Hastings & St. Leonards on-line community newspaper
Pete Burden was always keen to encourage young musicians.

Pete Burden playing in the JD Bar. He was always keen to encourage young musicians (photo: Tony Frost).

Pete Burden: talented and generous jazzman

Influential jazz saxophonist Pete Burden passed away peacefully in his sleep in the early hours of 27 December 2016 at the age of 75. Christopher Hoggins, who knew Pete well and once painted his portrait, recalls a life well-lived by a highly talented and generous musician.

Performing in public from the age of 15, Pete became a devotee of bebop from his university days when he read philosophy; his passion for both stayed with him throughout his life. He played with a variety of like-minded jazz musicians in the early sixties, many of whom became life-long friends. Fellow alto saxophonist Paul Zec remarked that, “to listen to Pete play was to experience unselfconscious artistry”.

Drummer, and now priest, Spike Wells met Pete in the mid sixties whilst they were both performing at the Troubadour Cafe in Earls Court and formed a close bond with him. Remembering Burden at the time Spike described him thus: “He cut a really cool, enigmatic figure in a suit and tie with shades and always seemed to be returning from a slightly shady trip…”

Far-out alto

Pete became a member of the Spike Wells Quartet where he was noted by his band leader for playing “a fiery brand of far-out alto”. Burden played for a time with pianist and composer Lionel Grigson’s sextet, including a performance on the BBC’s Jazz Club. From 1965-66 he joined jazz pianist Pete White to play in Montreal, where they met one of their heroes, jazz legend Dizzy Gillespie.

obit 2On returning to the UK and East Sussex Pete continued to play regularly around the Hastings and Brighton areas and occasionally in London, including a stint at Ronnie Scott’s with vocalist Joe Lee Wilson. Parallel to his musical career Pete worked as a social worker, becoming a deeply respected figure in the community.

As well as being a continual and potent force on the live jazz scene, he was an avid teacher of the form both on a one-to-one level and as a runner of jazz workshops, both inspiring and spurring on the following generations of jazz musicians.

Musician Barrie Selwyn noted that, “Pete used to write and hand over jazz licks like a doctor hands out prescriptions,” while Rebecca Mason, who became a close friend and his vocalist of choice for over twenty years up until his final gig, remarked, “[at first] I was very nervous but Pete always believed in me, encouraging me all the way.”

Jazz workshops

Pete formed the aforementioned jazz workshops in Bexhill in the nineties with former pupil John Graebe, establishing a launching point for a number of musical careers. He was cited by many jazz musicians for his wisdom, support, encouragement and inspiration over the years, including multi-award winning jazz vocalist and pianist Liane Carroll and her husband and immensely talented bass player Roger Carey; Liane described him as “a beautiful friend and an enormous influence on both Roger and myself. A wonderful player, a very witty and generous man.”

obit 3Pete continued to perform up until the final few months of his life, mostly in dual residencies at the JD Bar and the Brass Monkey night club, both in Hastings, with his band The Jazz Organisation, featuring vocalist Rebecca Mason, keyboardist Andrew Winterbourne, drummer Tony MacDonnell and rotating bass players Alistair Franklin and Trevor Beale. A sign of the respect Pete commanded was the amount and calibre of guest musicians who played with the band, from the internationally acclaimed to the young and up-and-coming.

Pete was well-known for his idiosyncratic quoting, small passages of other tunes worked into the structure of the number being played, most notably passages from Charlie Parker pieces and the traditional English ditty In an English Country Garden. He was also well-known, notorious even, for his stock jokes and phrases, an example being, “You’ve made a happy man very old.”

Pete had a gift for getting his thoughts across with an economy of words, expressing more in a well chosen phrase than most people could in a monologue. He led a full and remarkable life, affecting everyone he met in a positive way.

It is perhaps fitting to end with one of Pete’s famously short phrases… “Gotta go.”

Pete Burden’s funeral service with be held at 3.30pm on Tuesday 31 January at Hastings Crematorium. It has been requested that instead of flowers, money be donated to Rhythmix, a local charity which helps young people become involved in music.

See also In memory of Pete Burden

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Posted 20:06 Sunday, Jan 22, 2017 In: Music & Sound

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