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The collector’s Soulful Peter King

Tribute to the jazz mastro, Peter ing, who died August 29 after a lo g spell of illness


(Article first published Wednesday, November 8, 2006 in the rested Evergreen column of Benson  idonije in The Guardian)

IT is not surprising that Peter King is directing the affairs of a music school, teaching students in the art of playing all the instruments of the orchestra, arranging and composing. What is strange and perhaps unprecedented is the level of activity and the dimen­sion of his commitment. Hundreds of people are seek­ing music education in an environment so ideal that it has classrooms and accommodation facilities provided by Peter King himself on a copious stretch of land, endowed with the beauty of nature.

From the beginning, Peter King has always had a crit­ical, analytic disposition and a serious sense of disci­pline, which manifested themselves in the attitude to music. By the time he ventured into professional music in1957, he was already a multi-instrumentalist, playing alto saxophone, bass fiddle and percussion, a feat which afforded him the opportunity to perform with some of the finest dance bands, reading music and approaching the whole thing from a rather profession­al point of view where others merely played by ear.

As a sideman, he was very sensitive to wrong chords and because of the professional respect his band lead­ers accorded him, he was put in charge of generally ensuring that the band was perfectly in tune before’ striking the first note on stage.

Peter was a fine soloist, a feat he acquired through long hours of daily practice, doing scales and exercises; and was always allowed to take as many choruses as he wished, sounding progressive and fundamentally exhibiting potentials that pointed to a brilliant future.

The fifties was a big boom for the music industry; and the practitioners had a good time because they were highly paid. But they did not command the type of respect that they exhibit today, as they were looked upon as a reckless breed of people who squandered their earnings on women, drinks and riotous living. It was at this time that Peter saved enough to pay his way to study music in London in 1960.

As soon as he graduated in 1966 with proficiency in all the instruments in the reed family- tenor, alto, soprano, baritone, flute including piano, violin, arrang­ing and composition, he formed the African Messengers, a powerful Afro-fusion group, which worked in London and the continent.

Peter came home to Nigeria in 1969 to feel the pulse of African music and before he went back, he played side by side at Kakadu Hotel Yaba with Fela Anikulapo Kuti’s Africa 70, an experience which afforded him the opportunity to consolidate his “miliki” sound, the amalgam  of jazz, highlife and Afro beat.

On return to England a year after, his African Mes­sengers became tighter, fiercer and attracted notable sidemen such as celebrated South African alto saxo­phone player Dudu Pukwana, trumpet player Eddie Tantan and tenor man Eddie Mfor among others.

Peter however came home finally in 1979 and was immediately signed on by Sanu  Olu Records, an indigenous record company for which he  recorded  African Dialects, and Man of distinction, among other albums, on its stable.

However, Peter will continue to be remembered for his live appearances at the Museum kitchen which drew enthu­siastic crowds to the place in the eighties, creating Afro-rhythmic sounds with the guitar-bass-drums per­cussion format which later provided a solid foundation for other instrumentalists to join and improvise at his Ilogbo village home(on Badagry Express Way, Lagos) and Music School premises in a regular performance that turned out to be a monthly jazz party. Co-ordinated by Naiwu Osahon, the jazz meeting attracted musicians, devotees and Embassy officials.

Ironically, Peter is better known in Europe and America where he is fondly referred to as ” Soulful Peter King” by musicians and fans because of the astonishing success of his album of the same title, a departure from the Afro-oriented music with which he was identified.

As a matter of fact, he was encouraged by his produc­er and the numerous fans who knew him and the possi­bilities of his saxophone to instrumentalise and stretch out on popular standards; and, carefully chosen, they include Sincerely, We belong together. Just because. The ties that bind. Lonesome Road on the first side. The second side parades such melodic standards as Watch the moon, Sweet memories, Mr and Mrs Untrue, which appears to be the most popular favourite, and Honey.

The album is significant in many respects. The songs were jointly arranged by Peter King and his producer, Sonny Roberts and given a simple, harmonic progres­sion such that it can appeal to jazz fans as well as listeners to popular music forms.

A lot of musical discipline is displayed here in terms of precision and brevity with songs limited to short durations to provide a variety that is pleasant to listen to, at a time when musicians are generally in the habit of stretching out their materials into long, monotonous and boring sessions in order to fill albums.

Another welcome attraction in the album is perhaps the soothing and professional backing voices of that well known group called The Marvels. But the beauty of the album lies in Peter King’s choice of instruments in terms of solo concept to suit the mood and nature of each song. Sincerely for instance, takes on the tenor saxophone and gives it a happy feeling in the Rollins-Ammons-Webster tradition, while Mr and Mrs Untrue  features the flute, assuming the peaceful and tranquil effusions of Yusef Lateef and Hubert Laws.

Recorded in 1977 and still in demand, Soulful Peter King is a collector’s item.


THE GUARDIAN, Wednesday, November 8,2006

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