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Act Harry Beckett

Harry Beckett
Harry Beckett (Photo: Richard Kaby)

Harry Beckett had already had a long and celebrated career as a jazz trumpeter before Adrian Sherwood requested his services. Here then is an introduction to Beckett's first appearance for On-U Sound:

A long-standing figure on the London jazz scene, trumpeter Harry Beckett has kept his music fresh over a long career, and none more so than on his debut On-U Sound release in 2008 produced by Adrian Sherwood, which invites reggae and dance music influences to happily live alongside his modal jazz flavours.

Born in Bridgetown, Barbados in 1935, Beckett was just 19 when he left home in 1954 and arrived in Britain. All he brought with him was his trumpet, the talent he was born with and a desire to learn. As fierce and fiery as any trumpet and flugelhorn stylist, yet also capable of a shimmering lyricism, Beckett found a home in Britian's jazz scene. He was, however, no overnight success. The jazz scene of 1950s London didn't open its arms to him initially, and it wasn't until the mid-60s that other musicians began to take notice. Ever since, Beckett's playing has been turning heads.

He had joined Graham Collier's band in the early '60s, remaining with it until 1977. Beckett was featured in the film "All Night Long" with Charles Mingus in 1961. He also worked with Mike Westbrook's orchestra and Chris McGregor's Brotherhood Of Breath. Beckett played with the big bands of Neil Ardley, Mike Gibbs and John Warren, and was part of the London Jazz Composer's Orchestra. He also was a member of small combos led by Tony Oxley, John Surman and Ray Russell. Beckett played with the Stan Tracey Octet in the mid-'70s, and also worked with Elton Dean and Zila, a group led by Dudu Pukwana.

'The Modern Sound...' LP
"The Modern Sound..." LP

'The Modern Sound Of Harry Beckett' (ON-U CD1002(2)) is going to surprise a lot of people. You're more likely to hear it echoing out the door of a hip night club or booming from a car driven by some twenty-something than from the deck of one of Beckett's more mainstream fans. Nils Petter Molvær, Bugge Wesseltoft, maybe some of those guys from the F-ire Collective. You might have expected something like that from them but not from Harry Beckett. Yet, like all his work, this album is defined as ever by the class of Beckett's playing and the beauty of his music.

Pairing Beckett's liquid, quicksilver trumpet and distinctive melody lines with the maverick genius of reggae and dance producer, Adrian Sherwood, might not sound like a match made in heaven. In practice, it proves to have been inspirational. How they came to connect speaks volumes about Beckett's open-minded approach to music. It also features contributions from the late, great Junior Delgado. According to Beckett, his work with Jah Wobble provided the launching pad for his late-in-the-day On-U 'career':

"Through the years, I've been doing things on Jah Wobble's albums. And Adrian had been in contact with Wobble for years. He heard what I had been doing and he asked me to work with him. So, it all really started there and then he asked me what I thought about this idea he had for an album."

It's one of those rare records - a collaboration of diverse and divergent talents that transforms into something far, far more than the some of its parts.

Sadly old age finally caught up with the legendary and much travelled and recorded trumpeter, and 'The Modern Sound...' was to be his last ever album. He died on 22 July 2010 following a stroke.

(Material adapted from an article in Jazzwise magazine by Duncan Heining and Ron Wynn's All Music Guide entry for Harry Beckett)

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