Michael Garrick, the English pianist, composer, arranger and educator who has died aged 78, was an inspirational figure on the UK jazz scene. His big band work garnered comparisons with Duke Ellington and his piano playing featured in most of the major British jazz units of the ‘50s and ‘60s. He was a key member of the legendary Don Rendell/Ian Carr Quintet, writing many of its best-known pieces.
Garrick was born in Enfield, Middlesex. He was an almost entirely self-taught musician whose playing prospered while studying English Literature at University College London. He also formed his first quartet there which featured the likes of alto legend Joe Harriott and trumpeter Shake Keane.
Garrick graduated from UCL in 1959 and almost immediately became musical director of the ‘Poetry & Jazz in Concert’ roadshow devised by poet and publisher Jeremy Robson involving writers such as Laurie Lee, Adrian Mitchell, Vernon Scannell, Spike Milligan, Dannie Abse and John Smith. Garrick entered an extremely fertile period in the mid-‘60s, recording many solo albums including October Woman, Black Marigolds and The Heart Is a Lotus. In 1965, he joined the legendary Don Rendell-Ian Carr Quintet, contributing compositions and incisive piano playing on such classic albums as Dusk Fire and Phase III. He also embarked on a series of projects which married choral music with jazz under the umbrella title Jazz Praises featuring his sextet and a large choir.
Garrick became heavily involved with jazz education in the 1970s and 1980s, teaching at the Royal Academy and Trinity Colleges of Music in London. He also taught at the Guildhall Summer School and created his own Jazz Academy Vacation Courses in Tunbridge Wells. Garrick revisited choral work on 1988’s A Zodiac Of Angels, a jazz ballet performed opposite ‘Carmina Burana’ in the Opera Theatre, Manchester, utilising a symphony orchestra, seven jazz soloists, a full choir and a dance company.
Come the 1980s jazz ‘revival’, many of Garrick’s classic albums of the ’60s were long out of print. But superstar DJ Gilles Peterson championed Garrick and the other UK jazz trailblazers on a series of compilations entitled Impressed which introduced their work to a new audience.
Garrick set up his own label Jazz Academy Records which released much of his trio, quartet and big band work and also albums by vocalists Jacqui Dankworth, Anita Wardell and Norma Winstone. He continued to release solo records throughout the ‘90s and 2000s including Big Band Harriott, Green And Pleasant Land and Inspirations.
Garrick was appointed Member of the Order of the British Empire in the 2010 Birthday Honours. He performed live regularly in the same year, earning rave reviews for his Bill Evans tribute concert at the Pizza Express in Soho.
Michael Garrick MBE; pianist, composer, arranger and educator, 30th May 1933 – 11th November 2011