Claude Deppa Interview

Trumpeter Claude Deppa spoke to SJM editor Charlie Anderson about the Brotherhood of Breath Heritage Band.

You’re now performing with The Brotherhood of Breath Heritage Band after having performed with Chris McGregor in one of the band’s original incarnations.

    “Yes, the Brotherhood had three, almost four, incarnations. There was the original band, then Chris tried to do it again. After that they all split up. There was a third version with two drummers, Brian Abrahams and Jean-Claude Montredon. Then the fourth version was the last one that he went out on. That’s the one that he died on, it was that version, in fact that was the longest running version of the Brotherhood. So it was the last incarnation of the Brotherhood that I was involved in.”


So the music that you’ll be playing in the Heritage Band is all from that era?

    “Yes, it’s all from that era. There are only two people surviving from the original band, Louis Moholo and Evan Parker. From the last band there are still quite a few members surviving and quite a few will be there. Dave DeFries and Chris Biscoe will be there.”

    “Most of the music comes from the album Country Cooking. That’s the fourth and final incarnation of the band. That ran for about 10 years. The band was running before we recorded Country Cooking in 1988 and then it continued for quite a few years more.”


Tell us about some of the memories that you have playing with that band.

    “For me to have been asked to do that band was an opportunity to work with Chris. Before I was in the Brotherhood I’d heard about Chris’s ability to hear something and write it out. In fact in the third version of the band, Peter Segone played, and the trumpet section was Dave Defries, Harry Beckett and Peter. 

    Dudu Pukwana had a gig and all of his regular trumpet players were away with Brotherhood and that was the only time that I played with [Pukwana’s band] Zila. Harry Beckett was Dudu’s oldest trumpet player, he’d been there for all the concerts, from putting the band together after Mongezi [Feza] died. When Harry couldn’t make it, Peter Segone would do it, and if Peter couldn’t make it then it was Dave Defries. But when the third version of Brotherhood took off, Dudu said to Chris “I’ve got no trumpet players!”. So he called me, and we did the first Brecon Jazz Festival, which must have been 1982. But then Peter Segone in 1982 took up with Manu Dibango and became his trumpet player. So the seat became vacant and Chris called me. I was then able to play with my old teacher Harry Beckett and for me that was quite a big deal, sitting next to my old teacher and also Chris Biscoe who I’d played with in Grand Union for years, and Annie Whitehead who I’d played with before.”

    “I could talk forever about the Brotherhood. First, it’s hard to put a band together when the bandleader is no longer with us. But in a way, Chris’s music  is so well loved that there are still some very strong characters who can pull it off. When Dudu died, Barbara [Dudu’s wife]tried to keep Zila going and it was just really hard work. But with the Brotherhood I think there are strong enough characters in each section to say ‘this is how it went’.”

    “Like Duke Ellington’s band it was very much led from the piano. Whenever we’ve done it I’ve always felt sorry for whoever the pianist was. Pianists sometimes say ‘maybe somebody else can play the intro on this’ but no, they have to do it, to bring the band in. But in that sense we are able to guide whoever comes in and plays Chris’s old chair. The other thing is that Chris didn’t have any music. There was no piano music. There were sometimes sketches of just chord changes but what he actually played day in, day out, a lot of it was in his head. So we would have to try and tell the pianist what melody was that he played.


Was it different with The Dedication Orchestra [formed to play the music of Chris and other South African composers]?

    It was a little bit easier because Keith [Tippett] used to practice with Chris, so he knew the sorts of things that Chris would play. Also with the Dedication Orchestra it’s a little easier to play Chris’s music, but with the Brotherhood it’s always the piano player who gets roasted. Luckily some of the music has been recorded.”        “I remember there was one tune called Sea Breeze and I could never count it. Dave DeFries used to tell me ‘don’t count it, man’. He would just close his eyes and listen to Chris. Nowadays we play and it’s just not there. Respect to Alastair Gavin who is playing on the day. He’s had a few cracks at it so it should be great.”


The 13-piece Brotherhood of Breath Heritage Band perform at The South Coast Jazz Festival on Friday 26th January, 2018 at The Ropetackle Arts Centre, Shoreham-by-Sea.

The line-up includes:

Dave DeFries, Claude Deppa, Chris Batchelor, trumpets;

Annie Whitehead, Fyass Virji, trombones;

Chris Biscoe, Dave Bitelli, Julian Nicholas, Robbie Juritz, Frank Williams, saxophones;

Alastair Gavin, piano; Michael Bailey, bass; Steve Arguelles, drums.


[Photo of Claude Deppa by Richard Kaby]