Tony Faulkner is a fine musician who has built an impressive body of work over the last 35 years. He is a stylish, and much recorded, Composer and Arranger, a great drummer and one of the UK’s foremost experts on the life and work of Duke Ellington (or “Ellingtonia” as it is often termed). Tony has also enjoyed a long career as a Jazz educator, principally as a tutor at the Leeds College of Music, and has helped many of the finest British Jazz musicians of the last 30 years hone their compositional, performance and ensemble skills.
“Born 1938 in Chester, which makes me an O.A.P!!
I started playing drums (actually - drum!) In the Air Cadets (A.T.C.) in April 1952. My interest in arranging, and later composition, has its roots in my curiosity as to why the Johnny Dankworth Orchestra of the mid/late 1950s sounded different to all the other bands around at that time. I heard the band many times ‘live’ during that period, my first interest being the wonderful drummer Dankworth had at the time, the late Kenny Clare. But that band was different to the others because of its front-line derived from Dankworth’s earlier small band - the ’seven’, trumpet, alto, trombone, tenor plus baritone instead of the usual sax section line-up.
As far as drums are concerned, after joining the ATC and having developed an interest in Jazz whilst at school, I became interested in playing ‘proper’ drums, i.e. in some kind of jazz-band. In addition, around the age of 16 or so along with many of my friends I started attending that peculiar 1950s social function called “a dance” but whereas my friends spent most of their time pursuing (usually successfully!) examples of the local talent my time was invariably spent observing the talent of the local drummer in the band performing at the ‘dance’.
Eventually I started going to a magic place called Clemence’s Restaurant in Chester where the Dennis Williams Quintet performed every Thursday and Saturday in the small dance-hall at the rear of the restaurant. It was here that I met a great, unsung hero - drummer Don Morris. Don was easily the best drummer in the North-West at that time, ‘best’ for all manner of reasons, technique, musicality, sensitivity as an accompanist, and knowledge. At the age of 19 I persuaded Don to give me lessons, which he did reluctantly. As a result, he gave me two things First, he taught me how to read music and second, he pointed me in the right direction musically, introducing me to the wonders of people such as Max Roach, Roy Haynes etc., the music they were involved in at that time, and the concept of interacting musically with the other players in a band. I owe Don far more than I think he ever realised. Sadly, he died from a heart attack about four years ago.
The writing gained a little more impetus whilst at Sheffield University studying Architecture. There was a student big-band led by a trombonist/pianist called John Betts (still living around Leicester) and I helped with the copying of the band parts to John’s arrangements. I tried my hand at writing something myself for the band - with no knowledge of harmony, orchestration or anything. The first piece was a Dizzy Gillespie blues called “Joogie Boogie” which had all the sections in unison, so no problems there! The next attempt was of the standard “Too Close For Comfort”, again - with no harmonic knowledge etc., I didn’t even know the chords of the song! Result? Total cacophony! It was that experience that made me realise that there was more to this arranging lark than I was really aware of!
But I stuck with it and when I got back to Chester after failing the Sheffield course I bought a few books, Russell Garcia, Bill Russo, George Evans etc., and began to try to make a little more sense of it. Also, I started trying to transcribe a few things from recordings, amongst which were a few Dankworth things. Around 1963 Dankworth brought a quintet to Chester and I remember asking him if there was any possibility of getting hold of copies of any of his scores. About three weeks later a large envelope arrived containing copies of the three scores I’d mentioned. I went through them with the proverbial tooth-comb, not understanding too much of what was going on but glad to have them nevertheless. Forty years later I’ve still got those copies!
After messing about as an unqualified architect for a few years, and doing more and more gigs as a drummer around the North-west, I became a professional musician in August 1965 starting at the Franchi Club in Jarrow-on-Tyne. In December ‘66 I joined the legendary Dennis Mann Orchestra in Bristol, a fabulous nine-piece band, great players, great arrangements, great times! During all this time, until eventually moving to London in May 1970, I’d been writing for all the various bands I’d worked for, and wrote my first big-band compositions for the New Welsh Jazz Orchestra during my time in Cardiff. The N.W.J.O. recorded two of my compositions, “Pablo’s Plues” and “A+C=One”, and an arrangement of the old traditional-jazz number “Apex Blues”. The recording formed the basis of an application in 1969 to the U.S. magazine ‘Downbeat’ for a scholarship to the Berklee College of Music. This was successful although unfortunately, due to unforseen personal circumstances and events, I was unable to take up the scholarship.
In 1970 I moved to London, having established a number of contacts over the preceding few years. Using the N.W.J.O. music as a basis I organised a big-band around September/October 1970 which, amongst others, included musicians such as Henry Lowther, Kenny Wheeler, Stan Sultzman, Dave Gelly and Brian Priestley in its personnel. The band recorded regularly for the BBC’s Jazz Club programme from July 1971. The BBC has since recorded around 100 or so of my compositions and arrangements, either with my own big-band (which I prefer to call ‘jazz orchestra’) or the BBC Big-band.
During my London days I wrote for amongst others, Bob Monkhouse (!), Australian singer Lynn Rogers, Jackie Trent and Tony Hatch, and played Ronnie Scott’s club occasionally as well as working with Jackie and Tony, Alan Price and Georgie Fame, Scott Walker, and loads of great Jazz people.
Marriage and an imminent daughter made an offer from Leeds College of Music seem like a good idea so we (the family!) moved to Yorkshire in September 1973 where I took a post as Lecturer in Jazz Studies at LCM. I took early retirement from the college in August 2001 at which point I had been lecturing in Jazz Composition, directing and writing for the college Jazz Orchestra and directing the college’s Duke Ellington Repertory Orchestra. I’m currently a ‘part-time’ member of staff at the college, still directing DERO and little else!
Amongst the many great musicians I’ve performed with the highlight has to have been an appearance at the 1976 Leeds Music Festival with my other great hero, Thad Jones, performing with and directing my Jazz Orchestra through his compositions. Other highlights? Playing with Art Farmer, James Moody, Eddie ‘Lockjaw’ Davis, Nat Adderley, three or four years with Bobby Wellins’s northern quintet, Al Cohn, Harry Edison, and many many more.
Recordings? Not much to write about. I’ve had my music recorded by a number of bands around the world; Dave Stahl Orchestra of New York, Barry Vieth Orchestra of Melbourne, Australia, the New Zealand Jazz Orchestra, er - NYJO and a few others. I’ve appeared on only a few albums,
“Mark Twain Suite” by Bristol guitarist Frank Evans (1969),
Dick Hawdon Quintet, “Poetry+Jazz On Record”, c1975
“From Here to There” by Richard Iles (Richard Iles/Andy Schofield Jazz Orchestra tracks) (1999)
Musical Director on Kenny Wheeler’s 1999 album “A Long Time Ago”
Duke Ellington Repertory Orchestra - “Live At Ronnie Scott’s” (2004)”.
Recent recordings have been with the
Colin Byrne Jazz Orchestra, “Bigband Byrne”, 2005
Nancy Hunter, “Ice Cream Inside”, 2006, for which I did seven arrangements,
Tony Faulkner Jazz Orchestra, “Thad Jones and the Ellington Effect”, 2006