I met with Phil Rose at Saint Kitchen in Birmingham’s Jewellery Quarter for a jazz breakfast and to talk about our mutual love of the music and look back on his time with Birmingham Jazz. He is currently in charge of programming among many things.
By Garry Corbett
This year Birmingham Jazz celebrates its 40th Anniversary with a series of special gigs in addition to the regular programme together with various celebratory ventures. This includes their 40 pictures at 40 project, which combines the caricatures of Hunt Emerson with photographs. Phil’s caricature appears in my portrait of him.
We began by talking about how we got into jazz. In Phil’s case it came from his love of the band Cream which featured a couple of jazzers and a blues man. “I was a big fan of the band,” said Phil, “Their long solo improvisations were essentially jazz and Clapton was referred to as a Dolphy-like figure. I was a huge Jack Bruce fan and followed his solo projects after the break up of Cream.” Around that time Phil purchased one of his favourite jazz albums which began a long journey into exploring the current music and history of jazz.
“I bought the first Mike Gibbs album and was truly hooked,” he says. “I pored over the personnel featured on that album and found other recordings featuring them which led me to discover other musicians.” The album in question, Michael Gibbs, featured among others Kenny Wheeler, John Marshall, Chris Spedding, Jack Bruce and Alan Skidmore. Phil came to have a future association with many of these musicians through his work with Birmingham Jazz over many years. “One of the joys is that I now regard musicians such as Henry Lowther as personal friends. He even signed my old copy of his first album which is a treasured vinyl possession.”
It was during an interval conversation with founder George West in 1977 that Phil agreed to become more actively involved with the Birmingham Jazz organisation as a volunteer. He’s been involved in one capacity or another ever since. In 2012 he became Artistic Director. Together with his current team of enthusiastic volunteers the programme has gone from strength to strength in recent years. “I never thought I would spend so mush time and effort organising jazz gigs but I do and I love it!” he says. This has included in recent times three mini-festivals in the form of the weekend long JQJAZZ in Birmingham’s Jewellery Quarter which bring established musicians and young rising stars to this historic area of the city to perform over an intense few days. Meanwhile the club atmosphere continues at The Red Lion every Friday, again with a mix of better known and new talent.
Phil is optimistic for the future of Birmingham Jazz. After a somewhat austere beginning after a lean time the current organisation has breathed new life into the remains of the old . “I can now book almost what we want,” says Phil, “except stadium artists.” In addition, new commissions have been possible, projects with other media and finally some great partnerships across the city of Birmingham have broadened the outlook. Phil says: “I sincerely believe that I have stuck with the mission to bring the best into Birmingham.”
40 years on things are looking good.
Phil recommends the following 5-a-day:
Michael Gibbs (Originally DERAM label now available as a double album on Vocalion CD together with Tanglewood 63)
Kenny Wheeler, Lee Konitz, Dave Holland & Bill Frisell – Angel Song (ECM)
Ian Carr’s Nucleus – Elastic Rock (Vertigo records originally but reissued by BGO Records as a double CD together with the band’s second album We’ll Talk About It Later BGOCD 47)
John Coltrane – A Love Supreme (Impulse!)
Charles Mingus – Mingus Ah Um (Sony Music)