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Bobby Wellins and Bill Kyle

If there was anything such as a jazz pibroch, this is the week to have it played in memory and respect. Indeed, the keening, unmistakeable sound of Bobby Wellins’ saxophone perhaps comes closest to the evocative sound of the bagpipe lament. 

Bobby, who passed away at the end of last week, made an  immeasurable contribution to jazz in the UK. He’s of course revered for his telling contribution to Stan Tracey’s 1965 Under Milk Wood suite, where, as just one example, the sheer lyricism and atmosphere that he conjures on the ballad Starless and Bible Black is still capable of raising hairs on the back of anyone’s neck, and could even be a template for the jazz pibroch... But he was already a force to be reckoned with, working with Tubby Hayes, John Dankworth and many more, immersed in a London jazz scene since the 50s following a move from his native Glasgow. Indeed a landmark piece – the Culloden Moor suite – which remained part of his repertoire throughout the years, and re-invented in the restless spirit of all the great jazz musicians – was first conceived in the early 60s, and interpreted in fine fashion as a big band piece by the Scottish National Jazz Orchestra in more recent years. It was always a huge pleasure to hang out and work with Bobby – a gentle and witty man, who exemplified the spirit of jazz, with a sound on his instrument that will remain individual and inimitable. And what a sound...

Hard on the heels, though, another piece of sad news. Bill Kyle came from a younger generation of Scottish musicians, growing up in the sixties, and embracing the changing grooves that fired Head, the band that dynamically reflected the changes in the landscape steered by 1960s Miles and – in Bill’s case – the inspiration of Miles’ ground-breaking drummer Tony Williams. But Bill’s energy and commitment stretched much further. His initially cautious foray into running a jazz club resulted in the brilliant – albeit short-lived - Bridge Jazz Bar.  Destroyed in a massive Edinburgh blaze in 2002, Bill pulled off an unlikely master stroke by re-opening as  the Jazz Bar in 2005, and still going strong. Through thick and thin, he maintained a belief in the power of jazz and the live music experience. The Jazz Bar operates seven days a week, with music that reflects the breadth of today’s jazz scene in all its styles and generations. The hope is that his sheer energy, whether as drummer or club supremo, will create a lasting legacy, despite the missing beats... he was known to gig on his own stage from time to time. The jazz scene, both in Scotland, and much further afield  – and all of those of us who knew him – will mourn his departure for the Jazz Bar in the sky.  (And on a personal note, I treasure a mischievously staged backstage meeting between Bill and the wonderful Max Roach at the Bracknell Jazz Festival, some decades ago – testament to the power of this music to create respect, communication and good humour).

John Cumming, Serious Director

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