Whilst “the next young generation of British jazz” has been applied many times to London’s current jazz scene, this headline from Melody Maker was in fact used to describe Alan Wakeman and his band back in 1970.

The young alto saxophonist, influenced by Charles Mingus and mentored by Mike Westbrook, was composing singular, large ensemble pieces at a time when jazz had long left the limelight and rock was in the foreground.

Now, two separate Wakeman Octet ensemble recordings, made in ‘69 and ‘79 for BBC radio broadcast, are being released as a double LP via Gearbox Records.

These recordings – which are being released commercially for the first time ever – are representative of a magical period in British jazz which deserves to be unearthed and heard again. If a prototype for Binker and Moses’ viscerally energetic semi-free sound is sought, you would be hard pressed to find a closer relative than Wakeman on these particular sessions. Nodding to traditional chorales, his dexterously varied compositions ooze curiously English-sounding brass band pastoral warmth, whilst also leaning towards atonal conceptual forms and modern experimental compositional techniques.

Speaking about Wakeman’s playing, Mike Westbrook says “Seemingly free of stylistic limitations, Alan has a open-minded approach to music that enables him to be creative in any context. He approaches a solo apparently without preconceptions, and his total commitment is there in every note, heart and soul. There is no-one who can touch us quite so deeply on a ballad, or raise the temperature on stage with such reckless abandon when the mood takes him.”

Alongside the announcement of the new double LP, Wakeman has also shared a trailer for the album, as well as the first track to be taken from the LP:

Taken from the original tapes, all of the tracks featuring on the ’69 recordings were written specifically for these broadcasts – the compositions have never been released elsewhere. Similarly, both octets that featured on their respective recordings were a onetime formation and never went onto record or tour together. The result is a one-of-a-kind snapshot into a time when British jazz was at another high, featuring such names as John Taylor, Alan Skidmore, Paul Lytton, and Art Themen, who themselves were contemporaries of and collaborated with the likes of Evan Parker, Michael Garrick, Ian Carr and Roscoe Mitchell.

Speaking about the recordings in the liner notes for the release, Wakeman, says “Broadly speaking, it was an exciting time for the performing arts in the late 60s and 70s, when many different disciplines and styles intermingled happily in theatre, rock, classical music, film and jazz. Concerts would become events, with visual projections, costumes and more interactive elements for audiences to appreciate. A distinctive, freer style of jazz was emerging in Europe and I became hugely influenced during my sixth form years by being exposed to the thoughts and music and musicians associated with Mike Westbrook when he came to teach art at my school (an experience that must have put him off teaching for life)… I should add that I wrote all the music for both dates with the particular musicians who took part in mind: the Ellington concept of the musicians making the music.”

Alan Wakeman was born in West London in 1947. He became interested in jazz during the British Trad Jazz boom of the early 1960s leading to him picking up the clarinet at age 14 (his cousin Rick Wakeman giving him his first lesson in his back garden). After playing for three months, Wakeman, together with Rick on piano – the ‘only one who knew what he was doing,’ put together Drayton Manor Grammar School’s first jazz band.

After taking up the alto sax at 16, he got to know Mike Westbrook when the up and coming bandleader came to his school to teach art for a year. By then he had decided to become a professional musician and was having lessons with Charles Chapman (Joe Harriott, Ronnie Ross, Vic Ash, John Barnes, Barbara Thompson, John Williams and Pete Whyman being among the many pupils coming out of the ‘Chapman Stable’). He left school at 18 to study clarinet at the London College of Music.

In 1966, Wakeman took up tenor sax, which became his main instrument along with the soprano.

At the age of 20, while playing in a working men’s club every weekend with Cousin Rick, he became involved with the London jazz scene through his acquaintance with free jazz drummer Paul Lytton. They met when both were in the London Youth Jazz Orchestra (which Wakeman joined after he was heard by Pat Evans). He joined Lytton’s quartet for six months, playing every Wednesday night at a club in Tottenham Court Road. Later he and the drummer formed various bands together, from duo to large line-ups. In 1970 they won the G.L.A.A Young Musicians Jazz Award.

