Jazz star relishing Playhouse concert

Courtney Pine
Courtney Pine

He’s been honoured for his services to music, played around the world and been in the industry for decades – but legendary jazz musician Courtney Pine admits he has taken a huge leap of faith with his most recent project.

The London-born 51-year-old released the album Song (The Ballad Book) in March and he is currently on tour with the new work – which includes a stop at Alnwick Playhouse on Saturday.

This latest offering is his 16th studio album and by his own admission, it is one of the most daring moves he has made during his long and celebrated career.

Song sees him strip everything right back, playing a specially-selected set of slower, more romantic ballads on bass clarinet, accompanied only by fellow Mercury nominee and Mobo award-winning pianist, Zoe Rahman.

“I have never done anything like this before; it has a completely different feel to the stuff that I normally do,” says Pine, who has been awarded an OBE and CBE for services to jazz music.

“I wanted to do something like this for a while. I performed a duet with Zoe, who is fantastic, on my 2011 Europa record and that sowed the seed for the whole of the Song album.

Courtney Pine with Zoe Rahman.

Courtney Pine with Zoe Rahman.

“It is so stripped down that, in some venues where we have performed it, we haven’t needed a PA system.”

Pine felt that he would live or die by the decision to go down this route – and it seems fortune has favoured the brave. He said: “It has been well received and has been repressed due to its popularity.”

Multi-instrumentalist Pine is primarily known for his talent on the saxophone, but he decided to restrict himself to the bass clarinet for Song – another bold decision.

He said: “The bass clarinet isn’t as popular as the saxophone, but I had to do this. It is my favourite instrument and every time I am on her, something new comes out.

“It is like wearing a T-shirt that is not popular. You have got it in your wardrobe, but no one is wearing it. But you have to be brave and say ‘this is me’.”

The 10-track album is diverse, from Amazing Grace to A Nightingale Sang in Berkeley Square. Selecting its content and arranging each tune proved a challenge.

He said: “I had 51 tracks to chose from so I had to be ruthless and I picked the songs which really meant something to me. Coming up with the arrangements and inflections was a challenge and required a lot of time and practice.

“I had to learn all of the songs’ lyrics to try to imply articulation to the melodies.”

To tie in with the stripped-down, intimate feel of the album, Pine and Rahman have been performing at smaller venues during the tour.

“It is not something I am used to, but it has been amazing,” says Pine, who is looking forward to the gig in Alnwick, which starts at 7.30pm and will feature tracks from the album, as well as yet-to-be released material.

Tickets are £20.50 premier, £19.50 standard and £18.50 conc are are available from 01665 510785.