Born: May 30, 1935 | Died: July 22, 2010 Primary Instrument: Flugelhorn
West Indian Harry Beckett, born in Barbados, brought his own highly personal approaches to the trumpet to the cultural stew of the mid- to late 1960s.
Such is the distinctiveness of Beckett's playing that it continues to be the musical equivalent of DNA, and the elements of it were in place by the time he gained a significant break on record in the band of bass player and composer Graham Collier. Down Another Road, recorded in March of 1969, finds Beckett playing flugelhorn exclusively. August 1970 both Beckett and Evans were working with guitarist Ray Russell on his Rites And Rituals album.
As the 1970s progressed the British jazz scene maintained creative momentum. Elton Dean's band Ninesense, in which Beckett replaced the South African Mongezi Feza, who sadly died prematurely, made a session for BBC Radio 3 in March of 1978. Here Beckett is right at home in a band made up of players who'd all served apprenticeships on the scene, and contributed much to the growing depth of British jazz at a time when the commercial fortunes of the music were not at their highest.
Such has been the breadth of Beckett's musical interests, from post-bop to free improvisation, that finding him working in 2000 with the London Improvisers Orchestra is symptomatic of his musical philosophy. On the orchestral improvisation Proceeding 3 his trumpet is but one voice in a democratic ensemble where, if anything, the very notion of the virtuoso soloist, motivated solely by the opportunity for ever greater technical display, is negated.
When Chris McGregor went to Nigeria to immerse himself in West African music. He wound up using two Ghanaian musicians and one Nigerian drummer on the soundtrack, which helped bring McGregor to the attention of Arts Council of Great Britain. The council provided a grant to McGregor that allowed him to put together a large band, the Brotherhood of Breath. The group signed with RCA subsidiary Neon Records. Its roster included trumpet player Harry Beckett.
Brotherhood was the last studio release by the group, which disbanded in 1974 when McGregor moved to Aquitaine, France. They re-formed occasionally through the late 1970s and 1980s for festivals and one-night shows. In 1989, the Brotherhood of Breath toured with avant-garde jazz musicians Archie Shepp, and the group laid plans for a United States tour the following year. That tour was cancelled after McGregor was diagnosed with cancer.
Brotherhood of Breath had earned a reputation as a springboard for jazz talent; Skidmore and Harry Beckett went on to become successful solo artists and bandleaders on their own.
Harry Beckett's reputation extends throughout Europe and the USA. In 1961, he played with Charles Mingus in the film All Night Long. In the late 1960s he has worked and recorded within the band of bass player and composer Graham Collier. Since 1970 he has been leading groups of his own, recording for Philips, RCA and Ogun Records amongst other labels.
He has been a key figure of important groups in the British free jazz/improvised music scene, including Ian Carr's Nucleus, the Brotherhood of Breath and The Dedication Orchestra, London Jazz Composers Orchestra, John Surman, Octet Django Bates Ronnie Scott's Quintet, Kathy Stobart,Charlie Watts, Stan Tracey's Big Band and Octet; Elton Dean's Ninesense. He has also recorded with Keef Hartley, Jah Wobble and worked with David Murray. He toured abroad with Johnny Dyani, Chris McGregor, Keith Tippett, John Tchicai, Joachim Kühn, Dudu Pukwana's Zila, George Gruntz's Bands, Belgian quintet The Wrong Object, Pierre Dørge's New Jungle Band and Annie Whitehead's Robert Wyatt project.