His first broadcast for the BBC was in 1968 with The Dave Holdsworth Quartet – Paul Lytton on drums and Harry Miller on bass, and his own octet playing his own compositions in 1969 – Mike Osborne (alto sax) , Alan Skidmore and Wakeman (tenor saxes), Paul Nieman and Paul Rutherford (trombones), John Taylor (piano), Lindsay Cooper (bass) and Paul Lytton (drums).

After leading his own trio in 1970 (with Harry Miller on bass and Lytton on drums), he joined Graham Collier Music, replacing Stan Sulzmann. This lasted for two years and two albums, “Songs For My Father” and “Mosaics”, featuring such contemporaries as Harry Beckett, Phil Lee and Geoff Castle. Prior to rejoining Mike Westbrook’s band in late 1974, in 1973 he toured with John Dankworth. Wakeman’s debut with Westbrook was on 1975’s “Citadel/Room 615”, and their collaboration continued with “Love Dream & Variations” (1975), “Bright As Fire” (1980), “The Paris Album” (1981) etc.

In 1975, Wakeman played briefly with pianist Brian Miller’s group Impulse. It was then that he came to the attention of John Marshall, Soft Machine’s drummer, who attended a gig by this band at the Chestnut’s Club. Wakeman was considered as a possible replacement for the departing Allan Holdsworth, but it would be another year before he actually joined Soft Machine, stepping in for Mike Ratledge. He was also an original member of another ‘Canterbury Music’ group about this time, Alan Gowen’s Gilgamesh, but left long before any recordings were made.

Meanwhile, he formed another trio with Nigel Tickler on bass and John Snow on drums

Wakeman was in Soft Machine from February to July 1976. This line-up was documented on the “Softs” album, recorded during the spring of that year. He left when he was offered a retainer as a member of David Essex’s band.

In 1978 together with drummer Nigel Morris and bassist Paul Bridge he founded the trio, Triton. He also wrote a suite for octet which was premiered at the 1979 Camden Jazz Festival.

Other collaborations in the 70’s and 80’s included Barry Guy’s London Jazz Composers Orchestra, The Don Rendell Five, Michael Garrick Sextet, Harry Beckett Band, Stan Tracy Sextet, Henry Lowther’s Quarternity and John Williams Baritone Band.

Since then, Wakeman has kept working, occasionally with Westbrook – notably the ‘Off Abbey Road’ band and more recently ‘A Bigger Show’ with The Uncommon Orchestra – while keeping busy with commercial work, West End Theatre, sessions, Pantomimes (and a great deal of teaching) and more recently with various jazz groups in and around Northampton where he now lives.

Jazz Workshop 1969

A1 Dreams
A2 Forever
B1 Merry-Go-Round

Alan Wakeman: tenor sax, clarinet
Alan Skidmore: tenor sax, flute, two gongs at once
Mike Osborne: alto sax, clarinet, tambourine
Paul Rutherford: trombone, small Chinese gong
Paul Nieman: trombone, small Chinese gong
John Taylor: piano, castanets
Lindsay Cooper: bass, sleigh bells
Paul Lytton: drums

Introduced by Brian Priestley
Produced by Roger Eames

Recorded at BBC Aeolian Studio 2 between 7.00 and 10.30pm on Friday 21st November 1969

Broadcast Sunday 8th December 1969 at 12.30am on BBC Radio 1 ‘Jazz Workshop’

Jazz in Britain 1979

C1 Charles Fox Introduction
C2 Chaturanga
C3 Manhattan Variation
D1 Vienna
D2 Robatsch Defense
D3 Kingside Breakthrough
D4 Charles Fox Conclusion

Alan Wakeman: tenor sax, soprano sax
Alan Skidmore: tenor sax
Art Themen: tenor sax
Henry Lowther: trumpet
Paul Rutherford: trombone
Gordon Beck: piano
Chris Lawrence: bass
Nigel Morris: drums

Introduced by Charles Fox
Produced by Pete Ritzema

Recorded at BBC Maida Vale Studio 5 between 2.30 and 6.00 pm on Wednesday 23rd May 1979

Broadcast on Monday 9th July 1979 at 11.25 pm on BBC Radio 3 ‘Jazz in Britain’

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