Mike Garrick: the last days

Producer and Mainstem label boss David Hays recalls pianist Mike Garrick's last gig, in Amersham

Mike Garrick photo by Gordon Sapsed



Mike GarrickThe latest high profile London Jazz Festival started on Remembrance Day and Michael died at Harefield Hospital on 11 November 2011 following unsuccessful heart surgery around the time of the opening notes. If we must lose pre-eminent British musical figures the eleventh day of the eleventh month is so appropriate, for surely Mike will be long remembered for his standing within the post war modern jazz scene. Likewise, we must lament the loss of pianist Gordon Beck, just five days earlier, a man of similar years and weighty attainments here and abroad.

Michael was a greatly admired pianist, composer and arranger for half a century, playing not only major UK venues, but also content to flex musical muscles with small groups at humble local venues around his home town of Berkhamsted, where he lived alone with his music for his latter years. He will also be revered by numerous students for his tireless dedication to jazz summer schools and a range of other foundation courses. I was connected with Mike for many years through my Mainstem promotions company, which gave us the opportunity to chat about the British scene and its ups or downs.

Early this November he talked excitedly about forthcoming big-band concerts and recording plans, concluding significantly with the comment "If I'm allowed the time." We also firmed up arrangements for the gig for his new Lyric Trio at The Ivy House near Amersham on Monday 7 November. It turned out to be his final one and involved moments in turn distressing, worrying, highly impressive and significantly poignant. What happened over a short period of some three hours before a small audience encapsulated virtually the entire character of the late Michael Garrick.

When we arrived, the staff explained Mike had been there a while looking extremely unwell and had often sat quietly using an inhaler. He had some difficulty assembling charts and getting the first set underway, leading many to think that Mike should be at home seeking medical help for the angina that had cramped his style for five years or more. However, as the great man's nearest and dearest will acknowledge, he was a stubborn, determined character to the last. We were duly treated to an engaging set but alarm ensued when ashen-faced Mike slumped on to a chair, motionless for several minutes. Disregarding advice that he should be taken home, Michael eventually resumed at the keyboard and there followed an engrossing hour of standards interlaced with his distinctive, original compositions. I watched from a table close by the trio and oblivious to the fact that we had reached closing time said quietly: "Just a short uptempo piece Mike, please - then home to bed." In response he looked back reflectively, pausing momentarily for thought.

Anyone aware of Mike's musical past - his early days with Joe Harriott, Shake Keane, Don Rendell and Ian Carr, the jazz and poetry fusion of the 60s, the rich original orchestral compositions and the Ellington and Evans influences would not have a imagined there was the proverbial snowball's chance of him producing what he did, namely two solid choruses of a 1930s boogie-woogie hit leading to his version of Chattanooga Choo Choo! Doubtless there were raised eyebrows in some quarters but believe me it was tremendous.

Mike was totally exhausted. We implored him to accept a lift home and seek a doctor's help the next morning but he was content for us to carry the keyboard to his car. After opening the driver's door he steadied himself, turned around briefly, nodded politely and with a smile said "Thanks for the gig," before driving off into the darkness.

Musically speaking my post-war childhood and youth was dominated by the big swing bands, but I've always room for Bob Hope's version of Thanks For The Memory. Here's to that. Cheers Mike!!


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Your Comments:

Posted by Johnny Taylor, 21 November 2011, 6:50 (1 of 3)

I re-established contact with Mike Garrick after many years. I had the honour and pleasure of being bassist in his first quartet - the photo is in his autobiography. They were enriching and inspiring times. Jazz and Poetry was to follow and I had plans to turn up at the Golders Green 50th anniversary concert with Jeremy Robson. Actually my passport had expired so renewed plans were to turn up at the Berkhampstead Big Band gig at Christmas. Sadly neither of these was to be.

About ten years ago, I visited a jazz bar in Oslo where I now live - and who should come in but Shake Keane. There is a story behind this visit, but he had his flugelhorn with him. A friend took a photo. We had a chat about the 'good old days' of J&P with Joe Harriott. Sadly, this was the last photo ever taken as Shake was suddenly taken ill and died in Oslo a couple of days later.

I know how inspiring Mike's music was 50 years ago. It will continue to be and many will hope that his jazz academy will continue his ground-breaking work. Simply but profoundly, Thanks Mike. Johnny Taylor


Posted by Gareth Simmons, 24 November 2011, 13:23 (2 of 3)

Thanks for writing this article. Michael will be very much missed.


Posted by Peter Morris, 30 January 2012, 21:17 (3 of 3)

It was with some trepidation that I invited Michael to play at All Saints Church, Hove last September with his tribute to the famous Modern Jazz Quartet, despite being assured by Jim Hart, the vibes player in the quartet, that Michael was very approachable. Why would such a distinguished musician want to perform at a venue he had probably never heard of for less than his normal fee?!

It was typical of Michael's generosity and warmth that he immediately said "yes" and, with what I soon found was an insatiable curiosity, began asking me all about the church. He was soon talking enthusiastically about the possibility of an adapted version of Jazz Praises for All Saints!

Michael loved Englishness as the titles of some of his musical compositions illustrate: Bovingdon Poppies, Hardy Country, Green And Pleasant Land etc. He could hardly wait to set foot in our magnificent Victorian church. On the day of the concert he arrived just after three o'clock. I found him already making friends with Roger the verger and, within a few minutes, Roger had let Michael into the organ loft for a tootle on our famous Hill organ. I'm convinced that, if the other three members of the quartet hadn't arrived, he would happily have remained in the organ loft for the rest of the afternoon!

For the next two-and-a-half hours, Michael with Jim Hart, Matt Ridley and Steve Brown rehearsed the complex arrangements solidly without a break, fortified only by cups of tea that I made for them in the vestry. I sat in the church throughout this rehearsal and marvelled at their professionalism and the good-humoured banter that passed between Michael and his colleagues. The other three musicians loved him dearly and felt privileged to be working with this legend of British jazz.

Eventually, they broke to have supper at an Italian restaurant and returned to the vestry an hour later to change in good time for the concert. It was at this point that I noticed that Michael was rather out-of-breath. I got him some water and he then confessed that he suffered from angina. When I told him I had had a bypass operation a few years ago, he wanted to know all about it as he thought that he might have to have one. I encouraged him to think of it as a positive move, "a new lease of life". Sadly neither of us knew then that by the time he did go to Harefield Hospital for an operation, he would be beyond being given a new lease of life.

In the vestry, he swiftly recovered and I was delighted to find the musicians changing into smart evening suits - the same formal dress adopted by the Modern Jazz Quartet itself - for the concert. There then followed two hours of the most sublime music, punctuated by Michael's quirky humour and fund of anecdotes.

As we relaxed in the vestry afterwards, there were fond farewells and promises to return. Michael was the last to leave - he would have a two-hour drive home to Berkhamsted in Hertfordshire. I saw his car out into the road; he wound down his window and called out "I've had a wonderful time, thank you so much, Peter. Please ask me to come back!" It seemed to me that I had made a new friend for life, so you can imagine my distress when I heard the news of his death. I am very grateful that I had an opportunity to share his delightful company and to get to know him.


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