Elton Dean, who died at 60 on February 8th 2006, was a totally unique musician : at times lyrical and moving, at others explosive and unsettling, his approach of saxophone playing was totally his own, besides the fact that he favoured a little-used member of the sax family : the saxello, an hybrid between alto and soprano, with an instantly recognizable sound. Over the years, Dean lent his immense talents to bands like Soft Machine, Soft Heap, In Cahoots and L'Equip'Out, as well as many jazz ensembles featuring Keith Tippett, Hugh Hopper, Pip Pyle, Mark Hewins and John Etheridge.
Elton Dean was born in Nottingham in 1945. He started taking piano and violin lessons at a very early age, and bought his first saxophone when he reached 18. At that point, he'd become interested in jazz listening to the radio and records, particularly traditional English jazz, Sidney Bechet, Eddie Condon, etc. By the mid-60's, Dean had started playing in London pubs, and became a professional musician. In 1966-67, he played alongside trumpet player Mark Charig in Long John Baldry's band Bluesology (whose piano player borrowed his and Baldry's first names to start a career as pop singer under the name Elton John), Georgie Fame's Blue Flames and Marsha Hunt's backing band. Late in 1967, Dean and Charig met pianist Keith Tippett and trombone player Nick Evans, thus the formation of the Keith Tippett Sextet, which played in various clubs in 1968-69 and recorded two albums for the Vertigo label.