Skip to content

The uncommon tenor

Lou GareLou Gare held his tenor saxophone aslant, like Lester Young, whose light-fingered articulation and disdain for the obvious he shared. Gare was born in Rugby but it was in Plymouth in the early 1960s that he first played with the band of the young Mike Westbrook, alongside the even younger John Surman. In London in 1965 he became a founder member, with Eddie Prévost, Cornelius Cardew and Keith Rowe, of AMM, one of the seminal groups of the first generation of British free improvisers. Lou was on their debut album, AMMMusic, recorded at Sound Techniques in Chelsea and released by Elektra Records in 1966. Six years later, with the group reduced to a Gare-Prévost duo, they performed at Harvey Matusow’s International Carnival of Experimental Sound event in London, their set released initially in part on an Incus EP as AMM at the Roundhouse and then in full on a Matchless CD under the same title.

In the 1970s Gare moved to Devon, where he worked as a teacher of Aikido, a modern Japanese martial art. There he played with the pianist Sam Richards in the band Synchronicity; he was also reunited with Westbrook, joining the latter’s locally based Uncommon Orchestra. This piece of film is from their performance at the Barnfield Theatre in Exeter in December 2014. Gare is featured throughout a 12-minute piece called “D.T.T.M.”, adapted from a section of Westbrook’s suite On Duke’s Birthday and dedicated to the trombonist Danilo Terenzi and the drummer Tony Marsh. It’s a quietly phenomenal performance, devoid of rhetoric but bursting with invention, the soloist’s thoughts unfurling at his own pace and expressed with a lovely laconic warmth. I don’t think I’ve heard a more subtly dramatic example of a tenorist working with a big band since Wayne Shorter emerged from the swirling mists of Gil Evans’ “The Barbara Song” in 1964.

Perhaps inspired by the example of Sonny Rollins, Gare was also a wonderful unaccompanied improviser, as he demonstrated on a Matchless album titled No Strings Attached in 2005 and in this clip from 2013. When he died on October 6, aged 78, British jazz lost a voice of quiet but resolute originality.

4 Comments Post a comment
  1. puppylicious28 #

    As always Richard…

    …thanks for the lesson. My eyes perked up when I read the word ‘Aikido’ which I practiced many centuries ago. A lovely clip and ‘matchless’ journalism.

    All best Danielle

    Danielle White Raestar Promotions Tel: +44 (0)7841 675 263 Skype: daniraestar


    November 8, 2017
  2. MJG #

    A few years ago now, Gare played a two night residency at Cafe Oto which featured some of the most inspired music making I’ve heard at that venue (and I’ve heard my fair share there). It was the first, second and only times I’d heard him play. I bought No Strings Attached on the second evening and it reminds me on every play of what a special player he was.

    November 8, 2017
  3. Mick Steels #

    Amother example of a tenorist emerging from the deep sonorities of a large ensemble is the stunning, barely discernible, solo by Paul Gonsalves on Duke’s “Portrait of Mahalia Jackson”.
    Entering after 2min 53sec you have to listen closely to appreciate the subtle blues inflexions of this much underrated musician, brief but magical.
    The whole performance is one of Duke’s later day masterpieces.

    November 9, 2017
  4. Lou Gare demonstrated that free and improvised music didn’t have to be harsh or aggressive to make its mark. As well as working with Sam Richards in Synchronicity, in 2000 he was also part of an intriguing 10 piece ensemble performing Sam’s 80 minute piece “About Time” celebrating the Millennium and performed just once in an Arts Centre in deepest Mid-Devon. The piece was a fusion of experimental music, improvisation and performance art, one of the performance artists being the late and wonderful Bill Mitchell of Knee High and Wildworks. Amidst a piece that moved from the most delicate of rustles to occasional full-throated roar, Lou was his usual quietly magisterial self. It was a band in which I was the lesser of two trumpets and a night which I have never quite forgotten. It was also filmed and recorded and I really should track it down.

    February 20, 2018

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: