Born: March 21, 1936 Primary Instrument: Composer/conductor
Mike Westbrook has led, and composed for, a succession of Big Bands and small groups since the early 1960's. He has toured extensively throughout Europe and further afield and made 40 albums. His principal compositions for Jazz Orchestra include Citadel/Room 315 featuring John Surman, On Duke's Birthday dedicated to the memory of Duke Ellington, Big Band Rossini which was featured in the 1992 BBC Proms and Chanson Irresponsable, (Enja Records) commissioned by BBC Radio 3, which brings together jazz and classical musicians in the New Westbrook Orchestra. Mike Westbrook was awarded an OBE in 1988, and, in 2004 an Honorary Doctorate of Music by the University of Plymouth.
Works for classical ensembles include a saxophone concerto Bean Rows and Blues Shots, commissioned by the Bournemouth Sinfonietta for John Harle, a score for the silent movie Moulin Rouge commissioned by the Matrix Ensemble, and Classical Blues 2002 for the BBC Concert Orchestra. Mike's television music credits include the award-winning BBC drama Caught On a Train by Stephen Poilakoff starring Peggy Ashcroft.
His work for the theatre began with Adrian Mitchell's Tyger a celebration of William Blake, staged by the National Theatre in 1971. His opera Coming Through Slaughter based on the novel by Michael Ondaatje about the New Orleans cornettist Buddy Bolden, was premiered in London in a concert version in 1994.
In collaboration with his wife, singer/librettist Kate Westbrook, he has generated a whole series of jazz/cabarets and music-theatre pieces, notably The Ass, based on the poem by D.H Lawrence, Pierides, commissioned by Extemporary Dance Theatre and Good Friday 1663, A TV opera commissioned by Channel Four. All three are now available on CD, in Jazzprint's Westbrook Music Theatre series. Mike wrote the music for Kate Westbrook's latest album The Nijinska Chamber (voiceprint) pairing Kate's voice with accordionist Karen Street. The Waxeywork Show for voice and acoustic brass, is performed by Mike Westbrook's Village Band.
The Westbrooks have also created large-scale concert works incorporating settings of European poetry, as in The Cortège and London Bridge Is Broken Down a work for voice, jazz group and chamber orchestra. Jago, the first full-scale opera which Kate and Mike Westbrook have written together, was performed by Wedmore Opera in 2000. Their recent collaboration Turner in Uri, based on the painter JMW Turner's travels in the Swiss Alps, was premiered in Altdorf and Zurich in 2003. Their opera Cape Gloss - Mathida's Story, for classical soprano and piano comissioned by NOC, receives its World Premiere in Plymouth in February 2007.
Mike Westbrook's albums for ENJA Records include Bar Utopia a big-band cabaret with lyrics by Helen Simpson, The Orchestra of Smith's Academy, compositions recorded live by the Mike Westbrook Orchestra and the Steve Martland Band, a tribute to the Beatles, Off Abbey Road, and Glad Day settings of William Blake sung by Phil Minton and Kate Westbrook with the Mike Westbrook Brass Band. His releases on the Jazzprint label include Platterback with Westbrook & Company, and L'ascenseur / The Lift with The Westbrook Trio.
The Westbrooks' current touring project ART WOLF, CD on altrisuoni, features them in a quartet with saxophonists Chris Biscoe and Pete Whyman. They also perform regularly as The Kate Westbrook / Mike Westbrook Duo, and with the Mike Westbrook Village Band a new six piece ensemble based in the West Country.
Britain's most innovative Big Band leader. --The Wire.
With this immensely powerful work (London Bridge is Broken Down) Westbrook reinstates his claim to international pre-eminence among the heirs of Duke Ellington and Charles Mingus. --The Times.
By the end, Catania (the Mike Westbrook Festival) had massively affirmed Westbrook's stature as a giant of contemporary music. --The Guardian.
As his career amply demonstrates, - he has produced a body of work embracing everything from opera through settings of Kate Westbrook's song cycles, to jazz suites and cabaret, - he is luckily for all lovers of innovative and original music, thoroughly committed to maintaining his reputation as the UK's foremost jazz composer. --The Times.
Westbrook is among the most serious composers in any field at present. Few contemporary classical composers have covered so much ground, or worked in as many forms as Westbrook, a self taught musician. Measure For Measure shows how far from what is conventionally regarded as jazz the Westbrooks can go. A collage of verse from the Shakespeare play, whose music comments wittily on Viennese School aesthetics, Measure For Measure is seriously 'serious'. It remains, however, like all Mike Westbrook's work, rooted in jazz. --The Independent.
The Mike Westbrook Orchestra (Bar Utopia) is a phenomenal band, and Westbrook himself a master of of jazz orchestration. He can suggest a carnival, a ballroom, or a greasy back street with a few cunningly placed notes. The full effect is awe inspiring. --The Observer.
Mike Westbrook puts an Exhilarating contemporary spin on the big band tradition. The surging excitement of an ensemble in in full cry is seldom far away, even on Measue To Measure, Kate Westbrook's Shakespearean adaptation that uses words in ways undreamt of during the hey day of Big Band vocalists. --The Guardian.
Mike Westbrook's settings of William Blake, perhaps the greatest work in all British Jazz. --The Independent on Sunday.
Whether he is writing for a trio or a 20 piece orchestra, Westbrook's style is unmistakable. He combines instruments in unique ways, twists conventional jazz forms into surprising new shapes and seasons it all with delicate touches of humour and irony. --The Observer.
In Westbrook, big band music has an historically aware champion who can keep the genre moving forward with wit and style. --The Scotsman.