TRIBUTE: Richard Michael remembers Joe Temperley

Joe Temperley, Manchester 2010
Photo Copyright © 2010 William Ellis

Scottish-born bartione saxophonist JOE TEMPERLEY died on 11th May 2016 at the age of 86. In this tribute, Richard Michael one of the leading figures in British jazz education, also from Joe's home county of Fife, looks back at a significant friendship, remembers with gratitude the support which Joe Temperley gave him, thanks him for his indelible influence - and drops in some unforgettable quotes:

Joe Temperley -  An appreciation from Richard Michael

How do you explain a great wine? Or a great malt? You taste – and then describe. How do you explain the most beautiful sound a human being can create by blowing through a tube of metal with a mouthpiece at the end of it? Easy, just LISTEN to the sound of Joe Temperley, who died last week in New York. He was 86 years young – not old!

I met Joe in 1978 when I played for him in a gig at Burntisland, just a few miles from where he was born in deepest Fife, in Lochgelly. He told me the tunes he was playing and all was going well until he changed his mind towards the end of his set and snarled “Stardust in 5 flats”.

“Er, Joe," I mumbled, “I can play that in C." I can’t repeat his response, but that was my wake-up call to learn tunes in all 12 keys.

From that inauspicious start, Joe came along to the fledgling Fife Youth Jazz Orchestra and continued his wake-up call by swinging the band out of sight by the sheer musicality of his playing.

That was the beginning of a life long friendship where we all learned from the master. From informal workshops, we started what was then known as the Fife Jazz Summer School.

It wasn’t just the participants who learned from Joe – I was (and still am) learning all the time about taste, swing, expression. A few of his sayings come to mind –

“Don’t play too loud – you’re not stripping paper off the walls."

“You don’t get paid by the note."

“You wanna’ play jazz – then learn to concentrate."

“When you play – sing through your horn."

And Joe could sing. As I recall -

“A little old lady in Lochgelly taught me how to sing using tonic sol-fa before the war – and if you can’t sing it, you can’t play it”.

And then Joe would pick up a band part at random and sing it perfectly in sol-fa.

He taught us all how to practise – slowly and in time, with a full sound at all times. Where we all felt like giving up was when he said “Every day I play up and down all scales and chords – takes me an hour and a half – and then I get off my exercise bike!”

Joe returned to Fife in March of last year. Before recording a Radio Scotland Jazzhouse broadcast, he gave what was to be his last workshop with FYJO. It was unforgettable because the SOUND was still there. Despite the poor health he had endured, when he put the horn to his lips the beauty was there and the music soared from him.

Former players thanked him for what they had learned from him, and the new FYJO crop realised that they were in the presence of greatness. Joe was genuinely touched by the warmth of appreciation shown to him, and when he finished by playing “My love is like a red, red rose” and a ballad version of “The Skye Boat Song”, there was a moment of absolute stillness when he finished, that spoke volumes about the sound he had just created.

When I introduce a friend to a great malt – I pour a wee dram. And when I want to play a friend something beautiful to the ear, heart and soul, I reach for my recordings of Joe T.

We all owe him so much.

Richard Michael BEM (website) is Honorary Professor of Jazz Piano at St Andrews University and is on Twitter as @JazzPianoLesson 

LINKS: Richard analyses Joe’s playing of “My Love Is Like a Red,Red, Rose” on BBC’s “The Jazzhouse”
RIP Joe Temperley

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