Neil Ardley - Celebrating the Life of a Polymath
Please note this is an old page and Fly Global Music has now moved. Please follow this link and search for the entry in the new site.
His second wife Vivien welcomed us to the service and spoke of Neil’s love for the outdoors whether he was out walking, on canal boat trips or having a go at cross-country skiing.
Neil was born in 1937 in Wallington, Surrey. He was educated at Wallington County Grammar School and Bristol University where he took a degree in chemistry in 1959. Michael Short took us through the service. He was a long time friend from Uni days where they had a mutual love of jazz music. He told us that they would listen this likes of Norman Granz’s Jazz At The Philharmonic to the latest Rock ‘n’ Roll of Bill Haley. One night they went to the Royal Albert Hall to hang around the stage door and were like star struck teenagers when Don Rendell came out and said, “Hello” as he passed by.
He also told us about the holiday to Greece that became the inspiration for the album ‘Greek Variations’ (recently reissued due to the interest generated by the Gilles Peterson Impressed albums and the BBC’s Jazz Britannia series).
Neil moved to London on leaving University and joined the John Williams Big Band as their pianist. In 1964, he was invited to become the director of the newly formed New Jazz Orchestra (NJO). Barbara Thompson told us how she first met Neil when as a student; she inadvertently went into a room where the NJO were rehearsing. As she showed an interest in what was going on, she got voted in. Impressed2 includes The New Jazz Orchestra’s ‘Le Dejueuner Sur l’Herbe’ (1968) written by Ardley (with Jack Bruce on double bass!).
In addition to Thompson, NJO’s members read as a who’s who of British Jazz such as Ian Carr, Michael Garrick, Jon Hiseman, Michael Gibbs, Don Rendell, Dave Gelly, Trevor Tomkins and Norma Winston.
Barbara (Soprano Saxophone) performed ‘Rainbow Four’ from Neil’s album Kaleidoscope Of Rainbows with Billy Thompson (Violin) and Alex Wilson (Piano); A moving piece exquisitely performed.
The sleeve notes of Kaleidoscope Of Rainbows say, “within it lies a part of the musical future,” while Don Rendell said in the remembrances that Neil’s music, “was ahead of its time.”
Which is very much the feeling when Impressed2 brought ‘Will You Walk A Little Faster?’ (1972) to a new generation of jazz fans. It’s the last part of a trilogy from the album A Symphony Of Amaranths; Don Rendell is featured on this track along with Harry Beckett and the sadly departed Dick Heckstall-Smith.
Norma Winston and Michael Garrick said that she owed a great “thank you” to Neil as he gave them both a chance in the New Jazz Orchestra. Michael Garrick who was to accompany Norma on piano for ‘Will You Won’t You’ said it was a favourite of Vivien’s that takes the lyrics from Lewis Carroll’s ‘Alice In Wonderland’. It was so impressive to see Norma perform in her own vocal distinctive style live [more of Ms. Winston on FLY soon].
Michael Garrick said he was happy during his time in the NJO even thought he only wrote three pieces and that people only remember ‘Dusk Fire’ (of which there’s a version by the Don Rendell / Ian Carr Quintet on the first Impressed With Gilles Peterson).
Michael Short’s definition of ‘Amaranths’ produced quite a little debate with some attendees. I am sure this would have raised a smile with Neil, as he was also a wordsmith. Many would have known of his jazz past but he also had a career in publishing, writing and editing. He wrote 101 books, which had sold over 10 million copies! Christopher Davis spoke of Neil’s years at Dorling Kindersley when they “were at their most productive period.” The most well known DK title would have been ‘The Way Things Work’ with illustrations by David Macaulay. He said, “Neil made things fizz” and Sue Unstead spoke of Neil’s ability to explain things simply so that children could understand complicated subjects such as science. But the overriding criterion was that his books should be fun to be read. She said they both enjoyed classical music and worked closely on encyclopaedias of science and classical music. It was Sue who mentioned his polymath credentials and spoke of his big successes with books about Birds.
Neil was also interested in electronic instruments, for example, he played synthesiser on Kaleidoscope Of Rainbows. His books on the ZX Spectrum were a useful background to when he got involved with music again via the electronic jazz of Zyklus.
