Music Notes: Courtney pining for special woodland gig

One of the most inspirational British jazz musicians of modern times returns to Norfolk tomorrow to headline the closing concert of this summer's Holt Festival. And it is set to be a unique concert too.

The saxophonist will perform on the stage of the Theatre-In-The-Woods, the atmospheric woodland amphitheatre set at Gresham's School.

Courtney Pine swept into the UK jazz scene in 1986 with spectacular live performances and a debut album that was the first serious jazz album ever to make the British Top 40.

Since then he has achieved considerable international acclaim, becoming one of the few British musicians to crack the American jazz charts.

His success has probably prompted a mixture of pride and embarrassment his school music teacher who when Courtney told her he wanted to learn to play the saxophone, refused to take him seriously. It took him two years to win her around — and then she only agreed to let him take clarinet lessons as it was an easier instrument to learn. Then one day, when he was about 14, another pupil failed to turn up for his saxophone lesson, so Courtney picked up the instrument and played it. The rest, as they say, is history.

The 48-year-old has played to huge audiences all over the world, including in Japan, Ghana and Jamaica.

Now he is looking forward to doing a more intimate gig. 'With intimacy you can go deeper into the music,' he said. 'I can smell the people, hear the people, feel the people. I'm looking forward to it.'

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For his Holt show he will be joined by a an acclaimed band, including acclaimed pianist Zoe Rahman, and will be performing pieces from his latest work Europa, which draws back in time to Gregorian chant, Scandinavian, Celtic, Spanish and Easter European melodies and rhythms. He may play jazz, but his influences have always been wider. He started out as a reggae musician playing in bands with vocalists such as Barrington Levy and Michael Prophet.

Born to Jamaican parents, Courtney grew up listening to ska and remembers listening to reggae from the turntable in their front room.

He said: 'I grew up listening to ska but I preferred the B-side that was usually an instrumental. I left school to be a reggae musician. I'm a reggae musician who plays jazz.' Courtney's interest for jazz was kick-started after he discovered that the musicians behind reggae, ska and bluebeat were jazz musicians.

He visited a record library in Brent Town Hall to find out more about jazz. 'I saw an album by a saxophonist called Sonny Rollins where he had a saxophone instead of a gun.

'My father was a western fan so I took it home and played it,' he recalls.

To this day, Courtney, who was awarded an OBE in 2000 and a CBE in 2009 for services to British music and charity work, still looks up to Sonny.

He said: 'He plays badder than anyone I know. He's still teaching me. Jazz music is about being able to play – you can't get away with miming and dancing like other genres.

'It can be a challenge for musicians to play in various environments. But it's a challenge that keeps me interested.'

? Courtney Pine, Theatre-In-The-Woods, Holt, July 28, �25, 01263 712244,

? Further listening: