Born in Tavistock, Devon in 1944, composer/multi-instrumentalist John Surman is one of the key figures in a generation of European musicians who have crucially expanded the international horizons of jazz during the past thirty years or so. Long acknowledged as an improviser of world class, Surman has also composed a body of work which extends far beyond the normal range of the jazz repertoire.
Already, by the late 60s, it was clear that Surman was a phenomenon. He started out as a teenager playing the music of fellow Devonian Mike Westbrook, and then amazed the London establishment with displays of extravagant instrumental proficiency combined with a passionate, rumbustious imagination.
As a soloist, Surman's early career took shape in the melting pot that produced a number of fine British musicians during the 60s. As well as his association with Westbrook, there was varied experience with the blues of Alexis Korner, hard bop with Ronnie Scott’s octet, mainstream jazz with Humphrey Lyttleton, South African township influences with the Brotherhood of Breath and jazz-rock with John McLaughlin. During this period he forged lasting relationships with composer John Warren, pianist John Taylor and bassist Dave Holland, with whom he co-led an exciting trio featured on his first album for Deram ‘John Surman’. Surman also lead his own Octet in 1968 and performed in the big band directed by Mike Gibbs, but the formation of The Trio, in 1969, can be seen as a watershed in terms of his international profile. This unit, with expatriate Americans Barre Phillips (bass) and the late Stu Martin (drums) became one of the busiest and musically vital groups on the European circuit.
Surman also featured (with Karin Krog) in the European DownBeat pollwinners group that toured Japan in 1970, further enhancing his reputation on the international front.
By the mid-seventies, Surman had produced a couple of important albums - the solo project Westering Home, and Morning Glory, with Terje Rypdal , John Marshall, Chris Laurence, Malcolm Griffiths and John Taylor.
The Trio SOS, with Alan Skidmore and Mike Osborne proved another ground breaking project, combining electronics with the dynamic soloing of three fine saxophonists.
He had also begun a long-term collaboration with the American choreographer/dancer Carolyn Carlson, and was based at the Paris Opera with her company for some time.
In 1978, he recorded in duo both with Stan Tracey (Sonatinas) and also the Norwegian singer Karin Krog (Cloudline Blue). In addition he toured and recorded with the quartet of bassist Miroslav Vitous until 1982. His debut solo album, ‘Upon Reflection’ was recorded for ECM Records in 1979, launching a fruitful relationship with the company that continues to the present day, and includes four further solo records. Other albums include ‘Such Winters Of Memory’, with Karin Krog and Pierre Favre; and the 5-star Down Beat-rated ‘The Amazing Adventures Of Simon Simon ‘ with Jack DeJohnette.