The Gordon Beck Interview

The following interview was conducted in May of 1999. I sent Gordon a list of fifteen questions and he was kind enough to take the time to reply to each and every question. Some of the questions that were submitted were from people that e-mailed me and asked me to forward their questions to Gordon.

What is your earliest musical memory as a child? Was there a defining moment in your childhood where you realized that you wanted to become a musician?

Gordon: My earliest musical memories only go back to when I had 3 years of classical tuition at 13, 14, 15 years old. However, my parents had vivid memories of me, at the age of 6 or 7 years, often standing at our old upright piano trying to press the keys down. Who knows why?

How much influence did working with saxophonist Tubby Hayes have on your musicality?

Gordon: At the time I joined the Tubby Hayes Quintet, in 1962, I was already very much influenced by most of the all time greats, including, Bill Evans. Therefore, I think the influence was more to do with his, and Jimmy Deuchar's, tremendous professionalism, all round musicality, and most of all, the energy. Plus, it was the number 1 group in Britain at the time, which was the challenge.

What original composition or compositions do you think best captures the essence of Gordon Beck?

Gordon: Regarding my compositions. I'm not sure what the essence of Gordon Beck actually is. However, some compositions that might be what it is are, "Gyroscope", "And Still She Is With Me", "Executive Suite", "The Day When The World Comes Alive", "Here Comes The Mallett Man", "The French Connection", "Sunbird", "Celebration", "Race Against Time", "Almost There", "Equus", "Long, Lean & Lethal", "November Song".

What is your favorite recording that you have released as a leader and why?

Gordon: I cannot pick one album only as my favourite. Certain albums do come to mind, however, that I feel very good about.

1. "Experiments With Pops"
2. "Sunbird"
3. "Celebration Suite"
4. "With A Heart In My Song"
5. "For Evans Sake"
6. "The French Connection"
7. "The French Connection 2"
8. "Dreams"
9. "Gyroscope"

As to why? I think it is because they are closer to how I imagined them.

Of all of the recordings that you have played on as a sideman what are your favorites?


1. "Live At The Frankfurt Jazz Festival" Phil Woods & His European Rhythm Machine
2. "New World" Didier Lockwood
3. "Live At The Olympia Hall" Didier Lockwood
4. "Three Works For Jazz Soloists & Symphony Orchestra" Don Sebesky
5. "Ronnie Scott & The Band Live At Ronnie Scotts" Ronnie Scott
6. "Lena - A New Album" Lena Horne
7. "Will Power" A Shakespear Birthday Celebration

Who are your favorite musicians and what is it about them that draws you to their playing?

Gordon: This question is almost impossible to answer as there are so many, including musicians that the world does not know enough about, the pianist Alain Jean Marie for instance, or, the bassist Jean Francios Jenny Clark who, sadly, died.

What musicians would you be most interested in working with that you have not played with before?

Gordon: This question is just as impossible as the previous one for the same reasons. However, one thing that I would really love to do is play in duo with Herbie Hancock.

What is your favorite musical format to perform in?

Gordon: I think it would have to be trio.

What is your approach to using synthesizers? Do you prefer them to sound like replicas of acoustic instruments or are you ok with them having their own sound even if it means sounding synthetic.

Gordon: I much prefer the Allan Holdsworth approach to synthesizers and mix them together and find fresh and personal sounds.

How do you approach composing?

Gordon: I have never been aware of any approach to composition. As long as I can remember my compositions have always come out of just playing the piano at home and, at a certain moment, realizing that something is there e.g. a melody, song, an idea for a suite, etc. A particularly good example of this is the "French Connection 1" three part suite. This came in two and a half hours following the telephone call from Jean marie Salhani in Paris, inviting me to do a solo album in 1978.

What did you hear in John McLaughlin's playing so early in his career that you did not hear in other guitarists at the time?

Gordon: On hearing John McLaughlin the first time, I realised that apart from his fantastic technique, chord playing and swing, he would always be, like Allan Holdsworth, instantly recognisable. I also felt that it would not be very long before he moved forward in the music. Miles Davis proved this to be the case. Fortunately for me John was around long enough to do the "Experiments With Pops" album.

One Question I would have for Gordon would be re: his partnership with Allan Holdsworth - I would be interested to know how they met, and how he feels about their collaborations in the past, and what the future holds for them as a duo?

Gordon: I first met Allan Holdsworth at the Ronnie Scott Club where he was playing with a strange, but very interesting, Quartet that nobody had ever heard of. He decided to stay in London and we put a quartet together with Jeff Clyne and John Stevens. This was called Plough and the music was totally improvised. This collaboration was extremely demanding but very exciting at times. However, Allan was already moving in his own direction which eventually resulted in the move to the U.S.A. I love all the various projects that we have been together on e.g. "Sunbird", "With A Heart In My Song", "None Too Soon", etc. Now, I feel that we have gone our own musical ways and further collaborations are unknown at this time.

With one exception, you have never recorded with any other guitarist except Allan Holdsworth. Why?

Gordon: There is no particular reason why I have not recorded with any other guitarists other than Holdsworth and McLaughlin. I would say however that I would very much liked to have recorded with Wes Montgomery. I have been and will be playing with Louis Stewart and would like to record with him also.

Are there any plans for some of your older recordings to be reissued on compact disc?

Gordon: I have, along with the producer Roy Horricks, tried desperately, over many years, to get "Experiments With Pops" reissued. Unfortunately, it is owned by EMI, England who have not the slightest interest whatsoever. The same situation applies to the trio album "Gyroscope" which is owned by a small publishing company, also England. It is a sad comment on these two albums as it is true to say that they are considered to be two of the finest British jazz albums of the 60's.

Do you have any plans for recording another solo piano album in the future?

Gordon: Having recorded a new version of "One For The Road" fairly recently I have no plans to record another solo album at the moment. I would hope to do another some time in the future.

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