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A happy birthday

Steve Beresford 1

The pianist Steve Beresford is celebrating his 70th birthday this weekend with three shows at Cafe Oto, mixing and matching friends and colleagues each night under the rubric PIANO TOYS MUSIC NOISE. The bill is a fine reflection of the generosity of spirit that has made Steve a key figure in the London scene for four and a half decades, whether as a collaborator with Derek Bailey, the Flying Lizards, John Zorn, Tristan Honsinger, Evan Parker, the Dedication Orchestra and countless others or in his role as a senior lecturer at the University of Westminster.

Last night I particularly enjoyed a half-hour set by a quartet of musicians (pictured above) who hadn’t played as a unit before. Douglas Benford played various instruments, including bowls and a miniature harmonium; Hyelim Kim played a taegum, a big-bore bamboo flute from Korea; Martin Vishnik played an acoustic guitar; and Crystabel Riley played a drum kit with no cymbals and two bass-drum pedals. It was the sort of collaboration that gives free improvisation a good name: all four musicians listening hard, giving each other space, alert to signs, not afraid to gives cues of their own. The playing was exquisite, making effective use of the silence, the breathy sounds and the bell tones that this music has absorbed from Far Eastern idioms (most obviously Buddhist rituals), grounded in Riley’s truly extraordinary contribution: an underscore of rumbling and tapping, permanently in movement without seeming restless or overbearing, always alert to shifts in the music’s density and trajectory and ready to orchestrate, with Vishnik’s help, a truly gorgeous ending.

Steve himself played first with the violinist Satoku Fukuda and later with David Toop and Peter Cusack, his old colleagues from Alterations. Tonight and tomorrow the programmes will include a performance of John Cage’s “Indeterminacy”, Steve’s duo with the violinist Mandhira De Saram, and the pianist Pat Thomas playing Ellington. Not a bad birthday party, all told.

* Details of tonight’s and tomorrow’s programmes on the venue’s website:

5 Comments Post a comment
  1. Thanks to Paul Kelly’s highly creative booking policy ( like me he was a student at Warwick University in the late 70s) the university jazz club presented consistently remarkable cutting edge British and international jazz artists including the likes of Steve Lacey, Evan Parker ( whose beard then was black as coal), Eberhard Weber. Particularly memorable was a duo I had never heard of before – Derek Bailey – gtr and .. Steve Beresford – piano. I will never forget being astounded by the sight of a clockwork soldier suddenly marching across the Students’ Union carpet in the Elephant’s Nest and then realising this was part of the performance… Happy Birthday Steve Beresford and long may you continue to astound us!

    March 7, 2020
    • Adam Glasser, many thanks for the namecheck but you give me much too much credit. There were three or four of us programming Warwick University Jazz Club and it was a team effort particularly involving Tony Barley and a tall bearded Yorkshireman called Phil, whose full name I have shamefully forgotten and who is sadly no longer on the planet. Tony and Phil both played hard hitting Ornette influenced alto sax and it’s largely down to them that we booked Evan Parker, AMM, Steve Lacey, Stan Tracey solo and possibly John Stevens and Trevor Watts. I just made the phone calls and did the paperwork. I know we booked Derek Bailey but had completely forgotten he came with Steve Beresford. The brain cells ain’t what they used to be. But I can categorically say that Eberhard Weber did not appear for at Warwick. I promoted Eberhard and ‘Colours’ with Birmingham Jazz at The Grand Hotel the year after I left Warwick and was working for the Jazz Centre Society. That was a gig I do remember well for all sorts of reasons.

      March 9, 2020
      • Tony Barley #

        Hi Paul. Warwick Uni Jazz Society was, if I remember rightly, instigated by you in c. 1975. Sax player Phil Davenport, who died in Mozambique in 1983, was the main driver for choosing who came to play, assisted by bassist Roger Harmer, and John MacMillan. We had no ‘enlightened’ booking policy – it was just a bunch of free jazz and free improv fanatics using Student Union money to book our favourite players! A glorious time for British free music.
        Derek Bailey, Stan Tracey, Steve Lacy and Lol Coxhill played solo gigs. Yes John Stevens and Trevor Watts played (brilliantly) to an audience of 7. Evan came with Iskra. Tony Coe also, and Dave Panton and Roy Ashbury, among others. Phil’s band Somewhere There filled in any gaps!

        May 26, 2020
      • Having just been name checked, I was president for a year 1977, and I suppose getting Steve Lacy to come visit us to play along with many the other major figures in free improvisation, Derek Bailey, Evan Parker, Tony Oxley and so on was good time for us. Some of our music still survives, our set with Lol Coxhill (Somewhere there, later The Hector Brisset all stars) has a charm of it’s own 🙂

        May 26, 2020
  2. Roger Harmar #

    Hi all, well having been name checked i should mention we had Steve Lacy, and Tony Oxley come to play during my time as president. I spent a couple of hours with Steve Lacy before the gig in which he said very little, except just before he started to play his soprano he declaimed to the audience ‘Don’t go to school, don’t go to school’.

    Some of the music we made at the time still survives as Somewhere There and later as the Hector Brissett All Stars, and although Ornette was certainly an influence, so was Albert Ayler, Sun Ra, Cecil Taylor the New York art quartet and many others. In the link below there a set we played a with Lol Coxhill at the time.

    May 26, 2020

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