A few days ago i received word that a mighty jazz musician, Joe Rigby, had died.
About 8 years ago Scott Donald (Man’s Ruin, Laki Mera, Funkin Idiots) rang up and got me involved in a jam session with an American born Sax player that had some ‘days off’ in Dundee, Scotland. He wanted to jam with a local piper. As it happened I was in town and pretty much free that evening, so I popped along to Showcase the Street.
Upon arrival, I was introduced to Roy Morris who acted as Mr Rigby’s UK agent, and then to a very mild mannered and undeniably ‘cool’ older gentleman, this was Joe. I could see there were mics set up already, and in respect of his readiness to play, i cautiously asked Joe what key we would like to start off in, or what kind of feel or line we could use as a starting point. To this Joe said “we’ll just do whatever happens man, its gonna be great” I confided that the pipes are a relatively limited instrument, they don’t offer much harmonic or dynamic range – at which point he came close to me put a hand on my shoulder and said “It’s cool man, we’ll just play and see where it goes”. I need to confess that these words gave me little comfort but i loved his vibe and we promptly got the instruments pieced together.
The ‘jam’ was actually a live studio session. The team being Joe Rigby (saxes and flute), myself (pipes), Scotty Donald (kit) and Billy Fisher (percussion). Our improvised collaboration was intended for Joe’s new album ‘For Harriet’ a three track record with literally no planning and tons of musical recklessness. I was in the company of an untamed jazz god, initially dipping and diving through curious musical motifs before inevitably attacking my senses with every possible tone, squawk, squeak and scream that the sax could achieve.
This was (thankfully) not my very first encounter with free jazz. I took part in a music retreat organised by Hands Up For Trad in 2009 called Distil. We had a mixed bag of mentors on the course, one of whom was a free jazz bassist called Simon Fell. An incredible musical mind, his sessions on improv’ gave me at least a slight foothold on how to approach and interact with improvisation of this level.
Don’t get me wrong, I was absolutely out of my depth! This was a high speed train. Joe had been riding this train for quite some time and i simply hopped on the back at the last minute. Clinging on for dear life as we hurtled down a dark and twisting track… i did my best to grow in the moment, stretching and reacting to Joe’s flare and fearless experimentation in music. Perhaps one of the lighter moment’s from ‘For Harriet’ would be helpful as a reference:
I think the world of free jazz is, to many folk, an enigma…for some it might even be a complete unknown. That evening in a back street studio of Dundee, I danced around the edges of an endless landscape of possibility. I wasn’t sure how to play, where to go, or how to feel…But, perhaps that is the aim of this rare art form? A place where everything meets nothing, a musical exorcism, a release from the self in some way. It was somehow all of these things and I often think back on the session, wondering how i would respond to that musical exchange today…and how many journeys Joe took throughout his long and inspirational career. As a slightly older musician today, I enjoy reassessing what my musical limits and tastes might be? At what point do things become ‘too much’ for me? When do I feel the urge to stop or incentive to ‘hold back’? My musical outlook is certainly a lot broader thanks to the late, mild-mannered gentleman of jazz, Joe Rigby. Rest in peace Joe.