Donald's Encyclopedia of Popular Music


KING, Peter

(b 11 August 1940, Tolworth, Surrey, during an air raid; d 23 August 2020) Alto saxist, the UK's favourite, combining exceptional agility with lyricism on ballads; also a composer. Began on clarinet as a teenager, took up alto after hearing Charlie Parker, played tenor early '60s but returned to the alto; also played soprano. He had a quartet at Ronnie Scott's '59-60, with John Dankworth for a year, at Annie's Room '62-4 (Annie Ross's club) with drummer/composer Tony Kinsey (b 11 October 1927, Sutton Coldfield). Like all the best British musicians he played and/or recorded with visiting Americans including bandleaders Ray Charles and Maynard Ferguson, pianists Al Haig and Hampton Hawes, also Philly Joe Jones (album Trailways Express), Red Rodney, Art Farmer, Zoot Sims, Jimmy Witherspoon; sat in with Bud Powell in Paris, a great thrill; he also recorded with Tubby Hayes, Stan Tracey etc and was a founder member of the Bebop Preservation Society, led '70-86 by pianist Bill Le Sage (b 20 January 1927, London; d 31 October 2001). Recorded with Charlie Watts Quintet; played with Elvin Jones at Ronnie's and with Phil Woods at festivals '95-6. King was inspired by Parker, but he is no bebop revivalist; his bold interval leaps led to pan-tonality and a more modal way of playing (and composing) inspired by John Coltrane and Bartók, while his energy and lyricism were unique. The UK jazz scene being hopelessly disorganized despite the fact that the country is full of jazz fans, King once played for three years in pantomime in Richmond; like Tony Coe and many others he worked a lot on the Continent; making good records in the UK was up to small entrepreneurs like Tony Williams at Spotlite and John Miles in Norfolk. Though his name is mentioned with awe in British jazz circles, King's albums as a leader were too few, starting with New Beginning '82, followed by East 34th Street '83, 90% Of One Percent '85, and Hi Fly '88 (with the Philippe Briand Trio) on Spotlite. Other albums have been Live At The Bull '87 on the pub's label, and New Year's Morning '89 on Fresh Sound, made in Barcelona with Tete Montoliu and 16-year-old trumpeter Gerard Presencer (b 12 September 1972, London), who then become one of the brightest new talents on the UK scene.

Brother Bernard '88 on Miles Music was made with long-time sidemen John Horler on piano and Dave Green on bass, plus Tony Levin on drums, adding Alan Skidmore on tenor and Guy Barker on trumpet to make a sextet on the title track, a King composition dedicated to Bernard Rabaud, who ran the tiny Paris club Le Petit Opportun. Reissuing four of the tracks on CD '94, label boss Miles's father had recently died (actor and impresario Bernard Miles, later a life peer, had founded London's Mermaid Theatre '51), so 'Final Curtain' and 'One For Sir Bernard' were composed for the CD, with Martin Drew replacing Levin on drums. Other new tracks included 'For All We Know' (inspired by Billie Holiday's version) and the CD's opener is a beautiful unaccompanied 'Yesterdays'. He sessioned on Everything but the Girl's Eden and Idlewild, and toured with the duo; Crusade '89 on WEA's Blanco y Negro label was produced by the group's Ben Watt, dressed with synths and representing both affection from the pop community and an attempt to reach a wider audience. King filmed some scenes with Stan Tracey for a TV series The Paradise Club; played with Barker's Extravaganza on Isn't It? '91 on Spotlite with an all-star cast of friends; Speed Trap '94 with a quintet included bassist Alec Dankworth and Presencer and the George Coleman Quintet's Blues Inside Out '95 with King and Julian Joseph are both on Ronnie Scott's Jazz House. King's ambitious and beautiful Tamburello '94 on Miles Music presented adaptations of Purcell and Bartók, tunes by McCoy Tyner, Wayne Shorter and Gershwin, and King originals inclded a three-piece suite dedicated to the memory of the Brazilian racing driver Ayrton Senna, with Dankworth, Stephen Keogh on drums, Steve Melling and James Hallawell on keyboards; the album won the British Telecom British Jazz Awards CD of the Year. Studio composer Colin Towns ran the Mask Orchestra, a big band playing original music; albums such as Nowhere And Heaven on Provocateur featured King and others. In his spare time KIng has gone back to aeronautics, his first love, building free-flight models, winning awards and writing articles for the specialist press. (He should not be confused with the other Pete King, also a reedman, b 23 August 1929, London; d 20 December 2009) who retired from playing to run Ronnie Scott's club for almost 50 years.)