Ornithology – requiem

This won’t be splattered over the front of the papers but this one hits hard. Pete Burden, Jazz saxophonist and living legend, living no more. Pete played bebop, the punk of the Jazz world, when it was new and played it throughout his life. Pete was a world class saxophonist, even if he didn’t bother with the world bit, people who were good enough to know how good he was knew, the rest could go fuck themselves. He played because he had to, he couldn’t not, he wasn’t at all precious about instruments, he would chop and change from the obscenely expensive to the everyday on a whim, still brilliant regardless. He would quote madly, throwing in bits of Coltrane, Parker and Dizzy and for some some reason which I never got to the bottom of, in an English country garden.

He had a wonderful economy of words. Saying much more with a look and a well targeted phrase than most, myself included could in a few paragraphs. I remember one conversation, if that is the word, I had with him about debilitating mental illness, of which we are / were sufferers of, his started at university whilst reading philosophy.

“That’s the trouble with knowing too much…. Sends you mad.” That was positively verbose for him. 

And boy did he suffer, long and hard. Going for monthly subcutaneous injections to keep him level(ish). He could easily have been famous without all that to deal with. He had the talent, skipped the fame bit, and headed straight into the descent into drugs. That said, he had a good life in lots of ways, he did what he loved almost to the end, arranging gigs and co-ordinating musicians from his hospital bed. 

Whenever I  saw him it was usually in one of two places, in Hastings sitting outside a cafe by the town’s big bargain store or in St Leonards where I live. He was always up to no good, doing some nefarious thing or other, or buying chips… One or the other. The last time we met I was walking past a local homeless shelter, it threw me for a second but I expect he was scoring blow. Pete always struck me as a cross between an old school gent and flash Harry from the St Trinians films.

Sadly, Pete is one of a dying breed. In jazz, being able to hit the right notes and getting a good tone is one thing, getting the feeling behind it is another. One will get you a passing career doing weddings and cruise ships, the other makes you a true jazzer.

Pete Burden, legend, sadly missed. 

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