Thursday 26 November 2009

For Jeff

I don't know if I can speak these words; I know I must try. The tempo is ferocious, the intensity fierce, I don't know if I can solo there, but I know I have to.

Jeff was fearless at such times. If there was music to be played, music in which he believed, then Jeff would always be there. However high the tempo, however low the fee.

He was the same with musicians. If he believed in you, he would be there for you. Fifty years ago, the day before Ronnie Scott opened the Old Place, Jeff was down there painting the walls, so the club could open on time. "How much did they pay you?", I asked him. Two bacon rolls. And he never stopped, was still out there, in his seventies, seeking out musicians that he liked, young and old, making new music happen. Many of us here today, and many more all around the world, only have a life in music because Jeff was our champion, because he walked with us. We meet today to thank Jeff for these gifts.

And to think about the drummers. Sharing a crotchet is one of the closest feelings in human experience, in which we lay bare all we are and everything we could become. This is a harsh moment for the drummers. Above all for Trevor Tomkins, whom Jeff loved dearly, as playing partner and friend, for so long. By my calculations, Jeff and Trevor together played more than fifty million crotchets. Many of them at the same time.

We also remember how grumpy Jeff was. My fondest and most illuminating memories of Jeff are of his grumps. These, although exacerbated by tiredness, traffic, being held back from an important football result, or by lack of food or alcohol, always had a moral dimension. Woe betide anyone who, having accepted Jeff's support at the beginning of a project, then passed him over for the better gigs later on! Jeff's rage in these cases was swift and powerful. There were elements of disappointment and hurt pride in there, of course, but mostly there was moral indignation.
I first felt Jeff's grumpiness as a young tutor, team teaching. Even as I held the middle of the floor, in the corner of my eye I could see Jeff twitching, and I could also hear a strange muttering. Later, with someone else in the middle, I went to stand by Jeff, and heard what he was saying. Come on...come on...get on with it...we've heard it all before...oh yes it's always about you...every effin' time...come on...get off...we've done it now...let's go home... (and, my favourite, when a fellow teacher was explaining a jazz technique)..yes, mate, you should try taking your own bloomin' advice!
Jeff's grumpy mutterings always made me laugh, even when they were about me!
Jeff didn't like ego. He sensed immediately if players and teachers were drifting into self- importance, if they were becoming more interested in how wonderful they sounded than in the job they were supposed to be doing, and his nose would wrinkle up, and then he would be grumpy.

This made Jeff suspicious of words. He loved them but at the same time distrusted them, feared their power to spin and deceive. He hated any talking that made him dwell in the past, holding him back, stopping him from getting on with the next real thing.

Jeff taught me about modesty and pride in my work; he taught me about courage, and freedom, and openness in my playing; he taught me about commitment and loyalty to my friends and to my music. But he never spoke of these things, not in words. He showed them to me, somehow, in his music.

This is very much how Jeff liked to teach. Out in the Colleges, on Summer Schools, and at home in his own front room. He wasn't one for detailed analysis or trenchant criticism; he liked his students to experience the spirit of music by playing. This wordless, experential approach created an intense, intimate atmosphere, in which students felt both protected and liberated. We remember well the day back at Wavendon when, after an especially liberating session of Free Improvisation with Jeff, three singers were admitted to the local Mental Hospital. The doctors suggested that in future Jeff should run these sessions in the Hospital itself, to save on transport costs, but Jeff, always a true professional, simply changed up his course content, and it never happened again.

So many words, yet not the real ones, the ones that are most difficult to say. I can feel Jeff muttering now...come on...get on with it...come on...get off...we've done it now...let's go home...

Stop talking, he means, and get on with the next real thing. But that's the point, isn't it, Jeff has done it, he has gone home, and as for our next real thing, well we don't have one, many of us, because Jeff was part of our real thing, he was going to be out front, leading us with his lovely surefooted lines, and now..well, we're afraid we can't get there on our own.

One image consoles me, and I share it with you.

We are musicians. In our world the most real things are the most ephemeral. Our sounds live and die in the same movement. This is how I shall remember Jeff - as music - as a light, flowing tone who, in his very moment of completion, reveals his beauty and is gone forever.

Nick Weldon
(as spoken at Jeff Clyne's funeral on November 25th 2009)


Lazz said...

Thanks Nick
Thanks Jeff

Rebecca Hollweg said...

This is beautiful writing, Nick and very moving. Thank you for posting it. Jeff was so encouraging to me and I value that hugely. I also found him a very charming man and always loved seeing him. But I too learnt a very important lesson about humility from Jeff at a Blackheath Concert Halls jam session he used to run years ago, when I put a beautiful Kenny Wheeler song in front of the band of mixed ability musicians (can't remember the name now - a girl's name - you'll know it). I loved the song and wanted to sing it, thinking about myself, not the musicians and that it was a hard tune to play and that they might not manage it and feel embarassed. They got through it just about and I came off the stage feeling pleased with my performance. Jeff looked at me quite sternly and said 'you shouldn't have done that!' That was all! I felt very embarassed - I can still feel it when I remember it - and knew he was right. In that moment I learnt about being in a team with musicians and that it wasn't about me doing my own thing on my own. A super-important lesson. I went on to marry a bass-player!

Unknown said...

Thanks Nick. He leaves a gap.

Robin D said...

Sad news. I remember Jeff supporting me in a trio probably 15 years ago when I was a student at a Wavendon summer course. I felt I was playing brilliantly and it was all because Jeff was so good at establishing a perfect rhythmic and harmonic setting. I've probably not felt so professional since!

Howard Jackson said...

That was a wonderful thing to be able to do. You captured his mood, his manner, his spirit and love of music. What a great tribute. The world is a poorer place without Jeff.

Post a Comment