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Remembering the life of Keith Tippett

Earlier this week we were saddened to learn of the passing of prolific Bristol-born jazz musician Keith Tippett. Keith was a key figure in European art music as one of the most important jazz musicians, improvisers and composers of the last forty years.

Keith performed on several occasions at Colston Hall, including as part of the inaugural Bristol New Music in 2014. As well as being an outstanding & innovative musician who made an enormous musical contribution, Keith was known by his collaborators as being ‘a west country bloke with a great big heart’, and a true musical son of Bristol.

Our Artistic Director, Todd Wills has written a personal note on Keith.

“It was with great sadness that I heard of Keith’s recent passing; he was a true pioneer in British music and a justly revered Bristolian by those who sought out his music. Not only was he a fine musician but also a remarkably open and generous human being that I was lucky enough to call a friend.

I first met Keith when I was the programmer for The Vortex Jazz Club in London over ten years ago. One of our volunteers who worked on the bar for all of our free improv nights suggested that I should find his number and invite him to do a gig. I didn’t for one moment think that he’d say yes because, in my mind, he was a jazz legend and the idea of having him play our tiny club seemed faintly far-fetched to say the least. I won’t deny that I was a little apprehensive too given his reputation for being quite exacting about the piano and conditions under which he’d play. This was of course entirely appropriate for an artist of his stature but for a club that was just about making ends meet and flying by the seat of its pants it was a daunting prospect. I needn’t have worried. Keith was as utterly charming and gracious in accepting the invite as he remained throughout all the years I knew him.

He was a rare talent and individual who, throughout a singular career, remained uncompromisingly focussed on his work yet open to new ideas and invention with a willingness to help and mentor others whenever and wherever he recognised talent. Personally, I liked nothing more than to spend time on the phone with Keith either asking his advice, getting pointers as to who I should be listening to or just shooting the breeze (often in the hope that he’d tell me a meaty unprintable anecdote from his varied and colourful musical past).

Of course, one can’t talk about Keith without also talking about Julie. Anyone who’s had the pleasure of spending time at Keith and Julie’s cottage chatting over tea and crumpets couldn’t fail to notice how warm and generous they were together and the affection they had for each other. To me it seemed like a partnership on every level; beyond just being married they were a creative force that stood the test of time.

I know that when Keith fell ill a couple of years ago he was quite astonished by the love and support he received from his friends and fans alike. Myself and many others felt it was the very least we could do for a man that had contributed so much to the British musical landscape. We’re not terribly good in this country at celebrating our jazz heroes but I hope Keith’s pioneering spirit and contribution to music will be recognised and cherished long after his passing.

He really was a very special man and I will miss him greatly.”