The Brit jazz legend Harry Beckett was one of the most instantly recognisable trumpeters in all of music. He played with some key artists in the British jazz pantheon and was a huge inspiration on players such as Courtney Pine and Gary Crosby.
Beckett was born in Saint Michael parish in Barbados and started off playing the cornet in his local Salvation Army band. He moved to Britain with his family at aged 19, and started playing with the Jamaican bandleader Leslie ‘Jiver’ Hutchinson. In 1961, he was recruited by Charlie Mingus to play in the all-British band in the movie ‘All Night Long‘. Beckett joined legendary bandleader and composer Graham Collier‘s group in 1961 and stayed with him on and off for the next 16 years. He also worked with Chris McGregor‘s thrilling township-jazz-influenced Brotherhood of Breath and spent the rest of the ’60s providing incisive and thrilling solos in the ensembles of Mike Westbrook, Mike Gibbs, Neil Ardley and John Warren. He also worked extensively with the London Jazz Composers’ Orchestra alongside Evan Parker.
In 1975, he became a regular member of piano legend Stan Tracey‘s band and finished the decade working with the great South African altoist Dudu Pukwana. In the ’80s, Beckett began working extensively with the Jazz Warriors, the workshop-based group set up by bassist Gary Crosby to showcase black jazz musicians of Caribbean origin. He also played a rare but notable ‘pop’ session with David Sylvian in 1986 on the decidedly ECM-ish Gone To Earth album and worked extensively with The Charlie Watts Big Band.
More recently, superstar jazz DJ Gilles Peterson has reissued various albums featuring Beckett under the Impressed imprint. He also worked with dub/world music bassist Jah Wobble and mixologist producer/engineer Adrian Sherwood on the groundbreaking The Modern Sound of Harry Beckett CD on On-U Records and continued to inspire the next generation of saxophonists by lecturing and teaching extensively.
In June 2010, Beckett performed at the Barbican in London, joining alto saxophonist Jason Yarde‘s Jazz Warriors tribute project as part of Guy Barker‘s Big Band Britannia.
He is survived by his wife, Veronica, and two sons and two daughters.
Harold Winston Beckett, trumpeter and composer, born 30 May 1935; died 22 July 2010.