Peter Batten Interview (Part 2)
This interview is a continuation of Part 1 of the interview available here.
What happened after you left university?
I worked in London for a time for the LCC and played in various odd little bands around London, then I got married, moved to Peterborough and played in a jazz band there. After that I moved to Stevenage, which was a big step forward for me because I was able to play in a mainstream modern band, as I was interested in getting away from all this trad music. We played a lot of Gerry Mulligan tunes and also a few tunes by Thelonious Monk. I was in that band for a couple of years and learned a lot from it.
Where did you go after that?
I moved to Chichester. I was there for 7 years where I was head of the General Education Department at the College of Further Education. They don’t have departments like that anymore. The music department only started when I left. I learned a lot when I was in Chichester because I joined the Bognor branch of the Musicians’ Union. I played for one year with a trad band called The Stane Street Jazz Men. But I learnt a lot from the Musicians’ Union because apart from odd gigs that the union gave me, I also used to go to a Monday late night jam session that the union ran. I learnt a lot of new tunes there and met a very nice tenor player called Brian White who lived in Bognor. Brian and I played together a lot. The last year that I was in Chichester we did a residency at the King & Queen in Brighton on a Wednesday night throughout the summer with a pianist called Kenny Knight. That was a nice gig where I learned quite a lot.
Then you moved to London?
Yes, I went to London in 1972, working in the London Borough of Sutton at the Sutton College of Liberal Arts. I very soon got involved with a band at the Half Moon in Putney. Their trumpet player and singer took about six months off playing so there was an audition and I got the job. When he came back, the bandleader John Green decided to enlarge the band with two trumpets. We all got on quite well. That went on for about 14 years, but I did play with other bands around London.
Then in the late 70s/early 80s my marriage began to break up. I don’t think my wife knew that it was breaking up but I did. By that time I was married with two children. My wife was a very clever but very disturbed woman. I decided to walk away from my marriage. By that time I was involved in a relationship with Nikki, my present wife. It was a very easy going relationship, because I was 47 and Nikki was 26, – and it was not the reason why I left my wife. I left my wife because I wanted to leave. Nikki and I decided that there was much more to our relationship than we at first thought.
I also clashed with my employers at the college over their policy for adult education. After a big hoo-hah I eventually got a settlement with them, which gave me a substantial pension for the rest of my life. I don’t think they realised I was going to live to be 86 and they were going to be paying out this money for years and years, but that’s their hard luck.
Tell us about your record collecting.
I started collecting jazz records way back in the Fifties and at university I met a lot of blokes with plenty of money who were really starting quite substantial collections of jazz records. Although I couldn’t keep up with them, I did start to build a collection myself, and some of them were very generous in giving me recordings.
I was very taken with some modern jazz around London but I continued building that sort of collection ever since. Although I’ve had to restrict it a bit over the years because it’s just got too big. So when I moved down here I decided to specialise in one or two areas. One was Thelonious Monk. I’ve got quite a substantial collection. Another was Lennie Tristano, because I was friendly with a critic called Alun Morgan, who used to do sleeve notes. Alun encouraged me to dig into Lennie Tristano and he also gave me so much that I’ve almost got a full collection of Tristano, which I didn’t entirely want. Then I focussed on one or two other people like Bud Powell and I also still had a soft spot for that Chicago jazz that I played at university. So I built up quite a collection of that to add to stuff that I’d bought at university. In fact, when I got together with Nicki we moved to Godstone and I became a freelance lecturer and concentrated on my jazz playing. For almost 10 years, up until I had this operation, Nikki and I ran a jazz club with a lot of American visitors. I ran a sort of Dixieland band called Southland which accompanied quite a few of these visitors. But then disaster struck, because I was found to have cancer of the vocal chords and I had radiotherapy which protected me for a couple of years. But eventually I had to have my larynx removed, which was the end of my playing career.
What do you remember about the British jazz scene from the 1960s, Ronnie Scott’s and Tubby Hayes?
I was very involved in that, and followed them fairly closely for a time, but then marriage and children and money caught up with me a bit. But I did go to the first Ronnie Scott’s for example. When I was at university there were two tenor players that I became interested in. One was Ben Webster and the other was Lucky Thompson. I really like their playing, and Alun Morgan, by chance, when I was working for the LCC Alun Morgan was also working for the LCC. We used to meet up occasionally for lunch or a sandwich and he said to me ‘Well, if you’re so keen on Lucky Thompson nobody yet has put together a discography of him. Why don’t you work on it?’. So I started buying these records of Lucky Thompson. One or two started to come out from where he’d been playing in Paris in the Fifties. And then, surprise surprise, about 1951 when Ronnie Scott’s opened, he was one of the very first people to appear there. So I thought, oh I’ll go along and see if I can have a chat. Well, my wife and I went along and we soon realised that Lucky Thompson was the most horrible, twisted sort of bloke. And also we picked up very quickly that he wasn’t very happy with the rhythm section. Stan Tracey was on piano and apparently had heard Lucky Thompson saying to somebody ‘who booked these three bums to play with me?’. So Stan decided on a scheme where they’d start off and play a tune like Lover Come Back to Me and Lucky Thompson would play about 10 choruses so Stan would play 10 choruses, and Rick [Laird] would attempt to play 10 choruses, if Lucky Thompson didn’t try to intervene. Even Jackie [Dougan] would try to play 10 choruses if he could get away with it. It made for a most horrible, horrible atmosphere. So I decided my discography about Lucky Thompson was at an end.
But one person I heard there and really loved of course was Ben Webster. I also heard Freddie Hubbard, who I was very anxious to hear. Such a beautiful sound and technique. What he hasn’t got, and I think that still remains true, he hasn’t got the richness of ideas of some of the really great trumpet players, but he’s certainly got the tone and the technique. I also heard British players like Joe Harriott who I liked a lot.
How are you finding your monthly column for Sussex Jazz Magazine?
One thing I’m conscious of with this Pete Recommends column is that streaming makes it much easier for people to pick up on the things without actually buying them. They can find it and stream it.
The other thing is, although I do keep up to some extent with what’s going on in jazz I’m very conscious of the fact that now I’m a bit of a jazz historian. All my real knowledge and expertise begins to run out about the 1980s or 1990s.
I hear people that I like very much. One person I like and admire very much is Nikki Iles. I think she’s a beautiful piano player. And Dave Newton, he’s my idea of how I want to hear the piano played. But then, by contrast, I’ve always enjoyed Stan Tracey. So I’ve got very wide taste, which has been a problem with my collection.
What have you been listening to lately?
Somebody recently played a whole series of recordings of Art Pepper. I’ve always been an admirer of him and some of these recordings I’d never heard before, and was tempted to buy one or two of them. I particularly wanted to get hold of some recordings that he made with a pianist called Carl Perkins, very like in some ways to Hampton Hawes. He played a beautiful recording of Body & Soul with Art Pepper, with a lovely solo. So I finally tracked this thing down and bought it, and it is absolutely fabulous. I’ve heard some great Art Pepper and there are one or two lovely recordings with Russ Freeman for example, but this particular set of recordings with Carl Perkins are amazing. Art Pepper was such a great improvisor.
Interview by Charlie Anderson.
Main photo by Lisa Wormsley.