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Paul Rutherford In Memoriam (1940-2007)

By Published: September 9, 2007
I knew Paul from the time I moved to London in 1966. When I was working six nights a week at Ronnie Scott's in 1967, we'd put Rutherford on one Sunday night a month and play the music we liked. He was obviously one of the most important trombone players, if not the most important, at the time I worked with him most regularly (1969-1980).

- TONY OXLEY, drummer

Paul, one of the greatest musicians I've ever worked with, was also one of the funniest. With Paul, the seriousness and the jokes were just sides of the same coin. The musician who could move you to tears with the beauty of his playing one minute was the clown who could reduce you to helpless laughter the next. A truly Brechtian juxtaposition of High Art and Low Comedy. This duality, this interleaving of opposites was always present in his playing. He had the ability to play within the structure of the material, while yet taking it somewhere else altogether. And however far things went, Paul could always take them further out.

I'm grateful to have known Paul and worked with him through such an exciting and creative period. It was a time of hope, when all seemed possible. Latterly when idealism gave way to pragmatism we were all in trouble. Some of Paul's contemporaries found ways of adjusting to the changing scene. The path that Paul had chosen didn't include a contingency plan.

These are cruel times for the creative artist, and with ever diminishing opportunities a sense of hopelessness can easily take over. There was no turning back for Paul, nothing to fall back on. He risked everything to be free. And his life, cut off too short as it was, was yet a triumph of the creative spirit. Paul Rutherford changed music and changed lives for ever. I know he changed and enriched mine.

- MIKE WESTBROOK, composer

I first saw Paul Rutherford late in 1966 performing with the Spontaneous Music Ensemble at the Little Theatre Club, but I have to admit that I wasn't ready for the music. One memory from that gig was the trombone player wearing an evening suit and bow tie. I assume he must have had another job earlier that evening, because that certainly was not the SME band uniform. I am pleased to say that was the only time I saw Paul in an evening suit.

It took me another 4 or 5 years before I was ready for the London free improvisation scene and two of the things that particularly impressed me were Paul's trio Iskra 1903 with Derek Bailey and Barry Guy and his solo trombone sets. I had never heard a trombone sound like that - the results were often melodic in the conventional sense, but there were these speech-like high notes and gaping intervals that made his lines so unique. There was also his use of voice to create multi-phonics - more than one note at a time - and an incredible range of timbres. Alas, most of this sensational music was just gone in the air, and few people were aware of it.

I often get asked to list my favorite records from those I've issued. I dislike rating things in this way, and I don't want to offend the artists that don't make the list. However, some time ago I came to the conclusion that my proudest achievement was to record some of Paul's solos in 1974 and issue them as an album that he wittily called The Gentle Harm of the Bourgeoisie. People in various parts of the world who initially heard this album were astounded, and it became very influential - not only among trombonists. But although he influenced many, no one sounded anything like him.

I have received lots of correspondence from various contacts around the world, and the words that most frequently describe their experience of Paul are "gentle and "kind . So let us remember the good qualities and the good times that he had, and, above all, let us remember the magnificent music he created. Paul, alas, is no more - we have lost a very dear comrade - but the memories and music live on.

- MARTIN DAVIDSON, Emanem Records


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