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Michael Garrick RIP

British pianist and composer Michael Garrick died on 11 November 2011, after being admitted to hospital with heart problems last week. Garrick was born in Enfield on 30 May 1933, and formed his first quartet whilst studying at UCL. He was awarded an MBE in 2010. Below, Jonny Trunk writes a short tribute to Garrick.

Michael Garrick "For Sketches Of Israel"

Michael Garrick "For Moonscape"

The first time I encountered a Michael Garrick album was way back in about 1993. It was in one of London’s great lost record shops, Caruso And Company. I’d walked in on one of my usual lunchtime visits and seen this funny looking LP with a treated photograph of a mountain on the front, some peculiar typography and some arty facial hair on the back. It didn’t look quite like jazz, it didn’t look classical, and it was on Argo, a label famed for its folk and train recordings. I bought it for £2, and when I played it at home things started to change. I’d never heard such interesting piano, such non-jazz, such non-classical. It fell right between several musical stools and I really wanted to know more.

Very few people could tell me anything. There were no other Garrick albums anywhere. A quest for several years brought me other great Michael Garrick albums and an eventual meeting with him at the old Vortex club in Stoke Newington Church Street.

This was the late 1990s, a time when 1960s British modern jazz had still not really been appreciated (or reissued), and Garrick was a touch on the prickly side at our first encounter. In classic jazz style he was counting the pennies and I felt he was still waiting for that big jazz moment to happen. Fame and notoriety had alluded him and all his fellow jazzmen – Rendell, Carr, Harriott, De Silva, Keane – but the sound of jazz coming from his Big Band and endless trio, quartet and whatever-tet he’d started next kept him busy, on the road, and very much alive.

He’d started out in the late 1950s and been involved in the classic South Bank jazz adventures put on by Pete Burman. A fine and inventive pianist and arranger, he’d always been keen to mix the idea of traditional compositions with modern musical thoughts. He saw the future early and through early albums such as Moonscape, explored the new modern sound. Recordings with poetry, choirs and ethnic ideas followed, culminating in a set of rare and very sought after albums across the whole of the 1960s. As the great British jazz experiment closed in the early 1970s and the money for new albums dried up, Garrick carried on, with his inquisitive and educated mind always wanting to push his jazz in a new direction. He started his own label (Jazz Academy), started his own jazz school, and toured tirelessly.

Since the issue of Moonscape, I was lucky enough to get to know him better. He was witty, peculiar, sharp and full of fine jazz stories. I am very sad to see him gone, but I’d like to think he’ll be playing again with his musical hero, Joe Harriott, in the big jazz club in the sky.

And of course Michael Garrick made records, and these will outlast all of us. And I think his knowledge that both his early and later modern jazz recordings have been discovered by new generations of listeners will have made him feel happy and appreciated in his last few years with us.

- Jonny Trunk