held at the Guildhall School of Music in November 2006) were inspired by him for his boundless enthusiasm and encouragement. He continued playing until the beginning of the twenty first century, with revived versions of Nucleus, a duet album with John Taylor (‘Songs and Sweet Airs’) and yet another project with Neil Ardley, Zyklus. He also guested with the orchestras of George Russell and Mike Gibbs.

Personally, Carr had his share of troubles with the death of his first wife Margaret in childbirth in 1967. He developed bowel cancer in the mid-1970s but following surgery, he managed a swift recovery from this illness. He also suffered from bouts of depression and one of his later albums was entitled ‘Out of the Long Dark’ reflecting his emergence from this condition. In the early 2000s he had a succession of mini strokes but continued to work and play, however, he was later afflicted by Alzheimer’s Disease. He spent his last years in specialist care homes.

Wider public recognition came late for Ian Carr receiving 'Services to Jazz' presentations from both the BBC Jazz Awards and the Parliamentary Jazz Awards coincidentally in the same year (2006). Despite all his troubles, Carr remained an irrepressibly cheerful and enthusiastic person and was a true inspiration to countless friends, colleagues and fans alike. - Roger Farbey


Ian Carr: Trumpeter and composer whose band Nucleus was at the forefront of the jazz-rock movement

A modest and gentle fellow, the trumpeter Ian Carr was surprised when, as leader of the band Nucleus in 1970, he was thrust suddenly to the crest of the American jazz-rock boom. An ingénue to fame, he reacted to his instant eminence as incredulously as William Boot had in Evelyn Waugh's Scoop.

"It seemed we could do no wrong in America," Carr recalled. "I remember getting on a jumbo jet and flying back to London. Away from the madness, electricity, enthusiasm, friendliness, open-spiritedness, the extremes and professionalism of America, and back to the quiet anonymity of Britain. It was like returning from a forest full of wild beasts where one could never be certain who was the hunter or who or what was being hunted, to a small landscape garden with some plaster gnomes in it."

Formed in September 1969, Nucleus were an immediate and explosive success and in 1970 appeared at two of the world's most prestigious jazz festivals at Newport and Montreux. The band were inspired to some extent by the contemporary electrified experiments of Miles Davis, but mostly by Carr's wide-ranging ideas about exotic and non-Western improvisation and rhythmic patterns. These he combined with his own jazz improvisation and the sort of ostinato bass patterns brought into the rock field by Davis acolytes such as Herbie Hancock.

It was Davis, however, who was the pre-eminent influence on Carr's work and Carr became one of the world's leading scholars on the subject of Davis and his music. Apart from his musical talents he wrote prose with great style and also had a distinguished career as a radio presenter.

Carr grew up in the North East, started learning the piano when he was 12 and began teaching himself the trumpet when he was 17. He took a degree in literature at King's College, Newcastle-upon-Tyne and did National Service in the Royal Northumberland Fusiliers from 1956-58 before spending two years "wandering around Europe".

On his return to Newcastle, he involved himself in the local jazz scene and in 1960 joined his brother Mike's band, the EmCee Five. He travelled south to London in 1962 and joined Harold McNair's quintet, and then in 1963 formed a successful quintet with the tenor player Don Rendell that survived until 1969. The band recorded five albums for the enthusiastic producer Denis Preston. Carr also worked and recorded in those years with the New Jazz Orchestra led by Neil Ardley, and with Michael Garrick, Stan Tracey, Barbara Thompson and several other of the more adventurous bands.

He recorded with the inspired but ill-fated altoist Joe Harriott in 1969 and then, bringing his interest in Davis's jazz-rock electronics to fruition, formed Nucleus in 1970. The strength of Carr's own input gave the band originality and they successfully toured worldwide and made a total of 13 albums. Over the years Nucleus drew in some of the best musicians from the British jazz scene, including John Marshall, Karl Jenkins, Brian Smith, Jeff Clyne, Chris Spedding, Harry Beckett, Tony Coe and Ron Mathewson. Nucleus finally disbanded in the late Eighties.

In 1976 Carr had begun to tour Europe with the United Jazz and Rock Ensemble, beginning an association which was to last for the next 28 years. A trenchant and eloquent author, he shed light on some disgracefully overlooked titans of British jazz with Music Outside (1973), and co-authored Jazz: The Essential Companion (1987), revised in 1995 as Jazz: The Rough Guide. In 1991 he published Keith Jarrett The Man And His Music. But his great achievement as an author was Miles Davis: A Critical Biography (1982), which became one of the classic books on jazz when Carr expanded and revised it as Miles Davis: The Definitive Biography (1998).

Carr was one of the best of the BBC's jazz presenters and listeners enjoyed and came to trust his measured and lucid assessments of the music. He made two lengthy and remarkable radio series on Miles Davis and Keith Jarrett, travelling to New York with the Radio Three producer Derek Dreschler for his comprehensive research.

"I find him a joy to work with," said Dreschler. "It's jolly nice working with someone who really throws himself into it with such enthusiasm."

At the beginning of the decade Carr also collaborated with Mike Dibb to produce two seminal films for Channel 4 television, one on Davis and one on Jarrett. He taught as Associate Professor of Jazz at the Guildhall School of Music and Drama, and in 2006 he was given an award for Services to Jazz at the BBC Jazz Awards.

He had to fight much adversity for his life was dogged by ill-health and his first wife died in childbirth. He defeated cancer in the mid-Seventies but was afterwards subject to chronic fits of depression and in the last decade he suffered a series of strokes that led to the early onset of Alzheimer's disease, forcing him to spend his last years in a succession of care homes. - Steve Voce

Ian Henry Randall Carr, trumpeter, bandleader, composer, author, teacher: born Dumfries 21 April 1933; married firstly Margaret Bell (deceased, one daughter), secondly Sandy Major (marriage dissolved); died London 25 February 2009.

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