Flying High, A Jazz Life and Beyond

Peter King
Northway Publications, £20
ISBN 978-0-9550908-9-9
Flying high a jazz life and beyond

“Peter King is one of the best musicians in the world,” said Lalo Schifrin. The late Gene Lees said: “I hear both Trane and Bird in his playing, but he is better than either of them.”

I agree. Saxophonist Peter King, now 71, is still making a great contribution, not only to British jazz but also to Wakefield (now F1B) class rubber powered free-flight models, an exciting high-tech activity. He participates successfully in major aeromodelling competitions, and has written extensively about the subject. Amazingly, there’s more. In 1999, King played and performed a small acting role in the Julian Barry play Lenny. The work involved being on stage throughout the play and acting in several small scenes. Directed by Sir Peter Hall, with Eddy Izzard in the title roll, ‘Lenny’ depicts the life of comedian Lenny Bruce. Peter King also paints and draws. He is enthusiastic and knowledgeable about Formula One motor racing. And, after three years’ hard work on the score, his full-length two-act opera Zyklon was premiered in December 2004 at the City University of New York, after enthusiastic support from Sir Peter Hall. Now King can add ‘author’ to his CV, for this 320-page biography is a captivating though sometimes harrowing tale.

At the age of eighteen, King was chosen to play at the opening of Ronnie Scott's Club. He owes his rapid progress to transcribing and learning to play dozens of great jazz solos, many by Charlie Parker. King admits that at this stage his playing was a mix of Bird and Tubby Hayes.

During this period he played various London clubs with Tubby, Ben Webster, Paul Gonsalves, Sonny Stitt, George Coleman, and others - fast company. Soon after this, King became a member of John Dankworth’s band. They recorded Ebony Concerto. The clarinet soloist was Gervase de Peyer. Others in the Dankworth band of the time were Dudley Moore, Dick Hawdon, and saxophonists Art Ellefson and Danny Moss. King attests to Dankworth’s musicianship:

“[Dankworth] had written a long and difficult soli passage for the
saxes to play in unison, but suddenly decided he wanted it voiced
out in harmony. He then did something that stunned me. He
came up to us, facing the sax stands, so he was seeing the music
upside down, then spent ten minutes writing new parts, by ear, at
the bottom of the page, in harmony and upside down. Not only
this, but they were fully transposed into the correct keys for the
different instruments.”

King has endured a long battle with drug addiction. To his credit, Flying High includes much detail about this. Suffice to say that King eventually triumphed. He went on the road again with the new Charlie Watts Tentet, for which he wrote several arrangements and shared the role of Leader. As well as playing two weeks at Ronnie Scott’s, the band played at the Blue Note in Tokyo and New York. In 2008, Peter King was still playing his custom Yanagisawa alto, but with a metal mouthpiece hand-made by Freddie Gregory.

To describe King’s biography as harrowing would not be excessive. Nevertheless, Flying High will be enjoyed by all thinking reed players.

John Robert Brown

Updated and maintained by: routeToWeb