Jazz legend Court in the act

UK jazz legend Courtney Pine makes a rare east London appearance at Theatre Royal Stratford East on Sunday with his Jazz Warriors collective. Having received an OBE in 2000, he is still remarkably humble about the CBE handed to him at the end of last year

UK jazz legend Courtney Pine makes a rare east London appearance at Theatre Royal Stratford East on Sunday with his Jazz Warriors collective.

Having received an OBE in 2000, he is still remarkably humble about the CBE handed to him at the end of last year.

"It's amazing, isn't it?" he says when I catch up with him at his studio ahead of the Stratford gig. "You know, my dad's a carpenter and my mum works in housing. For this to happen to me and my family is quite something.''

When saxophonist Pine first formed his critically-acclaimed Jazz Warriors, he was a 21-year-old just starting out and asked some "generals" of the jazz world to help him put something together.


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Now, in his mid-40s, he's giving emerging British talent the opportunity to play jazz live.

I caught Pine and The Jazz Warriors at Ronnie Scott's last year and the show is a masterclass in how a jazz ensemble should work.

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Pine's parents arrived in London from Jamaica in the late '50s, and settled close to Ladbroke Grove and Portobello Road.

He remembers: "As it is now, when I was growing up in the '70s, the area was so multi-cultural. The West Indian community mixed with the Italians, the Greeks, Asians and Irish. There was always a party somewhere and it meant that when you turned on to any street, you'd hear a different type of music. And there was always a blues dance somewhere.''

Pine started out as a reggae musician, playing the sax for various bands and sessions. He was always trying to infuse some jazz into the proceedings and when that was frowned upon, he stopped taking calls from the reggae people.

His jazz residency at The Atlantic Club in Brixton in the mid-'80s caught the eye of record company executives and suddenly he had seven offers.

He had just formed The Jazz Warriors: "I went with Island Records, the home of Bob Marley, and the one which least sounded like they wanted to turn me into the new Kenny G. It wasn't for a great deal of money, but before you knew it I was appearing on Wogan, was on the front cover of NME and did the main stage at Glastonbury.''

The Stratford gig is the first night of a massive UK tour for The Jazz Warriors, which is focusing on the music on the crew's new album, Afropeans, on Pine's own label, Destiny Records.

Every track from the collection, and more, will be performed on the night.

He says: " I think this is only the third or fourth gig I've played in east London in the whole of my career. I don't seem to get down that side that often, and because it's a first night, we'll all be nervous and loads of things will go wrong, but we'll have a great time too.''

The Jazz Warriors are 15-strong, but, as usual, the line-up is ever-evolving and there's room for more.

"I've got my eye on some 18 and 19-year-olds for the band. There's enough young people out there who don't want to be the next Beyonce or spit lyrics, and actually want to play jazz, so the future is bright and that makes this whole thing still a relevant exercise.''

Tickets for the show at Theatre Royal Stratford East, Gerry Raffles Square, Stratford are �20. Go to www.stratfordeast.com for more info and tickets.

- MATT TROLLOPE

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