Trumpeter Harry Beckett has died, reportedly of a stroke, on 22 July. A longstanding presence on the London jazz scene, trumpeter Harry Beckett has kept his music fresh over a long career and none more so than on his 2008 release The Modern Sound of Harry Beckett which saw him combining reggae and dance music influences alongside his modal jazz flavours.
Born in Barbados in 1935, Harry was just 19 when he left home and travelled to Britain. All he brought with him was his trumpet, the talent he was born with and a desire to learn. He was no overnight success. The jazz scene of 1950s London didn’t open its arms to him and it wasn’t until the mid-60s that other musicians began to take notice. Ever since, Harry Beckett’s playing has been turning heads.
Forming his own sextet/septet in the late-60s, Harry emerged as an excellent writer and one of the finest trumpeters to grace these shores. The three albums – Flare Up, Warm Smiles /Themes For Fega – he made with players of the calibre of John Taylor, Frank Ricotti, Mike Osborne, John Surman, Alan Skidmore and Chris Laurence are as fine as any of the period. At the same time, Harry had begun playing with guitarist Ray Russell. Russell’s music was so far ahead of its time, that fans are only now catching up.
Harry’s associations stood the test of time. Whether it was with Ray Russell, Graham Collier, Dudu Pukwana and more recently Chris Biscoe, the most telling thing for Harry is the music. Along with Biscoe, Harry had just completed a three-year stint with the wonderful French Orchestre National de Jazz. When Courtney Pine and Gary Crosby formed the Jazz Warriors, who would they call? Harry Beckett, of course. When Chris McGregor put together a new Brotherhood of Breath and recorded the Country Cooking album, Harry was there. And when Louis Moholo and others put together The Dedication Orchestra to pay tribute to their fallen comrades, Beckett was there just as he had been when McGregor and Moholo first put their big band together. We miss you madly.