At the end of last week, the sad news came through that saxophonist Joe Temperley has died. Anyone who attended Jazz at Lincoln Center Orchestra concerts over the past years will have known about Joe – a bulky figure perched at the end of the saxophone section, playing both baritone saxophone and bass clarinet with a sound that harked back to the golden era of jazz. Remarkably for a musician who was steeped in the jazz tradition, and who made a real impact in the hustle and bustle of the New York scene, Joe was Scottish through and through – born in 1927 in Lochgelly, a small mining town in Fife, he worked his way through the British dance and swing bands of the 40s and 50s before joining the Humphrey Lyttelton band, and thence moving to New York in the mid 60s – a courageous step for a European player in those days. Typically, he picked up work – first with Woody Herman, with Frank Sinatra, then with the Duke Ellington Orchestra and the terrific big band led by Thad Jones and Me Lewis. He became a founder member of the Jazz at Lincoln Center Orchestra, credited by Wynton Marsalis as being the heart of the band, providing an essential link with the great big band leaders.
It seemed like Joe was indestructible, and despite his age, he seemed like his seven decade career would be somehow endless. A consummate professional and an inspirational teacher (he continued to act as mentor to the Fife Youth Jazz Orchestra until the final bars) – and he was a fountain of jazz knowledge. A late night malt with Joe Temperley was an often hilarious, but invariably fascinating glimpse into jazz history – he lived and breathed the jazz spirit. But the thing that will be most missed is, of course, his playing – a big, soulful saxophonist who could swing the night away in irresistible style. But it’s the gorgeous bass clarinet sound that sticks in the memory, described by Tommy Smith as 'sweet velvet' – his interpretation of Ellington’s classic A single Petal of a Rose remains one of the great statements in jazz balladry.
Read The Scotsman's obituary here.