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Paul Rutherford In Memoriam (1940-2007)

AAJ Staff By

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The passing of Paul reminds us of the fragility of living life as a pioneer in an uncertain musical world. Our work together in Iskra 1903 represented the buoyant days of intense experimentation in the small ensemble, but Paul was also busy working with several large groups - Westbrook, Globe Unity, London Jazz Composers Orchestra and later the Charlie Watts Big Band. Appearances of these groups, by their very nature, were infrequent, and as concerts became harder to arrange, so did Paul's work tail off. The paucity of playing depressed him - he was happiest on the stage, not off it.

Paul really got me into the serious business of improvisation by suggesting to John Stevens that I be invited to play with the Spontaneous Music Ensemble. It was a generous gesture which turned out to be life-changing. The Little Theatre Club in London's West End became the melting pot for meetings of like-minded musicians to set up liaisons that would be important for the history of improvised music. Paul was at the heart of these activities.

Living in the same part of South East London meant that we were regular buddies and those heady days stand out in my memory. His personal life was always topsy-turvy, so these were aspects to our friendship that were beyond music and it was hard at times to get a grip on the turmoil.

Leaving South East London for distant pastures meant that our meetings became infrequent - the London Jazz Composers Orchestra providing the platform where we could catch up on things. The odd telephone conversation over the years revealed a person that felt desperate to work, but work was hard to realize.

My last meeting with Paul was on the occasion of my 60th birthday party in South East London. That night in April he was in ebullient form but fragile. Recently we spoke again about a project in September and a concert next year with a revived LJCO. He was happy at the prospect - so was I - but the call revealed that my September project with him would have been only his second concert this year, a frighteningly small number of outings for such an amazing player. I often wondered about the state of his 'chops' with so little playing, but miraculously he never failed to deliver. Evan Parker reported that his playing in the Globe Unity earlier this year was as strong as ever.

In recent years Emanem has released several CDs of Paul's playing, and I know he was very happy that his art was available to fans of improvised music. We were also in discussion about releasing some of his music written for the LJCO, but time has defeated us.

We will remember Paul for his great musicianship, his exquisite humour and gentle demeanor. A very special person indeed, but a casualty of an indifferent musical world.

- BARRY GUY, bassist

Piano and brass do absolutely not go together, Connie Bauer once said, but I always liked very much to work with brass, especially trombones. Maybe because my father was a trombonist and as a child I got used to the instrument. Paul Rutherford was one of the finest for me, a warrior of the first and the last hour, not an easy guy but a lot of humour and such a great musician! Numerous ad-hoc ensembles we did together, he was a member of my BLEK quartet (piano + 3 brass) and 't Nonet.

A terrible loss, we will never forget him. Bye, mate.

- FRED VAN HOVE, pianist

I first played with Paul in the late '70s. He was of course already an icon of the free music scene and one of the pioneers of free music in Europe and on meeting him for the first time he came across as a genuine unassuming person. He was a tremendous trombone player with an embouchure of granite. He was very encouraging to all musicians. He will truly be missed because there is no one like him. I will always have in my mind his laughing face and I thank the times I hung out with him and the music we made together. He was a communist through and through but I say may god bless you and peace be with you.

- PAUL DUNMALL, multi-instrumentalist

I got to know Paul a little in '97 because Elton Dean had the good sense to put us together in his Newsense band (where he was my trombone brother and Annie Whitehead was our trombone sister). Before that I was just an admirer of his playing from his recordings. But in '97 I was his houseguest at his request...he introduced me to that great little movie, Brassed Off, plus he took me to THE Greenwich Time Zone, plus he arranged for us to do a performance at the Vortex Club in Stokey before I came back here.

When he reappeared last fall for the Vision Festival we put in some time blowing at W-KCR thanks to Ben Young and I was certain we would collaborate/document/maybe do some gigs. But the silence has been pretty deafening...

You can read in International Trombone from years ago where I call him "the classiest living exponent of the instrument, the Sir Lawrence Olivier of the T-bone in fact. ...It's gonna be true for all time. A piece of my heart goes with him.

- ROSWELL RUDD, trombonist


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