Sometimes you get lucky breaks. One of mine was a few years ago. I was on holiday in the UK, having returned for a couple of weeks from my then home in Sri Lanka. I met a pal, Jeremy Butler, for a coffee in the centre of London. He asked me: “Do you still play the saxophone?” I replied that funnily enough I was getting back into it; playing in a band in Colombo and listening to lots of music. I had even bought my alto sax on holiday with me to blow through some scales each day. Two minutes later Jez offered up his iPhone screen. Unbeknownst to me , he’d contacted a former school pal of his who is, nowadays, Director of Music at ‘The Ivy’, in London’s Soho. A terrific pianist called Joe Thompson. The ‘ask’ was ‘…can a friend of mine sit in on a couple of tunes this evening?’ Joe had messaged back: “Yes, and if he’s shit I will hunt you down.” I couldn’t back down. I went to ‘The Ivy’. It was a nerve-wracking evening.
In short, I managed to get by that night. It was a year or more later when I moved back to London from Sri Lanka that I contacted Joe again. “May I drop by again please with a saxophone – this time it’s a baritone”. As ever, Joe was most generous and replied, “yes”. Now, two or more years on I’ve had the immense privilege to regularly play alongside Joe Thompson, Rob Rickenburg, Alex Stanford, Dan Sheppard, Charlie Pyne and Sophie Alloway, among many other wonderful, brilliant musicians.
And the list gets much longer. I’ve had the pleasure of also playing on the stand with more leading UK musicians, such as: Dave Lewis, Nigel Hitchcock, Mark Ridout, Mark Armstrong & Mark Nightingale.
What an extraordinary learning opportunity. ‘Thank You’ Joe, and a big ‘thank you’ too to a longstanding friend from university days in Manchester, Jeremy Butler.