Warren Greveson and John Walters told us of their Zyklus memories. When they, Warren, John and Neil got together to form Zyklus, Neil was in his 50s. John recalled that in 1988 Neil had had a heart attack at a party. Taxi driver and BBC Mastermind champion Fred Housego was at this party and took Neil to Hospital in his taxi.
John Walters (who was in Landscape) said, “Neil’s compositional voice was English and did much to get European Jazz recognised.” John described the Zyklus, “as the musical equivalent of a Pinball Machine.” Some sort of early sampler with a mind of its own so they’d never know what might happen. They worked together on a reworking of the first part of Kaleidoscope Of Rainbows. Their first gig on the Zyklus was in front of a Japanese tourist and the inventor of the machine. Apparently, he couldn’t believe the sounds they managed to get out of the Zyklus, “and the inventor was impressed too!” When they decided that three Zyklusi needed a helping hand, they asked Ian Carr to join them. He told the story of when they came to recording a version of Thelonious Monk’s ‘Round Midnight’, a fly flew into Ian Carr’s trumpet. Apparently, the fly delayed the recording and proved tricky to remove. They joked that they thought the fly must have been a reincarnation of Monk’s spirit.
We listened to a track called ‘Refracted Rainbow’ from the Zyklus CD Virtual Realities (1991). There was some talk of re-releasing the CD and Richard Ellis’ name was mentioned. If a little re-editing time was required, I can’t think of a better pair of ears for the task.
In his later years, Neil joined the Bakewell Choral Society. The Society is made up of about 80 members who perform four times a year. He was part of the tenor section and to the membership he was simply known as ‘Neil’. Some of his fellow members had no idea of his distinguished careers in words and music. Richard Barnes paid tribute to Neil with the Society’s Chairman, Jeanette Lumb. It was she that had asked Neil to write a piece for the 25th anniversary of the Society. With his usual enthusiasm, charm and wit he went about this task. The first time the piece was played on the 26th June 2004, the members met with joy to celebrate the 25 years and with sadness that Neil wasn’t there to hear his work. Richard said: “Neil was an unusual treasure in the choir in that he was a singer that watched the conductor.”
It was a shame the Choir could not make it but the service ended with a recording of the Hymn from the ‘Creation Mass’ (music: Ardley / words: Patrick Huddie) and it was very moving.
The collection was for Cancer Research as Neil’s daughter recently died of the disease. The congregation then dispersed and most went to the Lamb & Flag pub to have a drink and talk of old times.
I didn’t know Neil but Mr. Peterson’s Impressed album series has brought it home to me what a golden period the 70s were. Like many others, I spent many (happy) hours hunting down those American jazz sounds whilst ignoring this brilliant music that was on our own doorsteps. Thanks to Gilles, hopefully the likes of Stan Tracey, Mike Taylor, Michael Garrick, Mike Westbrook and Neil Ardley’s legacy will be increasingly appreciated. Neil was due to pen some sleeve notes for Impressed2 and it was of no surprise to hear that he was “delighted and enthusiastic” to have been asked. With the reissue of some of his albums some thirty years after being recorded, not only will this generation will be impressed but also future generations to come will enjoy his music. Rest in music.
Neil Richard Ardley, Composer and Author.
Neil Ardley - Kaleidoscope Of Rainbows Cat. No. GULP1018 (Gull) .
Various - Impressed2 with Gilles Peterson, Rare, classic & unique modern jazz from Britain 1963 - 1974’ Cat. No. 982 107 0 (Universal) .
Polymath: n. a person of great learning in several fields of study
Visit Fly's new Amazon shops:
Fly Music Shop UK / Fly Music Shop US
Scandinavia - Sounds from the Wilderness
Staff Benda Bilili and Fatoumata Diawara - Roundhouse (Live Review)
Record Store Day with Jonny Trunk & Gilles Peterson (16th April 2011)
Matthew Halsall - Spiritual Surfing at 60MPC 03/02/11
Soil & "Pimp" Sessions - Now We Are 6 with Shacho
|Search Google for more about: Neil Ardley - Celebrating the Life of a Polymath
|CC Some Rights Reserved FLY 2012 || Add to Del.icio.us|