The Jazz Life: Johnny Lippiett -An Inspirational Tenor Sax Player
An Englishman in New York
I first heard Johnny playing in a restaurant in Devon when he was a teenager. He now lives in New York, and is one of the best tenor sax players to come out of the UK for a long time.
Over the years certain Jazz albums stick with you. Think of Miles Davis’s Kind of Blue, Charles Mingus’ Mingus Ahem, John Coltane’s The John Coltrane Quartet. Then there’s Phase III by the Don Rendell/Ian Carr Quintet, Duke Ellington’s Blues in Orbit, John Dankworth’s What The Dickens, and not least Tubby Hayes’s ground-breaking Down in the Village.
And a few years ago another one was added to that list: Johnny Lippiett’s Soulscape.
Johhny, after a longish spell in New Zealand, now lives in Brooklyn where, with Billy Drummond (drums) — and that’s good name for a drummer — Ron McClure (bass), and Mike Eckroth (piano), he has recorded this album.
On first listening I only got as far as track 5 — The Death of Melisande — which is an improvisation around Jean Sibelious’s 1905 suite Pelléaset Mélisande — based on a play by Maeterlinck — which is a wonderfully atmospheric eight minutes (which I listen to repeatedly) that somehow manages to shift the whole idea of jazz into another realm in the way Stan Tracey did with his 1965 Under Milk Wood suite, where the symbiosis of Dylan Thomas’s often alliterative poetry, and not least the tenor sax playing of Bobby Wellins, built something quite new.
And therein lies the secret of Johnny Lippiett’s playing.
Although he has been influenced by many players — not least John Coltrane in the early days, but then who wasn’t — Johnny has, more importantly, rediscovered not so much how sax players such as Bobby Wellins, Ronnie Scott, Don Rendell and Tubby Hayes — and many another — played as individuals, but how they collectively sculptured the sound of the tenor sax, which changed just about everything to do with the music.
Johnny Lippiett has taken those very cultured, very sculptured 1960s tenor sax sounds to create a much more…